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Tim Reitsma Conflict. Do we avoid it? Do we embrace it? If you manage people, there will be conflict unless you have created an organization of robot people. Some companies rely heavily on HR to navigate conflict, but what do you do if you don't have an HR person or a team? Then what? Conflict is unavoidable. However, the way we respond to conflict doesn't have to be reactionary, always ready for a fight, or with anger. Healthy conflict is important as you grow your business, and how you respond to it is even more important. In this podcast, my guests will walk us through why embracing conflict is, well, not always the easiest. However, it doesn't have to be difficult.
Thanks for tuning in. I'm Tim Reitsma, the resident host of People Managing People. Welcome to the podcast. We're people managing people and we want to lead and manage better. We're owners, founders, entrepreneurs. We're middle managers, we're team leaders. We're managing people, and yes we do human resources, but we're not HR, at least not in the traditional sense. We're on a mission to help people lead and manage their teams and organizations more effectively.
So, if you want to lead and manage better if you want to become a better organizational leader and more effective people manager, then join us. Keep listening to the podcast to find the tips, tricks, and tools you need to recruit, retain, manage, and lead your people and organization more effectively. While listening to this show, please subscribe and join our mailing list on peoplemanagingpeople.com to stay up to date with all that's going on.
At the end of this episode, you will have a simple framework on how to navigate and become more comfortable with conflict. My guest today is an expert in conflict, not because she looks for it wherever she goes, but because she has worked with many organizations on how to work through conflict, navigate, and embrace it. Whether you have an HR team or not, Tanya Schecter is someone you need to listen to. With over 20 years as a leadership coach and consultant, she brings a heart-centered approach that fosters collaboration and connection to achieve growth, change, transformation through authentic leadership. She is the co-founder of the HTI Institute, a Vancouver, BC-based consulting company focused on revolutionizing your relationships and helping you lead from your heart. So, welcome Tanya.
Tanya Schecter Hi Tim. Thanks for having me on.
Tim Reitsma Yeah. I'm really excited about this. I was thinking right off the beginning like how could we get into a big conflict just for our listeners? Before we get into some big conflict or a debate, I love to hear a bit more about who you are. So, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself?
Tanya Schecter Sure. Thanks for asking. My background is, as you mentioned, as leadership and coach. I have been working with organizations for over 20 years, really to help deal through conflict and change. As we all know, change is part of every organization and organizations need to successfully move throughout through change in order to move forward, evolve, and grow. Throughout all of these processes and even just throughout the normal tractions of work, there's often that conflict comes up because we're humans. Unless we all thought everything exactly the same, in which case we probably wouldn't grow and evolve, conflict is a natural tendency that will happen at different points.
Sometimes it's conflict over a process and sometimes there's a personality conflict, and all of that has to be dealt with and managed inside of an organization. That's my passion.
Tim Reitsma Okay, thanks for that. So your passion is really to help people in organizations and you'd mentioned kind of navigate through maybe some hard things in order to grow as an individual and an organization. You mentioned conflict. We're talking about conflict today. For those who are listening, I'm sure you can quickly close your eyes and think back to the latest conflict, either in your personal life or in your workplace and think, "Man, did I handle that correctly, or could I've handled it better?" Just for the sake of this podcast, what is conflict? Is it just a simple disagreement between two people or more, or is it something more than that?
Tanya Schecter I think conflict can be a variety of things. It can be anytime that there's a rub between two people. People see things differently and the conflict comes when people start feeling like there has to be agreement. It has to be one way or the other. It's black or white. As soon as it starts coming into a position where people have to take sides, that's where it turns conflictual.
Tim Reitsma The picking of sides. Do you have an example that you can share, maybe leave out people's names or company names, where the picking of sides or where a big conflict has come up.
Tanya Schecter Sure. Sometimes working in organizations, we see this a lot on teams and it can start to happen around process. One person feels like the process should look a specific way, and somebody else believes it should be something else. It can quickly emerge as either/or position instead of using the conflict as a way to explore and open up more possibilities so that the third way can emerge.
