Episode 15 - Managing through conflict better than before

Episode 15 August 01, 2023 00:26:47
Episode 15 - Managing through conflict better than before
Episode 15 - Managing through conflict better than before

Aug 01 2023 | 00:26:47


Hosted By

Steve Indig Dina Bell-Laroche

Show Notes

Welcome to Sportopia, the place to re-imagine the future of sport! This week’s episode welcomes a conversation about how we can manage through conflict better than before. Hosted by Dina Bell-Laroche and Steve Indig, partners of Sport Law, this episode covers what needs to happen to manage conflict in a way that is productive, leads to higher trust, and enables positive change. Throughout the episode, our hosts talk about the differences between necessary and unnecessary conflict and how the sport system can benefit from the productive and necessary conflicts.

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Hosts: Dina Bell-Laroche and Steve Indig
Producer: Taylor Matthews  

Learn more about how Sport Law works in collaboration with sport leaders to elevate sport at sportlaw.ca

The Sportopia Podcast is recorded on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. We wish to thank these First Peoples who continue to live on these lands and care for them, and whose relationship with these lands existed from time immemorial. We are grateful to have the opportunity to live, work, and play on these lands.  

Sport Law is committed to recognizing, supporting, and advocating for reconciliation in Canada and to actively work against colonialism by amplifying Indigenous voices and increasing our own understanding of local Indigenous people and their cultures.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:01] Speaker A: Hi, it's Steve indigot sport Law. Leave me a message. I'll get back to you as soon as I can. [00:00:07] Speaker B: Hey, Steve, it's Dina. You aren't going to believe what just came across my desk. We need to chat. Give me a call. Welcome to the latest episode of Sportopia. We're so excited for our latest conversation about healthy human sport. [00:00:36] Speaker A: Today, we're going to spend our time talking about managing through conflict. Conflict can be messy, but it can be the driving force for change and growth, both in organizations and for individuals. What an interesting topic, Dean. I know this is going to take us down several different paths, but before we jump in today, what's new? [00:00:56] Speaker B: What's new? What's coming across my desk? Well, there's a few things, but the one that I'm going to focus on is actually making me feel a mixture of hope and also deep appreciation and fun. So I'm talking about good governance and the work that I'm doing to support several of our clients. What's new, though, Steve, is before I come in and do a governance session on learning, I actually am asking them to do our governance essentials. So what's new and what I'm tracking, there's a shift in the quality of the conversation, and people are more animated, more engaged, they're more self reflective. And interestingly enough, when I was asking them about this, they're feeling more confident in addressing conflicts of interest, which is often a sticky topic, right, for most of the people we serve. So that's what's coming across my desk. What about you? [00:01:52] Speaker A: It's interesting. It was a conversation I had this morning, and it segues very well to what you just said about being a director and understanding the role of a director and educating yourself on what it means to be a director. And my conversation started this morning with, had I known I would have had to be dealing with these things, I never would have agreed to be a director. And in this morning's call was a complaint, it was a formal complaint filed by certain athletes against other athletes. A lot of the issues that we deal with involved usually adults, but in this case, it was young athletes against young athletes, and the organization really wasn't aware of how to properly manage it, even though they had a policy, and they misconstrued the interpretation of the policy. And the board ended up wearing several hats and making the process rather confusing rather than straightforward. So I spent some time with them this morning trying to help them understand how to interpret the policy, what kind of roles and individuals or people they need to fill those responsibilities to come to what we would call a fair result and the end of the result. So it's interesting to hear you say governance, training, governance essentials, understanding what it means to be a director. And then this morning, I get a call and have someone say, had I known, I would not have accepted this role because as you know, Dina, most people get involved in sport because their kids are involved and they love sport and they love the positivity of sport, as do we all. But unfortunately, there's a lot of moving pieces right now that are complicated. [00:03:28] Speaker B: So yeah, Steve, I can feel the heaviness on your shoulders. I know. For me, too, it's hard to support really good leadership these days. So thank you for sharing that. And also, I think we must do better to be more proactive so that these directors and volunteers and staff have clarity right. On the roles that they're saying yes to, and more importantly, how to deal with things when things