Crucial Conversations QA

Avoiding Conflict is Killing Your Bottom Line

In most organizations, the result of the recent recession is an environment brewing with the right mix of stress and concern to breed an unprecedented amount of conflict. Employees lucky enough to keep their jobs are burned out and overworked. Leaders reeling from blows to their bottom line are doing their best just to stay afloat. Everyone is on edge.

Unfortunately, while the conditions are perfectly suited to breed conflict, human beings are perfectly incapable to deal with it.

According to our recent study, 95 percent of a company’s workforce struggles to confront their colleagues and managers about their concerns and frustrations. As a result, they engage in resource-sapping avoidance tactics including ruminating excessively about crucial issues, complaining to others, getting angry, doing extra or unnecessary work, and avoiding the other person altogether.

But while unresolved conflict is never a positive thing, our research revealed the ramifications of conflict go far beyond inconvenient. In fact, avoiding conflict is extremely costly.

We found that employees waste an average of $1,500 and an 8-hour workday for every crucial confrontation they avoid. In extreme cases of avoidance, an organization’s bottom line can be hit especially hard. In addition, a shocking 8 percent of employees estimate their inability to deal with conflict costs their organization more than $10,000. And one in 20 estimates that over the course of a drawn-out silent conflict, they waste time ruminating about the problem for more than 6 months.

The research confirms that those who know how to speak up and hold crucial confrontations waste significantly less time complaining, feeling sorry for themselves, avoiding problems and getting angry. As a result, these people are significantly more productive and influential.

The good news is that speaking up and resolving conflicts is a skill set anyone can learn and master. Here are four tips for confronting your colleagues in a timely and effective manner:

  • Confront the right problem. The biggest mistake people make is to confront the most painful or immediate issue and not the one that gets them the results they really need. Before speaking up, stop and ask yourself, “What do I really want here? What problem do I want to resolve?”
  • Rein-in emotions. We often tell ourselves a story about others’ real intent. These stories determine our emotional response. Master communicators manage their emotions by examining, questioning and rewriting their story before speaking.
  • Master the first 30 seconds. Most people do everything wrong in the first “hazardous half-minute”—like diving into the content and attacking the other person. Instead, show you care about the other person and his or her interests to disarm defensiveness and open up dialogue.
  • Reveal natural consequences. The best way to get someone’s attention is to change their perspective. In a safe and non-threatening manner, give them a complete view of the consequences their behavior is creating.
Influencer QA

Changing Racist Behavior

Dear Crucial Skills,

Do you have any resources related to the Influencer model for dealing with racism in the workplace?

Dealing with Racism

Dear Dealing,

This year alone, employees from four organizations approached me about handling racist incidents including nooses hanging over lockers, swastikas painted on doors, hate language written on bathroom mirrors, and racist epithets used during large meetings.

I’ll use our Influencer model to show how an organization can set and enforce a “zero tolerance” standard around racism.

Determine the results you want. In dealing with such a nebulous problem like racism, it’s important to focus on one result. I recommend your result be to create and maintain a safe and productive work environment that is free of intimidation, threats, or harassment.

Identify vital behaviors. Focus on the behaviors that drive your desired result. I recommend two vital behaviors:
1. Eliminate racist actions, including behaviors that any member of the organization finds intimidating, threatening, or harassing.
2. Promote inclusive actions, including behaviors that support diversity in the workforce.

Build a six-source influence model. Racism is supported by a set of beliefs, behaviors, norms, and structures. The solution must be similarly comprehensive. Our research shows combining at least four, and preferably all, of the six sources of influence creates a solution that is ten times more likely to lead to success. Below are four sources of influence organizations combating racism might choose to target.

Structural Motivation: Reward respectful behaviors and punish racism. For example:

  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy for racist talk, writing, and symbols. Make it clear that violators will be terminated as well as prosecuted.
  • Use performance reviews and promotion systems to track and reward people for eliminating racist actions and for promoting an inclusive workplace.

Social Motivation and Social Ability: Use formal and informal leaders to enforce social norms of zero tolerance. For example:

  • Have senior leaders take strong actions that show their commitment to eradicating racism. One of our clients found slurs written in a men’s bathroom. Senior leaders brought in private investigators who swept for fingerprints and interviewed employees. The investigation convinced everyone that leadership was serious about eliminating racism.
  • Identify opinion leaders from diverse job titles, departments, seniority levels, and racial groups and have them evaluate, endorse, and partner with managers to lead the initiative.

Personal Ability: Build awareness, share experiences, and teach skills related to eliminating racism and furthering inclusiveness. For example:

  • Expose subtle forms of racism—actions that may be unintentional and yet hurtful.
  • Train people in how to confront and report racist incidents, and make sure they understand their responsibility to report these incidents.