Tim Reitsma It's often, I've come across organizations where there's an absence of conflict, and yet we say conflict is pretty much unavoidable. So, what would be a cause of the absence of conflict?
Tanya Schecter So typically, what we've noticed is when there's an absence of conflict, it's either that everybody is so in tuned with each other and working in complete alignment with their values and their company's values, and each person has such high levels of interpersonal skills that there's never any disagreement that gets elevated to the level of conflict because it all just gets worked through as an opportunity for growth and that's extremely rare. Typically, the reason why we see conflict happen is that people have an inability to start engaging in conversation to see where the commonalities lie. As the conflicts or the conversations get avoided, there's typically it gets swept under the rug, but the feelings behind it and the opinions and the thoughts behind it don't disappear, and it starts to create an environment of toxicity.
Tim Reitsma I like how you brought that up. The environment of just a toxic environment or can lead to a toxic environment. I just think of even myself, if I bottle things up instead of addressing things, it has an effect on us as humans. I can imagine, and even in small or large organizations, how that can have a massive effect.
Tanya Schecter Totally. I mean, you can think about how that translates into the day to day environment. If I think about myself when I'm not dealing with something, it comes out in other ways. That's where you can start to see passive-aggressiveness. People being clipped or short. There's no real dialogue that starts happening. There starts to be a bad or toxic feeling in the environment, something heavy and poisonous. That's where the feelings and the weight of the environment start coming down. That's where it often leads to a lot of disability. If it goes to an extreme, we can start seeing disability claims, mental health claims. People get physically sick, and it just translates into a cascade.
Tim Reitsma Yeah, it does. I was doing some research ahead of this recording, and there's so much data to support avoiding conflict does lead to. If you're a business owner or a leader, whoever you are listening, it leads to increased costs somewhere else and in your business, not just as well as now you've got a grudge or a bad relationship with somebody on your team.
I came across this quote from Patrick Lencioni. I think it's very fitting for this part of the conversation. It says, "Failing to engage in conflict is a terrible decision. One that puts our temporary comfort and the avoidance of discomfort ahead of the ultimate goal of our organization. Conflict is always the right thing to do when it matters." Sorry, I'm going to put you on the spot there. What are your thoughts on that?
Tanya Schecter I love it because it's absolutely in line with something that I say all the time, which is, "You can either be uncomfortable for a really short period of time and deal with the actual conflict, or you can get more and more uncomfortable for a length of time," and there's more and more of an impact in that case, right?
Tim Reitsma Yeah, I love that. Just being in the uncomfortable for a short amount of time. Let me ask you something a little personal then. Are you someone who avoids conflict or hits it head-on?
Tanya Schecter I would say that I'm more of somebody who approaches conflict because I personally feel it so much in my body that if there's any kind of what I call static, I can't relax. So, I actually have found that I have to deal with things. It just takes too much of a physical toll on me. It's interesting because my business partner, Matthew, who you've interviewed before, he's on the opposite side of the spectrum. We always joke that he's a recovering conflict avoider.
Tim Reitsma I love that.
Tanya Schecter When I met him, he was kind of like conflict, "Oh, whoops," like the Road Runner, and you'd see the little cloud of dust behind him. For him growing up, it was really a matter of almost anything even as small as a difference of opinion could send him into a tailspin and have them avoid it. He realized that over his lifetime, he's probably missed the opportunity to have thousands of conversations.
Tim Reitsma I like that, just a conflict avoider. I wonder if that's something that you can put on your LinkedIn or I could put that on my LinkedIn as a skill or a trait or something. I think there's a lot of us out there that don't necessarily enjoy conflict to the point where it seems easier just to let things go than to actually hit it head-on, but it's important. We need to. We need to be addressing it. Is there a right time or right place to be getting into a conflict, or if there's a conflict going on to address that conflict?
Tanya Schecter I think there are definitely certain conditions that allow the conflict to be managed more successfully than others. Obviously, if you know you're in a state of complete reactivity, that's the wrong time to deal with the conflict. If you know you're physically height, like you're on high alert, you're feeling like, "Oh, I have to defend myself." It's not going to go anywhere. So, there's a piece where if we can calm ourselves down physically and get to the point where we're out of the reactivity and able to stand back, and observe, and question our own reactions, and then start to get curious about the other person, it's a much better place to start addressing the conflict because it just becomes less aggressive.
