3 min read
Amy Gallo is one of the foremost experts in conflict, communication, and workplace dynamics. She has the unique ability to articulate the latest management research in an easy-to-understand and executable fashion. Amy has also authored two books, Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People) and The Harvard Business Review Guide to Dealing with Conflict. She is also a contributing editor at the Harvard Business Review and the host of Harvard Business Review’s Women at Work Podcast.
I recently had the pleasure of talking with Amy about her latest book and her views on conflict resolution in the workplace.
Although conflict resolution and management principles are not everyone’s favorite topics of conversation, they’re incredibly important to understand in the business world because conflict in the workplace is inevitable. As long as you’re working and interacting with other people, there will always be some form of conflict.
These conflicts only become a problem when they are not handled appropriately. Businesses unable to hash out both internal and external conflicts will not run at their peak potential. Even worse, they may start to decline. For example, during Amy’s time as a management consultant, she saw a merger completely fall apart when the two merging companies were unable to hash out their conflicts.
Before trying to resolve conflicts, it’s important to know the type of person or people involved in the conflict. This is because there isn’t one end-all-be-all conflict resolution strategy that works for everyone. To make things simple, Amy has broken down all of the difficult people you might face at work into eight different categories, which are: insecure bosses, pessimists, victims, passive-aggressives, know-it-alls, tormentors, biased coworkers, and political operators.
While understanding the different types of difficult coworkers is a good start, you cannot simply classify a person as one type or another without understanding the context. For example, a person might not naturally be a pessimist, but instead, they might be reacting to the fact that someone else is coming off as a know-it-all.
Rather than putting someone into one of these camps and moving on, you should try to address the root of the problem and understand why they are acting in a certain way. For instance, if you are dealing with an insecure boss, although it might feel very unnatural, you may want to try to give them a compliment. Or, if instead, you are dealing with a tormentor, trying to change the balance of power and showing them that you have a helpful skill or a helpful piece of knowledge might help.
Conflict resolution, at its heart, is about understanding the context in which conflict occurs and addressing the root issues at hand. Amy’s new book helps readers understand how to take the high road to successfully navigate your toughest relationships at work.
I often get the chance to chat with some of the world’s foremost experts in their respective fields, like Amy Gallo. If you’d like to hear the full webcast with Amy or view our list of upcoming guests, be sure to check out the Walker Webcast. Also, for those who particularly like our CRE-focused webcasts, make sure you my upcoming chat with Dr. Peter Linneman.
Contributing Editor at Harvard Business Review, Podcaster, and Author
Willy Walker: Welcome everyone to another Walker Webcast. I am really pleased to have Amy Gallo join me once again. Before I dive into Amy, her bio and then our discussion on conflict, workplaces, and culture and all that stuff, just a couple quick things.
First of all, I was on the road last week in Texas in both Dallas as well as in Austin and in every client meeting, I had the topic of conversation beyond where rates have gone typically started with the Walker Webcast and people asking about the Walker Webcast. And I was in an investor meeting in Dallas, and I was running late for a meeting right after the investor meeting. And in the investor meeting, one of the investors spent, I don't know, 20% of the time talking about the Walker Webcast and how much this investor loves the Walker Webcast. And to be honest, I sort of was wondering why he wasn't asking about whether Walker & Dunlop was a great investment rather than talking about the Walker Webcast.
But nonetheless, I get out of that meeting, and I run out of this hotel and I'm running across the street to go to my meeting and I'm late and I'm going to walk to the meeting or jog to the meeting. And all of a sudden, as I get across the street, someone rolls down the window in their SUV and goes, “I love the Walker Webcast!” And I turn around and say to this person, “Thanks very much for that.” And he asks, “Where are you going?” And I said, “I'm going down to X address. And he says, “Hop on in.” So, Justin, thank you for the drive in Dallas last week to my meeting. You made me on time, and it was really nice to meet you and really nice to know that you love the Walker Webcast, but it is a real honor for me to have people like Amy join me. I do know that these webcasts are listened broadly and widely by people every single week, and I'm thankful for both the time and attention that people give to the webcast and then also to my guests like Amy, who give us an hour of their time and their expertise on topics that are so important to the world we live in.
So, with that, Amy Gallo is an expert in conflict, communication, and workplace dynamics. She combines the latest management research with practical advice to deliver evidence-based ideas on how to improve relationships and excel at work. She is the author of two books, Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People), and the Harvard Business Review Guide to Dealing with Conflict. She has written hundreds of articles for the Harvard Business Review, where she is a contributing editor. For the past four years, Amy has co-hosted Harvard Business Review's popular Women at Work Podcast, which examines the struggles and success of women in the workplace.
Amy has taught at Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania and is a graduate of Brown and Yale.
So first, Amy, welcome back to the Walker Webcast. The last time you and I did this, you were joined by our friend, your research colleague and simply a magical person, Dr. Sigal Barsade. And as some of our listeners may know it, after we did that webcast, Sigal got diagnosed with brain cancer and died dramatically soon thereafter. I know that she is missed by you, she is missed by me, and she is missed by her family and colleagues at Wharton. But I just wanted to point that out before you and I dive into our conversation.
Amy Gallo: Thank you for doing that. I do miss her, and I'm glad her work lives on. She's left quite a legacy of amazing research and thinking.
Willy Walker: So, Amy, I just gave the anecdote of being in Texas last week and the talk about the Walker webcast. I was in California about a month ago and was with one of our clients who said, “Oh, I love the Walker webcast. I listen to it all the time,” but I only listen to your discussions with Peter Linneman and Mark Zandi and the people are talking about the economy and kind of the hard numbers. But whenever you go and have someone talk about that soft stuff like H.R. and conflict and all that, I don't listen to that stuff. I sort of laughed because you know, I'll have a great conversation with Peter Linneman next week at the New York Stock Exchange. And I know we will have thousands and thousands of people who will tune in to listen to what Peter has to say about where rates are going to go. And that's obviously very important to the commercial real estate industry.
