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2024 AC&E: Global Women’s Leadership Network and Navigating Conflict

gwln1The 2024 Global Women’s Leadership Network meeting welcomed Sarah Noll Wilson to present on “Navigating Conflict: Having Conversations that Matter.” Wilson is an executive coach, researcher, conference speaker and contributor to Harvard Business Review, as well as the bestselling author of Don’t Feed the Elephants.

Wilson opened by stating her core mission: to reduce harm in the workplace.

“We should be talking about conflict all the time. There will always be conflicts between people, whether family members or coworkers, and our ability to navigate conflict is going to set us apart, lead us to success or failure.”

Research shows that what sets teams apart is the ability to address conflict, said Wilson, who said she comes from generations of avoiders, people who are “violently polite” in how they avoid conflict.

While Wilson’s focus is on not avoiding conflict, she said there is no one right way to address conflict, and anyone who tells you there is one way don’t understand the complexity of human behavior.

“There is no such thing as a right way, but there are things that can make it easier,” she added.

Wilson’s presentation centered around five conflict truths:

1. Distrust can be contagious.

2. It is nearly impossible to build trust the moment you need it.

3. Conflict is inevitable but doesn't have to be destructive.

4. Sixty-nine percent of all conflict is perpetual.

5. Not all relationships need to be repaired.

gwln2Credit unions are dependent on their relationships with people, she said, and those relationships are dependent on the conversations they’re having with members.

“We have to be intentional about how we show up in our conversations, because nine out of ten conversations miss the mark,” said Wilson.

She then introduced the concept of islands — how we each have our personal island, and on each of our islands is where we keep our preferences and values. And what happens in relationships is the assumption that what’s on my island must also be what’s on your island.

“We can’t approach relationships from a win-lose mentality. If we’ve done that, we’ve already lost,” Wilson said, adding that it’s not about individual preferences, but creating “our island,” working together to build a partnership of shared preferences.

To get at the center of how to tackle various “elephants in the room,” such as avoidance, deflection, blame and imagined conflict, Wilson gave attendees a few tips on how to best approach them. The tips covered were getting curious with yourself, others involved and the stakes at play, regulating your emotions and crafting the right opening.

When you’re curious and take stock of your emotions, you can focus on interactions as conversations, instead of confrontations, she said. And as for crafting the right opening, Wilson said it’s important to recognize that the first 3 mins of a conversation can not only dictate how effective that conversation will go, but can inform how successful that relationship will be, going forward.

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