“We think the conflict is actually potential energy for innovative and creative solutions.” -CrisMarie Campbell
In today’s episode, Jill talks with conflict experts CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke. They are also experts at leadership and teamwork development with their company, Thrive! Inc. They are the go-to experts when it comes to conflict resolution, with clients such as the San Francisco Giants and the Gates Foundation. Here Jill speaks with CrisMarie and Susan about how to view conflict in a different light, to see it as an opportunity rather than a barrier. Susan and CrisMarie break down the three styles of dealing with conflict. Which one are you? CrisMarie and Susan also show us that getting comfortable in the discomfort of conflict can lead to better relationships in our personal and professional lives. Who doesn’t want that? We certainly do!
Check out these books by CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke
To learn more about Susan Clarke and CrisMarie Campbell visit their website, Thrive! Inc. And visit their Beauty of Conflict Team Kit. Connect with them on LinkedIn: Susan Clarke, CrisMarie Campbell, Thrive! Inc
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Please enjoy the full transcript below:
CrisMarie: We think the conflict is actually potential energy for innovative and creative solutions.
Jill: Hello, and welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Jill Farmer, one of the lead coaches at DocWorking, and we are so glad you’re here. I’m thrilled to be joined by two experts in the field of conflict, and they are CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke. They are the authors of an excellent book called The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage, and another book designed specifically for couples on the subject of conflict, and not only that, they are experts at leadership development, teamwork development, and all other things through their company, Thrive, and they work with everybody from the San Francisco Giants, Microsoft, to Gates Foundation, you name it. Top organizations have tapped into their expertise for a very long time. I happen to know them both personally as well and can tell you guys, we’re in for a good treat to talk about a subject that lots of us avoid in real life. But if we talk about it and learn about it, we can actually use it to help us and that is finding the beauty in conflict. Why should I think that conflict is beautiful first of all, you guys?
CrisMarie: Well, first. Nobody really likes conflict. We weren’t trained in it. Most of us didn’t have good role models. We don’t even like conflict, and we’re experts in it. However, we know the value when you do hang in, and get curious, and interested in another person’s point of view, something new emerges. But it is an uncomfortable process. We want to acknowledge that right up front.
Susan: Yeah, just also to be clear, we didn’t call it the joy of conflict, or the comfort of conflict, or the ease and grace of conflict. We call it beauty very specifically, because beauty has depth. Conflict does have some messiness in it. It’s not simply resolution sometimes, but there is beauty in that. Just like there is when you take a picture and have the full spectrum of colors in it, you need to know that at all needs to be there to maximize and find that beauty in conflict. We think if you know that it’s a natural part of any relationship, and it’s going to be there, it’s actually the juice that gives you the ability to create and do something innovative, then I think people become a little more comfortable with the discomfort. That’s why we think, yeah, there is beauty in conflict for sure.
Jill: I like that. It reminds me of Glennon Doyle saying that sometimes things in life are brutiful.
Susan: I love that. I haven’t heard that one. That’s great.
Jill: I think that’s exactly what you guys are summarizing here. When it comes to physicians, I know when I’m coaching physicians, I oftentimes experience that conflict can be a derailer for them in a variety of different situations. Sometimes, it’s because they feel overwhelmed and exhausted, and they find themselves in more conflict than they want, because they don’t feel they have time to figure out situations. Other times, they just want to be the best perfectionist student all the time, and they don’t want to have any issues. So, they just try to put their nose to the grindstone and work harder to avoid conflict. Tell me a little bit, if you guys would, about the different styles of conflict that show up for people in ways that can be obstacles and then potentially serve them if they understand it better.
CrisMarie: Sure. One thing, conflict comes up when there are smart people who are passionate about something focused on an important goal. What happens is different opinions come up, strong emotions, and we get into that right-wrong energy, and that energy is tension in our bodies and tension between us. We again weren’t trained how to deal or hold that tension, and so we tend to opt out, defuse, manage, avoid conflict. If you look back, it’s probably the same thing you learned in a more sophisticated version, but the same thing we learned little kids dealing with our parents, because that’s what we were following.
