After writing back-to-back posts on what I believe is our most important topic for West Michigan leaders (Leaning Into Healthy Conflict), I shared a fictional story about the use of this conflict model last week .
This week I’m going to share one more short story about conflict. This time it’s a real one, though the names are changed in order to protect people’s identify.
Many years ago I realized that one the executives I’d done a lot of work with wasn’t happy with me, and I had no clue why. He wasn’t my direct contact with that company, and he never let me know directly that I had done something to upset him, but others on the executive team shared that he had a problem with me.
I came to a point where I felt I needed to understand what the issue was, though truth be told, I really didn’t want to go through the awkwardness required to find out what was going on. Here is how the conversation went with “Charlie.”
Me: (Stopping by Charlie’s office as I was on my way out.) “Charlie, I’ve learned from some of the others that you’re upset with me about something, and I’d like to find out what it is.”
Charlie looks a little awkward and unhappy that I’m bringing this up.
Me: “I don’t have time right now, but I’m hoping to get on your schedule to find out what I’ve done to make you unhappy with me. And I want you to know that I’m not looking to defend myself with you; I just want to understand what you see as the issue.”
Again, Charlie hesitates, then realizes we probably need to set something up, so we find a half hour on our calendars the following week.
Me: “Thank you. And, again, I promise this is just about understanding your perspective, NOT about debating something.”
Charlie sheepishly smiles. I suspects he is thinking,“I really don’t want to talk with you about this Rodger!”
A day before our meeting I call Charlie to confirm he’s expecting me and to reassure him that I just want to understand his perspective. When I arrive Charlie invites me to a conference room with more privacy than his office.
Me: “Charlie, please let me know what has you upset with me.”
Charlie: “Well, there are two issues that I have with things you’ve done in the past.”
Me: (Remaining silent and thinking) “It’s more than one thing. Crap!”
Charlie: “Rodger, when you got between our president and our owner on the issue they had going on and started to meddle with them…” (Charlie stops and thinks for about five seconds,) “Rodger, did you know about the issue they were arguing about back then?”
Me: “I don’t know what you’re referring to.”
Charlie: (Pauses again) “Maybe you never knew what was going on with them.” (He stops again and looks at me to read my face.) “Rodger, all this time I thought you were bating each of them regarding a big issue they were having with each other, and it just dawned on me now that you probably had no clue that they were at odds with each other.”
Me: “I’m glad you realized this. I still don’t know what issue you’re referring to.”
Charlie: (shaking his head a bit) “I’ve held this against you for a year now. I’m sorry I was confused and blamed you.”
Me: “Thanks Charlie. I’m really glad I approached you on this. Did you say there was a second issue?”
Charlie: “Sometimes when you facilitate our strategic planning sessions you interject your opinions. We aren’t paying you for your opinions, just to facilitate a good process and healthy conversation.”
Rodger: “You’re right—I shouldn’t do that, and I’m aware that I’ve done it in the past. This is something I struggle with, and I need to do better. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”
Charlie: “Thank you for making sure we talked about these two issues. After talking with you, I have no issues and would be happy to use you in any future events.”
This real conversation was difficult to get started, but the positive outcome is pretty common in my experience using the Leaning into Healthy Conflict model. I helped Charlie see things more clearly just by asking him about the first issue and listening to him. I also got some important feedback about my facilitation that helped me grow.
Of course, not all Leaning into Healthy Conflict conversations go this well, but most do! I hope the two stories I shared in these last two posts help motivate you to get issues out in the open using the Leaning Into Healthy Conflict model. Please let me know if you have questions or comments.