“We do not have conflict in our meetings.” Too bad!

| March 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

If we do not have conflict in our meetings, it is very likely that we do not have honest conversations. If we do not have honest conversations, we do not have commitment and we certainly are not moving forward as quickly as we should, nor in the right direction. Here is what we do have: We have hallway conversations that should have occurred in the meeting. We have the proliferation of half-truths and siloed knowledge. We have a politicized environment where the primary goal is individual or departmental protection, not what is best for the organization.

Say the word conflict and people become uneasy. They have visions of yelling, of being attacked and of being humiliated. Most of us, if not all, have experienced meetings in which bad behavior reigns supreme, giving conflict a bad name. When conflict begins to surface in a meeting people begin to push away, to shut down. This is not a good thing. We as leaders must critically assess the quality of our meetings. If our meetings are on either side of the continuum – an open free-for-all where conflict is represented by unfiltered comments to a type of Kumbaya meeting where everyone walks away happy, but nothing has been accomplished, other than to avoid conflict. As Jim Collins has stated, beware of Tyranny of the Or, the notion that things are this way or that way. Embrace the power of And. We can have conflict and it can be productive. We can have conflict and it can be respectful.

The best meetings I have participated in are in the middle of the continuum. Real issues are raised, the level of trust within the group allows for disagreement. No one feels they will be thrown under the bus, nor do they believe they have the right to do so to someone else. There is lively discussion on the topic, on the issue. Disagreement with an idea is countered with, “Have you thought about it this way?” “I need to understand why you think that.” “I disagree and here is why.” This is what Keith Ferrazzi; CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight refers to as caring criticism in a Harvard Business Review article entitled, Candor, Criticism, Teamwork.

The vehicle most often used to manage a company is a meeting. Meetings are where decisions are  made. It is in meetings that management determines the best course of action to a crisis, new product line or market. Our best decisions are derived from looking at an issue from multiple angles, playing the role of devil’s advocate and taking the time to ask the ‘What If’ questions.

It is absolutely possible to have respectful conflict. We need to teach and support respectful conflict. This includes instructing on how to deliver and how to receive disagreement in order to posses the best answer, the best course of action.

It is possible. Does anyone disagree? I am open to hearing your side.

  Take care,

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Category: Decision Making, Newsletters


About the Author ()

Julia Hill-Nichols, SPHR, is the founder of LeadersCove, LLC. With over 30 years experience in operations and human capital management, Julia is gifted in the art and science of bridging strategic imperatives and a company’s human capabilities—executing for success, meeting bottom-line objectives and enlivening the people who are the organization’s lifeblood.

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