go south or sideways, which is what we're going to be talking about here today. So I'm curious, Steve. Let's start with definition. So important. As a lawyer, for me, as a strategist and coach, I really want to ensure shared understanding of any one topic. So curious. When we define conflict, maybe for our listeners, we can share a little bit more by what we mean by conflict. [00:04:15] Speaker A: I'm laughing, Dina, because trying to define something, particularly in a legal perspective, in one line, of course, is very difficult to do. [00:04:23] Speaker B: We only have 30 minutes, and we. [00:04:24] Speaker A: Only have 30 minutes exactly. So conflict is interesting. The first thing that comes to my mind is I actually like conflict. I like the fact that people might be thinking differently and that might create not a meeting of the minds, as if everybody is thinking the same way. Then, as we like to say, they may not be thinking at all. So conflict, from that perspective of having differing opinions, I am totally on board with, but also, of course, understanding how to respect people's difference opinions, people's conflict. And again, understanding majority of decisions in sport are made by majority, majority rules, democracy rules. If we take it a step further, we like to draw a distinguishment between complaining and a complaint. When people are complaining, usually I would say that's something we try to resolve informally. We can do that through multiple different mechanisms. And I know the coaches in sport law are starting to take on a more active role in trying to, I'll say, manage the complaining, providing an ear, providing a voice, and then there's the actual complaint process. And that would be how do we formally manage a complaint? Through a discipline policy, a complaints policy. And that's a little bit of a different, more formal process when we talk about managing conflict. [00:05:46] Speaker B: Yeah, I appreciate that, Steve. What comes up for me when I very similar to you, big surprise. I actually appreciate I call it generative tension. There's this idea and David White, a poet that I follow and study under, he wrote this poem called Working Together, and he says, I'll just read a little bit of it. He says, we shape ourselves to fit the world and by the world are shaped again, the visible and the invisible working together in common cause to produce the miraculous. And I love that, right? It's like how do we take all these intangible things, my belief system, my values, all the historical traumas that I may have suffered through these life experiences that have shaped who I am. Then I come onto a board or I join a team or I become part of a staff and all this invisible stuff is probably working against us, not for us. If we don't codify culture, right, in a set of values and norms, we don't make the invisible explicit. And so that creates some tension and I would say unhealthy tension that ends up disrupting all the good work we want to do. Good people end up leaving because they don't feel appreciated. They are at risk of workplace burnout and compassion fatigue. And so if we are not working actively together to promote a culture of disagreement and a culture of collaboration that allows us to have these discussions in a respectful way like you and I do all the time and then see the outcome be enriched because we are different. So what I like to think is conflict is a natural and necessary thing when people are working together. If we don't nourish it intentionally, we are at risk of moving towards unnecessary conflict and then welcome to your world around maltreatment. And so what we want to do is be more proactive. So these cultures are actually designed intentionally to be fit for purpose. [00:07:48] Speaker A: What's interesting, Dean, is when we talk about conflict, who does it involve? [00:07:54] Speaker B: Is that a rhetorical question? [00:07:56] Speaker A: People, right? People. And the way in which people interact and the way they deal with each other is based on several different factors. And of course, getting to know somebody is fundamental to the way that they think, the history that they have or understanding why they think a particular way. And I always go back to getting into your realm of thinking you're driving your car and somebody beeps at you or passes you quickly and you get a little road rage. But of course I've always thought, well, I wonder why they're doing that. Maybe something's happened at home and they have to get there quickly or they've had a bad day at work and their temper is short. So understanding and getting to know people. And of course, you and I, working together for over 15 years, have that ability to say, I'm having a bad day. The conversation might be a little bit different today. And recognizing that, and I'm not sure we do a good job of that, where we just get so embedded in our thought process or the outcome that we want to see achieved. And actually I told the client I was talking to this morning about managing a formal complaint. They said how do you know it's a good decision? And I say this somewhat jokingly, but somewhat truthful, is both parties are pissed off, both parties are upset. That means all the lawyers say yeah. And that means it's probably a decision that was just so I really like to think about conflict first from a personal