Show Notes: Trust and Healthy Conflict

In the third episode of The Colour Works Podcast, James Hampton is joined by Giles Miskin, founder of The Colour Works. After working together for over 10 years, it has made for an interesting episode and provides a healthy debate around Trust and Healthy Conflict in the workplace.

Giles established The Colour Works in 2003 and is a specialist in leading team development. Giles also established The Colour Works Foundation, which aims to support socially excluded young people and helps them discover their self-confidence through a greater understanding of both themselves and others.

Listen to this podcast to hear how Building Trust and Healthy Conflict in the Workplace can increase levels of trust and psychological safety in your organisation.

Episode 3 – Transcript

James   

Hello and thank you for tuning into the third episode of The Colour Works Podcast. My name is James Hampton. I’m delighted to be back again to host this month’s show. Today’s podcast has a slightly different spin as I’m joined by Giles Miskin, founder of The Colour Works International. Giles and I have been working together for over 10 years and as this month’s podcast explores trust and healthy conflict, we thought doing it together might bring a healthy bit of debate to the table. 

Giles established The Colour Works back in 2003. He specialises in leadership team development and is recognized as an award winning speaker on the Vestige global leadership network. As part of Giles’ legacy a few years back, he established The Colour Works Foundation, which is a charity that works with socially excluded young people and helps them build self-confidence through a better understanding of themselves and others. Just to get the juices flowing. Can you tell us why and how you established The Colour Works?

 

Giles

Sure. Why is an interesting question? I think it’s mainly because in my previous role, and I was MD of a family-owned plastic injection molding business here in Dorset with a turnover of about 8 million quid. And the family that gave me the responsibility of trying to turn the business around from three years of consecutive loss put a lot of faith in me and I had no leadership experience. I am, as you know, James very technically challenged. 

So working in a very technical business was tough but I must have done something right because we managed to turn it back into profitability within 18 months, and the family, therefore, decided to sell. And having been given almost complete free reign in how I ran the business, up until that point, the new owners came along with an extremely different attitude and my new boss actually sat me down on the first day and introduced himself with the words “right Giles from this day forth, you will know me as God”. And that was my baptism of fire. 

Basically, the man was not pleasant to me and his view of how to run me and the business was essentially through fear. So, over a nine-month period, he made my life absolute hell and made me want to get out essentially. I was certainly undergoing my first midlife crisis. I was about 40 at the time starting to ask myself the questions, you know, is this it? Oh my God! There has to be more. And essentially, why am I putting up with this pain? Because when we’re not enjoying ourselves in the workplace, we all know we take it home. We suffer. We suffer on physical levels, on emotional levels, on mental levels, and so my relationships at home were really struggling and that work. And then just by complete coincidence, this consultant knocked on my door and gave me the opportunity to do the insights evaluator. 

Back came my profile and I was just completely blown away. Not only was this my introduction to this whole sort of personality profiling world but I was just amazed and to a certain extent, slightly frightened at how accurately this profile has managed to pin me down. Delighted evidently to read some nice stuff about me because I wasn’t feeling very good about myself at the time but also fascinated by this whole notion of opposite times and how we tend to get on better with people who are like us and struggle with people who aren’t. And of course, the beauty was that my boss, this man who’d been making my life hell turned out to be my opposite type. And therefore suddenly flashbulbs were sparking off in my head as to “oh! Now I understand. Now, I’ve got the tools perhaps to make things better”.

The crux, of course, came twice or once when I found out that my boss had absolutely no interest at all in knowing more about me. I actually tried to share my profile with him and he just ripped it up and put it in the bin. 

 

James

Hmm, yes.

 

Giles

Okay. Got that, but critically, also when I found that my wife was also my opposite type.

And that was a life changing moment. So, that’s when I became fascinated in this stuff and started reading up more about it and started realising that I am my profile. It told me, as if I didn’t know already, that working in this world of relationship development, self-awareness and workplace leadership is where I needed to be. And eventually, it was my wife who gave me the final push and she said, “Giles, why don’t you just go and get trained up into how to use this stuff rather than just talking about it all the time?”.

 

James

Was that more for her benefit than yours?

 

Giles

I think it was certainly that she wanted a happier man about the house.

She’s always been the one to come in with the best advice. Let’s face it. So, I went off, got trained up in the how to use it, had this sort of abortive attempt to set up business on my own. 

I had to revisit my profile several times to remind myself that I am rubbish on my own, and so I’d definitely look around for a colleague with whom to start the business up and that is what happened in September 2003.

 

James  

Wonderful! Thank you and it’s certainly a thriving business since it’s been created over the last 16 years.  So, over the last 16 years, not to go into too much detail, what are the major lessons that you’ve learned along the way?