But as someone who has built a pretty darn successful business over quite some time, it's the soft stuff, it's the conflict resolution, it's the people stuff that is really what helps scale and build businesses and make them successful enterprises. And I found that sort of comment from that gentleman who, by the way, is very successful - interesting. And so, I hope he's listening today, even though I doubt he is. But second of all, I hope everyone who tunes in today can get from you what I consider to be really some of the most important pieces of how to build and scale businesses.
Amy Gallo: Yeah, nothing we do is without other people. Everything we do is with other people and being able to interact, collaborate, brainstorm together, whatever it is you need to do – if we can do that better, whatever the end result is in your work, is going to be stronger.
Earlier in my career I worked as a management consultant. I remember we were on this project, and we were helping this company. It was two companies actually coming together in a merger to come up with a new strategy. And we spent months and months, going through all of the numbers, the hard stuff as that guy would say of figuring this out. And I remember it culminated in this day-long strategy session. We had some of the brightest minds in the room. They had an incredible amount of resources. Truthfully, the strategy was really quite airtight. But I remember walking out and my fellow consulting colleagues, and I just said “I don't know, like those people do not know how to resolve conflict. There's so much unspoken in that room. There's so much tension like, can they do this?” And that merger actually failed. I hesitate to say it was entirely because of the way people interacted, but you can't not deal with this stuff. It's going to be there whether you like it or not, and getting good at it, encouraging your people to gain the skills they need is just going to make your business better. So I hope that guy’s listening too. Maybe he changed his mind.
Willy Walker: Maybe he did. So, you know, in your book Getting Along, you talk about just that conflict is everywhere and is part of what makes us human. And you talk about some of the physiological drivers of both conflict and then how we respond to conflict. But before we dive into that, I want to ask you a question. You are an expert at conflict resolution. You were an expert at identifying it, giving tips on how to deal with it. So, my question to you is this: If I asked your 16-year-old daughter how you deal with conflict, what would she say?
Amy Gallo: I'm going to be frank. She would say I'm horrible at it. And I want to believe that it's because she's 16, but what she would say and actually, that's not fair. She wouldn't say I'm horrible, especially if we had her here in front of this audience. I'm sure she would be much better behaved about it. But my poor daughter, is the daughter of a conflict expert and a therapist. So, all we do is talk about feelings and conflict. And she, to her credit, really has developed her own skills, not even things we've taught her, but around how to deal with this. And she will often say: “You're not following your own advice.”
The reality is those physiological reactions we have are true, whether you're an expert at this or whether you don't feel like you're good at it at all, they come up no matter what. And so, she would say, I'm horrible at it, but she also says I'm horrible at most things, driving and all the things. So, it is hard for everyone. I talk about this day in and day out. I research, I write books about it, and it is still I wish I could say, Oh yeah, conflicts are easy. I have more confidence that I can handle them. I have more confidence that the outcomes are going to be good, but it doesn't mean it's comfortable to me and certainly not simple.
Willy Walker: I bring up parenting to start this because all of us have both work conflicts as well as conflicts with our kids. And so, it's something that kind of all of us can sit there and say, wow, there’s skills here that I can use both in the office, but they're also skills I can use at home. But one of the interesting ones and I'm kind of jumping ahead here, but I thought this was interesting. One of the things out of your book that I took was you talked about your physical state when delivering difficult news and dealing with conflict at the office. And one of the things you state there is it's not so much whether you as the deliverer of the news are in a physical or mental state to be able to deliver the news – it's whether you're prepared to deal with the feedback and the response. And I thought that was so insightful.
Maybe just because I think in the office, if I'm going to have a difficult conversation with someone, I've got time to prepare for it. The timeline is on me and therefore I better be ready physically and mentally to be able to have the conversation and think about how the person is going to respond and how I'll respond to their response. But when we're at home and my 16-year-old son does something and I have a difficult conversation with him, I'm rarely thinking about my mental and physical state, not of giving him the news, but of dealing with his response and feedback to me. And I thought that was so helpful in the context of being mindful of that next time I talk to my 16-year-old son about something.
Amy Gallo: Yeah, I love that. And I think the playing out of the different scenarios, like because we often focus on the delivery. What do I want to say? What's the message? Especially with our kids, right? Like, what's the message I want to land? What do I want them to hear? How do I want this to go? And then it never goes the way we think it's going to go. And then we have to deal with the consequences. And I think that the consequences are often hard, right? The reaction, maybe the anger, the shutting down, or they say something where you're like, wow, I was not expecting that. And here I'm talking about teenagers, but also colleagues and employees.
We really have to make sure even if we don't have every answer at the ready, but that we're emotionally centered and calm enough to deal with what was likely to be an unexpected or challenging response. I had an experience where I was working on a project where someone said something that was racist, and we had to address it afterwards. It took me so much time to prepare how to say what I wanted to say, how I wanted to explain how that comment might have landed. I put in so much time and effort into getting it right. And then I was fully unprepared for the complete and utter pushback that I got. And I didn't I didn't have a plan B, C, D ready.
The interesting thing about that conversation, too, which I think gets to what you're talking about, is that it's not just that I wasn't prepared for the pushback, but the conversation didn't go well like I would have. If you asked me afterwards, give that conversation a grade, I would have said D like at most a C minus, right? It did not go well. And I was basing it on her reaction. Now, three months later, I come to find out another colleague of ours says, Oh, so-and-so said you had a great conversation with her. And also, the reframe. And I realized her reaction in the moment was emotional. She did not like to hear what I had to say, but it landed. And so even though in the moment the conversation didn't feel good, the goal of that conversation was still met.
I think that's another thing is we often evaluate whether our interactions, our conversations, especially tough conversations go well based on how we feel. And of course, you want to walk out smiling and feeling like we're on the same page. But that's not always going to be the case. But that doesn't mean it was a failure.
