Managers who avoid conflict are costing your company. According to research from Vital Smarts, 95% of a company’s workforce avoids engaging in difficult conversations. And, every avoided conversation costs an organization $1,500 and 8 hours of productivity.
Unfortunately conflict competence is not acquired by a one-and-done workshop. Conflict competency requires building new habits, and new habits begin with the right mindsets.
If you have invested in skills training but your managers are still conflict-adverse, it’s likely due to the mindsets that have emerged from the culture.
This post is about the three cornerstone mindsets that increase conflict competency.
In her groundbreaking book "Mindset," author Carol Dweck offers rich insights on the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is the belief that qualities like talent and intelligence are fixed. A growth mindset is the belief that abilities can be improved upon.
Example: In the past you have failed at your attempts to imitate a difficult performance conversation. Because of your fixed mindset, you believe you are just no good at difficult conversations, therefore you avoid addressing important issues.
If instead, you have a growth mindset, you believe that you can improve your abilities to initiate difficult conversations even though you failed in the past.
The same mindsets apply when you are coaching others. If you have a fixed mindset, you will believe it’s impossible for your employee to change. Whereas if you have a growth mindset, you know that the proper skill development and support your employee is capable of performance improvement.
When managers are empowered, they get results through others. When managers are overly dependent upon their executives, it is usually cultural.
Enablement creeps into a culture when managers are either unclear about the decision-making process or lack confidence that their decisions will be supported. As a result, managers constantly seek out advice and support and delay decision-making, wasting valuable productivity time.
Example: Kim, a midlevel manager, delays a request. When the deadline approaches, Kim timidly asks for support from Doug, who is too busy. Kim complains to the chief operating officer, Chris, who abruptly takes over and tells Doug to get the job done. Now Kim and Doug are no longer speaking. Both of them feel misunderstood. Chris complains that the executives are overwhelmed with tasks that should be handled by managers. This is an example of enabling -- a habit of fixing the problem immediately to remove the discomfort.
Conversely, empowerment is about helping others recognize their choices so they can improve their situation. Using the same example above, no one acted from empowerment, including the executive. Chris could choose to stop fixing Kim’s problem and instead coach Kim on how to speak up. Enablement is about giving a person a fish, and empowerment is about teaching a person to fish.
In simple terms, a curious mindset is the opposite of a “know-it-all” attitude. Curiosity eliminates the perception of disregard, disinterest or apathy. Almost all conflict could be dramatically reduced or even eliminated if one of the parties would listen from a place of curiosity instead of assuming, or disregarding.
Most of us do not admit our need to be right and our need to know it all. But listen to your language, and your awareness will elevate.
Example: You try to coach your supervisor on how to initiate a difficult conversation with a colleague, but you get resistance. Your supervisor says things like:
- “I already know what he will say.”
- “You don’t know her like I do.”
- “They won’t like that idea at all.”
- “I’ve already told them a thousand times…”
- “It doesn’t really matter…”
We are all guilty of exhibiting the know-it-all attitude. Why do we assume we know? Because in the past the person has been resistant, we have evidence she is going to resist, and we get choked on that kernel of truth.
As I often tell my clients, “the reason you know what they will say is because you are approaching the situation same way you did in the past.” When you shift your approach and become curious, you open up for conversation instead of a conflict.
We all struggle with conflict, but the path to becoming conflict competent is to first adopt the right mindset, learn the skills and practice. With the right support system, a company can shift from a costly culture of avoidance to a prosperous culture of quick course-correction.
Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of "Stop Workplace Drama" (Wiley 2011), "No-Drama Leadership" (Bibliomotion 2015) and "7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice" (Greenbranch 2018). Download "The Bottom Line: How Executive Conversations Drive Results." Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and at MarleneChism.com.