Module 3

Module 3


In module 2, we learned how to effectively speak in public, how to deliver top-notch training sessions, and how important collaboration is to achieve organizational goals. This module focuses on the importance of admitting mistakes, how to properly address conflict, and how to handle naysayers or know-it-alls.

This module consists of three sections:

  1. Admitting Mistakes
  2. Conflict
  3. Naysayers and Know-it-Alls

Section 1: Admitting Mistakes

One of the hardest things we can do in the professional world is to admit when we were wrong. Many of you may be experts in your respective fields and are the trusted go-to source when a question arises. You give an answer or a directive, and nine out of ten times, you are right. However, this time, you were wrong.

What do we do? There are five typical reactions that can take place when a person makes a mistake. They are; 1) concealment, 2) obstruction, 3) defensiveness, 4) downplaying, and 5) acceptance.


Concealment. Some people realize that they have made a mistake and will try to hide their error. In this mindset, the individual who made the mistake will more than likely commit violations to cover it up. Mistakes, for the most part, are normally always discovered. Trying to conceal the original mistake will end up costing the person and potentially the organization they work for, far more than the original error. Hiding your mistakes, and then being discovered later, eradicates trust.

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Obstruction. Imagine making a mistake and then trying to impede the progress of those trying to research the error. This is obstruction. Like concealment, obstruction often leads to breaking policy or the law. Obstruction digs holes that are often too deep to climb out of.


Defensiveness. Being on the defense normally involves the blame game. “Yes, I made a mistake, but it is truly Jim’s fault.” One of the most cited defenses is the fact that the employee was never trained and was therefore not responsible for the mistake in the first place. This is one reason why employee training and onboarding are so critical.


Downplaying. Minimizing the impact of the mistake is known as downplaying. It is difficult to downplay certain mistakes but is a common defense when a mistake is uncovered.


Acceptance. Acceptance may be difficult, but it is by far the most important choice to make. When you make a mistake, as we all do, take a deep breath, and prepare yourself for the consequences of your action. As mentioned previously, almost all mistakes are uncovered. By owning it and being the one to self-disclose, it may mean the difference in maintaining your position or termination. After the mistake is made, be sure to immediately let your manager know of the error. In addition to owning the mistake, be prepared with a plan on how you will prevent yourself from making the same mistake twice.

We have just covered the notion of a mistake from the employee’s perspective. What if we are the manager and an employee just came into our office with full disclosure about a mistake he or she made? What do we do then?

There are far too many instances of mistakes to make a blanket statement. It would be on a case-by-case basis. However, that does not mean that we cannot have an idea of how we would react. First and foremost, we must respect the courage and forthrightness of our employee. They could have tried to conceal and obstruct but they chose the right path.

There are numerous other factors to consider when we are faced with the course of action to take. They are the three Ps of mistake recovery: precedence, performance, and problem.

Precedence is simply defined as the course of action that you have taken in similar situations. If another employee has made a similar mistake and you worked out a consequence, jurisprudence would require you to act in a similar fashion. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Performance of the employee must be considered. If the mistake is a terminable offense yet this employee has 8 years of stellar job performance, leniency may be in order. This is of course assuming that there is no direct policy that has been violated because of the mistake.

Let us look at an example. An employee is passing medications on the first floor. She accidentally gives the wrong medicine to a patient. This patient is allergic to the medication received. She immediately reports this error to you and together you discover the allergy. You call emergency medical services, and the patient is taken to the hospital but recovers fully. The wrong medication to the patient is certainly a terminable offense. However, this employee has been with you for 7 years and has always been a superstar. Her immediate reporting of the mistake has saved the patient’s life. Granted, it would not have been in danger if she had not made the mistake, but her swift reporting adverted a catastrophe.

Now – let’s alter the scenario above. The employee has only been with you for 2 weeks. There are attendance problems, and the employee has not completed all her assigned paperwork. What do we do in this case? It would more than likely be different because of current performance.