Willy Walker: I'm interested in the comment about your daughter and then your comment right there as it relates to that conversation with a colleague. Only in that as an expert in all this stuff, my assumption would be that you carry a mental toolset with you all the time that allows you to frame conflict better than most. And as you point out in your book, Amy, that we all deal with conflict and being in a company that either has a lot of conflict or not, is the difference between a successful career or changing jobs.
You point out in your book that there's a Harvard Business School professor who did a study on startups, and in his book called I think it was Founder's Dilemma, that 65% of startups fail because of conflict between the founders. I found that to be amazing. It's not that you ran out of funding. It's not that your idea wasn't good. It's that there was conflict between the founders and poof the whole thing goes up.
So, the ability to work through conflict and deal with others is the difference between a successful career or not. It's the difference between a startup working or not. And in many instances, the difference between a marriage either lasting and going the distance or ending up in divorce because you can't deal with the conflict between two people. So, given that, if I were inside of Amy's mind, knowing all you know, what's the framing that you carry that allows you when dealing with conflict, to go to a different place than react to it poorly, like many of us do?
Amy Gallo: Yeah, well, there's a couple of things. One, I think there's that natural instinct you referred to that physiological response. Most of us interpret conflict as a threat — a threat to our relationships, a threat to our identity or to our resources, maybe to our career, and maybe just to the sense of harmony that we enjoy in our marriage or in our working relationships or our relationship with our child. So, when we experience that threat, we go into what's often called fight, flight or freeze. We call it the amygdala hijack, where we're not making rational decisions. We're just like, protect, protect, protect.
So, a couple of things: one is I am very attuned to what are the signs that I'm going into that. For me, it's sweaty palms. I often feel my shoulders start to raise. So, I know that's happening. I need to breathe; I need to focus. And then I really, really try to get curious.
So, when a conflict comes up, my first instinct might be, “Oh no” but then I'm like, “Huh, okay, interesting.” Right? And I really try to understand, okay, what is going on here? And so that's sort of the big thing is just understanding my physical reaction and what that means about where my brain might be going. Also being quite curious and then as I sort of start to navigate into that conversation and this is really hard to do, but as I try to remember what my ultimate goal, because when we're in that fight, flight or freeze, sometimes our goals get very short, short term. I want this conversation to be over. I want them to be happy. I want me to be happy. I want to be right. I want them to admit that they're wrong and I'm right. But those goals aren't helpful. So, I try to think about what is it that I really need from this conversation? Is it that I need my kid to agree about who's using the car this weekend? Is it that I need my colleague to be on board with this big change to the project that we've just proposed? What is that goal? Because that also helps me stay out of emotional response which is going to be there. But it allows me to really focus on what's my next step to get to that goal, not to sort of end things, try to smooth things over and, you know, try to just get out.
Willy Walker: You talk about the physiological flight or fight instinct and then also self-doubt and where we all go in self-doubt. And one of the funny things that you write in your book is that “99% of human beings have a lot of self-doubt, and the 1% who don't are psychopaths.”
Amy Gallo: That's right.
Willy Walker: I listened to Walter Isaacson on his book on Elon Musk and was interviewed by David Rubenstein at the Economic Club of Washington last night. I thought one of the interesting things that Isaacson said was that he covered Musk, and he's talking about the depths of when SpaceX ran out of money and when Tesla ran out of money and how Elon couldn't sleep, then he was completely stressed out. And then all of a sudden everything started to come back and there was this moment of time where he'd proved all the shorts in Tesla wrong. And SpaceX actually just launched their rocket. And it was gaining value over and over and over. And he turned to Elon, and he said, “You must feel really good now that things are kind of stable and you've been proven to be successful?” And Musk turned to him, and he goes, “No, I love chaos, I love disorder, I love friction.” And I was sitting there thinking about how obviously the man's mind is absolutely genius, but just sort of gearing yourself towards not liking conflict but understanding what you're trying to get out of the conflict.
In other words, like the bad news to a colleague is in the colleague's best interests or the company's best interests. At the end of the day, you may lose the person, or you may not, but you know you're doing that because there's some outcome you're trying to get to – for right or wrong, if you will, and you hope it's for right. But I thought that was so interesting about you saying go back to why you're doing what you're doing and try not to personalize it too much as it relates to this is all about me. Because one of the other things you point out, Amy, is to figure out what the other person's motivation is. Don't look at it as framing them as the bad person, and it's all that you're in the right. You're in the know. You know what's going on.
Amy Gallo: Right. I mean, you really need to picture yourself on the same side of the table. I like to think of them being three entities in a conflict or difficult conversation. There's you, there's the other person, and then there's the problem you're trying to solve. And the problem you're trying to solve might be a business issue. It might be how you interact. But if you see yourself on the same side of the table trying to solve that problem together, it's the complete the tone of the conversation, the tenor is going to completely change than if you see yourself as in a tug-of-war with the other person. The other thing I really try to remember in the Elon Musk story sort of sparked this for me, which is, do you know what a balance board, Willy? Have you ever used one?
Willy Walker: Yeah, I’m not very good at it. But you get it and you're trying to go back and forth and sit on it.
Amy Gallo: It's like the top of a skateboard on a cylinder and you're trying to balance. It's funny. I'm not very good at it. Well, I'm now good at it and I'll explain. But my husband and daughter both love this, they're both surfers. They love it. They're on it all the time. And the joke in my family was that they would time me, I'd never been up balanced for more than 8 seconds. Like I just couldn't do it.
This summer, I was determined. I put it in the middle of our living room. I'm like, I'm going to figure this out. One day my daughter walked back. She goes, “You realize you're not trying to balance? And I said, “What?” She said, “You are trying to recover from imbalance.” I was like, “Oh.” And it changed everything. I was so focused on How do I balance? How do I balance? What I realized is you're always imbalanced. How do I recover from the imbalance? And that recovery might cause another imbalance. Then I have to recover from that. And that's really how I think about Elon Musk's brain sort of embraces that. We're always in an imbalance with other people. The idea that we're going have a perfect relationship with our spouse, with our colleagues, with our boss, with our investors – it's never going to be perfect. Conflict is inevitable. It is going to come up. And it's not about whether you can stay out of it, it’s can you recover from it in a way that makes the relationship stronger, and makes you more resilient? That's one of the things I really try to encourage people to develop is interpersonal resilience because you're going to have conflict. You just need to have more confidence going into them, going into the conversation, and also ideally feel less stress when you're in the midst of them.
