Reducing Conflict 5 The Power of Flights

September 13, 2021

Sometimes a simple airplane flight can allow two teams working remotely to make more progress than dozens of Zoom calls.

When working on large projects, managers often split up the work so one group works on one part while another group, typically located in another city or country, works on a different part. If you are the overall manager for the effort, keep a close eye on the level of silo thinking between these two groups.

Often the allegiance to the part Group 1 is working on will make communication with Group 2 more difficult. This is especially true if both parts must function equally well for the whole project to be successful and the entire system not working well.

Group 1 will typically blame Group 2 for the problems and vice versa.  You can waste a lot of time and energy, even if the people involved are really trying to work well together and communicating frequently by phone or video conference. 

There comes a point where it is worth it to get the groups together physically in the same room to brainstorm the best solution. I ran into a classic example of this phenomenon late in my career. The story is contained in the three-minute video below.

The tricky part is to be able to sense when the “we versus they” feelings are getting in the way of viewing a problem objectively. You do this by observing the phrases used when the teams are interfacing. For example, you might read an email that says, “We wanted to accelerate the testing but they thought the original schedule was better.”

Often the “we versus they” attitudes are hidden in the body language when teams interface virtually. Look for eyes rolling or side glances among the team members to pick up on areas of disagreement. When these kinds of signals are slowing up the progress of the entire project, it really helps to co-locate the teams for a while until they come up with a breakthrough.

In the example I share below, we were struggling for weeks and getting nowhere.  I insisted that the groups get together, and a solution became evident after only a few hours of working together.  

Free Bonus Video

Here is a video that contains a true story of how this dynamic works.



Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 rticles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Trust and Fear

December 5, 2015

Fear and trust are normally incompatible. If you were a bank teller and a robber was pointing a revolver at your head, you would find it impossible to trust him.

Likewise in any endeavor of life, from chores at home to important meetings at work, when we are experiencing fear, it is difficult or impossible to trust.

You can find exceptions to this rule, but they are rare. The reason is that to trust someone or something, it means we are willing to be vulnerable. There is a risk that the other person will let us down in some way. Get rid of the fear, and we are freed up to trust once again.

Flying in an airplane is a good example to analyze because we all know that occasionally planes do crash, so there is always some element of risk.

Some people are afraid of heights or of high speed, so they may be afraid to fly because of those feelings. People get on planes when there is fear present because they recognize that statistically they are safer in an airplane at 30,000 feet than at ground level driving their automobile.

The rationale is that if you are afraid to fly you should be much more afraid to drive a car. Statistics show that you are over 100 times more likely to be killed in an automobile than on a plane, per 100 thousand miles traveled.

There is a difference between hope and trust. We hope the plane won’t crash, which means we have an expectation of a positive outcome even though there is anxiety, but if we did not trust the entire system, there would be no way most of us would even get on a plane.

At work, many people experience fear on a regular basis because the workplace is often a place of high stress where specific situations cause people to be less than kind to each other.

A major fear at work is often expressed as an unwillingness to speak out about our feelings because they may come back to haunt us later.

We picture our supervisor as a person who may talk about sharing and being transparent, but we observe that he has a club behind his back that he uses to clobber anyone who expresses a contrary opinion. The boss advocates openness, but models a punishment mentality that perpetuates fear in people.

To experience the benefits of more trust in our lives, we need to examine what is causing our fears and work to eliminate or mitigate them. Only then are we free to take the risk that is implied in any trusting situation.

Often our fears are irrational, so we need to deal with our feelings logically to clarify the true risks from the fictional goblins that haunt the corners of our minds.

Conversely, fear at work is often a very rational emotion based on experience and the observed behaviors of the managers. That kind of toxic environment eliminates the possibility of growing real trust.

You are faced with a choice to endure the hypocrisy or attempt to flee to greener pastures. Those people who continually seek a better environment may find themselves moving to a different job only to find the conditions there are even worse than what they left.

On my website I have several quotations that come from my writings. One of my favorites is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” I believe trust can kindle spontaneously in an environment where fear is low.

Exercise for you: As you go through your day today, experience your level of trust moment by moment as much as you can. Keep track of your feelings carefully.

If you find a pocket of fear, it will likely block your ability to trust. Root out the cause of that fear and see how easy it becomes to trust once again.

Make sure to verify the body language of people because fearful people generally do not advertise that condition consciously.

We can all improve the level of trust in our lives by managing our fears. Of course, eliminating fear is often easier said than done.

If you are afraid of heights, I cannot talk you out of getting clammy on top of the Empire State Building, so managing our fears down is not always possible, but many of our fears at work can be reduced if we work at it.

