Today on Team Anywhere, we interview Dr. Liane Davey, to learn how to master conflict remotely. Known as the Water Cooler Psychologist, Liane is a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review and frequently called on by media outlets for her experience on leadership, team effectiveness, and productivity.
A conflict-avoider herself, (well she is Canadian,) Liane has dedicated her life to helping individuals and teams master conflict. Liane is a New York Times Bestselling author of three books, including The Good Fight: Use Productive Conflict to Get Your Team and Your Organization Back on Track.
Liane shares a family camping story which provided her with a team building solution that we can all use to master conflict remotely. Most team metaphors are about boats. “Being in the same boat” “Rowing in the same direction.” But what if these metaphors are not supporting the right amount of team conflict? What if working on a team was more like pulling a tarp over a tent in the rainstorm when everyone “pulls” against each other?
Liane uses this metaphor to describe her conflict exercise, the Tarp Exercise where members of a team take turns sharing answers to the following questions:
(1) Have each team member ask, “what the unique value of your role?”
(2) What stakeholders does your role represent?
(3) What is your obligation to disagree?
By sharing each person’s point of view you move from ”Oh, I thought you were just a jerk,” to appreciating what is behind the position for which each person is advocating. You also get to a great point where people on the team expect and ask for each person’s point of view. This also creates Productive Tension, or healthy conflict.
After everyone on the team shares, create 2-3 team norms on how you desire to engage in conflict together.
The Amazon Rule: Disagree & Commit
Jeff Bezos‘ take on conflict is that everybody in the organization has an obligation to disagree to make sure decisions are right. Once you have made that decision you have an obligation to making that decision successful.
Should you wait to have conflict in person?
Once we jump to conclusions, every single interaction you have with that person from here until that in person meeting is going to be through that lens of that resentment and that baggage you already have. Liane recommends leaning into having the conflict online or over the phone using some of the following strategies.
One of the keys to productive conflict in 2020, is to not let anything fester. Don’t wait until we are all back together in a room in 2021. If you do, your conversations will be through the lens of how you feel you have been “wronged.” You then begin to build up “Conflict Debt.” Letting things fester is going to add to your stress, or as Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.”
How to Have Conflict Remotely
(1) FRAME THE CONVERSATION Have the conversation as allies. Help the other person collect their thoughts. Share that you’re feeling uncomfortable if you are.
(2) CREATE NO SURPRISES –Shoot a quick note to the other person to let them know you want to have a conversation about something on your mind. Give them time to prepare for the conversation. “I’m uncomfortable with how we left the conversation last week, I’d love a chance to talk face-to-face virtually.”
(3) GET THEIR TRUTH FIRST – Ask your colleague, what is their impression of the discrepancy at hand. “So, how did you feel about that conversation?”
(4) ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR TRUTH – You earn your right to speak your truth ONLY after they have spoken theirs. “This is what I heard you say. I’m really glad that you shared that with me.”
(5) SHARE YOUR TRUTH – Share your observation of the conversation. Naming the emotion you’re having. “I was thinking differently about what happened.”
(6) ASK FOR A PATH FORWARD – Be curious, and look for a common way forward. “Okay, where do we go from here?”
Explicitly Encourage Conflict
Ask for it as a favor “What might people say counter to this plan?”
Ask it as a hypothetical “If somebody were to have a problem with this, what might it be?”
One of the advantages we have with distance is that when something happens that are confused about, we can use that distance to be curious. “You know, we are/were not in the same room, I don’t think I fully understand, let’s kind of figure this out.
One of the reasons why we might be having more conflict these days is that meetings have become joyless. It is time to put joy back in!!! Why not bring a live elephant into your meeting? Why not spend the first 5 minutes just catching up? The greatest way to deflate conflict is to keep spending quality time being human with each other.
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