perspective and managing expectations and understanding people's experiences will be really crucial in prevention, understanding, management. And I know this is something that we are starting to do within sport law, is anytime we get involved in a complaint, rather than necessarily bringing the lawyers to the table, it has been successful to bring the coaches. [00:09:49] Speaker B: Yeah, I agree. Steve and I think one of the things that I love to do, and you know this to be true, is how can we prevent all this unnecessary, unhealthy conflict from arising? So what are some of the practices and the tools and the approaches that sport leaders can put in place to mitigate this unnecessary conflict? And what I would offer is, and you said it, they need to be self aware. So the first thing is how are we ensuring that the volunteers right, which underpins most of Canadian sport and the staff and then the coaches, who are our frontline workers and the athletes have the self awareness so that they understand their triggers. They understand what are the communication needs that allow them to thrive and shine and what are the ways in which people communicate to them, that shuts them down. So I think that's really important. I think people need to understand what their fundamental motivations and values are. So if we don't equip our people with this kind of what I call fundamental information and knowledge, we're going to be at risk. So that's the first thing. The second thing before I turn it over to you and you modeled that as well is empathy the capacity to actually pause and go, OOH this person who just drove by me and honked, maybe they've had a bad day. Maybe there's an emergency. As opposed to being at the mercy of your fight flight freeze faint system that has you making maybe bad choices, like following that person home know, breaking their leg because they had a bad moment. So curious what you think could be some of the ways we might prevent unnecessary conflicts. [00:11:34] Speaker A: Steve I like the idea, Dina, of the proactive work. And I think it's something that gets forgotten because we are so busy organizing tournaments, buying equipment, establishing teams and schedules. And I understand that that's the fundamental part of sport and what we do. But as I said at the beginning of the podcast today, speaking to a director who said, had I known I'd have to deal with these issues, I may have not have been a director or may have not have chosen to accept this role. So I think being proactive on an educational perspective is crucial and also having things in place to manage your complaining, to manage your complaints and routinely, we will get calls from clients saying, hi Steve, I got a complaint, or someone's complaining, what do I do? And I would prefer that they come to me to check to see what they're doing is correct rather than having being completely left in the blind. And I also am thinking about my kids own experiences from their sporting perspective. And one thing I say to clients all the time is to tell your stakeholders, you are not everything for everyone. You want to be AAA high performance team, well, there are places for that. And if you want to just play recreational, there's places for that and be clear about what your motives are and what your outcomes are and applying the this is where it segues to you. Applying the values of the organization and talking about the objectives and the desired outcomes is interesting. My son's baseball team right now was a very dominant team for several years. And now that dominance is starting to wear off, other teams have caught up to them. And I think we need to have a conversation with the kids on the team and say, what are your intentions of this team? Do you still want to be one of the best teams in Ontario or do you want to just have fun and less seriousness? And I think that's going to be an important conversation moving forward with that team, and I think you can use that example over and over again, is to be proactive to talk about the goals and objectives, to get where we want to manage expectations which will hopefully reduce complaint and conflict. [00:13:49] Speaker B: Well, you're speaking about fit for purpose and what's the mission of this team really? [00:13:54] Speaker A: Right? [00:13:54] Speaker B: So it's this little team and it was performing in an extraordinary way. Now people have caught up. So you being able to do a reset and say, what do you want? Because you as leaders are there in service of them. So you said that. I also loved that you talked about know, Brene Brown says clear is kind. When people don't have clarity on what their role know who's who at the zoo, how do they deal with something, what is expected of them? It creates all kinds of instability. And in this VUCA world that we're living in, right, volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, it can be hard enough to show up at work, let alone have to deal with the instability that we're confronted with. So you talked about clarity, you spoke about the importance of education. So being really clear about what is it that we're expecting, and communicating those expectations really clearly and then over to me around training. So a big part of our growth area at Sport Law over the last, I'd say, six or seven years has been leadership development and