Book of the Month Review: “The Good Fight” by Liane Davey

No one is perfect… and neither are teams. We all have flaws. We all make mistakes. We all fall prey to distractions. And we all spark conflict at some point or another. Even the most productive, highly effective teams deal with their fair share of dysfunction—those procedures, structures, environments or even people that just aren't working out the way we intended.

This month, Leadercast will look at the ways in which dysfunction manifests among teams. Even in the slickest-looking organizations, underlying dysfunction can be ignored just enough to allow it to spread through team structures, silently eating away at productivity and perpetuating insecurity. When dysfunction is left alone, it grows. What was once a small issue in one area of an organization can quickly infect the culture of a team in so many ways that it becomes difficult to identify where it all started, much less come up with an effective solution.

In the spirit of this month’s theme, we were delighted to come across a book that brings a powerful pathway to eradicating dysfunction. In The Good Fight, Liane Davey shares the wisdom she gained through her 25 years of experience as an executive advisor and team-building coach. In it, she provides us with an unlikely method for tackling those ‘impossible to solve’ issues.

Liane’s secret weapon for getting out of deeply dysfunctional ruts is encouraging conflict. While most leaders might try to prevent it, Liane’s core message is that conflict is good for us. It’s our natural inclination for avoiding conflict that usually gets us into deep-seated problems in the first place, she says. Rather than avoiding it, Liane tells us we need more conflict in order to make those problems go away and to allow our relationships or strategies to finally begin to work. She uses the term ‘conflict debt’ to describe all those contentious issues that remain undiscussed but need to be addressed and resolved before we can move forward. The longer we ignore the issue and avoid the constructive conflicts needed to clear the air, conflict debt will continue to accumulate.

The Good Fight goes beyond establishing a business case for conflict and gives us in-depth lessons for how to navigate conflict in a healthy way. One of the first lessons she lists is how to win the support of adversaries, creating a connection that enables them to contribute to the solution rather than the problem. Liane unpacks this process, showing us how to uncover people’s values, validate them and make a connection that will benefit the entire team. She also walks us through the steps of countering unproductive conflict and difficult situations to embrace a mutually beneficial solution.

Now, that was a message that immediately resonated with me. Despite my core value for speaking the truth, I know that a few of my worst situations persisted far longer than necessary, simply because I was avoiding conflict. Most of us are conflict averse: We understand the importance of speaking up when our values or those we love are being threatened, but otherwise, we prefer to choose our battles carefully and avoid unnecessary disagreements. That seems like a great attitude, but when we serve a team that includes one or two people who are habitually aggressive, you can become increasingly reluctant to express your needed viewpoints. Instead of promoting an atmosphere of collaboration, your silence is contributing to a culture of poor communication and unmet expectations.

Normalizing the safe expression of dissent and constructive feedback involves codifying workplace conflict. Fighting the good fight to secure a healthy team is about establishing effective lines of communication and building strong connections where people will feel comfortable sharing their ideas, posing alternate solutions and voicing disagreement. It’s about creating the space and ground rules for a free-flow of communication that can bring understanding and lasting solutions to the problems with which your team is dealing.

Liane makes her book personal in a surprise bonus chapter, “Try This at Home.” Here, she coaches us on ‘clean fighting’ with our partners, raising conflict-resilient children, and even a unique section I found very relevant in my role as volunteer coordinator at Leadercast, on how to apply this truth within volunteer teams.    

From a facilitation process that includes humor and code words, to offering a practical template for value-based team planning and delegation, The Good Fight has plenty of fighting tools to help you deal a deathblow to dysfunction. This book is an essential handbook for those wise enough to see that difficult conversations and constructive conflict are not to be avoided but are key to creating healthy teams.

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This review was written by Cheryl van den Heever, events project manager at Leadercast in charge of managing volunteers for Leadercast Live and Leadercast Women. Learn more about how you can serve fellow leaders HERE.

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