Many of us have heard the phrase “we are like a family here” when people talk about their job. We always talk about it, but it’s not too likely that many of us actually believe it. Often times, this is something many of us say to reassure ourselves that we have some sense of security when, in fact, there is none.
I wanted to share an experience I had this past week with conflict and disagreement with people I see on a daily basis – my work family.
Two ladies I work with were having some difficulty with one another (Since I know they may end up reading this, I will remind them that they don’t need to identify themselves. It’s totally fine to stay anonymous!).
I was out of the office, but had been keeping up with emails coming in on a regular basis. It isn’t unusual to get about 3-4 group emails first thing in the morning covering things that came up during the evening. This particular day, I noticed a few remarks that seemed to be directed more at an individual than they were the group. Naturally there was a defensive response. The tension was growing, and I knew we had to have a conversation, soon!
I shot back a quick email telling them that we would be meeting together as soon as I returned to the office, in about 20 minutes. As I drove back, I was reflecting on a talk I had just been listening to the night before. (You can watch the talk on Youtube here) I started to think about who we were as an organization and our “culture” (the new hip word in business). I couldn’t help but think about the fact that we are all on the same team and shooting for the same goal, just like a family. Not the typical self-assurance label we all hear, but truly part of a larger group with a common purpose and appreciation of each other.
When I got back, I pulled the two ladies into my office and told them “Ok, I’m going to start this by saying that nobody is right, and everyone is wrong. Now, I need you to both tell each other what you have not been saying all along.” It soon became evident that there were deeper issues than just this specific incident. There were some serious communication issues. For both of them, they were not used to having an environment where these discussions were not only appropriate, but encouraged.
I try to communicate a sense of openness and safety in our organization. I believe that secrets serve nobody and that trust is built by being honest and candid. I want everyone who works in our office to feel that they are safe. If someone is there to serve only themselves, they don’t stick around. Playing CYA is no way to build trust.
I told both of these ladies what they already know: we are all in this line of work for the right reason and they are both fantastic at what they do. With that in mind, they should know that we all need to defend each other. If you feel you need to defend your actions, you are defending the wrong person. If we all trust each other and do all we can to earn that trust in return, then we will succeed.
Ultimately, we are a family. We will have disagreements and arguments, but ultimately we want to best for each other. If we never had conflict, what kind of relationships would we have built? They sure wouldn’t be genuine, that’s for sure.
After a lot of tears and talk about safety, we all left feeling better. We got a lot accomplished and we are back to growing together. It won’t be the last time we have a problem. We are in the people and relationships business, and conflict is part of human nature. Loke we tell our clients so often – It’s not about promising the absence of problems but promising that when they occur that we will be there to make them right.
At the end of the day, a business should be a family. We shouldn’t be on our “best behavior” but instead should be on “our behavior.” If we all look out for each other, we all win. And when we have conflict, we just have to be humble and be sure we are defending the right person – each other.