In her last blog, topic leader for the hub, Sally Howard, talked about our triggers for a wobble and a few strategies to help as we take forward improvements in our services – building yourself a network, being genuinely curious and looking after yourself on the journey. This blog takes it one step further as she looks at what we can do when we hit a brick wall and offers some powerful strategies for dealing with conflict.
An important and timely read, as we all look to support and appreciate each other through these difficult times.
So, you have a network in place, a few allies and that’s working well. Your curiosity means that you are asking great questions.
Then you hit a brick wall
Push a few boundaries and you may find yourself in the middle of a disagreement, whether that’s you as a leader sharing power with your team or as the one brave soul who says "you don’t have the full picture". Whilst it may seem that people ‘in authority’ must find this easy to handle, otherwise they wouldn’t be in charge, at the end of the day this can be scary stuff wherever you sit within your team and the wider system.
You could turn back at this stage, but I hope that you don’t.
Top tips for dealing with conflict
Here’s a few more tips from me, all drawn from my experience of working with individuals and teams wanting to make the right difference for their patients:
- Pause and take a long hard listen to what’s being said. Stephen Covey says that most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply (1). Take a moment to reflect on how you listen. Empathic listening is not listening until you understand, it’s listening until the other person feels understood.
- Combine this with patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and a big shift in the way things happen may take time. Use this opportunity to grow your network of people who share your passion for making a real difference.
- Last time I talked about power; from our formal positions, expert power derived from our knowledge and experience, and personal power. There’s also a wonderful power expressed through appreciation (2). Nancy Kline recommends a 5 to 1 ratio of praise to criticism. Researchers studied how appreciation effects blood flow to the brain. Less flows when we are thinking critical thoughts. Appreciation is necessary for optimal brain function. It moves to the heart to stimulate the brain to work better. Infectious, it goes a long way especially when someone may be quietly wondering whether something was the right thing (3). And, unusually, emails and texts can be the unsung heroes of appreciation. Being appreciated for what you did that day, that week makes a real difference.
- So far so good but what if you really cannot agree with the direction of travel? Well you can disagree respectfully and politely. There is a time and place for agreement and disagreement (4).
- And finally seek some feedback. One of the real benefits of building a network of support is that it can help you hone your practice and build your confidence. It can be difficult to fully engage, give your best and then know how you landed. Was I clear in that meeting? Could people understand what I was trying to say? Was I too forceful? But you can identify a trusted colleague and ask if they will give you some feedback. I often suggest people set this up ahead of time, you receive richer feedback as a result. The Healthcare Leadership Model is also a brilliant tool (5). It’s not just for people with leader in their title. It’s made up of nine leadership dimensions that you can explore at your own pace and then, if the time is right for you, seek feedback from others using the online tool. In return you receive a comprehensive 360 report along with a session with a trained facilitator to help you get the best out of your report.
Thanks for reading this – let me know your experiences.
Next time I am going to be talking about our responses to change and why it really is a bit Marmite – some of us are wired for change, others less so. But it’s a little more predictable than you might think…
5 Healthcare Leadership Model. NHS Leadership Academy.
About the Author
Sally has held national and local leadership roles within the NHS in a career spanning more than 30 years. A respected leader, passionate about improvement and inclusivity, she is trained in quality improvement methodologies and has spent the last 20 years in their practical application.