 

Giles

Woo. That’s a biggie! I think, essentially, the biggest lesson has to be that no one can do it alone. It’s obviously quite cliched here at The Colour Works, but aren’t we all about teamwork? We’re all about recognising that we’re all brilliant at some stuff and we all struggle with other stuff. And my natural yellow, red, red, yellow style lends itself to, as you’re fully aware, James, that motivational “Yes! We can. Come on, this is going to be great” type of message and that’s essentially what carried us through the formative years of the business. 

 

James

Yeah.

 

Giles

Then people started clamouring not only for a bit of process and structure and I just thought “I can’t do this” and so I needed to bring in that sort of skill level. Then people said, Giles, we want leadership. We want to be managed. We want our quarterly objectives laid out on the paper and to be given performance management meetings, etc. etc. And I tried doing that, but ultimately that’s not my bag either. So, bring in other specialists and there was a key turning point as well when both you and Rob joined the business because you are opposites in your own right. 

 

James

Yeah.

 

Giles

And Rob brings all of that discipline and process and thoroughness and you bring this wonderful experimentation and buzz and I think the combination of how the three of us work together is absolutely critical. So team working would be my first major lesson. Sorry if I’m going on a bit about that it. I think the second one would be clarity and this has been a, a lesson hard-learned that the more often you can repeat the purpose of the business and just remind both yourself and everyone you work with why you are doing this.

What is your mission? What is your vision? What are you heading for? That clarity just allows people to feel good about themselves, know that they are contributing to something meaningful and bigger than themselves. So, clarity is definitely up there. And then the third point I think would be just around the importance of organisational values. Again, we’ve spent a lot of time here at The Colour Works working bottom-up to ensure that our organisational values not only encapsulate the drivers of everyone in the business, but that we also do our best to adhere to them in everything that we do on a daily basis.

 

James

Brilliant, brilliant. Thank you. It’s true to say that using the in-house team at The Colour Works, we have spent a lot of time building those levels of trust and to speak openly that that doesn’t come easy when you’re building it internally. It comes through those small amounts of experience that builds up over time but I personally feel that trust is very much in place. So when those challenging conversations do have to be had and we push back in a different direction, that foundation of trust that we’ve grown to have overtime is there and solid. 

From your perspective, how do you believe that trust has been built between us?

 

Giles

This is a huge question, isn’t it? It’s absolutely massive. In the training world, you and I know that the word trust is everywhere.

 

James

Yeah. 

 

Giles

It’s the foundation of Lencioni’s model of high performing teams. It’s the basis of the research work that Google did with project Aristotle that people require that sort of sense of psychological safety, comfort within their team to be able to contribute and be challenged as well as challenge others. And it’s such an intangible.

And yet it is the core and its essence of what we do. I think that trust has to start at home. So just like the lovely emotional intelligence quadrant starts with self-awareness. I think trust and one’s ability to trust other people starts with trusting yourself, and trusting yourself means knowing yourself well, worse and all. 

I believe therefore that knowing what you’re brilliant at, is a bit like coming back to that sense of mission.  Knowing what I’m brilliant, that means that I can fulfill my own purpose through doing more of what I’m brilliant at. Knowing what I struggle with, what my weaknesses are, and what my challenges are means that I can start to develop some coping strategies around that so that I let myself down less often. 

Knowing all of this colour stuff is absolutely critical because, despite my best intentions, I know that I can hack other people off. I know that I can suppress them. I know that I can frighten them. I know that I can bore them. I know that just by being me, I can be pushing people away when my whole purpose is to do the opposite. And so, this trust thing I believe centres on a willingness to commit to this model of emotional intelligence, but also a willingness to put on the table the stuff that is important to us, how we feel. I was just looking at the old Maya Angelou quote the other day.

 

James

Yeah. 

 

Giles

“People will not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel”, and I need to remind myself of that and I think we all need to be reminded of that that despite our best intentions, we can get it wrong. When we can put those things on the table and discuss them, then I think we’ve got the start of the building of trust. 

 

James

Yeah, yeah good and I think that sense of belonging that’s created within an environment is instrumental to the creation of that level of trust because to come out of your shell and put those things on the table and leave them open to scrutiny in the sense I actually might realise something about myself that I didn’t know, my sense of self-identity might actually be broken or shattered from how I see myself. For the better and into that trusting relationship that you have with people, that sense of belonging is really, really important and creating the environment where people can be comfortable in being themselves, to their strengths and their weaknesses because we all do mess up on occasions.

 

Giles

Yeah. 

 

James

And how in our intention of communication and our intentions are sometimes misread and misunderstood and building that trusting environment through those small moments of trust. 

 

Giles

Yeah. 

 

James

Not the big gregarious ones, but the small moments of trust that happen on a day in and day out basis is just the crucial way to be able to get people around that table so that they feel comfortable. 