The goal of staying out of conflict is not good either. You and I together could probably think of many organizations where there was zero conflict, and they were not successful. In fact, there's so many corporate scandals that came from the fact that people weren't having enough conflict, they weren't raising issues, they weren't having the hard work, making hard tradeoffs, the tough conversations. So, you know, I think we have to think about that. That's another frame of mind of like when something goes wrong, when there's a conflict. I'm not like, oh, gosh, our relationships are over. I'm like, okay, how do we get this back on track? How do we get back to a place of equilibrium, even if it's just temporary?
Willy Walker: You talk about the kind of how we all react to conflict and there's you can ignore it. You can address it directly or you can address it indirectly. One of the things you point out is that all of us sort of have a sort of a propensity to either avoid conflict or go after conflict. But you're very straightforward in saying that it's not binary that we're all sort of on a continuum somewhere between the complete conflict avoiders to the conflict seekers. It sounds like Elon Musk to some degree is a conflict seeker.
Talk for a moment about because you say very clearly you cannot default to conflict avoidance. Anyone who defaults to conflict avoidance is just going to keep kicking the can down the road and at some point, they run into a wall. But talk on that level from a management standpoint, from a work standpoint, as all of us are part of an ecosystem, how should we orient ourselves to either avoiding conflict, looking for conflict, or trying to find somewhere in between?
Amy Gallo: Yeah. Well, can I ask you first, Willy? Where do you identify on that spectrum?
Willy Walker: Oh, gosh. I think naturally I'm a conflict avoider. Yet as a manager, I realize that it's my job to confront issues. And I think I've become quite good at dealing with conflict and being very straightforward. I would also say that there are certain conflicts that we all try to avoid more than others. And one of the things that I think I've been able to do at times is I could have outsourced the conflict to somebody else on my management team and I took responsibility for it. I had the hard conversation and I think that maintaining that respect as a leader, that you will go and have the hard conversations when you know you could give it to somebody else is a very, very important part of maintaining the respect of your senior leadership team.
As much as there have been plenty of times where I could be like, Hey, Howard Smith, who's our president, who has dealt with many, many conflicts that I either didn't want to or just because he is better at it. There are times where I could have said, Hey, will you go take care of that? And I've stepped in and done it. And I think that that maintains a certain amount of respect amongst leaders when you're not always kind of pushing it off to somebody else.
Amy Gallo: Yeah, it's interesting. I hear a lot of CEOs say that their natural instinct is to avoid, but they realize that's part of the job. And I would argue it's one of the essential skills of leadership, being able to address conflicts, being able to have tough conversations. I mean, I bet if we looked at your calendar this week, you could list dozens of tough conversations you've had to have, right? It's just rampant.
Willy Walker: The one thing I would say on that and particularly as organization scale, Amy, is that I mean to your point of looking at my calendar, I get plenty of good news, but people don't call me with, “Hey, we just did this and it's really great.” People call me with “We have a problem.”
All CEOs are really there to deal with the hard stuff, not the easy stuff, because these days it kind of happens. And yes, believe me, I get a lot of credit for the easy stuff that goes well, and I'm very thankful to my team for it. But the place where leaders and managers step in is typically in the tough stuff, not the easy stuff.
Amy Gallo: That's right. And I think the way you described how you handle conflict is exactly to answer your question about the balance, is that what you have to watch out for is first of all, know what your default is. Know in a moment of stress when things all of a sudden pop up, you don't have a moment to think. What is your natural reaction? Is it to shut down or is it to jump in? Is it to stir the pot or is it to back off? Knowing what's your default style, then your work is to make sure you don't default to that in most situations, but that you make a conscious choice because there are many situations in which doing nothing, avoiding the conflict is a rational thing to do, right?
So maybe there's a problem that's just presented itself. It's just a one off, you don't suspect it's going to repeat. So, you say, okay, let's keep an eye on that. But you don't actually engage, or you don't actually dig into the issue. And then there are times where maybe you're hesitant, but then you actually do need to dig in, right? This is something that's happened repeatedly, or it has serious consequences, and not resolving it is going to create many problems down the road. So, what you have to be able to do is flex your style. And I think the more senior you get in an organization, the more you're called on to do that, right? To either dig into the conflict when it comes up, or to make the call like, hey, we're not going to address this quite yet. We're just going to wait and see what happens or we're just going to let it play out.
A lot of times I think middle managers in particular get into the like, “I must step in, I must step in, I must engage in the conflict.” And there's times I think you learn over time that that's just not appropriate for the situation. The person on the other end of the conversation isn't going to be receptive to it. It's going to make matters worse. Or like I said, it's only going to be a one off, the conversation is going to create a lot of tension in the system with not a lot of positive results. So, you really have to sort of weigh the costs and benefits. I bet you probably do that quite quickly in your mind when you're deciding how to engage in this, in the same way you're making the decision of am I going to take this on or is my president going to take this on? You are weighing the costs and benefits of doing that. What are the costs of me actually intervening now? What are the costs of me staying silent? And then weighing those.
Willy Walker: You talk about engaging in a conversation, a tough conversation, and then the amygdala hijack that says, “Oh, this doesn't feel good, or it isn't going the way I want to.” And one of the things that I thought was interesting right back to your comment about a middle manager feeling like this issue has to get dealt with right now is one of the things you say is if the conversation isn't going the way you intended it to back off, like leave it, you can come back to it. I think one of our natural ones, like back to my saying, if I've got a hard conversation with someone, I can get prepared for it. I better be physically and mentally ready to take on that conversation. But once you get to it, there's always this at least in me, this desire. I've got to get it done now, like this has to be done. And he or she needs to understand what I need to say now, because, boy, I've gotten the meeting set up, I've gotten the message delivered. But you say, you know, if it's not heading in the right direction, you can back off and leave it and come back to it the next day, the next week or what have you, which I thought was very interesting advice.