Tim Reitsma You mentioned two things in that is how to remain calm as well as getting curious. So for me, I think of a conflict in the workplace, from the previous place, and I wasn't calm and I wasn't curious. So, I think that's kind of a go-to. It's that fight or flight feeling that we get where, "Okay, I feel like I'm being may be attacked, or I'm taking something really personal." How do we remain calm? Do you have a technique that you can share or something that our listeners can take away or practice?
Tanya Schecter Sure. There are two pieces actually that come to mind. So in our HTI Relationship Map, we've got two tools. One is a navigational tool that we call STICI. It's really the process of stop, think, choose, and implement. So, if we find ourselves getting hyperreactive and feeling like, "Okay, it's time to fight. I've got to defend myself at all costs." That's the time at which it's time to just stop. Stop talking, stop saying, stop acting, stop whatever we were doing and just try and calm ourselves down.
That's where the time of doing things like deep belly breathing, really to bring our nervous system down, and get to a place where we can actually observe not just the other person but ourselves and observe our thoughts. That's where we can start thinking and make more of a conscious choice about how we're going to respond. So, it's basically giving us that chance between the stimulus and response.
I always like to say that between stimulus and response, there's the pause, and that's really what makes us human. We can control to elongate that pause or not. By taking the steps to elongate that pause before responding, we're much more able to respond with intention in a proactive way that will net us the outcomes that we want. Sometimes, it may just be, "You know what? I'm too hot. I can't respond. I'm too overloaded, and I'm going to come back," and letting the person in front of us know that we're too triggered and that we really want to have the conversation but we don't want to have it from this reactive place.
Then we can go and think about all of our different options and play between, "Well, which one should we choose?" Then, we can finally make a choice. We can do it with the person in front of us, or on our own and then come have the conversation.
Tim Reitsma I like that. It sounds so simple, stop, think, choose, and implement. I think it's the word or the phrase emotional intelligence comes up in that because being able to recognize that, "I'm feeling my blood pressure go up. I'm feeling more agitated. My fists are clenched because I'm getting angry," taking a minute and just stopping at that moment. In some cases, even looking at the person like you said across from us and saying, "Look, I'm really triggered right now. I just need a couple of minutes," or "I'll come back to this in an X amount of time." So, is that common? Do people in your experience take that pause?
Tanya Schecter No. I think it's something that's learned, and people who have an awareness and start practicing it, play with it. Most of us tend to go to our default fight or flight. So, that's where it's a practice to learn to elongate that pause and really consciously pick that option over something else.
Tim Reitsma I think it's really important to practice that and to learn that. I'm a father of two small children, and so I think that has helped me practice this. "Okay, I need a couple of minutes," before I deal with this or before I react in a way I don't want to react. So, it's super awkward at first in my opinion. However, clearing your head, clearing your mind, and understanding the intention.
I think, often you mentioned where conflict comes from is where two or more people are fighting for something that they believe is right, or someone has an opinion that is different than the opinion that you or I might have. So, a conflict might occur and that's where getting curious really comes into play.
Tanya Schecter Totally. What I love about what you said about that is it really brings to mind that often, what people are fighting over isn't actually the content. It becomes the values that are underneath it. So this morning, I had a conversation with a client that I'd been working with. She was saying how her business partner, he's the creative director, and the manager, and the one responsible for building the business. He's the marketing, and she's the creative director.
So for him, he's all excited because they're getting all these business meetings, and all these leads, and it looks like the clients are coming in head over heels, and she's starting to feel overwhelmed. So when we started talking, it was like, "Well, it's actually a values conflict because coming from the marketing background, for him success looks like dollars coming in, revenue, clients, being number one. Whereas for her, success looks like being in charge of creative, having doing high-quality work, is known for creativity, which isn't necessarily the same." So they both are operating from the same values, but the values mean different things to them.
