You see, me, a guy who tends to steer clear of conflicts and has “Harmony” as one of his top 5 strengths1, actually wanted more sparks flying during a workshop today. I wanted more conflict! Why? Because I felt that we were being too nice to each other.

I felt good and vulnerable recently

A few days ago I had a AAR2 with my closest team at work. We try to do it every quarter or so, this time we wanted to check how do we feel about recent change (big one) in the way we work and cooperate. Everyone prepared in advanced, nothing fancy, just what we are happy about and what could be better. We’ve done dozens like this over the years, as I have a privilege to work with my team for quite a long time.

Then something remarkable happened. Someone voiced a thought, more open and vulnerable than our usual fare. This set off a domino effect. The “Openness Gauge” kept turning up a notch with every shared experience. It wasn’t that we hadn’t been honest before, but we pushed our comfort zone a little further, about 2-3 clicks3 further.

I walked out of that room feeling rejuvenated, filled with newfound trust and a stronger bond with my team.

In the meantime

Simultaneously, I’m part of various other teams and groups, each with its own dynamic and purpose. But a common thread that I’ve come to realize is missing in some of them, is the ability to be open and vulnerable.

Yes, I’ve read about psychological safety. Yes, I’ve seen it work its magic. But, until recently, I didn’t quite “feel it”. I thought, we just need to get our heads down, crack on, and move on.

Now, don’t get me wrong, different groups call for different levels of openness and vulnerability. But I’d say, every group could benefit from nudging the openness gauge up a bit.

Nice is shady

Fast forward to today’s workshop. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that it was missing the honest dialogue that I experienced a few days ago. Even though we had a productive session, it lacked the magic. We didn’t touch on certain issues that concerned us as a group.

Sure, everyone has different needs, and some people were taken aback by my need for more conflict. But I know, I’m not the only one who felt that way.

I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, my role in my various teams might be to advocate for this openness and vulnerability, to help nudge that gauge a little further. Worth a try? I think so.

I don’t think that being nice is shady, but I do think that being nice instead of being open and vulnerable is shady.

  1. After Action Review, you might also call it a retro in this case. ↩︎

  2. Gallup Strengths Finder, People talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement. ↩︎

  3. Instead of 0-10 scale, it might be more useful to think about it like in a Comandante Grinder, where you’re turning the knob to adjust the coarseness of the grind and based on that you end up either with an espresso or a french press or something in between. ↩︎