I meet people every day who admit that they aren’t comfortable with conflict. They worry that disagreeing might hurt someone’s feelings or disrupt harmonious team dynamics. They fret that their perspective isn’t as valid as someone else’s, so they hold back.
Sure, pulling your punches might help you maintain your self-image as a nice person, but you do so at the cost of getting your alternative perspective on the table; at the cost of challenging faulty assumptions; and at the cost of highlighting hidden risks. That’s a high cost to pay for nice.
The secret of having healthy conflict and maintaining your self-image as a nice person is all in the mindset and the delivery.
Here are a few tips on improving your delivery:
1. Use “and,” not “but.”
2. Use hypotheticals.
3. Ask about the impact.
4. Discuss the underlying issue.
5. Ask for help.
Conflict — presenting a different point of view even when it is uncomfortable — is critical to team effectiveness. Diversity of thinking on a team is the source of innovation and growth. It is also the path to identifying and mitigating risks. If you find yourself shying away from conflict, use one of these techniques to make it a little easier.
The alternative is withholding your concerns, taking them up outside of the team, and slowly eroding trust and credibility. That’s not nice at all.
Nine Practices to Help you Say No
Irene can’t say no. And because she can’t say no, she’s spending her very limited time and already taxed energy on other people’s priorities, while her own priorities fall to the wayside. I have experienced the same thing myself. So, over time, I experimented with a number of ways to strengthen my no.
Here are the nine practices I shared with Irene to help her say a strategic no in order to create space in her life for a more intentional yes.
1. Know your no.
2. Be appreciative.
3. Say no to the request, not the person.
4. Explain why.
5. Be as resolute as they are pushy.
7. Establish a pre-emptive no.
8. Be prepared to miss out.
9. Gather your courage.
She’s still doing great work and she’s still valued by her boss and co-workers, but they’ve noticed the difference too, she told me. And not all of it is positive.
They’re respecting her boundaries — they don’t even seem to resent her for them — but she’s had to give up something she never knew was important to her: her sense of herself as someone who could do it all. It’s been hard for her to feel as valued and necessary as she did when she always said yes.
“Would you rather go back to saying yes all the time?” I asked her.
She answered me with a very well-practiced “No.”