Personal Motivation: To change behavior, make racism a moral issue. People must cringe when they witness or learn of situations involving intimidation, threats, and harassment. Here, the most powerful strategies are those that demonstrate the personal toll of racism. For example:

  • Make the connection between racist actions and violence. Frame the issue in terms of morals and safety.
  • Find formal and informal leaders who can tell stories about how racism has impacted their lives.
  • When staffing facilities, departments, and projects, have people from diverse backgrounds work together to build understanding and empathy.

I’ve used the six sources of influence to brainstorm a wide variety of strategies. Now I call on you to build on the ideas I have here. What have you seen that worked in combating racism? I look forward to learning from you all.


Influencer QA

When It's More than Motivation

Joseph Grenny is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

Joseph Grenny is the author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.


InfluencerQDear Crucial Skills,

I just read the latest newsletter and find myself very frustrated with your response to your reader’s question about how to “motivate” apparently unmotivated teachers. You appeared to agree that a lot of teachers just don’t care—or are “morally asleep” about the need to improve education for their students.

Perhaps the person who wrote the question is not aware of the many responsibilities shouldered by teachers. As a veteran educator, I take offense to the classification of teachers as people who don’t care or are not interested in helping students improve. If this were true, we would not continue in a low-paying, poorly respected profession. Before you talk about motivating teachers to make change, consider whether their failure to attend these new meetings could be because of:

· Time: They may be overloaded with other meetings, tutoring, professional development, meetings with parents, prepping materials for the next day, or grading. Is the meeting scheduled after their contractual hours? (We do have family responsibilities.)
· Reform in place: Has the school, district, or state already initiated educational reforms that are non-negotiable?
· Observation: Before passing judgment about teachers not being interested, ask what is going on in the classroom?
· Communication: How was the invitation phrased and how much notice given?
· Shared responsibility: What are the other stakeholders asked to do?

Rather than consider these issues, you threw teachers against the wall. Maybe the concerned parent should drop the stereotype and do a little research first. And perhaps you should have addressed the negative assumption in the person’s statements.

Concerned Educator

A Dear Concerned,

Thank you for writing in and sharing your thoughts.

I asked our editors to publish your note because I think today’s “advice” is more contained in your letter than in my response.

You were absolutely right to point out my negligence to address the “story” this person may have told him or herself about his or her teachers. He or she attributed a lack of participation to a lack of motivation—and I bought into it thoughtlessly.

Equally important, I failed to offer advice for addressing the “ability” issues teachers face when trying to find time to improve—or implement improvements. Your note was a whack on the side of the head for me to use the very model we teach. Thank you for providing that wake-up call—and please forgive me for any offense I offered in my negligence.

So let me frame your critique of my response in terms of our own model. Another way of saying what you wrote is, “Joseph, you’re assuming this is exclusively a motivation problem. Could it also be an ability issue?”

Not only would I agree with that question—but I would also assert that ability problems are frequently disguised as motivation issues. When people seem to “not care” it could be they are burned out from pushing against bureaucracy and have concluded they are simply not able to win. I suspect some teachers just do their best to master their own classrooms and give up on the larger institution because of the structural ability barriers they continually face.

As you point out, structural ability barriers for these teachers might include overloaded schedules or limited tools and resources. For example, at Lakeridge Junior High, Tim Stay discovered that the school’s schedule made it nearly impossible for teachers to attend council meetings, implement best practices, and properly evaluate students’ progress. When Lakeridge changed the schedule from seven periods to four, teachers were enabled to attend to these additional responsibilities. What’s more, they wanted to. In this instance, ability barriers, not motivation, were stopping them from performing to their full potential.

Similarly, you point out there could be social ability barriers—barriers that result when others (including peers and district leaders) don’t provide the information or resources required to perform to potential. For example, teachers may lack support from administrators or meetings aren’t communicated properly. In this case, all the motivation in the world will not influence teachers to attend council meetings or help them improve the overall level of education.

In conclusion, I would be less than honest if I didn’t add that motivation is still a very important part of our model. I made reference to Tim’s work because he is a phenomenal example of using the Influencer model to turn around his children’s school. The work he and his community council—comprised of teachers, administrators, and parents—did, addressed both motivation and ability barriers. Ultimately, Tim’s success was the result of a full six source approach that addressed both sides of our model.

The bottom line: until you address both motivation and ability—until people are both willing and able to change—you won’t move the needle toward influencing new behavior. In Tim’s case, there was more emphasis on increasing ability than inspirational motivation tricks. And as you suggest, this is probably the case in most of our nation’s education systems.

Again, I thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention. I feel as passionate as you do about the good work our teachers do each and every day. And I am deeply sorry for having offered offense to you and so poorly representing our own beliefs about influence.

Joseph Grenny