The last P is that of problem. The problem is measured in scope and severity. If the mistake was small and only had a small impact on the organization, the consequences would be different than if the mistake was large and affected the entire organization.

While we cannot prevent mistakes, we can certainly create an environment where our employees know that truth is always the best course of action.

Section 2: Conflict

This next section, that of conflict, is such a big topic that we have dedicated an entire course related to this subject (HRM102: Conflict Management). However, conflict is such a large part of communication that it warrants a standalone section in our current course.

For this course, we will cover three areas of conflict: 1) types and causes of conflict, 2) conflict resolution, 3) and conflict prevention.

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Types and causes of conflict. There are numerous types of conflict and they are normally related to the cause creating the disagreement. When one person holds a value that is incongruent with the values of another person, and we put these people together in a situation relative to the value, we are going to have conflict. Value incongruence is the leading cause of conflict.

We do not share the same values as others and some people might even think our values are peculiar. However, most of the time, we go about our business without intruding in one another’s affairs. The key then is that conflict is created when people of different values must come together.

When do people of different values come together? In healthcare, the answer is daily. Additionally, in many healthcare organizations, stress and emotion add fuel to the proverbial fire. Let us explore an example.

You have a coworker who you believe to be barely doing the minimum of their duties. In fact, you think they are lazy. You have been running around doing double duty as another department is short-staffed and you were asked by your manager to help where possible. You walk by the break room and see your coworker laying on the couch. You cannot believe the gall of your coworker! You are running around, and your coworker is taking a nap?!? Conflict! Not physical – but you certainly feel like punching them in the nose. You unleash a verbal tirade upon the employee.

Your boss hears the commotion you are creating and takes you aside. Little did you know that your coworker just received some extremely upsetting news about a close family member. The boss had told your coworker to take a moment and process the information. Your misperception of the moment created conflict.

Misperception is the second leading cause of conflict. There is an expression that a picture is worth a thousand words. This may be true, but the picture is but a snapshot of the entire story. It is up to us to ensure that we know the entire story before we act or make judgments. Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of Pepsico, stated that we should never assume ill intent.

What does this mean? It simply means that we need to stop and check ourselves to see if we are perceiving others through negative filters. The problem is more than likely not with the other person, the problem is with us. Think of the above example. Stress and a preconceived notion about the employee enabled us to see the coworker in a negative light. Imagine if we checked ourselves before we went off the coworker. We assumed ill intent and it was incorrect. We made a mistake.

The third type of conflict is that of lack of knowledge. It is closely related to misperception in that when we lack information, we are not able to see the full picture. Our brain likes complete pictures. So much so, that it will assume that it has the necessary details despite not having all the pieces. These are known as assumptions. We assume when we do not know. How many of us can think of a time when we made an assumption that led to conflict? Weekly? Daily? Again, before we jump to conclusions, it is worthwhile to ensure that we have all information needed. Unsure if you have the entire story? Ask. It truly is that simple.

Conflict Resolution. The next area of conflict to discuss is that of conflict resolution. There are several ways in which we work to resolve conflict. In no particular order, they are using or abusing power, giving in, avoidance, and resolution. Resolution should always be our end goal.

Using or abusing power

Do you remember when you were a child and you asked your parent for a reason and they replied, “because I said”? They were able to say this because they had power. What is power? In 1959, social psychologists French and Raven studied power and they identified that it is divided into five separate and distinct forms. They are; legitimate power, expert power, coercive power, reward power, and referent power.

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Let’s review each of the forms of power. For this discussion, power refers to the ability of a person to influence the behavior of another.

Legitimate Power

Legitimate power. Legitimate power is the power that someone holds through either a position or an office. Your supervisor has power because they hold that position. A police officer has power because as a society, we have bestowed upon them the authority to enforce the laws. A governor has power because they hold an office. You might personally think that the governor is not doing a good job but your opinion with legitimate power does not matter.

