We work with many healthcare, third sector, commercial and social enterprise professionals who find themselves veering away from discussing difficult issues because they are afraid of conflict or are simply too nice to want to give negative feedback to people.

The problem is that, very often, the issue bubbles under the surface, festering and become toxic to the partnerships and teams that the professional is a part of.

Resentment, frustration, loss of trust, demotivation and stress are often the result.

Bullying can also occur as the lack of dealing with the issue can often be seen as unconscious permission for bullying to happen.

Yet is is very important to disagree and debate. The last thing an organisation needs is a group of people who all agree with each other. How much money would be wasted if ideas and new innovations were able to be developed without scrutiny to ensure they are feasible both financially and operationally?

Decades of academic research have proven that the benefits that accrue as a result of engaging in debate are numerous. Debate and disagreement is necessary for effective problem solving and for effective interpersonal relationships. It is also vital for decision making. How many times have you sat in a meeting and thought a decision has been made only to find it is back on the agenda at the next meeting? This is usually because the debate hasn’t happened or people are too ‘scared’ to speak out and disagree.

Healthy and constructive debate is a component of high-functioning teams, and differences within the team often make diverse teams more effective than those made up of people with similar experience.

Understanding and appreciating the various viewpoints involved in the situation are key factors in its resolution.

So can nice people do conflict?

Absolutely yes as long as they see it as a constructive and empowering thing for the individual and the organisation. Conflict is just often disagreements with extreme emotions clouding the issue and making the constructive debate difficult.

A fundamental step to encouraging a culture of debate and dealing with difficult situations constructively is to use a clean feedback model

Make sure that you express what has happened in terms of the facts and evidence. What have you seen, heard, exactly what has happened?

Then recognise that you are mind-reading their intention behind the behaviour or issue and tell them what your perception of their intent is (make sure you make it clear that it is your perception because remember, you don’t actually know!).

Now you can move onto the impact that the behaviour or issue has had.

Finally talk about what would make the difference next time.

Remember you can’t change what has happened – you can only affect what happens from now on.

Some more tips

  1. Encourage both parties to step into the other person’s shoes.
  2. Really listen and step back from the emotion. Your listening needs to be fine tuned so start to recognise when you are unconsciously listening to disagree or for a chance to step in with your own opinion.
  3. Use Michael Grinder’s method of 3 point communication to allow you to discuss a difficult issue without it becoming part of the relationship.
  4. Understand that your perception of the situation may not be the fact and be open to learn more about it.
  5. Recognise where you are on the drama triangle (Persecutor, Victim or Rescuer) and make a conscious effort to move to the emotion free fly on the wall, unbiased observer position that is completely off of the drama triangle.
  6. Know what you want from the situation and why it is important to you. Are you concentrating your energy in the wrong place?
  7. Remove the word ‘BUT’ from your vocabulary. Saying something like ‘I appreciate your opinion but I think that…..’ means that you don’t appreciate their opinion at all. The other person subconsciously deletes everything you said before the ‘but’ and only concentrates on what you said after it!
  8. Chose your moment to have the conversation. Make sure you are feeling resourced and that it is a good time for the other person as well.
  9. Have rapport, people feel more comfortable with people who are like them, so use your body language and voice tonality to match them.
  10. If you want others to be open to feedback then you need to be open to it yourself!

If you would like to talk to me further about the work we do facilitating difficult conversations, please do get in touch.