Amy Gallo: Yeah. And I think it's partly because when you're in that amygdala hijack, you don't have full access to your prefrontal cortex, which is the rational thinking part of your brain. So, if you're sitting there feeling totally overwhelmed, frustrated or anxious that this has to get resolved right now, you're not going to have a great conversation. And I understand urgency. I understand there are decisions that need to be made at that moment. If that's the case, of course, sit through it, maybe take a short break, maybe just go get a glass of water and come back, something to just sort of try to reset.
This is true of the other person you recognize they're in amygdala hijack, right? Never do the thing no one likes to do, like to be told. Never say “You need to calm down,” but offer the person a break. Like, “Hey, I realize I could use 5 minutes, or I realized that this conversation might go better tomorrow. Do you want to try again tomorrow?” You just give the person an out that they don't have to just because we often in that amygdala hijack have no idea where we're at. We've lost sort of control of our thinking, of our emotions. And so yeah, take a break. By all means, own it. Say, “I just need to take a walk around the building. Can we have this conversation this afternoon?” or, “I realize I don't have all of the information I need. Can we take a few days and then continue this conversation?”
The other thing is sometimes you don't feel ready. You're not even in that amygdala hijack, but you realize this is not going to resolve in one conversation. So sometimes it's a series of conversations that need to happen. Now for time pressured leaders. I understand that that's not always feasible, but I just want people to think about the fact that a good conflict, resolved well, is going to save you so much time down the line. Then a bad conflict that you're stewing in or making a rash decision about – you're going to be dealing with the consequences of that for the time to come.
Willy Walker: So interesting you talk about the investment of time to get to a good, if you will, conflict resolution. It makes me think about the culture inside of companies and people inside of companies. And you spend a bunch of time in the book just talking about how important culture is and how teams that work well together are so much more productive and have such dramatically better outcomes than teams that don't.
We all watch football teams every Saturday and Sunday across the country, and it's easy to see which ones have a great culture and execute well on the field and those that don't. But few companies are able to be run like Nick Saban runs Alabama football. I mean, he's got a process. He is a dictator in that process, and he controls those students for as long as they're there. And it's Nick's way or the highway. And that's not corporate America and that's not the world we live in.
But one of the things that I was with a friend of mine, Jonathan Coleman, who works at Janus Henderson last weekend, and he'd been back at Wake Forest and had listened to the Wake Forest baseball coach talk about the fact that they spend 40 hours, 40 hours with every baseball recruit who they give a scholarship offer to Wake Forest. I thought about how much time we spend at Walker & Dunlop on recruiting individuals to come in. At the senior executive level, I'm certain that we spend 40 hours plus with senior executives, rounds and rounds and dinners and what have you. But when I think about the people that we bring in as entry level employees at Walker & Dunlop and the amount of time, we're certainly more skills focused than we are personality focused. We want to know whether the person can actually do the job. And then hopefully we think that the culture at Walker & Dunlop and obviously we're looking at them as a person. But when I read your research and I read how important the overall culture is in people being on the same page and working well with one another, I sit there and say, we ought to be recruiting for personality type and fit almost more than skill. Amy, is that something that you would say people should think about?
Amy Gallo: Well, it depends how you define personality and fit because I think “fit” can be tricky, right? Oftentimes that gets interpreted. I'm not insinuating that you think this, but I think a lot of people interpret “fit” as “Are they like us?” “Do they see the world the same way? Do they have the same experiences?” And obviously you want to hire people who have different experiences, view the world differently. When I think about hiring, one of the things that I think is so essential is skill, but it's not the hard skills required for this job, because often you can train those, but do you have skills like conflict resolution?
One of the questions I love to hear that companies are asking is tell us about a conflict you had in your last job and how you resolved it, right? Things like that I think are so critical to understanding whether someone will, quote unquote, fit in the organization, meaning will they be able to navigate the culture? Will they be able to understand it? I want to see people evaluated on emotional intelligence skills to really assess whether they're going to be able to do the job that's required, not just those sorts of list of things on a job description, but then have the interactions, build the relationships, have the influence they'll need to actually achieve those bullet points on the job description. Does that answer your question?
Willy Walker: Yeah. So, in response to your question of “Tell me about conflict at your last job and how you dealt with it?” What if someone says, I don't have conflict?”
Amy Gallo: That is a red flag.
Willy Walker: Hahaha! I knew you were going to say that?
Amy Gallo: One, I would say, well, why do you think that is? I'd be very curious about their interpretation. The other thing you have to remember is conflict is in the eye of the beholder. But you and I could really have what I felt was a very tense conversation. And you're like, well, that was such an interesting discussion. We have different tolerance levels for discomfort, for tension, for conflict. It may be that that person just doesn't have the same physiological response that many of us do to conflict. Maybe they don't interpret.
You might then rephrase the question. “Tell me about a time you didn't see eye to eye with people? What about a disagreement?” You know, certainly disagreements have come up, but so they may have a different interpretation. But I think it's someone who says, “No, I never have conflict,” I think is either most likely not seeing situations for the way they are or not quite telling the truth.
Willy Walker: You put in the book four different reasons for conflict: process, objective, leadership status and personal. Can you walk our listeners through those four reasons for conflict, if you will, and whether one of them is more challenging than the other?
Amy Gallo: Yeah. So, it actually divides into two in terms of challenge. So, there is a task or objective. We disagree over the goal. What are we actually trying to achieve? Like are we launching this initiative because we want to improve customer satisfaction or because we want to increase revenue? Like what's the fundamental goal? Relatively straightforward conflict comparatively to solve, which is that we it's not personal, it's not necessarily connected to our ego. So, we can decide, okay, well, what's the objective of the organization? What is the goal we're trying to achieve there? There's ways we can resolve that one that don't necessarily get personal. The other type is a little more complicated, but it's also relatively straightforward is process. So maybe we agree the goal is to increase revenue, but I think we're going to do that by taking our best-selling product and improving it. And you think we're going to do that by expanding the product line, right? So that's sort of a process of how we actually do it. A lot of the process conflicts I see also are around how fast we move, how careful we are, quality versus efficiency, for example. So those are process conflicts.
