Carol Bowser: One Question to Rule Them All

One question to rule them all.

Communication Employee Relations
Written by Carol Bowser

There’s one question I ask people that often stops them in their tracks.

A bit of background before my “big reveal”. Let me set the scene. A leader comes to me seeking help because people either are delaying or downplaying important conversations. The result is the leader feels that there is a lack of productive communication causing organizational drag. Sound familiar?

You bet it does. Everyone, especially leaders, want clean, clear, efficient, dynamic, empathetic and results-oriented communication. In fact, they tell you they want it. They hint about it. They set up coaching to encourage skill development to attain it. And. It. Doesn’t. Happen. (At least as frequently as leaders expect that this high value communication should be happening.)

Why? Simple. People have different values and beliefs about conflict. People’s beliefs about conflict impact how, when, or if they risk communicating their perspective.

You see, people learn their conflict behaviors, assumptions, and values around conflict based on their family of origin or from their formative experience.

So, here is the big question “how was conflict handled in your home growing up?”

This is where people usually stop in their tracks, pause for a bit of introspection, and go: “Ooh.” Then I follow up with “So, how does your family of origin or your formative experience inform your particular, bespoke view conflict? “

For example, were you taught to view conflict as something you address immediately and forcefully and then once it’s out, you’re done? Were you taught to downplay needs and not talk about it to keep things “nice and calm”?

Did you learn that to stay physically and emotionally safe, you need to avoid by hiding or leaving?

As a leader of an organization, it is important to foster a conflict-competent organization where people can talk about what is important to them while maintaining a collaborative atmosphere. As members of a team, we all want to feel seen and valued (some more than others).

Often overlooked, however, is the fact that we have beliefs about conflict, behavior, and experiences that are totally different from one another. These differences tell us whether or not it is safe to bring things forward OR, if we do bring it up, how we bring things forward in order to stay safe.

This is something pretty well baked into us.

The next time you ask people to solve a problem or collaborate, take a moment to consider their experiences with their families of origin and whether they have the same perspective on conflict as you do – opening up or bringing matters to the forefront might seem riskier to them than to you.

Remember, everyone has different beliefs about conflict. What are yours? Are you expecting/assuming that everyone has the same belief system as you? Pause and think about that. Take a moment to ask yourself “how is my view of conflict influencing my expectations of others and my behavior?” Also, take a moment to consider if your view of conflict was different, how might you behave differently?

Take a minute to think about it. Who knows, it might make a huge difference.