Conflict: the best feedback process there is!


Organisations spend a significant amount on developing and administering sophisticated feedback processes such as 360 degree processes, in order to nurture and develop their precious talent.  Consultants are engaged to develop models and staff trained to administer and debrief them.  Getting accurate feedback that really pinpoints the development needs of key staff – current leaders and potential leaders of the future – is a major challenge. Often colleagues don’t want to give straight feedback for fear of consequences, or lack the skill to do it effectively, or give it anonymously so that the candidate is left wondering who said it and what it relates to.  The tools available are far from perfect.

In my opinion, conflict can be a powerful opportunity for feedback if the participants are supported to listen to the information and act on it.  This requires a mediator who is skilled in both mediation and coaching.

Often, key members of the organisation are highly talented but have blind spots that can significantly hamper their progress.  Our psyches go to a lot of trouble not to see these aspects of ourselves as hearing such feedback can be profoundly uncomfortable, but these areas can also be where the greatest breakthroughs in our professional development lie.


The “Johari Window” model explains this very well.  The top right quadrant describes aspects of ourselves that others can see about us but we cannot see ourselves (“blind spots”).  We are dependent on feedback from others to bring these aspects into our awareness.

In conflict, two people are having a highly charged reaction to some aspect of each other. They are each holding up a mirror to each other and neither likes what they see, so rather than dealing with what is being shown to them, they are attacking the mirror or the person holding it.  Their energy goes into defending themselves and saying why the mirror is wrong, rather than dealing with the information it provides.  If you have a piece of cabbage on your teeth don’t get angry with the person who takes the trouble to tell you!

I work both as a workplace mediator and an executive coach.  When mediating I use my mediation skills to help people drop their defensiveness and listen to what is being said to them.

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