Tim Reitsma I love that you brought that up. That could be its own conversation just on, "We share the same words, but yet we hold different definitions for those words." I like how you brought that upon in terms of success. For one person, it means lots of money in the bank. For the other person, it doesn't necessarily mean that. It means you're being really great at a given craft and skill. So, therein lies the conflict.
I'm curious. I don't know if you're able to share or not, but how were these two people then navigating it? Do they bring in a mediator to help create a definition? Are they being coached through it? Are its gloves off, get in the ring and battle it out?
Tanya Schecter Well, I think for them, it was just like this was an off the cuff conversation because I've done some work with them around values earlier, and how values determine a lot of what we do. So, I think that it hadn't clicked that actually what they were having was a values conflict as what underlies each value. So, my guess is that now they're going to go back and have that conversation from that perspective as opposed to, "Well what outcomes should we be going for?"
Tim Reitsma I love that because it sounds like a smaller company, maybe just two people in this agency and being able to sit down and have that conversation and have a healthy conflict to come to a positive resolution. Now, let's switch gears for a second. So, I've worked in many large organizations where if a conflict arises, HR is brought in. It seems to almost be the default and HR is then accessed at mediator and someone to can hear both sides and whatnot. So, when you have an HR person or a team, is it their responsibility to be brought in on all conflict?
Tanya Schecter No. I would say ideally that's not the HR person's job or role. I would say that in companies where people don't have the skill sets or don't know how to engage in having these types of conversations, that it escalates to the point where a third party needs to be there to facilitate the conversation.
Tim Reitsma Yeah. Sometimes yes, or getting a third party who's not your best friend or a buddy in the company to be the mediator is the right thing to do. When you do have a small company because a lot of our listeners are those business owners potentially who have founded a company and wear multiple hats there. They are the CEO, the COO, the HR team, the finance team, you name it in the organization. So, is there a simple tool or framework that if somebody's listening to this that they can take away today and practice?
Tanya Schecter Sure. I think that there are a few that I can think of. One is really understanding, especially in a small company. If you can understand each other's core values because they seem to often inform how we show up even at work. So to give you an example, one time we were working with a group and one person said that their core value was time, being in integrity with their time and being on time. So if a meeting would go over, they would leave because they wanted to be sure to be prompt for their next meeting and make the commitment that they were at next.
Somebody else who was on the same team, their value was always giving your all. So they could have perceived the person who was leaving as not giving their all, but once they understood that they were acting in line with their value of keeping time and being in integrity with it and holding their commitments, it changed the perspective. So then, they could start having a conversation around, "Okay, well if knowing that you really feel the need to hold time and these meetings may go on longer, what can we do to support you? So that you can stay in the meeting and still be in integrity, or how can I keep the meeting shorter and carry it over as needed?"
So, just even knowing each other's values and how they inform our decision making can start and allow us to have these conversations around functional issues that come up and that can create conflict or rubs.
Tim Reitsma I like that. It actually just brought up a scenario in my mind of a recent job that I was doing where one of my core values is curiosity. So, when I was bouncing around some ideas, I was just getting a person's opinion, just getting the thought. So no curiosity at all, it was just yes, no, yes, no, yes, no. It completely rubbed me the wrong way. So now, I'm analyzing my previous career.
Often, that's where conflict does come from is it's we have to assume good intentions. People aren't in an organization with malicious intent. So if we assume good intentions, then we need to not just assume everyone is like you or like me. We need to get curious. We need to understand what makes us all tick. What makes us all breathe.
So it's one big takeaway is, is understand core values. So, if you're sitting down, let's say you've got a small team of four or five people, you think, "I don't have the luxury of a day to figure out core values of individuals." Is there a quick and easy way to at least uncover one or two core values in a short amount of time?
Tanya Schecter I think that you can have each person write them down, and then you can do a quick share. You can always ask somebody. So, I've noticed this and I'm wondering what value you're representing when you do this. It gives you a chance to have an exploratory conversation as things progress, as opposed to having to sit down and have a specific discussion about values.
Tim Reitsma Yeah, I like that. We all have values whether we've defined them or not. So, it's getting clear on our own values. For the nature of this podcast, we don't have the time to go into it, but we will have a follow-up. I will have a follow-up podcast just on core values because I think it's an essential piece of the foundation of not just an individual but an organization.
