Want Better Meetings? Confront Conflict.

Want Better Meetings? Confront Conflict.

It’s time to get real. The issue with project failure isn’t any of the usual reasons we gripe about.

It’s not poor planning, bad management, scope creep or lack of time and money.

Projects fail because of me.

I mean this. In any situation the only thing I have any control over is me. If I’m in a project meeting and it’s going sideways, the issue is me—and only me.

Consider the ideal situation where everyone walks into a meeting well prepared. The project about to be born is under discussion. Everyone does his or her bit well. 

Yet odds are this project, like 70% of all projects, is still doomed to fail. 

So where does it all go wrong?

It starts with me.

I make five serious mistakes:

1)     I ignore my importance to the success of the project. Any undertaking I’ve been asked to sit around a table for really needs my insights. It cannot succeed without me. If I’m there, I’m critical.

2)     I avoid conflict, and don’t stand my ground in my area of expertise.

3)     I don’t take the others in the room seriously.

4)     I don’t listen.

5)     I play the victim.

To see this in action, check out this 7 minute video.

The meeting could have gone completely differently if the expert hadn’t committed those 5 critical mistakes.

1)     While he initially engaged fully, towards the end he lost sight of how critical he was for the project’s success.  Granted, there was a lot of negative feedback in the meeting, none of which made it easy for him to keep motivated. When others put him down, he did exercise remarkable restraint and did not retaliate. That’s good, but not enough. We need to make sure our voices are heard. They are critical.

2)     He avoided conflict. He often said, “No, it can’t be done.” That’s a defensive reaction, rather than an attempt to stay engaged. “No” is often our first line of defense when we feel attacked or threatened.  If the expert had said “Yes, and..” instead, he would have helped draw out the opinions and ideas of the others, thus keeping the confrontation going.

What’s the difference between a conflict and a confrontation? In a conflict, we are on opposite sides. I am opposing you. In a confrontation, we get face to face with an issue, not each other. 

By being afraid of conflict, we often dodge confrontation too. We need to keep aware that we are trying to solve a problem together. Clearly stating our opinions can sometimes lead others to think we are opposing them, when in fact we are opposing their idea and how it applies to the situation. It can get emotional, and in order to avoid that, we back away from the confrontation.

To avoid conflict, we need to embrace confrontation, and saying yes can keep the confrontation going. 

But isn’t saying yes the same as thing as agreeing?

Well, saying “yes, and” is a way of keeping the dialog going, of embracing the problem and staying engaged, rather than simply retrenching into our own positions.  Saying yes allows the others to hear what you say next, to drop their defenses a bit and listen instead. It’s a very powerful way of getting clarity, which will enable you to say NO (if necessary) more effectively later.

3)     He didn’t take the others seriously. Granted, it was hard, especially when the client started off with an apparently impossible request. But everyone in the room is there because they are essential to the project. He would do well to remember that, and stay in the confrontation.

4)     He didn’t listen. Sure, he heard their apparently irrational requests, and he responded by restating his position. That’s being stubborn and inflexible, it’s not listening or staying engaged.

Often the best way to listen is to ask more open ended, questions. For example, “What business requirements does drawing some of the red lines with green ink address?” The expert was stuck in knowing that red lines cannot be drawn with green ink, and the team couldn’t get past that by having him simply restate his position. A different viewpoint was needed.

We will never know if the way to resolve the impasse was to go a different way altogether. Maybe a better understanding of what was meant by red and green would have helped? That approach never got a chance because he just kept trying to show the others that he was right.

But he forgot that they were right too. How? We’ll never know, since he didn’t take them seriously enough to ask.

5)     When he caved in at the end, he assumed the role of victim. We can see it on his face:  He knows that when this project goes bad, it will all land on him. The problem with this is that the water cooler talk that will happen later will have everyone complaining that the others were idiots.

The bad news is that taking on the role of victim will almost certainly guarantee that you will become the victim of your own incompetence.

The good news is you can stop that from happening right now.

What can you do now?

Realize that the only thing you have any control over is yourself.

  • Stop playing the victim.
  • Take steps to improve your ability to listen, to confront conflict, and add more value to whatever you do.

It will make you more confident, more effective, happier and ultimately much more successful.

If you are having trouble figuring out how you will actually do this, contact me for a free strategy session where we will develop a plan to accelerate your personal growth and success.  

My specialty is helping you Ex-it your current reality and move on to one that is brighter.


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