Susan: Well, and most people have built on those patterns of coping, and have become really pretty good at them, because that actually can become someone’s superpower. It’s just not necessarily as effective in a conflict or a relational situation where there’s that same tension. The way that people tend to opt out, there’s three different styles we talk about. There’s this superstar, who is the person who’s like, “They’re usually pretty darn smart. They have great answers. They think they’ve got the right solution,” and people are going to thank them if they just went ahead and did it. Afterwards, they’re going to hate them. That’s one.
CrisMarie: What they can do is they can override the situation, and then when they get done all that work, they’re like, “See, ta-da,” and people are like, “I never agreed to that.” They miss getting buy-in, which is really what you need when you’re dealing with a team for sure.
Susan: Then, there’s the accommodator who is generally someone who has learned that the best way to make sure that we go in the right direction is that if everyone is happy. They will often do something, there are one-off situations. Maybe they know that two physicians on their team are having challenges, and they’ll go to each one separately and try to work out the problem. Really, they probably need to bring them together, but they believe that the harmony would be better served if there was a mediator, which generally doesn’t work. This can easily become a superpower for a consultant. CrisMarie, she’s a master of it.
CrisMarie: I grew up with an army colonel dad, who you couldn’t disagree with. It was always like, “Well, dad. Yeah, I agree with you.” My older sister, “Well, I agree with you.” What the accommodator does is they leave out themselves, and that energy has to go somewhere, because remember, this is all about tension building up. It usually comes out in passive-aggressive ways or gossip behind somebody else’s back, because the person, the accommodator in myself, is not bringing my voice into the situation saying, “I’m uncomfortable that you two aren’t getting along. Can we talk about this?” That’s what happens [crosstalk]
Susan: Or, it goes home with them. I think it comes out in squirty-
CrisMarie: Ways. [giggles]
Susan: -unhelpful ways. The last one is the separator and the separator, generally, they want to focus on something else. I was thinking, we worked with a hospital group and the woman who was the main physician, she was like, “Look, I need you to work with my staff and get them ironed out, because I’ve got to go do what I do best. I have clients. I need to–” This is like in an offsite. We’re like, “No, you actually need to be here. I know you think you’re doing your business well by going off and taking care of that important thing, but you’re actually separating.” If you want your team to work together, you need to be here. So, a separator usually has a good reason for not diving into the actual conflict, but it’s generally not helping the conflict itself. It’s avoiding it.
CrisMarie: Those are the three main styles. Again, they could be superpowers, but they defuse the tension, and we think the conflict is actually potential energy for innovative and creative solutions, not just the leaders or the loudest persons. You want to utilize that in dealing with the team.
Jill: Yeah, I love these. I think you guys just do such a brilliant job of encapsulating, and I can see, I think I tend to fall in more with you, CrisMarie and that typical middle child, who’s just, “Can’t we all just get along?” But I can see all of those coping mechanisms coming up in different situations and in different times in my life, and I think a lot of our listeners are going to be able to identify with them as well. If we’ve identified what our default style is in conflict and we know that there’s a better way to be able to use this as you said, the energy to transform it into something more meaningful, how do we do that? I know that’s a big question, but what are some ways that we can begin to use conflict more effectively, instead of feeling it’s destructive for us?
CrisMarie: The first thing is you want to actually start to become aware of what goes on for you in conflict. Becoming that watcher, as Martha Beck would say, or the observer and develop more self-awareness so that in the midst of conflict, you can go, “Oh, I am being a superstar. I am being an accommodator.” In that moment, the biggest thing is to actually build the biggest muscle in this is vulnerability. The willingness to one just even internally admit that that’s what’s going on and I’m uncomfortable. But even then, starting to say, “Wow, I’m uncomfortable.” That’s a vulnerable move in a situation. You’re not solving it, but you’re showing up more as a human being, and we know this is tough for physicians who were trained to have the right answer, and be the subject matter, and be almost even Gods. So, to actually show up and be more relational and say, “Hey, this is uncomfortable for me. I don’t actually have an answer” is a really powerful– As soon as one person drops in and is more real, the energy of the situation will often shift just with that one comment.
Jill: That’s powerful.
