AWCTO Roundtable | Shy away from Confrontation

Boardrooms are so often a place for tension and conflict; confrontation management is a crucial skill for anyone that wants to survive as a CTO or technical leader. Thankfully, there are a number of people that have mastered this art and are happy to share their secrets. In this roundtable we speak to some CTOs that have developed tactics and strategies, and are happy to share advice and tips so that you can learn from their mistakes and successes.

Meet our guests:-

Valerie Dryden – Head of (Platform) Engineering at Zego (Leaders Who Coach™ Graduate!

Daniella Lorenzo Rhodes – Founding member and CTO, TOQIO in Madrid, Spain

Sameh Megrhi – CTO, OMN in Paris, France

Franzi Löw – Co-Founder & CTO, Localyze in Hamburg, Germany

What our guests shared with us:-

We asked

Q: Sharing a past situation where you found it hard to navigate a conflict and reflecting on why you found it hard (what factors played into making it hard?)

Daniella

  • Conflict with other members of the team and in herself
  • Conflict in chat, difficult to locate
  • I like to know my team, so you can identify when something is weird in the chat
  • Make sure you identify it before it goes too far. It can scale really fast
  • I think you haven’t expressed yourself properly in this case
  • Speak to them individually
  • Listen to all versions – you can be inclined to one opinion or another but you should never show that communication
  • Connection and trust – if you don’t have it, then it might get worse

Franzi

  • My life is a conflict – I am a conflict avoider, a people pleaser
  • Never had the opportunity to come into conflict before
  • Biggest conflict is with the CEO – all founders are very differently
  • CEO has no fear in expressing her opinions
  • What helped?  Realising conflict is not a bad thing, it is a super good thing. It is something where you can grow and tangent exists and innovation is happening.
  • Reframing – Conflict is really good. It can be good if you have trust and you’re not afraid the other person will take it personally.
  • In the end, it’s about coming to an agreement, 80% agreement with them. You can then come to an agreement with them and both be committed to that solution.

Valerie

  • My life is conflict
  • Being a woman in tech – working with a lot of people who are very different from me. Had to learn how to navigate people not wanting to communicate
  • People pleaser – blew up one day
  • Found the book Radical candour
  • You’d think I’d have gotten really good at this, but the one thing I realised I hadn’t got good at was when someone above me has conflict with me – people who are so different from me, way more assertive
  • Someone was trying to take parts of my job off me and do it worse, someone above me, I trained them it was ok to use me as a doormat, so when I had the conversation 8 months later it was too late.
  • It was an unresolved aspect to me in a conflict solution.

Sehaam

  • The rules change when there’s a different power dynamic or culture

Q: Did you have a personal moment of realisation that you needed to deal with it? Again, why did you conclude that you couldn’t/shouldn’t avoid it?

Franzi

  • The most obvious sign is if you are lying in bed and thinking about it constantly
  • For me, I couldn’t sleep and I realised this was more than a normal conflict, I have to talk to this person.

Daniella

  • When you reach that frustration and you say I quit. I have to stop this.

Valerie

  • When I became really aware of my values, when I got to a point where I felt gross in my own heart I felt I was not showing up how I wanted and I was betraying myself. You’ve got to do the brave thing.

Q: Have you found any personal strategies for overcoming the feelings that surface when you hit a conflict?

Q: Have you made any mistakes or failures in this space? What would you advise others to NOT do?

Daniella

  • You don’t want to make anyone feel bad, so the only way you think you can solve something is by not telling them the whole truth. You don’t want to go into that conflict, you’re trying to please them. It is a mistake, sometimes you have to be tough with someone, that is your role. For people to trust you, they need to know if you have something to say they will have something to learn from you.

Q: What signs do you look out for that signal a potential conflict?

Valerie

  • Behavioral changes – definitely harder with people you don’t know as well. The dangerous part is when there’s gossiping and you don’t know. For me it’s about how is this person’s behavior changing toward me. Early as possible say ‘the story I’m telling myself is… can you help me understand?’

Franzi

  • Lucky enough to work in a company where conflict immediately goes on the table
  • I always think people have a problem with me or are angry with me and when I ask a person, they’ll reply something like I just had a bad day yesterday
  • Good to check in here 90% of the time it has nothing to do with you, it’s just their personal life.
  • It’s equally important to not think people will come to me if they have problems. One thing I found really helpful is to have meetings that don’t directly report to you. A good thing to get a sense of what is the current climate in the team, and hopefully you can spot issues early.