Expert Power

Expert power. In healthcare, perhaps the most common base or form of power is that of expert power. When we are trying to reach an objective, we will often defer to those individuals who possess the skills and knowledge necessary to help us meet our goal. When our objective is a healthy patient, we will heed the advice of those specialists who have been trained to address the present problems. Once the problem is fixed, the power held by the experts evaporates. Expert power is temporary.

Coercive Power

Coercive power. Do this or else! This is an example of coercive power. Our boss can certainly use this type of power when he or she gives us a directive. We know that if we fail to be influenced, we will certainly face consequences. In the short run, coercive power is very effective. However, over the long run, how many of us would want to choose to stay in a position where we receive constant threats? Odds are, we will not stay very long.

Reward Power                       

Reward power. On the opposite side of the continuum from coercive power lies reward power. If we were a supervisor and we needed our employees to deliver a little extra effort we could offer a bonus or some type of enticement to encourage our employees to work harder. Like coercive power, reward power is short-lived. Most people believe that they are underpaid. As such, when we receive a reward we might for a fleeting moment, feel as if we are finally being properly remunerated. When the reward is gone, we will produce less than before the reward was presented. Studies suggest that most reward programs fail. The temporary bump from a reward is quickly eradicated by the ensuing dip in production.

Referent Power

Referent power. The previous four types or forms of power have one thing in common. They are not within our control. Referent power is. This type of power is given to those individuals whom we want to emulate. If we want to be like a person and they suggest that we do something, odds are that we will happily choose to do it. This explains why advertisements that are endorsed by stars or famous people are so popular. If we want to be like Mike, and we see Mike using a product, we are more likely to buy that product.

Imagine for a moment just how much influence a person could have if they were our supervisor (legitimate power), knew what they were talking about (expert power) and we chose to follow them (referent power). They could literally be unstoppable.

Giving In

Our next topic to discuss in conflict resolution is giving in. Have you ever heard that expression – are you willing to die on this hill? Sometimes, we may have such strong values or opinions that accepting anything less than our demands is unthinkable. However, there may be sometimes when it behooves us to stop the conflict and simply give in.

When we give in, we technically give someone else a victory. Whether big or small, the other person with whom we had the conflict walks away with a surplus. Life has a way of making things even. Today we give in so that tomorrow we can cash out. In other words, it may be beneficial for us to take the loss now for the win later.


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The next topic of conflict resolution is avoidance. While on the surface avoidance does not sound like a means to resolve conflict, avoiding the conflict altogether can temporarily be quite effective. If you are lacking information or resources to effectively support your position, avoiding the conflict can allow us the time we need.

Avoidance cannot last forever. The day of reckoning will always come but avoidance can sometimes prolong that moment until we are ready. A word of caution though; avoidance might make it worse and you will need to weigh the pros and cons of putting it off as opposed to addressing it now. Sometimes, it’s better to rip the band-aid off now rather than waiting for it to fester.


As our introduction to this topic highlighted, resolution is what we should be striving for. If done properly, resolution will make us all stronger in the long run. When we work to resolve the conflict, it states to both parties that we value the relationship more than the temporary disagreement. In resolution, both sides actively work together to find a mutually acceptable course of action.

Resolution does not end in a win/loss outcome. Rather resolution searches for a win/win. Resolution allows both parties to continue to work together without underlying issues of resentment or ill-will. At the end of the day, research suggests that we spend more time with our coworkers than with our significant other. We might as well put forth the effort to make our workplace enjoyable. As a side note, most heart attacks occur on a Monday morning because people are heading to a job they hate. Let us not be a statistic.

Conflict Prevention

Perhaps the most effective way of handling conflict is working to prevent it in the first place. Again, knowing that there is a separate course related solely to conflict, we will only lightly touch on prevention here.

There are three main ways to prevent conflict in the organization. They are; open and honest communication, team charters, and organizational culture.

Open and Honest Communication

We could have just said open communication, but it is important to always be honest in our dealings with others. Withholding information is not entirely being honest with our stakeholders.