Susan: Well, I do want to say, I love Brene Brown, because she’s made vulnerability, something that we all are at least interested in talking about. But I still go back to Webster’s, because the bottom line is people need to know that the definition of vulnerable is to expose oneself to danger. The reality of it is, when you decide to be vulnerable, that is what it feels like that’s why it’s actually courageous, because you are saying, “Hey, I am going to say what really is going on for me.” Sometimes, it’s that vulnerability of being uncomfortable, sometimes it may be the person is angry and upset, and it’s not something they usually share, but they need to say it. Or, I remember my own experience. This was back in the day, I had a number of cancers. But when my doctor actually sat down with me and said, “I am uncomfortable telling you this, because I don’t have an answer, and I’m supposed to have one and I don’t.” That doctor still is probably one of the most profound, influential people in my life, because of her willingness to be vulnerable. I get it. It’s not easy when you think someone’s looking at you to have an answer. [laughs]
CrisMarie: It’s that habit to have the answer.
CrisMarie: Yeah. So, that’s the first piece.
Jill: I think that’s so helpful. Also, I think we also need to say that vulnerability may be a muscle you’ve never exercised before, because you weren’t supposed to. In training, there wasn’t like, “Hey, we’re going to give you a gold stars or an A+ for showing how vulnerable you can be necessarily right. Depending on your age, and when you went through the grueling, and there’s no other way to describe it nature of medical training, Vulnerability 101 was not a course that was available to anybody. So, I think it’s okay, if you’re like, “I don’t really know how to do this,” and it’s okay to keep it as simple as you guys just said, which is, I’m not sure.
Jill: I’m uncomfortable. These are okay things to say.
CrisMarie: Yes. I think that’s where your leadership coaching probably helps cultivate that willingness in that muscle to show up as a human being. By the way, the more you learn this, it’s going to help in your team dynamics, it’s going to help in your relationship dynamics, because you think about any relationship that really means something to you, you probably are willing to show up and say, “God, I’m angry,” or “I’m uncomfortable,” or “This isn’t working.” You’re willing to be more open to that, and then the next step is really considering this relationship and learning how to become more curious about how this other person puts the world together.
One, be curious about how you put the world together, and we have a model called Check It out that we outline in the book, but it’s a way to help be interested, not assume. The problem is we assume, “Oh, I know what she’s going to say. I know what he’s going to say. So, why bother. I’m not going to go there.” You really don’t know what the person is going to say, and to be open to that other person showing up is quite powerful, and that takes curiosity, being willing, and that’s another key element.
Susan: Just though, to be clear, curiosity doesn’t mean just asking questions of the other person, which I think a lot of times, this could be where an accommodator or someone who’s learned to mediate tends to go. The thing about curiosity, it is the willingness to also reveal, “Here’s the story I’m telling myself. I don’t know, I am curious whether it fits for you or not, and if this story doesn’t fit, tell me what does.” Curiosity involves both sharing how you put the world together, and then being interested in curious, and how that impacts and lands on the other person, and how they put it together.
CrisMarie: I think Alan Alda said at best, “If I can listen with the willingness to be influenced, then our conversation shifts from dueling monologues to a dialogue.” That’s where the richness and the connection comes in that we all crave in relationships, that real genuine connection.
Jill: I know you guys are finding this as interesting as I am, and we have lots more coming up right after this important message from BoardVitals.
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Jill: That’s one of the things I think you guys also talk about is, we tend– and I have this default. Often, I know a lot of my position clients do, because sometimes lives hang in the balance on whether you’re right or not. So, we can get a little more hung up on being right than relational. But in complex situations, you guys talk about understanding that often being relational is where we need to shift the focus. Can you explain that a little bit more?
CrisMarie: Yeah. You can’t be right and relational at the same time. [laughs] That’s the key.
Susan: We talk about this in the book and the idea that really, there’s this regular continuum between what we call power and strength. Power is that usually we’re in a role, we can dominate the world around us. Strength actually is when you’re working from the inside out. It’s a little different. Neither is better. We are always moving between these. I want my physician who’s a surgeon to be in their role. I don’t really want them messing around.
