Soft Skills and Training
Are we starting to believe and behave as if all conflict is bad? Not just bad, but something to be avoided at all costs. There are upsides to conflict, that we may be forgetting. For example, the tension between what I wanted to be able to do with my life outside of employment at the time, created a tension that got me off my duff and go back to school. The tension within a team working on a development project, can deliver a better quality product, as with each perspective or potential design solution presented, there is a vigorous attack and defense on the technical merits. Note the attack is on the idea, nothing personal, just working to find the best solution given the resources, talent and constraints.
Even companies that provide training in the soft skills, in my experience, expect this training to be some sort of weird cure all to avoid conflict, and not necessarily constructive conflict resolution. In our modern work spaces with psychological safety, we perhaps have swung too far the other direction, afraid to make somebody uncomfortable via difficult organization and performance discussions. I recently had a discussion with a coach, who said he was limited in what he could do and say to constructively improve the situation. Of course, there have always been limits to what or how a coach provides guidance. Well perhaps so much in the middle of last century, however, in my opinion, the limits of what is said can become so constrained that real helpful and improvement possibilities are crushed under this weight of fear. That’s right fear, but not fear of the idea, or fear of a person being stressed, but the fear of a vigorous and rigorous discussion of the design, development approach, strategies, tactics and performance under consideration lest we run afoul or otherwise damage our team mates. This can create a timidity about the work, and can leave quite a bit on the table for improvement. To be sure there are preferred ways to go about having these discussions, but in a time when engagement is low, it seems to me that we run the risk of suppressing any passion for the work. when we have great concern for what can be said. In fact, it could be argued, that the safest space, is a space where we can say thing about the project, the product development and the team, and there will be no retribution for our articulated perspective.
Part of a good preforming team, is performance, and coaching can require some difficult conversations. If we are unwilling to have those conversations, can we say we are a coach? If the organization does not allow room for these uncomfortable conversations, or waters down these discussions, fearing the consequences of our effort to truly be clear and helpful, are they really working to make things better or have our soft skills become distilled down to nothing ever contentious? There is such a thing as creative tension and in my experience it helps move people, teams, products and processes from one state or way of performing to another.