How to prevent conflicts on your team (video transcript)

A lot of people agree that getting into arguments is their least favorite part of the job. What if I were to tell you you can actually short-circuit many conflicts before they even start? In this video, I’m going to show you the number one technique for changing an argument into something that feels a lot more like problem-solving.

So how do you stop an argument from starting? Imagine a colleague says something that you disagree with. I mean, full on, face-scrunching, head-tilting, crazy talk.

You have a split second to decide what to do, and what you do in that moment means the difference between setting up an argument as adversaries or shifting into problem-solving mode as allies. How do you respond? Imagine it. So remember, this colleague has said something you totally disagree with. So let’s give you a multiple-choice test:
A. Do you calmly, politely tell them why they’re mistaken?
B. Do you do a spit take, wipe the coffee off your face, and say, what the?
C. Do you smile and nod halfheartedly and really hope they’ll drop the subject?

Okay, it was a trick question. The answer is D, none of the above. Let’s talk a little bit about why.

Did you choose answer A, and calmly and politely tell your colleague why they were mistaken?

Well, you’re still telling them they’re wrong. And telling somebody that they’re wrong is not a great way to get into a productive conversation. You are probably going to make them feel badly or make them dig in and pull on that tug of rope even harder. So if you’re trying to move things forward, get to a better answer, telling somebody that they’re wrong is not the way to go. It’s a surefire way to go nowhere good and nowhere fast. So it’s clear you’re going to get in a fight. Now, it’s possible that it’ll launch a pitch battle right then and there. Sure. But it’s just as possible that that issue is going underground, and it may be gorilla warfare fought in the bushes. Well, I mean the hallways, but you know what I mean.

So if you said A, that “I calmly and rationally and logically tell them why they’re wrong”, I know that you’re trying to get to the best decision and you think there’s one clear answer, but I’m telling you right now, that’s an instant way to start an argument. So, nope. Eh. Don’t get to just tell somebody that they’re wrong.

Okay, what about answer B? What if what you did was make the person feel dumb?

You said, “what the…?” Well, okay. You understand when I say it that way that telling somebody that they’re stupid or completely off base is also not a great way to avoid an argument. In this case, probably what’s gonna happen if you’ve embarrassed somebody in front of others, you can be pretty sure that most people are actually gonna take that fight underground. So all you’ve done is give them an express ticket on the passive-aggressive train. Woo-woo! So you know this one’s coming to bite you in the butt later, but you never know when or where the issue is gonna raise its ugly head. So if your first instinct was to really tell the person what was wrong with their idea or to be insulting or have a quick comeback, none of those things is going to lead you anywhere productive. So no, eh, B is off the table as well.

Okay, so what about C? Maybe you thought, “oh, you know, every once in a while you have to pick your battles and it’s just not worth it. So I pick C, smile, nod, you know, go along”. After all, C is the answer we learned to pick in college as the right answer to all multiple-choice quizzes, isn’t it?

Well, no, not in this case. So if you give up and just say nothing, dude, you dropped the rope, threw in the towel, like, what’s with that? How are you gonna get your team to a good answer to the problem? Just giving up and going along to get along? That’s not a good answer. The team’s counting on you to have a better answer than that. So I’m afraid, eh, no. No to C as well. It is not a good way to actually avoid the argument, because it’s coming back later, for sure. Instead, the most productive, useful, healthy, turn things in a positive direction thing you can do when your colleague says something that you completely disagree with is to validate them.

I know. When somebody says something you completely disagree with, it is not your first reaction to want to validate them. It isn’t for me either. I have to work really hard on this one. Most of us when faced with a comment that we totally disagree with, our tendency is to say something that makes the other person feel stupid or small or irrelevant.

That’s just what comes naturally, but unfortunately, that’s what leads us into arguments.

It’s actually not the issue at all, it’s if you leave someone feeling like they don’t have something valuable to add, that’s when they’re more likely to get into a fight. They have to defend themselves.

I want you to think about a recent disagreement that you went through. Because the more you can actually make this real for you and think of real situations, the better. So when the person said something that you disagree with, did you do any of these things? So first of all, did you jump right in, not even mention what they had said, and go straight to sharing your opinion instead? “Well, I think it’s really important that we open our first new store in California”. Maybe they’d been talking about a whole East Coast strategy and you didn’t even mention anything about that. You just completely negated what they said and wanted to make sure your point got heard. Yep, that’s really, really invalidating.

Another possibility is that each time they said something, your response got louder, got a little stronger. You leaned into the table. So every time they said something, they felt less and less like you were listening to them. That’s really invalidating. One of the other things that we often do, so I want you to think honestly about how often you do this, is that when you’re starting to have an argument with somebody that you don’t agree with, you actually start to turn your body away from them. You start to drop your eye contact from them. And when we do that, that’s a very subconscious, but strong signal, that we are invalidating what they have to say. And even that we’re interested in them saying it. So whether you do it a assertively by ignoring their point altogether, or with your tone and body language, by getting louder and louder or by turning away, it’s critically important that you not invalidate the person.