CrisMarie: When they’re operating. [laughs]
Susan: And being curious about different ways to use the knife, or would this be better, that’d be better. I want them doing what they do well. But there’s another time when they might be dealing with their peers or dealing with me, and I might want them to be more relational. That real challenge in any position in life really is that movement between control and vulnerability, those and then that authenticity. It’s actually not one or the other is better. You just have to learn that life is in motion, and are you aware of where you are operating from?
CrisMarie: Too often, we get stuck in though, this is the way that I feel safe, is having power control, being right. We want to encourage physicians to actually come over to the other side, practice that vulnerability. One easy tool in those situations where you’re bumping into a conflict, rather than repeating your point again in a different way for them to get it, is to actually slow down and reflect back what you’re hearing them say. It’s simple, but not easy, because we so much want to defend. This is great if you’re feeling defensive or somebody else is, if you take the time just to say, “Okay, it sounds like you’re frustrated. You don’t think we did a good job, and you really want this to end right now,” whatever that is.”
The other person, if they’ve been fighting for it, all of a sudden, they’re feeling heard, and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s exactly,” or “No, it’s not bad. It’s this.” So, there’s a clarifying moment. But what that does inside the physician or whoever is it helps bring them down the stress curve, because we go up into fight, flight, conflict. It brings more of their brain online, so they have more choice, more possibility, and can hear better.
Susan: And you notice, in the way CrisMarie was describing it, it’s not you’re agreeing. You’re simply letting the person know you really have some understanding of the position they’re in. You haven’t said, “Oh, yeah, you’re right. I didn’t handle that well,” but you’re giving them room to know, “I get. You don’t think I did.” That really helps give someone space. That’s the relational piece. We’re not both right, we’re not either right or wrong when it comes to relationship. We have to allow for there to be more of a possibility to adjust that.
Jill: Well, I want to talk a little bit about nonverbal communication in conflict. I’ve got to watch a few years ago, and I know, Susan, you are trained in Equus coaching, which is a way that horses are used to help people understand the way that often we are communicating nonverbally in the world, because horses don’t lie. I watched a situation where I was watching a really wonderful Equus coach, coach a corporate team in the ring. It’s called an Equus Coaching. I’m not an Equus coach, but I was an observer there. This accomplished surgeon turned hospital administrator was in the ring, and he was really frustrated, because he said, “I keep telling my team, they’re doing a great job, and they still seem so insecure.” The coach said, “I want you to pretend the horse is your team, and I want you to tell them they’re doing a good job.” He said, “You’re doing a good job,” and the horse started going crazy. It was like, [crosstalk]
Jill: The coach said, “Do you mean that?” He said, “Well, yeah, they are in this area, but not so much in this area,” and what was happening is everybody on the team could read even though he was saying great job, inside, he had some insecurity about at least specific parts that were happening. I do think nonverbal communication really plays a big role often in our world and in conflict for physicians as well. What do you guys have to say about that?
Susan: Oh, totally and completely agree with you. There’s a lot of evidence that 90% of communication is nonverbal. There’s a lot of cues that we are regularly given. Now, it happens that horse has happened to pick up on all of that, they’re not really as brilliant as we give them credit for. But what they do do well is they’re just like, “That person over there is not in their body.” What they really want to know is that you are congruent so that what you’re saying is consistent, because horses pick up on your respiratory rate, your heartbeat. So do we but we’ve been socialized to never say to just go work your way out of congruence here. We pick it up.
What a leader, or surgeon, or doctor, whoever it is, needs to learn how to do is to be congruent. It may be that they’re not being really honest. They’re just ditzing out, “You’re doing a good job.” It could also be that in their own mind, they’re self-criticizing themselves. I find that to be a big thing that can happen. Their own internal dialogue is like, “Oh, please don’t let them know that I don’t know how to tell them they’re doing a good job. I hate praise. I suck at this. Blah, blah, blah, blah.” Because that dialogue is going on, they think no one hears it, but it’s actually registering in their physiology. It may not even be that they’re really pissed off at their staff. It could it be that they’re in their own cycle of self-hate. That’s what’s changing that physiological internal response and until they actually make that more congruent, everyone else is just picking up the incongruence. Then, we as people just project our own story on that, “He’s mad at me,” or, “They’re mad at me, I did the wrong thing,” and it becomes a whole cycle that’s all happening without any verbal cues at all.