training for board of directors, for staff, for coaches, and also the athletes. And what we're excited about is when people have this shared language, when they have self awareness, when they have clarity, when they understand that their silence sometimes can be contributing to the dysfunction in a relationship. And of course, we're not talking about instances of egregious maltreatment. We're talking about people being people and having life experiences and sometimes making mistakes. So how do we recover and repair damaged relationships when we offend someone, when we might be guilty of harassing someone? So being able to train that into culture. And I would say the final thing for me, which is exceptionally important and work we've been doing now specifically for the last year, and that's measuring culture. And if we don't measure what matters most, right? The lived experience of people getting a sense of what their hopes are and their aspirations, how do they know that they feel seen, heard and valued by their employees, by their direct report, by their volunteers? They're going to stumble and they're going to sadly, they're going to look to leave. [00:16:17] Speaker A: Well, managing Conflict one of the most important things that I always try to share is to acknowledge it. Dina, you have a concern or a complaint or you're complaining, I want to hear you. People want to be heard. They want to know that somebody cares. And finding and knowing who that person is proactively in advance within an organization is crucial. I would hate to see a complaint come in and they have to wait nine days for a board meeting to then figure out who's going to call them back. And now the individual is upset that no one's reached out to them for ten days, which means no one cares about their complaint. Well, that's not true. So proactive work is really important. And the other thing I want to allude to is for the first half of my career, people would call me and say, steve, we've got a complaint or we got a conflict. What do you think the right outcome is? What's the decision? And I would say, oh, here's what my opinion is. And I've actually stopped doing that and started to try and help people figure out what the right process is, to help find out what the right result is. And if we know what the process is, it's going to lead you to what the right outcome is. And I think if people routinely will respect a process as long as it's predetermined and it's managed in a timely and open way, I agree, Steve. [00:17:37] Speaker B: And I think we'd be remiss if we know. Speak to the mother. Of all conflicts right now that's in Canadian sport. And the focus right now on ensuring a quality, values based, ethical sport experience for all participants in the ecosystem. And so I think while national level sport leaders try to grapple and try to make a commitment to hosting and requiring independence around the management of complaints, wanting to review and restore health and trust in the sector because far too long things have been swept under the rug. Acknowledging that there are many, many good things and good practices that I like to think are world leading, that Canadians are doing, the Canadians board is doing. So we don't want to just throw the whole sector under the bus and make stories up that it's completely unhealthy and completely at the mercy of being in conflict all the time. I think to your point, we need to have collaborative processes. And from my experience designing social architecture initiatives like strategic planning and engagement processes, people need to be involved in co creating and shaping those processes. So what I'm excited about is as we hear from more athletes who are coming forward and demanding a holistic sport experience, they're also putting up their hands and saying, we want to be involved in shaping that process. And to your point, if we do that, I think we're going to see people, their trust levels are going to go up. The end outcome will be better because it will have been created by many people with diverse points of view and then hopefully it mitigates those unhealthy practices. [00:19:22] Speaker A: I'm laughing, Dina, or smiling because we don't know what we don't know. And I want to share a quick story that happened in our household yesterday. As you know, my kids are eleven and nine, and my wife and I have been very strict on their use of social media and limit it and monitor it, and just recently allowed them to have a version of Facebook Messenger to talk to their friends, which is of course how most children that age communicate. And my daughter, who's nine, was sent a forward and basically it said, send this to ten of your friends and add your name to the list. And eventually there's a list of hundreds of people there and she forwarded it to me. And I had to explain to her that it's spam, that it's somebody trying likely to cause harm or to ascertain personal information. And as a nine year old and then my eleven year old got it from my daughter, sent it to me as well. I had to explain to them that how this was not something it's spam and it's not something that we want to be sharing. And when I explained it to both of them, they both looked at me and said, well, I got it from a friend, so I assume it's safe. And the reason I tell that story is because we don't know what we don't know. And