The other is status. Who actually gets to make the call? Who's in charge? That get a little trickier because then it starts to become connected to our ego, right? Am I in charge? Am I making the final decision in this meeting, or is Willy, what's happening here?
Then there's personal or what I often call relationship, which is a personality clash. So, where you and I may be disrespecting each other, maybe we're exchanging snarky emails or one of us keeps talking over the other in a meeting. That starts to become a relationship conflict. Now, conflicts don't fall neatly into those four categories. It's often a mix, right? So, you might disagree over the goal, what we're trying to do that leads to a status conflict because we can't agree on who actually gets to make the call. And then it becomes a relationship conflict because we're playing that out in front of our teams in a way that creates a lot of tension for everyone else.
Willy Walker: So, when we have a personality conflict or a status conflict, you talk about the eight archetypes of various people that you'll have problems with – there's the insecure boss, there's the pessimist, there's the victim, there's passive aggressive, there’s the know-it-all, there's the tormentor, there's the biased coworker, and there's the political operator. So those are the eight archetypes that you put them into.
One of the things you say is be very careful in, if you will, sticking someone in one of those archetypes and thinking that because someone is the pessimist that you know how he or she is either thinking or you can blame them for, Oh, there Amy goes, being her pessimistic self rather than actually in this one. I might be acting like a know-it-all, and it's actually Amy responding to Willy being a know-it-all versus Amy being the pessimist. Let's talk about that dynamic in about the eight archetypes that you have created or classified in the book, if you will.
Amy Gallo: Yeah, and I just noticed when you were trying to say, ‘the people who you will have challenges with,’ right, you were trying to avoid ‘the difficult people’ phrase, I think that's what you were doing. I have to say it's on the cover of my book. It's in the subtitle of the book. I still have mixed feelings with it, and it's the same way I feel about the archetypes, which is that those labels can be instructive if they encourage curiosity. So why is Amy being pessimistic? Why does she tend to have a negative view on these things? Or what's going on with Willy that is acting like a know-it-all, it has to encourage our sort of natural curiosity or interest in other people rather than being dismissive rather than shutting down and feeling definitive like Amy is a pessimist.
Then confirmation bias comes in and then you start seeing all of that through the Amy is a pessimist lens, right? And everything I say is now interpreted as negative, even if it's neutral or even maybe positive. So, we have to be really careful that we don't use these labels to dismiss people. I do use the archetypes and I do use the phrase ‘difficult people,’ because I think that's what when people are seeking advice, when they're seeking help, that's what they are dealing with. That's what those patterns of behavior, passive aggression, political operating, playing the victim. That's what I know I'm dealing with. And that's how I'm going to seek the advice. So that's really when I share the archetypes. It's meant to be a diagnostic tool that allows you to get specific advice based on the pattern of behavior you're dealing with. It's not permission to decide. You don't have to deal with that person anymore because they fit neatly into this archetype. Does that make sense?
Willy Walker: It does. Is there any reason why the Insecure Boss was number one on your list in the sense that a lot of time there? I'm just curious in the sense that because you look at organizations and spend so much time researching organizations, does that Insecure Boss come out as the archetype that causes all sorts of kind of collateral damage, more so than having a pessimistic boss or having a boss who acts like a victim or having someone next to you who's that way? It seemed like there was a lot of time focused on that. Is that from your research, what comes up first?
Amy Gallo: You know, the one you hear most often about actually passive aggressive behavior. So that passive aggressive peer chapter was the first one I wrote. The reason the Insecure Boss came first is because we did want to make sure that people who were dealing with a boss sort of got that advice first. And I spent a lot of time there because there is such interesting research about both what you're alluding to, the damage of working with an insecure boss, but also why it happens. I mean, you talked earlier about the 99% of people who feel some insecurity, some self-doubt, and the people who don't are what we call psychopaths. It is normal to feel self-doubt. And there's some interesting research that shows the more senior in an organization someone gets, the more they are more likely to feel self-doubt, which is actually the opposite of what we expect to happen. Because now they've got the title, they've got the salary, they've got power, they have influence. Why wouldn't they feel more secure? The problem is the expectations for them have risen. And so, there's the gap between what they believe they can deliver and those expectations. And they tend to feel insecure.
There's one study I'm not going to remember the exact numbers, but there's one study of executives in the UK who looked at what are their biggest concerns. One of them was being found out to not be up for the job. I think we like to think of our leaders as confident. But often they experience self-doubt, which is normal, and we should actually normalize that because the more we expect these leaders, the greater the gap between the expectations and their perception of competence, the less likely they are to listen to employees, be open to feedback and to make good decisions. That gap can be really destructive. And for you personally, working for someone who is an insecure manager, you might experience micromanaging. They might doubt your work, they might hoard information, not allow you to interact with other departments or divisions. And that can be super damaging not only to your psyche in terms of you then start to doubt yourself, but also to your career, because it becomes very limiting in terms of what you can accomplish, who you can interact with. So, the short answer is that it's I don't think we've seen the prevalence necessarily as much, but the damage is greater. And I think it's just the insecurity in itself is such a natural human trait that it's going to come up.
Willy Walker: So, if you work for that insecure boss, how should you deal with it? In the sense that I remember distinctly when I worked at Morgan Stanley, I had a project I was working on in which the vice president I was working for was a very insecure person, she withheld information and I spent weeks putting together this pitch. The night before we were to get on a plane and fly to Europe to make the pitch, she said, “Come with me.” We walked down a hallway and there were these stacks of files, and this is well before cloud computing and all the files are up in the cloud. And she pulled out this pitch and we'd done the exact same pitch for another Morgan Stanley client a month earlier. It had all the work that I've been working on for two weeks, but she just wanted to see me a) Stay up all night long and try and do it. And b) she was a little insecure on her own, she wanted to withhold information to just make sure that I was good enough to support her in the pitch. And in my world, I said, well, good thing I'm only working on this project with her. And hopefully the next time I have a different vice president who's going to be looking over me. But what do you do when you're in that position? And let's just say that vice president was my vice president for seemingly the next two or three years at Morgan Stanley. What do I do at that moment?
