By Beth Jantz, Vice President of GrantsPLUS

In the nonprofit sector, we have a reputation for being nice. Most of the time, that’s a good thing. But sometimes, nonprofit culture’s “niceness” can actually create a dynamic of passive aggression.

In our consulting work, we often encounter teams where everyone in the room can see the problem, but no one is comfortable saying it out loud. Instead of addressing the issue, people save their grousing for behind closed doors. That, in turn, can lead to division, alienation, and disengagement.

Conflict is a natural and healthy part of any organization. Instead of turning away from conflict, we should lean into it. Which would you rather trade: one hour of discomfort or 40 hours a week of resentment and unhappiness at work? Approach disagreement with intentionality and an open mind.

5 Tips to Prepare Yourself

Here are some tips when preparing for a difficult conversation:

  • Acknowledge, accept, and emotionally prepare for the fact that it will be uncomfortable. No one ever died from discomfort!
  • Assume the other person has good intentions. Try to “clean your slate” – let go of built-up anger or frustration you are carrying and try to focus on the facts of the problem at hand.
  • Plan what you are going to say. It might help to have notes.
  • Really, truly, listen. Come with an open mind.
  • Accept that you may not resolve the issue in one conversation. It’s okay to plan a follow up conversation for another time.

“I believe one of the most courageous things to say in an uncomfortable conversation is, ‘Tell me more.’ Exactly when we want to turn away and change the topic…we also have the opportunity to ask what else we need to know to fully understand the other person’s perspective.”

Brene Brown

Open, honest, and healthy disagreements can transform your organization:

  • Good ideas can be refined into great ideas.
  • Mediocre grant applications can be edited into winning grant proposals.
  • Flagging, underperforming programs can be reworked into cutting edge social innovations.
  • Struggling employees can be coached into strong performance.
  • Dysfunctional teams can even change their cultures!

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