In an organization, people are often paralyzed with fear because of the power of their boss to impact their standard of living with a simple decision. Here are a few methods that may work to reduce fear depending on the specific situation:

Look at the situation logically – this is the case with getting on an airplane. Sure it may be a bit scary, but we need to understand when the true level of risk is very low. If there is true hypocrisy, then we need to recognize it and protect our own interests.

Verbalize your fear – by going public with what is causing your angst, you solicit the help of others to identify ways to cope with the fear. In some cases a frank dialog with a superior may help clear the air and allow you to be more candid in the future. In other cases, the admission of fear will be rejected by the boss as unnecessary. That is because the supervisor is mostly blind to the problem he is causing.

Accept it but move on – simply resolve to take the necessary risk even though there is fear. Trust in others usually begets more trust to us in return. In this case you take baby steps to test the level of trust as you try to build up more of it.

Triumph over the fear – refuse to give in to the tendency to think negative thoughts. Simply rise above the fear and let the adrenalin rush give you the needed courage. Replace fear with faith.

Obviously, you need to assess the potential that your triumph over fear could lead to unemployment or worse. That is where judgment and maturity are required.

If your organization runs on a steady diet of fear because people are afraid of the consequences of speaking their truth, you are likely to have a toxic, low trust culture.

That is a signal that there is an amazing level of productivity increase available if the leaders can change their behaviors to reduce the fear.

I recall # 8 of Deming’s famous 14 points was “drive out fear.” I believe the famous quality guru was right.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to

The Root of All Conflict

April 7, 2013

celeriacCan you believe a single three-word phrase is the basis for nearly all conflict? It is true that conflict shows up with numerous symptoms and there are many different ways of resolving it. If it were not for three words, and their implications, we would rarely experience the dysfunctional behaviors of conflict that cause interpersonal problems and billions of dollars wasted in business.

Human beings come in all shapes and sizes; each of us is a unique specimen. One universal truth we all have in common is an amazing ability to drive other humans crazy when we try to live or work in close proximity. Two people working in the same area day after day will eventually hurt each other emotionally, if not physically. Put three people together and it will happen even faster. When you peel back the various layers of symptoms, you always come back to the same three-word source of the problem.

Professional negotiators and conflict resolution consultants have hundreds of techniques to deal with the conflict problem and to try to get people to get along. Each one of us has some mixture of techniques we use, depending on the situation. Typical techniques for dealing with conflict include:

• Flight – Trying to avoid it or somehow get away from it.
• Smoothing – Trying to make everyone feel good.
• Negotiating – Finding a compromise that works. Looking for a win-win.
• Showdown – Driving for a decision. Demanding a judgment on win-lose.
• Confronting – Getting to the real issues. Finding the root cause.

In my leadership classes, I have a module on conflict reduction. I give each student a three-inch round button with the three words that are the root cause of all conflict. The words are “I AM RIGHT.” In most interfaces, each person has a personal opinion of what is happening, and that opinion is invariably “right” according to the person who has it. Reason: It is next to impossible for a person who is not insane to get his or her opinion wrong. If you believe it, then it is true for you.

If I have a disagreement with another person about a situation, the other person must be wrong by definition, because I am convinced that I am right. Few people will draw a conclusion about something believing it to be incorrect. I pass out the “I AM RIGHT” buttons to remind my leadership students that all people are, in effect, walking around each day wearing the same button. If we could only change the wording on these buttons to read, “I am not sure” or “I may be wrong,” then there would be less conflict and more room for constructive dialog.

If we can teach people to soften the zeal with which they believe their opinions long enough to at least listen to the case for an alternate view, then we can enable healthy consideration of both views and lower the level of conflict. One way the professional negotiators use to get people to do this is to reverse the roles. During a heated debate, it can be useful to get person “A” to attempt to advocate the views of person “B” and vice versa. That technique is easier said than done.

I recall having a heated debate with another engineer early in my career. Neither one of us was able to convince the other person that he was wrong. Finally I said to him, “OK Frank, how about we reverse roles; I will argue your side and you argue mine.” Frank was a smart negotiator. He said, “OK Bob, you go first.” I then proceeded to explain why Frank’s position was the correct one, then I told him it was his turn to explain my side of the story. Frank pondered for a minute, and said, “You know, Bob, after listening carefully to the description you just gave (which was actually Frank’s thesis), I agree with you.” He had me cold.

To lower conflict in your work area, teach individuals to recognize they are all wearing an “I AM RIGHT” button all of the time. Help people see that an alternative view is possible and should be considered. Encourage people to listen carefully to what the other person is saying and do their best to see the validity in their views.