trying to explain that to my kids about what's spam and what's not spam and what's a scam and what's not a scam. Obviously it's a bit complicated, but what I like about what you just said is when we start creating that conversation and we hear people's different perspectives, yes, we will be able to take that information, particularly the information that we don't know about, to make the change out. [00:21:08] Speaker B: Of the mouth of Babes, right? I didn't know oops. If I had known, I trusted my friend, and I think that's where we're in right now. That's a really nice segue, I think, as we start to wind down the conversation, Steve, I know and you know me well enough to know that I'm hope filled, right. I tend to look on what is possible. How do we restore health and hope? How do we start to design intentional alliances so that people feel seen, heard, and valued? How do we ensure that the culture that we're creating is reflective of those values? So for me, as we continue to bear witness to the national conversations that are occurring around unsafe practices in sport, what I'm feeling hopeful for is that we are actually part of, I think, a growing group of people that are feeling a little bit more resourced and hopeful, because part of what we're seeing now is sport is in transition. Right? And so despite, I would say, all the good efforts of people from years ago of trying to kind of put in place these patchwork policies and procedures to manage and mitigate complaints, we are at the mercy of what David White says, the invisible working against us that prevents us from achieving that miraculous outcome. So one of the things I'm really hopeful for and grateful for are the stewards and courageous people who are coming forward to say, no more. Our sports system needs to be reimagined. We need a Sport 2.0, a renaissance, if you will. And I think part of that renaissance will be us finally agreeing to a more values based orientation that we will be monitoring and measuring as a result. And if we do that really well, Steve, I still think you'll be in business, but you won't feel the weight that you do almost every day when you see what's ahead of you. [00:23:04] Speaker A: You've heard me say this before, Dina. When a client calls me and says, we're looking at proactive approaches to complaints or education or training that excites me, I feel like I can move sport from A to B. When a client calls and says, we have a complaint, we need help. We need a case manager, we need an investigator, we need a mediator, whatever they need kind of does suck the wind out of me, saying, okay, great, we'll help you get through this, but are you better off at the end? And the answer is usually, no. We've moved sport from point A to point A, and you've heard me say that before, so I'm very happy to try and put myself at a business. I have no qualms about that. [00:23:44] Speaker B: You heard it here, folks. Yeah. [00:23:45] Speaker A: There are lots of other things that will keep me busy and have for the last 20 years, so I'm not worried about that at all. I agree with you. I say it all the time just because that's the way we did it doesn't mean it's the way we have to do it moving forward. So I'm all for change and all for opening and trying new things. And you know what? If it doesn't work, we can always go back to way it was. And I don't mean that from a cultural perspective, more from a board governance perspective, a board composition perspective. Even today, I'm still having conversations about representative boards. It is just frustrating to say that people still are thinking the same way 20 years ago. I need to have a voice, I need representation on the board. And my challenge back. Dean is representing who. It's impossible to reflect the diversity and culture that we have within sport today. You would need 157 people on the board. [00:24:42] Speaker B: It feels like we've come full circle, Steve, around what was coming across my desk. And really, when people become more educated, then they can make better decisions, right? Once you know better, I think Maya Angelu, this is what she says, when you know better, hopefully you do better. And that means that people have to be self aware. When they are self aware, hopefully they make better choices and can acknowledge the limitations of their own dysfunction and how they're contributing to some challenges. If we have that kind of values codified in the culture and we're measuring that and rewarding good behavior, then hopefully we're going to see an elimination or a reduction, at the very least, of unnecessary conflict and for sure, maltreatment. So that's maybe a way that we can end. Thank you so much to you for saying yes to the conversation today around better ways to navigate and manage conflict. We've linked a few blogs in the episode. Note below on how to prevent, embrace and mitigate conflict. We're so grateful to you, all of our listeners, and hope that you can share in our vision of Sportopia with others so that together we can elevate sport. [00:25:54] Speaker A: To have your say in sporttopia, email us at hello at sportlaw. CA or on social media at sportlaw CA to let us know what you want to hear about next. Stay tuned for our next episode and thank you for listening. [00:26:15] Speaker B: Sam, it's.

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