Tanya Schecter Absolutely.
Tim Reitsma So, I think it's hugely important. So big takeaway is we have to assume that there's no ill intent, and we're not all the same. We're all different. We need to get curious and understand what makes each other function, and tick, and what we're all passionate about. Now, I want to just switch gears a little bit to your website, htiinstitute.com. You've got a resource there called the conflict-o-meter.
Tanya Schecter Right.
Tim Reitsma I love the name and I wish I could show up a visual of it, just of all the emojis on it. So, tell me about this. Tell me about this tool. What prompted the creation of it? For those who are listening, on the left-hand side, it's red and it says, "Run". On the right-hand side, it says, "This is an awesome opportunity." So, what does it mean?
Tanya Schecter So, Matt and I were developing a course on conversation and conflict, or conflict and conversation. We were talking about how people generally, it's that fight or flight response. That very few people instinctively go to, "This is going to be a great opportunity, a great conversation," and that collaborative process. So, we thought that we would use conflict-o-meter. It can be used in several ways.
One would be to first use it. By the way, this is a downloadable resource that anybody can download and use. So, one way would be to just look at it and see where's my natural tendency and to rate yourself. So, if you know that your natural tendency is run, well, then you also can figure out that, "If I want to get to more of a place where conflict is a potential opportunity, then why is it that I feel that it's run? What's threatening about it? Is it that I don't have the skills or the tools? Is it my perception of conflict? Which area do I want to work on, and then do some work around it?"
Then, once we've got some tools in our toolbox, we can then go back and rate ourselves, "Are we still in the same place in terms of just a generic approach to conflict?" Another way of using it though would be let's say I know I have to have a conversation. So in my head, I'm like, "This is going to be a difficult conversation. It's going to be heavy. I'm uncomfortable." I can rate myself and see where am I. Am I at the point of I want to run? Am I just worried, or can I handle it? I'm not looking forward to it but I'm ready, or am I totally engaged and ready for this, and I can't wait to start having this discussion because I can't wait to find out where it's going to open up.
If we're anywhere on the left-hand side, then it's the time to not engage in the direct conflict and to start thinking about, "Well, what strategies do I need to get in place? What do I want to look at? How do I want to approach the conversation and really put some framework in place for ourselves and put some tools in our toolkit so that we're feeling really comfortable to pull out and use in the conversation." Once we've got all that in place, then we can go back and see if we've changed where we are on the conflict-o-meter. Do we feel more prepared?
Tim Reitsma I like that. I like the idea of just, you talked about earlier just about the stop and think, and this is a great tool just to even assist in that is, "How am I feeling? I'm worried, or this should be okay," or "Nope, I got to run. I got to completely avoid this." So often, we just choose to run from this, run from those that conflict. I was pulling up some stats about conflict and trying to dig out how much does it potentially costs us in the workplace? How often do we spend in conflict?
I found a stat. I believe it was the average person, and I wish I'm not going to butcher this, but it was a study done by the publishers of the Myers-Briggs Assessment. In the US, employees spend 2.1 hours per week involved in the conflict, which amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours. So, a lot of time is spent on conflict. Sure, again, conflict isn't bad. It can actually help us drive our businesses forward, but if we think of it in the negative sense in a conflict that is just not producing results, it can cost our businesses.
Tanya Schecter Absolutely. I would say that it's the unresolved conflict, and the conflict that's not being productive or going anywhere that has a cost. It has a cost for us physically, emotionally. There's lost productivity for the organizations, and I know for myself if I'm super upset, it comes home and it cascades out. I'll talk to my husband. It sucks up his time. It could leach over and bleed into him. He can start feeling aggravated. So, it has a whole cascading effect as well that's often hidden.
Tim Reitsma Yeah, definitely. If we hide that conflict, it has an effect on us and it leads to an erosion of trust in our organizations. So, I think there's a whole big play on, "Why don't we engage in conflict?" Often at least I believe that it stems from, "Okay. We don't know each other, but maybe I don't trust you. Maybe I don't trust someone." Do you agree or disagree with that?
