The Fear of Conflict: How Fierce Conversations and Conversational Intelligence Can Help Your Organisation
Posted by Janice Scheckter on 14 December 2018 12:05 PM CAT
“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of our culture, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations. Everything happens through conversations."
This is the premise of conversational intelligence, which is explained by Judith Glaser in her book Conversational Intelligence: How Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. Intelligent conversational skills help build interpersonal relationships, expose and tackle core issues within a team, and improve personal and organisational performance. This is an awesome book that I would recommend to anybody looking to improve team performance, because I believe that conversation is an important part of team dynamics that is very often recognised, but not carried out correctly by leaders.
I put it down to fear of conflict. Essentially, conflict determines how members of a team react in different situations and towards each other because our brains know when we should be operating in defensive mode. Conflict activates defensive mode, and when not facilitated by intelligent conversation, it is an impediment to sharing, discovery, and team cohesion.
The fear of conflict can actually be explained by the brain’s neurochemistry of fear. The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls our fight and flight mechanisms: when we feel threatened, this part of the brain locks down, which makes us incapable of being influenced and guided by our leaders. Judith Glaser explains that the best remedies to the brain’s state of fear are support, empathy, and trust, which are all controlled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex.
This is why I believe it is so important that we understand how to have conversations with team members that trigger high order intelligences like trust and good judgement, as opposed to those that activate more primitive instincts. This is not possible if your team is not facilitating constructive conversation, or avoiding conversation altogether for fear of conflict.
In her book, Fierce Conversation, Susan Scott mentions that conversations deliver the necessary skills to help leaders address challenges and implement lasting change in teams. I would recommend reading this book with Glaser’s, because it shares valuable insights into how we need to approach the conversations we have with our team members to avoid the fight-or-flight responses we may have to situations involving conflict.
I believe that it is important to eavesdrop on oneself. Listen to yourself when you have conversations with your colleagues, and think about how you are negotiating these conversations. What topics do you try to avoid, how do you try change the subject, what white lies do you tell, and why? The answers to these questions can provide you with vital information that can indicate where you are going wrong in your conversations. Make sure you are engaging in conversations “fiercely”, in Susan Scott’s terms.
Having fierce conversations means making the conversation you are having something that is real and truthful to you. Think about the words that you use, the way you say them, and how this can impact the response of your colleague to the conversation you are having. Your team members need to know that they can trust you, that you have empathy for them, and that you support them. Conversations that elicit these reactions are ones that provide a solution to the dysfunction present in teams that are running away from conflict, instead of addressing it through fierce conversational intelligence.