Conflict is a natural part of life. It happens at home, in the community, and of course in our place of work.
So why is it we tend to consider conflict as something that should be avoided like the plague?
Author Liane Davey believes it shouldn’t. In fact, in her new book, The Good Fight: Use Productive Conflict to Get Your Team and Organization Back on Track, she argues conflict is a natural and fundamental component to the organization. The book is an excellent field guide to not only help set the record straight about conflict; it provides practical, useful tips on how to get it right.
There are several terms Davey introduces upfront that helps to set the tone of the book. One of the best is “conflict debt.” She writes:
Conflict debt is the sum of all the contentious issues that need to be addressed to be able to move forward but instead remain undiscussed and unresolved.”
Using the analogy of financial debt, Davey helps paint a picture. If we continue to buy things on credit—failing to pay off the balance—financial debt is sure to occur. Similarly, conflict debt happens when we avoid either an issue (e.g. something is too hard to take action with) or the opposition itself. The latter being those people who might oppose your way of thinking, an idea, etc.
Conflict debt also happens when we avoid the potential for friction. You might be in discussion with someone chatting about a conflict, but you end up avoiding the core of the issue altogether. Davey cites the oft-used “let’s take it offline” phrase used by countless employees when they don’t really want to dig deeper into the issue at that moment for fear of more conflict. Thus, they avoid the friction, and the original conflict remains. It likely grows, too.
Conflict debt is born from conflict aversion, states Davey. But as she rightly surmises, “Conflict aversion doesn’t hurt you until it changes into conflict avoidance.” From there Davey pays homage to the fantastic work of Thomas-Kilmann and his Conflict-Mode Instrument where levels of assertiveness and cooperativeness are used as the basis for one’s penchant for avoiding an issue or for being collaborative.
As the book shifts to solutions, I found the simplicity of establishing lines of communication a beautiful reminder of its importance in leader-employee relationships. So too, Davey explains the significance of getting it right within your team as well as cross-functional teams if one wants to be free of conflict debt.
One of the best lines in the book comes from a call-out and stresses the impact of communication.
Communication is, by definition, not something you can accomplish on your own. You can’t communicate to someone; you can only communicate with them.”
And when we communicate with someone, we are proactively beginning the process of paying back our conflict debt.
Establishing lines of communication is the first step to what Davey calls the “Conflict Code.” From there, strong connections are required—basing things on facts, being attentive to emotions, and validating what you’ve heard—and then the parties must contribute to a solution. She provides several useful tools and tactics in which to make this happen including Two Truths, Root Cause and the Hypothetical approach. (More details in the book, obviously.)
Part III—Codifying Conflict—is a full-frontal assault on the ways to get teams out of conflict debt. The highlight and main method come from what Davey calls the “U Tool.”
I found the “U” to be very helpful when I thought about the executive teams and business units that I work with. First, it’s a prescriptive yet transparent tool for all levels in a team or organization such that everyone will understand what types of conflict have been brewing or sitting in the background. From there, the U Tool can be used to discuss the issues at hand, deliberate potential solutions, and find ways in which to be ready for future conflicts of this type potentially.
The Good Fight contains not only well-documented tools and processes to mitigate concerns with conflict; it is written in a very personable manner. You’ll step inside of Davey’s vast client situations where she has successfully deployed the tools she outlines. Plus, some wonderful personal anecdotes help the reader know that Davey—like all of us—has lived a life full of conflict.
There is nothing to be ashamed of conflict. The Good Fight wonderfully outlines how to manage it.