Conflict Avoidance Kills Shareholder Value

Many executive team members at Fortune 500 companies are not able to find their full voice in a meeting room, so they rely on hallway conversations and behind the back dialogue as an easier way to voice concerns and disagreements. In fact, we even see this same type of behavior in our current White House Administration. However, this type of conflict avoidance kills shareholder value.

After more than 15 years of research in our Research Institute at Ferrazzi Greenlight, we believe conflict avoidance is the leading cause for erosion of shareholder value, causing low engagement, low productivity, and misdiagnosing critical risks in organizational change transformation. In fact, in 2012 I wrote in HBR that “Colleagues who are afraid to speak honestly to people’s faces do it behind their backs. This behavior exacts a price.”

According to a recent study in 2015, candor among leadership plays a significant role in predicting profitability. “Over the past nine years, this research has shown that the shares of companies whose executives exhibit a high degree of candor have outperformed shares of candor-deficient companies.”

Open the Courage

Avoiding conflict and speaking behind a colleague’s back boils down to courage. Without courage, colleagues will not conduct the crucial dialogue needed during team meetings. An individual would not be able to say, “Excuse me Jane, are you backing away? Have you checked out, or do you actually agree with the conversation?” This kind of candor and dialogue is critical to transformation and success.

In our High-Impact Teams (HIT) program, we coach leadership teams on opening up courage during meetings and in everyday dialogue. These High-Impact Team members understand that this courage to say what is necessary comes from a place of generosity and commitment to mutual success. There are no hurt feelings, because they know that everyone has each other’s backs and are only interested in co-elevation. At Ferrazzi Greenlight, we understand the best places to practice candor and get to this level of mutual commitment is during your business meetings. And one way to ensure consistent and direct candor in your meetings is by using “Yoda in the Room.”

Just like the Jedi Master from the Star Wars movies, the “Yodas” in a meeting represent the collective wisdom of the group. In fact, we believe that, while no one individual can have the wisdom to guide a team, the collective wisdom of the members does equal that of Yoda. This “wisdom” permits them to act as a coach/referee and gives them the right of full transparency. With this transparency, Yodas need to say what is not being said in the meetings, help resolve disputes, and ensure that candor is being exercised to the highest level.

Leaders who appoint Yodas in their meetings demonstrate to their teams that they welcome viewpoints that challenge their own. They treat the people on their teams as collaborators, not followers, and encourage open discussion.

Putting it into Practice: Yoda in the Room

  1. At the start of the meeting, review with the group the expected outputs of the session.
  2. Introduce the Yoda practice as a practice that will help accelerate transparency and inclusion.
  3. Explain what the Yoda is and its responsibilities.
  4. Ask for volunteers to be the Yoda in the Room. (They do not have to be the most senior people in the room.)
  5. Once identified, explain to the Yodas that they need to call out moments when the team is neither being candid nor acting in the service of each other’s success.
  6. Throughout the meeting, take moments to pause and get insight from the Yodas.

Tips for Yodas:

  • Trust your instincts and have the courage to speak up and interrupt if necessary.
  • If you sense the group is “going off the rails” but can’t think of an interjection, suggest taking a 10-minute break to give everyone a fresh perspective.
  • It’s okay if your comments aren’t perfect; don’t be discouraged. You may be wrong at times but remember that you are playing a critical role in the success of the whole group, so don’t be afraid to take risks!

When you start using this practice, it is important to understand that the success of this practice depends on collective transparency; therefore, everyone needs to take turns being a Yoda. Over time, every team member will have the courage to channel their own inner Yodas!

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. For more from Keith you can follow along on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi


New York Times best-selling author, speaker

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