Sehaam

  • Term ‘artificial harmony’ – everyone contributes positively. Causes people to hold back.

Q: How much culture can affect how people contribute?

Daniella

  • If it’s constructive and it’s said properly, it’s a positive thing. If it’s treated properly you can create that culture. Everyone has bad days, so there’s loads you can try, but sometimes people make mistakes and that’s something that you have to learn to deal with.

Q: What do you do to prevent a conflict from escalating?

Valerie

  • Strong company values -we’re in this together, us before egos
  • If you’re doing a value interview
  • I can use that – I can see that you’re both getting into it but what’s your objective in relation to the company goals? We’re all in this together.

Book Recommendation 👉 Leading with questions

Sehaam, reminds us of a different approach and why that’s important. Hard to step outside yourself if you’re in the conflict.

Franzi

  • Zooming out of the situation is the best approach
  • My co-founder
  • We are not doing surgery on an open heart we will not die if we don’t get it right
  • Changing perspective is so helpful
  • Sometimes, if you are the leader, you just have to take the decision. I’m just going to take this decision now, cause someone has to.

Sehaam

  • It’s a heated negotiation really
  • Some people talk about going to the balcony – taking a breather is helpful

Daniella

  • Make sure everyone feels heard before you do make a decision.

Sehaam

  • You don’t have to agree 100%, it might be making your case of the risk, but deciding to back what you decide to move forward with.
  • Some of us express things straight away and some of us go quiet, rather than express a different point of view
  • There’s a middle way to make a conversation more robust by inviting people into that.
  • You don’t have the thoughts worked out in your own mind
  • You could kick off a discussion by asking if people have any concerns, that might draw out people to express more.

Daniella

  • I used to be quite impulsive
  • We have people who are key to us and people in our team who I listen to before I make a decision.
  • Listening to other opinions, you might not have even thought of different ways of doing things before people bring it up
  • Your mind grows and has different ideas to listening with different voices.

Franzi

  • If people have the feeling that you include them, then the buy-in is higher and the commitment is higher.
  • If you’re not clear about your own thoughts, talking to people can help clarify.

Valerie

  • I’m a fan of doing the opposite
  • I want you to pitch for that thing and you to pitch for that thing
  • I couple it with liberating structures – you’ve got to explain another person’s point of view 

Q: Who, if anyone, have you learn’t from when it comes to conflict?

Q: Do you have any book/video recommendations on the topic?

Q: Do you recall any key takeaways from books or blogs that have stuck with you?

Franzi

  • Kim Scott — Radical Candor – gave me the idea of conflict is something good. I was on the ruinous empathy path. Also has a great podcast.
  • Patrick Lencioni — 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

Valerie

  • Brene Brown – Dare to Lead – taught me about boundaries, realised a lot of prolonged conflict was happening because of boundaries. I a hundred million percent, recommend anything by Brene Brown.

Daniella

  • Mentor really helped me to speak it out
  • Book – Teams apologies????
  • Issues can arise because of things not being properly structured

Male Culture:

Daniella

  • More male in her company, have personal connections
  • Can be times when men speak to each other and can be rough
  • Getting used to talking in those lines and not taking them personally
  • You can get to a point in c-level when the way you’re spoken to makes you want to crack
  • You have to learn to deal with those situations so you don’t get treated differently
  • You need to learn that style of communication

Franzi

  • We are all female in this ship, but my CEO is really direct and more outspoken. It’s important for her to recognise that I have a different style. At some point we realised we were different. We need to be respectful of that. She wants a decision in an hour and she knows I can’t give her that.

Valerie

  • Is it toxic or is their style?
  • They internalise bad behavior cause it’s just the way it is
  • The thing we need to be aware of is what’s ok and what’s not ok
  • Boys club in the beginning and it’s terrible and I’ve seen women assimilate, so they can become one of the boys
  • Conflict that arises online via chat channels, especially where teams work remotely — how to spot, respond and facilitate resolution
  • Challenges or conflict arising from demand on limited resources, prioritisation, etc.
  • Distinguishing between being spoken to rudely/badly vs being spoken to in a rough/masculine style (different from your own), especially as a woman with all-male peers
  • Importance of emotional self-regulation, especially among C-suite peers (e.g. when you feel like crying out of frustration)
  • Importance of strength of personal relationships in avoiding/limiting a conflict
  • Importance of staying neutral as a leader when facilitating a conflict

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