Conflict in action: A story about embracing criticism

Conflict in action: A story about embracing criticism

We’ve been thinking about courageous ways to deal with conflict. What does this look like in practice? What can you do when you’re confronted with someone who opposes your vision, your ideas, or your plan?

Let’s take a look at the pretty common scenario of facing opposition in a group setting.

Karen Kimsey-House is one of my great teachers and co-founder of the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). Karen tells the story of co-leading a three-day coach-training workshop for about 25 people. In the middle of a Q&A halfway through the workshop, a participant offered a comment along these lines: “I really don’t get what this is all about. It doesn’t fit together, and it seems like it’s all just a bunch of crap that you’re making up as you go along.”

The room got very, very still.

Now, this person was talking about a body of work that Karen and her co-founders and their team have put decades into developing, offering to thousands of people, and refining.

Put yourself in Karen’s shoes: Your ideas, your work, and your company are being criticized in front of a roomful of your customers. The tone is rude. There’s plenty of reason for your response to be shaped by ego, pride, or defensiveness. Anger or insecurity, even.

Let’s check out some options, based on patterns you might be familiar with:

  • Ignore: “Well, anybody else have any questions or comments?”
  • Demean: “It’s a bit early to give your verdict, since you’re so new to this training.”
  • Dominate: “We’ve offered these workshops to thousands of people around the world, and our colleagues at Harvard have been studying the effectiveness of this approach.”
  • Capitulate: “Well, you’re right, this doesn’t really make sense yet.”

Here’s what actually happened.

Karen took a breath and made a split-second choice: To work with what this participant was offering. Here’s what she said: “What I appreciate about what you’re saying is I can hear how much you really care about understanding this and making sure that you’re getting something really useful out of this workshop.”

Karen cares about offering a powerful learning experience in CTI workshops, but it’s not within her power to make each person “get it.” (It’s not really her style, either.) And while she did address the participant specifically, what I see in this story is that Karen was also taking a stand for bigger-picture commitments:

  • To look for each person’s humanity, even as they struggle.
  • To create a meaningful experience for the whole group, even as she addressed one person’s concerns.
  • To stand by the value of her team’s contributions to the practice of coaching, even as their work evolves.

YOUR TURN: When somebody throws a verbal grenade into the conversation—especially in a group—take a deep breath and think about this: What’s my goal here? Is it to demonstrate my rightness and their wrongness? Or is there a larger purpose that’s worth pursuing?

NEXT WEEK: A three-part tool for dealing with conflict in a group setting.


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