CrisMarie: I just want to be clear for the listeners, nonverbal doesn’t mean the way your head’s cocked or closing of the arms, that’s bigger verbal, nonverbal cues. It’s that energetic that’s happening inside that Susan’s talking about that incongruence between my inside and my outside somehow. I think what’s so powerful is the horses are just really big lie detectors basically of that, but she also brings up a good point. People are too, but we’ve lost touch with that, but still people don’t believe it on your team. Something isn’t right at– [crosstalk]
Jill: Yeah, really good points. I had a situation recently where a client shared they were moving from a hospital situation to open in their own practice. Really exciting, really following a dream for themselves, and they were also not used to managing the medical records folks and the nurses, the other people within that office, and conflict started developing between some of the office staff members, between the nurse and the front receptionist and those kinds of things. The physician said, “I just kept thinking if I ignore, it will go away.” That happened.
CrisMarie and Susan: [laugh]
Jill: What would you guys say to somebody in that situation, where they’re just really crossing their fingers that everybody will just figure it out on their own, but they are in a leadership role, and the conflict is having an impact on everybody’s success and wellbeing in a practice like that?
CrisMarie: That’s a lot of the work that we do is, come in and work with teams that leaders are like, “Could you fix my team? Could you make them work, okay?” A lot of times what that is, the leader has to get involved, bottom line. A key thing that we find that’s really equalizing is people just learning about each other styles, because we all have different operating styles when you’re kicking off a team, whether it’s Myers-Briggs, or DISC, or Kolbe, whatever it is, that’s often a way in to help, “Oh, no wonder we have issues, because we have such different styles.”
Susan: I was thinking, Cris, I think what you’re also addressing is so often. Even when we first started to work together, we’d be brought into these really high-conflict situations, and I was the type of person, “Let’s just go right after, let’s just go right to the heart of the conflict.” Then, I realized that does not actually work very well. What works better is actually giving people a chance to warm up a little bit. Get to know each other. Learn some things about styles. People in a business leadership role hate this, because they’re like, “We just want to solve the business problem. We don’t have time to do anything else.” But often we found when people step back, and trust, building some of those relational skills, then when you come to addressing the actual issue, you have some goodwill built up so that people will be a little more honest, a little more frank, and it’s amazing how fast you can get to the situation then.
We call it, they’re smart and healthy. Most business leaders, physicians, leaders are smart, and they don’t know the healthy side quite as well, and so that healthy side is where you’re willing– You don’t have to be good at it. You just have to say, “Okay, we’re going to take the time to do this, even if it takes a little longer.” Even that example you use, just saying, “I would prefer to actually be going in and just seeing a client than dealing with this,” but I think we need to deal with it. So, I want to take the time to deal with it. That’s a tremendous amount of vulnerability and leadership to say it like that.
CrisMarie: Even if you have two people that are at odds, which is a gift as the leader, if you have them together, ask each person, “Well, why is it so important to you that we use electronic records,” or, “Why is it so important to you that we use paper?”, if it’s that, and have those people have that conversation?” But I think what Susan’s saying is, you still need to actually develop a psychological safety enough for people to settle in and say, “Hey, it’s actually safe for me to show up as me. I’m not going to get whacked because of that.” Because growing up with the colonel, that was not true. It wasn’t okay for me to say my own point of view. So, you have to build that container for people to show up that way.
Jill: Wow. Excellent ideas. Any other final thoughts that you want to leave us with in terms of conflict and ways that we can take the often uncomfortable, but high-potential [laughs] situations that occur when conflict has arisen?