Amy Gallo: Yeah, I mean, well, she also would fall into the archetype I talk about in the book called The Tormentor, which is someone who we expect to be a mentor.
Willy Walker: Oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy did she torment me.
Amy Gallo: Right. So, there's a couple of things that that research has shown works. Now, you have to remember that there are no “Four Step Guide to Dealing with a Tormentor” or “Four Steps to Making Your Boss Less Insecure.” Like, this is all about experimentation, depending on the situation, depending on the power dynamic, depending on that person's personality, your personality, or you have to sort of experiment with what works. But what research has shown is that one of the things that sort of calms an insecure boss's ego, they tend to have high what we call ego defensiveness is actually helping them feel more secure. Now, is it your job to help your boss feel more secure? No. But will a couple well-placed, genuine compliments tend to sort of help calm that ego? Research indicates yes.
So, think about what is the boss actually good at? What do we want them to know that we appreciate about them? I have to tell you, I like squirm when I give this advice because the last thing, I'm sure you want it to do with that boss was flatter her, right? Like and it's just it's sort of an icky concept but we do know it helps to calm that ego. The other thing and actually this ridiculous exercise she had you perform is in part what doing this is what in academic research we call abusive supervision right when a manager is actually in, sometimes we use that term loosely. But what has been shown to work is actually to change the balance of power, is that the manager feels like they have a ton of power. But if you can show them that you have a skill that they need or that you have a piece of knowledge that they need, or there's a way that you interact with the team that they're unable to or you have a relationship with another part of the organization that can sort of help them to do less of the sort of wielding of their power because now they realize they need you.
I think the other thing is sometimes with a with an insecure boss, it just helps to have and with any of the archetypes, it can just help to have a conversation where you might say, “I don't feel like we got off on the right foot and I want to make sure this relationship works well for both of us. Is there something I could do differently? Asking how you can participate differently? What were you going to say, Willy?
Willy Walker: I was just going to say you underscore that in the book as it relates to not assuming people's motives. So with the eight archetypes, not assuming that just because someone's passive-aggressive or because someone is the pessimist, that that's what's driving their behavior and that you're very quick to point out, just as you said, ask them why they are acting this way and find out what it is that's going on in any kind of conflict, not just a an insecure boss fight. You say ‘imputing motive always gets you in trouble.” And I thought that that was such a helpful thing to sort of say, don't assume that someone's acting in a certain way. Just ask them, what's the problem, Amy? What's happening here not meeting your expectations or why are you driving me that way? Those conversations in and of themselves are often very challenging because we put ourselves out there to say, you're going to give me some feedback that says, Willy, I didn't think you were ready for the presentation, or I don't think you're smart enough to put together the pitch book to go do it. And so, I had to make sure that you actually could do it, which is kind of like, okay, I thought I was. But that may be the reason you had me spend two weeks putting together the presentation.
Amy Gallo: Yeah, well, and I think that you're alluding to two different issues, and I think they're both really important, one of which is the social psychology concept called the fundamental attribution error, which is that in the simplest form, if I showed up late to a meeting, I would think of all the reasons why I was late. There was traffic. Got into an argument with my kid on the way into the office. Whatever it is. I would think of all these circumstances that led to my tardiness. If you walk in late, my instinct is to assign that tardiness to your personality. Willy must be disorganized or doesn't care about this meeting or, is terrible at time management. He packs his schedule too tight and can never get to a meeting on time.
And that's what happens when we observe difficult behavior in someone else, we start to assign it to their personality rather than understanding the circumstances that might have led. Oftentimes insecurity is because they have a boss breathing down their neck. Maybe they have unrealistic targets for that quarter that they're really trying to achieve. Maybe they really don't believe you're up for the job and want to show that you are. Who knows what it is? And I think we have to be really careful. The other thing is, and we have to really watch for bias, and especially when we use the term ‘difficult’ or any of these archetypes, because oftentimes when we see someone behave differently than we expect, let's say I'm particularly confident in my career, in my role, and I have a boss who I've decided is insecure. Is it the fact that I'm just sort of comparing them to me that they're different in some way? Or often what happens is based on who they are, whether it's their gender, their race, where they came from in terms of a different organization or their industry or their function, we often will jump to particular labels. Right? People in finance are always pessimistic. We start to do things like that, and we have to watch for that bias to make sure that that's not creeping into our interpretation of that behavior.
Willy Walker: You talk about remote work, and I thought it was really interesting today when I was at Starbucks just before coming into the office, I remote ordered Starbucks and I swear to you, I waited for 15 to 20 minutes in Starbucks and I was standing next to this woman who, by the way, watches the Walker Webcast and said, “Are you Willy Walker?” I said, “Man, I've never seen a line like that.” She said, “Oh, I talked to the baristas. They said, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday this place is packed with people because everyone's in the office. Monday, Friday, not so much.” And it's just interesting about that. But you talk about the fact that remote work can exacerbate bad relationships.
I think a lot of people felt that working remotely, avoided conflict, avoided difficult conversations because the moment the conversation was done, we came on, Amy and I did our Zoom call. I didn't have the opportunity to sit next to the water cooler with you and ask you a question or not that might have gotten you happy or upset, whatever the case may be. But you say that you were kind of kicking the can down the road and that in remote work, we're really not getting the time to be able to talk to somebody at the water cooler and have a better understanding of people, which is only to some degree heightening conflict, not dissipating it.
Amy Gallo: Yeah. I mean, I think the real issue is that these are not high-fidelity ways of interacting. Now, I want to be clear. I'm not saying everyone needs to go back to the office five days a week.
