When Faced With Conflict, Lean In

Do you know how to have difficult conversations?

Summary
Transcript

Hank Fortener, founder of Adopt Together, believes many leadership failures are due to avoiding conflict, and he provides tips and personal best practices for dealing with conflict and learning how to have difficult conversations with successful outcomes. When you look back on your leadership journey, do you see a common theme for the projects that failed or the employee-employer relationships that didn’t thrive? Let us know in the comments below!

 

I never lost a million dollars, I never figured out a way to collapse an organization. I think all of the leadership failures I have are interpersonal, and all of them were because I was avoiding conflict.

 

When I think, “That team didn’t work,” or, “That project failed,” or, “That relationship went south,” it’s always because I was avoiding conflict. I was avoiding hard conversations. I was avoiding the crucial conversations that could have changed the outcome that was going on.

 

Sometimes it was interpersonal, most of the time it was people. I didn’t want to have a conflict with that person. I didn’t want to have a difficult conversation with that person.

 

So, I think the leadership lesson that stuck with me is the minute I think of something that implies conflict, or if I feel myself try to start avoiding things, I have to lean in. I push into that right away and say, “All right, I am going to hang out with that guy. I’ll schedule a meeting with her. We’re going to do a specific meeting just to deal with this environmental reality that we are not talking about. We have to pull the team together and start problem solving.”

 

The best way to have a difficult conversation is to deliver or give empathy, not information. Nobody changes their mind about you because you give them more information.

 

That doesn’t change their anger. That shifts the information but now I’m still mad, and now I feel mad and dumb because I don’t have a reason to feel mad and dumb. Instead, use empathy and say, “My assessment is that this is how you’re feeling. Am I close?”

 

The more a person feels understood by you, the more likely that they are able to get to that shared accomplishment of saying, “Oh, the information was different.”

 

That information then sits in a place where you can begin to trust each other.

 

For me, the leadership failures that I look back on, and none that are mega enough to go through all the details of it. I never lost a million dollars, I never figured out a way to collapse an organization. I think all of the leadership failures I have are interpersonal, and all of them were because I was avoiding conflict. Every single one of them. The ones that I look back on and go, “That team didn't work,” or, “That project failed,” or, “That relationship went south,” any of those were always because I was avoiding conflict. I was avoiding hard conversations. I was avoiding the crucial conversations that could have changed the outcome that was going on. I had weird feelings about what was going to happen. Environmental things I was choosing to ignore, that I was just resistant to facing conflicts, facing the circumstances of what was going on. Sometimes it was interpersonal, most of the time it was people. I didn't want to have a conflict with that person. I didn't want to have a difficult conversation with that person. Or, other times where I go, “I just don't want to face the environmental reality that that is. We'll ignore it. We'll be fine, we'll be fine.” You just tell yourself, “We'll make it, we'll make it,” and you don’t. So, I think the leadership lesson that stuck with me is the minute I think of something, that I go, “There is a tension here that I have to talk about,” or, “There is a conflict there.” If I feel myself try to start avoiding things I have to lean in. I push into that right away and go, “All right, I am going to hang out with that guy. I'll schedule a meeting with her. We’re going to do a specific meeting just to deal with this environmental reality that we are not talking about. We have to pull the team together and problem solve.” I just think my avoidance caused every failure I have. That’s a broad statement but probably every failure I had could have been avoided if I had just faced the crucial conversations, the committed conversations that I needed to have. The best way to have a difficult conversation is to deliver or give empathy, not information. Nobody changes their mind about you because you give them more information. Even if that information is pivotal, “I'm angry at you because I feel like you cut me out of this project,” and you go, “No, I didn’t. It was this person who made that call.” That doesn't change their anger. That shifts the information but now I'm still mad, and now I feel mad and dumb because I don't have a reason to feel mad and dumb. They need empathy and not information. They need you to begin by going, “This is what I'm thinking your feeling.” Whether a person is livid, angry, no matter what, empathy is the answer to beginning and going, “My assessment is that this is how you’re feeling. Am I close?” The more a person feels understood by you, the more likely that they are able to get to that shared accomplishment of going, “Oh, the information was different.” So, don't wait for them to say, “I feel cut out of this project by you.” You go, “Hey, man, my guess is you feel angry because you feel like I cut you out of this project. Am I close?” Let them understand that you get them. Once you get them and the temperature is lower, then you go, “I want to let you know that it was actually my manager, it was actually my boss who came to me and said, ‘Here’s the direction I need you to go.’ I should have communicated to you and that was my bad.” That information then sits in a place where you can begin to trust each other. I think that’s the thing that has been most helpful for me, is realizing that our natural tendency is to go, “I have got to give the information and then he won’t be mad.” That never works. You have got to give empathy and let a person begin to know that they can trust you, and then that information can actually be dealt with.
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Hank Fortener

Hank Fortener is the founder of Adopt Together, a non-profit, crowdfunding platform that bridges the gap between families who want to adopt and the children who need loving homes. He is also Pastor at MOSAIC in Los Angeles and is the ...

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