Handling Conflict with Class

Handling Conflict with Class 150 150 Laura Sicola

Potential conflict lurks around every corner. Over the weekend, I found a surprise in my inbox, which turned into a good lesson in two-way diplomacy and proactive problem solving.

It was an email from Jeff Hayzlett, co-founder and chairman of the C-Suite Network and the Hero Club. He was responding to a couple of questions I had asked, and at the bottom was the following comment:

“On a side note— I got feedback that when asked you had mentioned that the experience with Hero was not good— so was that wrong feedback or is this [program you are putting together] another run to make it work?”

I’m not sure which dropped further – my jaw or the pit of my stomach.

These are the kinds of scenarios that tend to trigger people’s fight-or-flight reflex. They either run away in embarrassment – even if the allegations aren’t true – or they react angrily and defensively, neither of which is conducive to productive discussion and problem solving.

My mind raced, simultaneously trying to figure out who had given him that “feedback” and what on earth I had said to that person that would have left the impression that I had a negative overall experience with the organization. Plus, I didn’t want some misrepresentation to tarnish my relationship with Jeff and the C-Suite Network.

However, one thing I did notice was how he chose to bring it up to me. On the one hand, he didn’t passive-aggressively write me off and give me the silent treatment, leaving me completely in the dark, but he also he didn’t attack me with accusations. After all, upon hearing that kind of rumor through the grapevine, most people’s reflex would probably have started with “WTF?!”

Instead, he neutrally and unemotionally stated the nature of the information he had received. There was no direct accusation, insult, or attack. He then equally objectively asked if what he’d heard was accurate (it wasn’t), and made an effort to try to understand my current position, giving me the benefit of the doubt and a chance to give my side and set the record straight.

What mattered most to me was to maintain that tone throughout the exchange, however long it took, in order to get to the bottom of things while keeping our relationship intact.

I responded showing my surprise, and wanting to set the record straight, while indicating my continued support for the organization and mending any fences that may have been damaged:

“??? I have no recollection of saying that. Can I ask what the context was?  Be good to know who that came from, not for gossip, just for context. And if I can reach out to clarify to them I’d be happy to. I want to promote HC, not disparage.”

Although he didn’t reply directly to my email, we saw each other the next day at the C-Suite Network Thought Summit in New York, which he had organized. I approached him first.

Knowing that if our roles were reversed, I would have felt betrayed upon hearing such a report, I apologized for any potential miscommunication on my part, and repeated the request for more information to try to figure out where things got lost in translation.

The story he received was that I had sent an email responding to an invitation his team had sent me about speaking on his panel, allegedly saying I didn’t want to because I’d had a bad experience with the Hero Club. This already sounded odd to me, because I love being on stage at his events (heck, at just about any event), and we both get great feedback afterwards, but I wanted to see what I had written.

I took a moment to scroll through every email I had sent to him or his team in the past few weeks, and the only one I found that remotely addressed the issue was a response I had sent to the original invitation saying that (a) I’d love to; (b) in full transparency I couldn’t address [XYZ] exactly as requested and explained why, but (c) suggested another angle from which I could approach the topic, and asked if that would work instead.

I showed him the message, and wanting to confirm that he hadn’t inferred something unpredictable from it, I asked him sincerely if it sounded like I had declined the invitation.

“No,” he agreed unequivocally.

“Does it sound like my reasons for [XYZ] implied that my experience with the Hero Club was not good?”

Again, he shook his head and said, “No.”

I also pointed to the thread and showed him that I had not received a response regarding whether or not my alternative solution was an acceptable one. I wasn’t trying to be antagonistic, or throw anyone else under the bus. I simply wanted to show where my current understanding of the situation ended, and hopefully restore my reputation with him, not at anyone else’s expense, which I also stated outright.

What was important in the exchange was that we both kept objective and neutral in word, tone and body language, and shared what information we had with each other, staying open-minded and seeking mutual understanding, all of which is critical to problem solving.

A little while later, he came back to me after a bit of his own digging and shared what he had discovered regarding what had fallen through the cracks on his end as well. I was relieved, knowing that my reputation and our relationship had been restored, which was my main priority, regardless of whether or not I had a formal speaking role at the event.

He said to me, “(when I realized what happened), I told my team, fix this.

Sure enough, a little while later we were both on stage together. And truthfully, I think the result was even better than what either of us had originally envisioned.

But what made the greatest impression on me was how powerfully smooth the process was. At the end of the day, I asked him how he’d feel if I blogged about the experience and how we worked through it. He nodded. “Go for it.”

When both parties address concerns directly but diplomatically, share all relevant information, listen openly, take responsibility for whatever went wrong on their respective side, and collectively seek to find a remedy, that’s where positive change occurs.

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Do you struggle with how to navigate conflict, or know someone who does? Contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to set up a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally.

 

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