13 November 2022 |

Clarity is the conflict cleaner


“I’m going to quit.”

Melissa was unhappy with a lot of the changes that were happening.

She’d been with the company for almost 20 years. It was hard for her to try and imagine life with a different company. She had a mortgage to pay. Her last credit card was almost paid off. She loved the benefits of her current employer.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed much about how the team worked and collaborated. Life was busier than ever, but not in a good way. There was more pressure to be productive but fewer resources to get the job done.

The team was constantly changing, which made it hard to build relationships–especially with her new boss, Chris.

Chris was a nice enough guy. Her friend Mark said he loved working with him, and he made a great first impression with his positive attitude and supportive approach to a project she had been working on behind the scenes.

But then she started noticing things that got under her skin. He interrupted her in meetings, let others take credit for her ideas, and seemed dismissive whenever she reached out for help.

She was finding it harder and harder to be around him. It was to the point she started dreading their 1-on-1 meetings and would find excuses to cancel.

This conflict had been building up for months–small things became big things. She let things go on without calling them out and felt stuck. Should she risk starting over with a new company or just let things ride and hope they would start getting better?

Chris had no idea Melissa was feeling this way.

If he had, he would have been devastated. He had been trying so hard to be a good leader and support his team. He’d been open to feedback and quick to address any concerns that were brought to his attention.

He was surprised when Melissa started acting cold and distant in their meetings. He thought she might be going through a tough time and would come around.

She didn’t trust him enough to give him feedback directly. How would he respond?

Even though she was considering quitting, she was nervous there would potentially be retaliation if she told him how he made her feel.

A few weeks later, Chris sent out an anonymous employee engagement survey.

The team was crushing it by all standards, and he was confident he was in touch and had a good vibe with everyone he worked with. But as he looked through the survey, he saw a small handful of his staff was not happy.

He was able to digest most of the majority of the feedback he saw, but one comment terrified him.

“I’m going to quit.”

His Apple Watch told him it was time to take a breath.

He sat back and re-read the comment a few times. Was this person really thinking about quitting, or was this just a vent? He thought back to all his interactions with his team and couldn’t think of a single time when someone seemed unhappy.

Chris decided he needed to take action. He reached out to his team and scheduled 1:1s with each of them.

When Melissa came in, he could tell something was wrong.

“Is everything okay?” He asked with genuine concern.

“Yes, everything is fine.” She responded.

He could tell something was off. Reflecting back, he realized it had been a while since they had met. 

“Well, I want you to know that I know I’m not perfect, but I do want to be a good manager and partner for everyone on this team,” he paused, wanting to be thoughtful with his approach. “When people bring up complaints about me, what do they say? I’d love to hear it even if it will only help me get a little better.”

For some reason, this question helped her gain the confidence needed to give him the feedback he needed to hear. 

She took a deep breath and opened up.

“You are great at a lot of things, and at first, I was really excited to work with you.”

He leaned in slightly. He was fully engaged in the conversation. He knew she was getting ready to give him feedback that would help him improve.

“But the problem is it seems like you have your group of favorites, and you are quick to get excited about their ideas but seem to dismiss the rest of us, no matter how hard we work.”

Now he understood.

The truth is the people she thought were his favorites were the ones he felt needed the most support and encouragement. He did tend to get more excited about their ideas in meetings, but it was an attempt to build up their confidence, not because they were his favorites.

His approach almost cost him some of his most valued team members. But the clarity of what was causing the conflict would allow him to take impactful steps forward.

The Takeaway: Great leaders prioritize getting feedback from their team and know how to help their team feel comfortable enough to share it with them.