Tag Archives: teamwork

The Gift of Conflict

8 May


Sometimes people say I am crazy, but I don’t believe that conflict is a bad thing.

Maybe it is because I spent nearly a decade managing national conflict resolution programs at the United States Postal Service. Or maybe it is because I’m the kind of guy that has never been afraid of a challenge or possibly because my life story has been shaped by some powerful experiences of reconciliation.

But whatever reason it is, this is what I know: conflict can actually be very positive. Conflict raises important issues to the surface.  It is how you manage conflict or don’t manage it that can make it a problem.

Most of us want to be happy. We want to live and work in an environment where everyone likes us and where our contributions are valued. We want to walk away from our family life, our jobs, and our friendships feeling better for them and vice versa.

So when conflict arises—whether it be because of miscommunication, differences in personality or a multitude of other reasons—so many of us try to avoid the conflict instead of addressing it head on.

We’d rather live in denial than to have our circumstances be made worse (we think) by bringing up the conflict.

And it is this fear of conflict, especially for those of us in positions of leadership, from which deeply embedded problems emerge.

This is what I know: leaders who can’t deal well with conflict will not have long tenures in whatever place they are seeking to lead.

So for all of you conflict haters out there, here are some of my suggestions:

1. Do not be afraid to talk to the person with whom you have the difficultly. Clear the air. Take them to coffee. Seek to find common ground. Sometimes the worse thing you can do is fill the void of conflict with silence. Making an effort can go a long way to the ultimate resolution.

2.  When you can’t find common ground, do not talk badly about this person to others. Though it could be very comforting to belittle, demean or judge the person with whom you have a conflict in group settings—don’t. Remember what your mama said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

 3. Consider your own personal responsibility in the conflict. Oftentimes our first reaction to a dispute is to blame the other person, taking ourselves completely out of the picture. But, don’t. There are always two sides to every story, two perspectives to any situation. So spend some time in self-reflection with a willingness to say that you are sorry for your part of the blame.

4. Keep the end goal in mind: new understanding. One of the best gifts any relationship can be given is conflict. For conflict can be a catalyst for deeper connection, stronger appreciation and mutual admiration for what is outside the norm of your own experience. You might actually walk away from a contentious discussion with greater respect for the person you might have once hated.  This all can happen if you are committed to the process, no matter how long it takes!

Bottom line: conflict is not bad.  It’s all in how you deal with it!



Chocolate Milk Mondays

16 Oct

photoAs I seek to be an adaptive leader, I often think that the best ideas emerge when you listen to your team.

This is the story of how one such new FTC tradition began. It’s called Chocolate Milk Mondays.

When I came on as CEO of FTC, I asked HR to place a suggestion box in the break room for employees to suggest ideas that they felt would make their experience at FTC a better one.

However, when our head of HR kept telling me that there were countless suggestions for “chocolate milk Mondays” in the suggestion box, I wondered what I had gotten into. As much as I wanted to honor (within reason) what employees suggested, I wasn’t sure about this idea. Surely it was just one person stuffing the box with the same idea over and over again?

But then, one evening last February I worked late. My wife and I had just hosted an all-staff Valentine’s party where we gave each member of the team in Oklahoma a heart-shaped cookie. I wanted to be the one who took the cookies to our night crew in the call center so that they wouldn’t feel left out.

As I spent some time chatting with them, it was soon apparent that it wasn’t one person who stuffed the box with the chocolate milk idea but an entire team: the night-time call center team.

They told me that their crew had asked for chocolate milk Mondays– knowing that it was a silly idea, but something they thought would brighten their day– just to see if I was listening. They wanted to know if it was really true that they could suggest anything and be heard?

The following Monday, I knew what was next. I drove to the local 7-11 and purchased several gallons of chocolate milk. I took it to the call center, and we sat down and drank chocolate milk together as a group.

The joy that followed overwhelmed me.

I heard from several employees that this act was the first time in their experience at Feed The Children that they had felt heard and cared for in such a specific way.

I heard a lot of “I’m so glad I work in an organization where the CEO knows my name.” I left that evening feeling uplifted and encouraged about the workplace culture I’m helping to create.

And so the tradition of chocolate milk Mondays lives on. Once a month, like I did this week (in the picture above), I spend some time with the evening call center thanking them for all they do for us each day at FTC with chocolate milk in hand. I don’t even mind staying late on these days because I always leave encouraged and empowered. I am surrounded by so many incredible people at FTC each day!

Who would have known chocolate milk could do all of this?

To the rest of the FTC team: don’t be afraid to suggest ideas. Who knows what might happen next? I’m listening to you.