Imagine if you worked for an organization and you were recently offered a position at another company. You speak to your boss who assures you that there isn’t a reason to leave as everything is fine. A week later, you learn that your company is closing the division you are associated with and your supervisor withheld this information. If you would have been told the truth from the start, you would not find yourself in a precarious position.

The above is a somewhat exaggerated example, however, it is important to be as transparent as possible simply because as we mentioned before, if the human mind lacks a complete picture, it will make up information in its place. By being honest and open, we can avoid the pitfalls of rumors.

Rumors are simply caused by individuals sharing their “complete pictures” with others. Rumors are normally not started to cause contention or conflict; however, it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction as some rumors contain enough elements of truth to make them entirely believable. Honest and open communication can help prevent rumors. But more importantly, honest, and open communication should be immediately implemented if rumors begin to surface.

A wise business operator once jibed that the best place to hear what is happening in an organization is to eat lunch with the front-line employees in the break room. We will learn more about this phenomenon in our next section where we discuss formal versus informal communication.

Team Charters

No industry utilizes as many teams as healthcare. There are formal and informal teams, committees, boards, commissions, panels, etc. Collaboration makes healthcare work. On the flip side, as we have noted, teams can also cause conflict. One tool to use that helps minimize conflict in teams is the use of the team charter.

The team charter is a great place to start on day 1 and will save a lot of angst and wasted resources. It is an agreement that is made between the team members and addresses the following:

  • The purpose of the team. How many teams are seemingly formed that lack a clear mission or vision? The answer might surprise you.
  • The time requirements. The charter outlines not only the amount of time that each member is likely to spend in a given time period (normally on weekly scales), it also establishes the start and end date of the team. While no one has a crystal ball and cannot definitively state at what time the group should disband, how many of us have been part of an endless team or committee that serves zero purpose?
  • Contact information and schedule of all participants. Being able to directly contact members of the team is critical for its success.
  • Strengths. A good charter has the strengths of each member as it relates to the task at hand.
  • Resources needed. Creating a charter that outlines the resources the team needs on day 1, will prevent the team from hitting an impassable barrier later. Perhaps the organization lacks the current resources to see the project through to fruition. Knowing this advance will certainly save a lot of conflict later.
  • Leadership. Who oversees the team, or will it be self-managed? If it is self-managed, what consequences are going to be levied towards a non-performer?
  • Conflict. An effective team charter recognizes the potential for conflict and develops a plan for what to do should it arise. Will the solution require a majority vote? Arbitration?
  • Roadmap. The roadmap serves as an action plan and highlights the main objectives. It also includes measure points and identifies how the progress of the team will be measured and action steps to take should it miss the mark.

As you can see from the above, the creation of a team charter is a significant undertaking. However, recent studies suggest that organizations who actively employ team charters are three times more likely to accomplish the goals than those who do not.

Organizational Culture

Have you ever walked into an organization and you can just feel whether there is harmony or discord? You can almost sense the energy, positive or negative when you walk through the door. In a broad sense, this is the culture of the organization.

A working definition of culture would be the beliefs and values that form the organization. It all starts at the top and it is much more than just words on paper. In other words, you must practice what you preach and not merely dictate the behaviors you expect. If you are asking your employees to stay late and you leave early, it will not take long before they question everything you do.

As we recently learned, a blame culture does nothing but sow dissatisfaction and mistrust. A culture that focuses on learning and values accountability will have far less conflict than the culture that points fingers. In the end, you must ask yourself, where would I rather work: at a company that views mistakes as learning opportunities or at a company that lays blame on others? Lastly, what are you doing to support your organizational culture. Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

Section 3: Naysayers and Know-it-Alls

We have an interesting conundrum when it comes to someone who opposes the collective views of the team. We need someone to question the direction or we might fall victim to groupthink. However, how many of us have that one person on the team that no matter what we do, they are always negative? It could be a win-win situation and that one person is still preaching how it will fail and what a poor decision it was, and on and on.