Tanya Schecter Totally. I think there's that assumption that the other person can't handle it. I think that there's a bunch of things. That one, if we approach them, we might hurt their feelings, or we might have the conversation and it will be a waste of time because it won't go anywhere, or the situation will get worse, or they can't handle it, or we don't have the tools and skills that we feel that we need to know how to handle it. So, it can be a bunch of things and not dealing with conflict creates an erosion in trust, absolutely.
Tim Reitsma I've adopted just a little saying over the last couple of years as I was like you said Matt, just a Roadrunner, just avoiding conflict, a conflict avoider. It really adopted a phrase of, "I can control my words, but I can't necessarily control the outcome or control the reaction to those words." Meaning, if I'm going to approach something and just be a bully, I pretty much know the reaction I'm going to get.
As we are in the workplace and working with others, we need to stop and think about the words we're going to use, the actions we're going to take before we handle something. I think of working in different teams, and I've implemented a number of big systems over the years and conflict is good. I've had a lot of conflicts. It's brought out better results in the design of systems and the implementation of them knowing that it's not personal and knowing that we've got the trust of our people. We trust each other, and at the end of the day, we can still go grab a beer, go for coffee with each other and not take it personally.
Tanya Schecter Absolutely. It's really interesting hearing you say that. I think you said something really important about being in control of what we say and not being attached to the outcome. We really can't control the outcome, and what we can also influence is how we say it, knowing who the receiver is. So we can also know, what we know about the person who we're going to be talking to or managing the conflict with. We need to take that into account about how we deliver our message.
So, I mean, for example, I'm a very direct person. I know for some people it's too much. So, if I'm in a great relationship with somebody who I know I can say anything to, I don't have to censor myself as much. For other people, it's kind of I use this mental imagery of a little bunny rabbit laying cotton balls of fluff to soften what I'm going to say because I know for some people that's really needed to tone myself down for them to be able to hear what I'm saying.
Tim Reitsma I love that you brought that up. That's a key takeaway as well. Again, where everybody in our teams, whether we're a team of two, an organization of two or an organization of hundreds or thousand, we're all different. We all react differently, and we all take feedback very differently and react in such different ways. You'd mentioned you're a direct person. I'm not necessarily as direct.
So knowing that, if we ever worked together, I would like to know that. If there's a conflict, then I know not to take it personally. Then I know that "Okay, this is how Tanya reacts, or Tanya talks." It helps build a relationship.
Tanya Schecter Absolutely. It's almost like conflict is a practice. It's not a one-stop-shop. So every conflict that we engage in, we learn something about ourselves, about the process of managing conflict, about the tools that we have at our disposal. How well we wield them, and about the other person that we're in conflict with.
Tim Reitsma So, is that a takeaway for the listeners, is to get to the office or at home and just instigate a conflict just to practice, right? I think we need the practice of it. I say that jokingly because we don't necessarily want to go and look for conflict, but with the model of stop, think, choose, and then implement as well as head to the htiinstitute.com and look for the conflict-o-meter. It's a great little simple resource to use.
I'm curious, any last thoughts or any as we wrap up the podcast? Any final thoughts on conflict and how not to avoid it and how, and why we should be embracing it?
Tanya Schecter I think it's just the idea that conflict is just an opportunity to have a conversation. If we can embrace conflict as an opportunity, possibilities open up and possibilities both for outcomes and for our relationship.
Tim Reitsma Oh, I like that. It's used as opportunities to learn and to grow and to gain different perspectives. That's great Tanya. So, I really thank you for taking your time today to talk to us about all things conflict and provide just a really simple, straightforward framework for the listeners to really take home or take to the office and put into practice today. So with that, I want to thank you.
I also wanted to just thank our listeners for tuning in today. If you like what you heard or have any other ideas or thoughts for the podcast, please head to peoplemanagingpeople.com, as well as subscribe to our newsletter. I will have links to reach out to Tanya as well as her company and the resource in the comment section of the podcast below. So with that, I'd like to thank you, Tanya, and have a great day everyone.
Tanya Schecter Yeah, thanks, Tim. It's been awesome.