CrisMarie: For me, CrisMarie, really that question, we call it a magic question. When you’re really at odds with somebody, whether it’s your spouse, your teammates, really slow down and say, “Why is it so important to you?” Because what that starts to do rather than getting at why the trash needs to be taken out, or whatever that issue is, the person is going to start to talk about what they value, and what’s most important, and that’s really the connecting point, and you learn so much about that human being. We had a gentleman in one of our offsites. He’d learned this too one day. He called his family, because it was an in person offsite, and his daughter was like, “I’m not going to invite Zoey to my birthday party,” and the dad was about to say, “You have to be sharing, you have to be inclusive,” and he goes, “Sweetie, why is it so important to you that Zoey doesn’t come?” It turns out they had six bags with unicorn hats in it. If Zoey came, the birthday girl wasn’t going to get the unicorn hat. [laughs] So, once he knew that, because he asked, “Why is it so important to you?” He was like, “Sweetie, we can make another unicorn hat. We can invite Zoey.” She said, “We can invite Zoey.” So. it’s those little magic moments that turn everything around.
Susan: I love the unicorn story. I don’t have a whole lot more to add to that, but I do think probably the biggest thing is that for me in conflict, 9 times out of 10, I fight when I actually don’t feel right inside myself. If I can recognize that stance comes and take care of myself, whatever that looks like, not leave it to somebody else to tell me I’m okay or whatever, I can come back in and be way more engaged and interested. That’s helped me be able to recognize when I get really strong, take a moment, why am I being so loud? Take a moment and figure out how I can settle and be okay with this. If I do that self-care, nine times, everyone around me is better off.
Jill: Such good stuff, you guys. I totally related to that, because often I, like many of the physician clients, will slide into wanting to be right instead of relational. I’m going to ask myself what I’m afraid of? What feels under threat? If I’m not right, it helps me to still honor what I’m standing up for as a value to me, I can still honor that and connect to the other person’s perspective as you guys shared earlier, being willing to look at it through the lens that they might be seeing this from another the perspective they’re looking at it from is so helpful.
CrisMarie Campbell, Susan Clarke, the authors of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage, the incredible leadership coaches and consultants to great organizations like, I’m going to say it again because I know you want me to say it again, because you’re such a big fan of-
Jill: -the San Francisco Giants.
Jill: I have to say, those of us that aren’t Giants fans are still very pleased that you’re helping them out–
Jill: – and they are lucky to have you working with them. You guys gave us so much terrific information that we can take action starting today. Thank you so much for your time. It was wonderful having you.
CrisMarie: Oh, it’s a joy, Jill.
CrisMarie: We loved connecting with you.
Susan: Yeah. This is important work. So, thank you.
Jill: And thanks to all of you for joining us on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.
Jen: As physicians, it’s our job to deal with complex and challenging situations. When we’re taking care of patients, that’s what we do, that’s what we’re good at. But there are situations that occur that are outside of patient care like being overscheduled, or a colleague who’s acting inappropriately, we may feel in the context of a very busy schedule that we don’t have time, or the resources to go to anyone, or to reach out for help in resolving this. But what if you were part of a community of like-minded physicians, where you could go confidentially and discuss these issues and look for solutions, and hear about experiences of other physicians, and how they’ve solved similar problems facilitated by a group of experienced coaches who specialize in working with physicians, so that you could go back to work, fix these problems with confidence, and get on to enjoying your life again.
Amanda: I’m Amanda Taran, producer of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. Thank you for being here. Please check us out at docworking.com and please don’t forget to like and subscribe. Thank you for listening.
Coach Jill Farmer
Jill Farmer is an experienced physician coach who has been helping doctors live their best lives, increase their success, and move through burnout for well over a decade.
She has delivered keynotes, programs, and training everywhere from Harvard Medical School to the American College of Cardiology.
She has personally coached hundreds of physicians, surgeons, and other busy professionals to help them be at their best—without burning themselves out. Her coaching has supported professionals at places like Mass General Brigham in Boston, Washington University in St. Louis, Northwestern University in Chicago and too many others to list.
Jill wrote the book on time management for busy people. Literally. It’s called “There’s Not Enough Time…and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” which debuted as a bestseller on Amazon. Her work has been featured everywhere from Inc. to Fitness Magazine to The Washington Post.
Nationally recognized as a “brilliant time optimizer and life maximizer,” Jill will cut straight to the heart of your stress to liberate you from its shackles. She has two young adult daughters. She lives with her husband and their poorly behaved dachshund in St. Louis, MO.