Once you’ve invalidated them, they will have to stand up and defend themselves. That’s when you get into a fight. So whether it was what you said that showed you didn’t wanna hear their point, how you said it with your tone or what your body language conveyed, if you have invalidated the person, make them feel that their point or even they aren’t worthy of the discussion, you’ve invalidated them, and by invalidating them, guess what it does? It makes them cranky, and cranky people, cranky people get in fights.

Here’s an alternative. The next time somebody says something that you really disagree with, that you think is kind of nuts, instead of invalidating them, try saying something that makes them feel like you’re willing to have the conversation, that you’re curious and that you want to hear them out and that you’re willing to get to a good answer. So you add a little bit of breath into the conversation, so it’s not gonna be aggressive and adversarial from the get go.

I’m gonna give you three examples of the kinds of things you can do that validate someone.

One way you validate them is simply by showing them respect. So you can simply say something like, wow, it took guts to put that issue on the table and I respect that.

A second thing you can do is to actually relate back to them what they said. All you’re doing is paraphrasing. So you might say, “okay, so if I heard you correctly, this for you is really about X. Is that right?”

The third thing you can do is show them that you hear their perspective and that you’re starting to walk a mile in their shoes and think about it from their perspective, simply by saying something like, “okay, so from your perspective, this is about X. I get that, you’re in sales, that’s how you’re thinking about this issue”. So you’re simply naming the perspective that they’re taking.

So those are three really good options. You can just simply show respect for the fact they put the issue on the table. You can use a paraphrasing approach, where you reflect back to them what they said, or you can call out how their perspective is different from yours. But each of those things will work to validate the other person. But if you’re listening carefully, you noticed what none of these things did. None of them said you agree.

You don’t have to agree with someone to validate them.

All you’re doing is saying, “okay, I’m willing to have this discussion with you”. Okay, so that’s step one. Listen to the person. Hear that thing that kinda makes you cringe. But instead of putting the idea down or contradicting them, instead, start by validating them with some kind of a statement that says you’re willing to have the conversation.

The next step is to ask some open-ended questions to learn a little more, show them you’re really interested. It wasn’t just a superficial parroting of what they said. Some technique you learned on a YouTube video. If you ask some great open-ended questions, that’s really gonna engage them. I wanted to help you out with these great questions. So if you look in the description below, you’ll see a file called, a hundred productive conflict questions. I’m giving you 100 to choose from. Just print that baby out, keep it tucked in your notebook, and you’ll always have a go-to question for keeping the conversation open.

You’ve listened. You’ve validated. You’ve asked some more questions and paraphrased back what you’re hearing, now is the time to make the pivot, and that pivot is the most important step too. If you’ve done it well, if you’ve validated them, if you’ve been interested in what they have to say, you’ll see it in their body language their shoulders will start to drop a little. What had been a very scrunched up face will start to relax. And that’s when you know that it’s the right time to add your perspective.

So that’s what a pivot’s all about. A pivot is where you now add your perspective to the discussion. You’ll be into problem-solving mode then, not in fight mode. And that’s when it’s okay to add your perspective to the discussion.

Let’s take the examples that we already gave, the show respect, the paraphrase approach or the perspective approach, and I’m gonna say the same thing again and add the pivot on to show you how you can move towards adding your perspective.

The first example I gave was the show respect example. So let’s take show respect and add the pivot. “I know it took guts for you to put that on the table, and I respect that. Let me reciprocate by telling you what I’ve been thinking, but haven’t said out loud”.

The second example was the paraphrasing example. You’ve said something like, “okay, so if I’m hearing you correctly, for you this is about X. That’s interesting. For me, it’s more about Y”.

The third example was the perspective example. You said something like, “for you, this is about X, which makes sense, because you’re thinking of this from the sales side. For me, I’m in supply chain, so you’re thinking about it as how much product we can ship in June, and I’m thinking about it as, how are we going to ship that much product in June?”

These examples show you how the validation and pivot technique deals with our two biggest concerns in having an argument. First, we’re worried that if we’re going to avoid a fight, we have to just agree with something that we don’t actually agree with. The go along to get along approach. And you’ve seen through this that validation does not mean that you need to agree, it simply means that you need to show that you’re willing to have the conversation and hear your colleague out.

The second thing we worry a lot about is that our own perspective and the things that matter to us are going to get lost in service of just being happy and harmonious. And again, when we validate and pivot, there’s no need to ignore, give short shrift to our perspectives, because what you do is you set up the expectation that I’m going to listen and question and engage with you. It will absolutely be clear in a social situation that the reciprocating is expected. Once I’ve listened to you, you are going to hear me out and take my perspective into account. So the validate and pivot example keeps you out of an argument without having you roll over and play dead or be the doormat. It’s a way of having the conflict productively, avoiding an argument, but still making sure everybody’s perspective gets heard.

Validating another person is the fastest, most reliable way to short-circuit a conflict. It’s amazing how well it works. You immediately decrease the intensity of the conversation. It keeps it more focused on the issue, as opposed to the personal stuff. And it allows you to get to a mutually agreeable solution so much faster. And it’s not as hard as it sounds, because validating doesn’t mean you have to agree, it just means that you need to signal you want to problem-solve as allies, rather than arguing as adversaries.

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