Willy Walker: You can say that it’s okay. Plenty of office building owners listening to this webcast that are like go Amy, you just stay on it.
Amy Gallo: But the challenge is, whatever your work environment is, you just have to know what the downsides are and then compensate for them. Because some people can't be in the office five days a week. But yes, okay, we will make that argument for the sake of the audience. But the thing to keep in mind is that it's not a high-fidelity way of interacting. So, I don't know what's going on in your office behind the computer. There could be four people in there trying to get your attention. Actually, Willy, I remember our last webcast when we were doing a prep call, you at one point seemed really distracted and I was like, What is he doing? Like, he's and of course my brain is like, does he care about this? Is he listening? And it was the height of the pandemic. And your son had actually brought you breakfast. I don't know if you remember this. And I was like, Oh, well, that's why he was slightly distracted. And it was like the sweetest moment. But of course, if I had not found out, I would have had this impression that you didn't care about the conversation, or you couldn't listen for very long or whatever. And I think those are the things we make these misattributions. There's misunderstandings. We don't have the full context, which is really challenging. And so, we have to find ways to actually compensate for that and those relationships do get tense. We have to find ways to connect with people in a human way.
I mean, this little box on the screen doesn't make me feel particularly 3D or human or empathetic. And so, we have to find ways to really connect with people, so we give one another that benefit of the doubt. We have more understanding about what's motivating each other, what we care about, so that when those tensions do come up, we are better equipped to navigate them together.
Willy Walker: From reading the book, it is kind of a great guide to how to deal with conflict on a 1 to 1 basis, how to deal with conflict if you're a manager who has two people who work for you, who are in conflict with one another, and how to deal with conflict if you think that the strategy of the company isn't correct, but you're the one who has to go implement it to your team and you point out saying, hey, it's the CEO's decision. I don't have anything to do with it is probably not the best way to deal with that.
But for the last thing we talk about here, Amy, as it relates to corporate culture, kind of writ large. As I read through conflict and how conflict exists everywhere, I think about it in the context of W&D and about the fact that as we've grown this company from being a very small company to being a pretty good sized company and brought on thousands and thousands of employees over time, that us being named a great place to work is something that we kind of hang our hat on. But it says that there's, generally speaking, a culture inside of the company which makes it so everyone kind of knows where they're going, and that when you kind of have a true north of where you're going, it diminishes the amount of conflict over what are the objectives or what are the processes. And those are two of the four kinds of categories of conflict that exist in corporations.
What would you say to business leaders or managers as it relates to from a pure kind of strategy/business planning standpoint they can do to try and alleviate conflict they may have inside of their company or inside of their group?
Amy Gallo: Yeah, I mean, I think clarity is like one of the most... Actually, I got asked this question yesterday of how the clarity of mission, goals and vision is just incredibly helpful to alleviate because then people have a shared understanding of what they're working toward. So, I think that's one thing is just trying to clarify as much as you can what it is the company is trying to do and what are the parameters in which we're trying to do that can help sort of dissipate some of that conflict.
But the other thing and no one will be surprised, I'm saying this is you also have to normalize conflict because as much as you try to make things more smooth, you want tensions. You want someone to advocate for what's best for your customers while someone advocates what's best for the company, you want someone to advocate for super high quality. You want someone to advocate for speed. You want those tensions to exist, and you have to normalize them so that when conflicts do come up, you're able to say, okay, this is what's going on. It doesn't turn into the personality disagreements or the status conflicts that you're really just trying to address business issues for what they are, disagreements over how to do things, the right way to move forward. And if you can normalize that, including getting comfortable with conflict and how to handle it, I think you're going to really pave the way for your organization.
Willy Walker: Normalize it, accept it, or foster it. I think about Ray Dalio and the way he ran Bridgewater and the fact that they kind of if you walked in with an investment idea, you better be ready for someone to take a howitzer out at that idea and blow it through. And they want he wanted that conflict and I think about what it would have been like to work there and how you have to have a very special culture and dynamic to allow for that, you know incredibly brutally honest discussion to happen every single day and for people is like, wipe it off their backs and keep on moving forward. But to your point about normalization, acceptance or seek it, which creates the more sort of successful organizations.
Amy Gallo: Yeah. I mean, I would say it's a combination of all three. Like you have to normalize it. When contention comes up you can't have people just freaking out. You have to accept that it's there, but you want to get rid of unhealthy conflict, right? Conflict that's really about people's personalities or that isn't moving the organization forward, but really just stalling it. If you can't find what is the critical business issue we're trying to decide here, it may be that that conflict isn't healthy for the organization to have.
Now, fostering is a different story. At Ray Dalio's organization. It doesn't sound very fun to me personally to work in. I know people who've worked there who didn't last long, but I think for that organization, it worked in its own way. I do think if you have no conflict right now, if you really are not hearing a difference of opinion, yeah, you might need to foster some of it. But I don't think you need to unnecessarily create situations in which people fall into that amygdala hijack rate.
You really have to make sure that people are able to show up to the conversation, engage in the conflict, engage in the tension in a productive way, without sort of putting them into such a heightened state that they're not able to even do what you want them to do.
Willy Walker: Amy, you're fantastic. I know you're about to head down under to give a speech, and you're also going to head to the Great Barrier Reef with your daughter for some scuba diving. So, enjoy that trip. I hope you have no conflict whatsoever on the entire trip.
Amy Gallo: It'll happen, but it'll be okay.
Willy Walker: Hope there's no conflict with the airline or anybody else.
Amy Gallo: That's the conflict that I don’t want. Willy, thank you for having me.
Willy Walker: Greatly enjoyed our conversation. I am live at the New York Stock Exchange next week with Peter Linneman. I know many, many people have already signed up for it, and I'm looking forward to having Peter tell us the hard stuff as it relates to where rates are going and all that stuff. Amy, thank you for an hour on the soft stuff. It's super, super important.
Amy Gallo: Thank you. This has been really fun.
Willy Walker: Great. Have a great day.
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