Collectively, the team has had enough with the naysayer. They would rather the naysayer find another organization and do so quickly. But, in the meantime, the naysayer is still there. What do we do to make sure that we do not focus on the negative?

Jennifer Porter writing for the Harvard Business Review has some great recommendations for dealing with that naysayer, or as she terms it, the “opposer.”

  1. Explicitly ask for opposition. If disagreement or an opposing view is directly sought, the naysayer will appear less difficult.
  2. Ask each person to share an opposing view. This will help everyone on the team develop a skill to look at situations differently. In the long run, it will produce more solutions to problems as we step out of our comfort zone.
  3. Do not instinctively resist the opposition. No one likes to admit that they were wrong. But what if you held a particular solution in mind and then through the above steps realize that there is a better way to address the problem. Again, asking for opposition and then listening to the opposing viewpoint may just solve that insolvable problem.
  4. Do not demonize opposers. Frequently, we take opposition as a personal attack on us as an individual. We need to take a step back and reflect upon the dangers of groupthink and remind ourselves that not all opposition is unhealthy. If we see the opposition in the big picture, we are less likely to take offense at disagreement.
  5. Give feedback to the person opposing. Tell them that you appreciate their different perspective. Additionally, if the naysayer agrees with a group decision, make sure that they verbalize that as well. Give them an opportunity to show their support in situations so that they are not explicitly labeled as the “negative one.”
  6. Be transparent about your reactions and self-management. Do not be afraid to share your emotions in the moment with the team. Let them know that you are upset with the constant negativity but that you are actively trying to reframe and see the value in the opposition. This increases the realness of the team and reinforces the need for different perspectives. It also helps the naysayer realize their actions.
  7. Celebrate and thank the naysayers. In the end, they are truly helping the team be better, even if it is difficult to see in the moment.

The bottom line is simply this; naysayers have a place in the big picture. However, there is a limit to negativity. If you try all the above and cannot get to a place of mutual acceptance, it is time for the naysayer to go share his or her talents with another organization.

The know-it-all. He is the guy with all the answers. If there is a problem, he can fix it. If there is a question, he already knows the best approach. They can be aggressive, opinionated, and even loud. They are the ones that receive collective eye-rolls from the group the moment their mouth opens.

Most of us have experienced a know-it-all at our workplace. Like the naysayer, there are tips to handle the know-it-all.

Jacquelyn Smith, writing for Forbes, has the following 8 tips for working with the know-it-all.

  1. Be empathetic. Realize that the know-it-all attitude is more than likely stemming from a deeper personal issue. This attitude may be compensation for a much larger problem.
  2. Pick your battles. Earlier in the course, we mentioned that we need to choose what hill to die on. Instead of engaging the know-it-all in a battle because this is what they may truly want, simply thank them for their point of view and be done with him.
  3. Lead by example. It is okay not to know the answer. Saying “I don’t know” can build trust by demonstrating openness.
  4. Be armed with your own facts. If you are going to give a presentation or submit a proposal in front of others, and you know that the know-it-all will be there, be prepared with your research. Be confident in your own facts. The more knowledge you have, the less likely the know-it-all will one-up you.
  5. Keep your sense of humor. It is often tempting to be sarcastic, but it will more than likely backfire. By using humor, it can avoid a direct confrontation where both of you feel backed into a corner. Nothing fights harder than someone cornered.
  6. Ask probing questions. By digging deep into the situation at hand, it may become apparent that the know-it-all does not have all his facts straight. It just might end up humbling him.
  7. Take the person aside and offer constructive feedback on their behavior. The know-it-all may be clueless about the impact of their position. They may truly believe that their opinion is all anyone is looking for. If you do this respectfully, it may strengthen your relationship with him and others.
  8. Avoid involving your boss unless the know-it-all is truly threatening your success. Instead of taking a complaint to your boss, be prepared to focus on how the know-it-all’s attitude is derailing the organization’s overall success. Avoid I statements in this discussion.