 

Giles

Absolutely.  I think it’s certainly my personal belief and I’m not sure how widespread it is, that essentially it is human to be insecure, to feel insecure that we put a lot of effort into projecting this image of ourselves on the world which is mostly around self-preservation.

But that little inner voice just keeps eating away at us.

 

James

Yeah.

 

Giles

And it is there at times to be very easily exploited. We can feel bad about ourselves far too easily. I love the work of Brené Brown

And I think this, again, enables us to just put some stuff on the table about how it’s very human to feel that way. 

 

James

Yeah.

 

Giles

And the more that we can share those vulnerabilities; the more likely we are to be able to start trusting each other.

James

How do you create an environment where those needs can be catered for?


Giles

Good question. I think it’s that trust equation. Works really here. When I first read about there being a trust equation, I giggled a bit.

 

James

Laughs. 

 

Giles

I just thought, oh my God, here we go, typical trainer speak. but actually really useful. For those who don’t know it, it goes as follows ‘Trust= credibility  (i.e. you’ve got the expertise, you’ve got the qualifications, you’ve got the experience, you, therefore, bring credibility to the relationship)  + reliability ( i.e. you consistently deliver on your promises. I can, therefore, trust you with a successful and competent completion of a task that I delegate to you) + intimacy (that’s always an interesting one). 

And it always challenges people because it’s sort of implies that we’ve got to get deep and dirty with each other. However, when we discussed this in workshops, I think people come to a general agreement that those who they trust most are those that they know most about.

That we’ve shared vulnerabilities, that we’ve shared stories, that we’ve seen each other at our worst, that we are comfortable that those people have our backs, that they’re not going to go into use those vulnerabilities against us, far from it.

They’re there to help us and support us and challenge us through those challenging internal conversations. All of that ‘credibility + reliability + intimacy divided by self-interest’.

 

James

Hmm, yes. 

 

Giles

And of course being below the line that makes it by far the most powerful element of that equation (i.e. we have to do everything to minimise self-importance in our relationships). We have to show empathy. We have to show support, we have to be there for others and minimise ego in that relationship. So, the existence of this equation is just a facilitator. It’s a facilitator to start conversations between people about what their interpretation of trust is.

And how important different elements of that equation are for them because if we both understand trust differently, then we’re obviously going to have higher rates or different expectations of each other, which means that we can actually miscommunicate and the message gets lost.

So put the equation on the table. Let’s discuss what that means to different people and then let’s discuss what each of us can do, and each of us within the team can do both individually and as a team to engender a greater sense of trust amongst us. Of course, it’s a theoretical exercise, but by putting it on the table and having this discussion, at least we have an opportunity to start getting it right. 

 

James

Yeah, sure. Absolutely, and you can spend as much time as you want, getting many letters after your name as you can and conforming and delivering your work on your milestones and touchpoints and, and even going through the process of the open door policy and letting people around and having those conversations with people, but the minute you get a sniff that it’s all about that individual.

 

Giles

Hmm, mm. 

 

James

Is the minute the trustworthy just falls through the trap door and you don’t trust it. It’s almost an unconscious awareness though there isn’t it? 

 

Giles

Yes, absolutely which is why it makes it such a difficult thing to be able to deal with, isn’t it because it’s sort of intangible. That said, here are some people who instinctively trust. 

 

James

Hmm, mm.

 

Giles

And then there are others who feel that no trust needs to be earned. The intangibility, however, sometimes doesn’t make it any less obvious, does it? There are some people that both of us know.

Who we wouldn’t trust further than we could throw them.

 

James

Yeah.

 

Giles

And yet, probably, in trying to identify the characteristics that contribute to that mistrust, are really quite tough.

 

James

Is that because we just get a feeling for it? 

 

Giles

Absolutely. 

 

James

It’s a gut reaction. 

 

Giles

It’s a gut reaction, absolutely. Or maybe that’s just because both of us have got quite high feeling scores. 

 

James

Well indeed. My next question was, is there any correlation behind the behaviours and the trustworthiness or the persona of the trustworthiness?

 

Giles 

Ooh, trustworthiness. No, no correlation whatsoever.

 

James

I would agree.

 

Giles

In as much as I believe that everybody can be trustworthy. And that trustworthiness is related to that person’s authenticity.  And their consistency therefore and it’s their self-awareness, isn’t it?

 

James

Yeah. 

 

Giles

It’s their ability to accept and acknowledge themselves for who they are and not anything more than who they are. 

 

James

Also, be true to say that reflecting back upon your opposite’s conversation. 

 

Giles

Yeah.

 

James

If I see you in such an alien way and so different to me. My survival reaction is going to be up because I simply don’t understand it. So, I think almost a piece in here as well of my own accountability of how I perceive others and their trustworthiness.

 

Giles

Yeah. 

 

James 

And I’m stepping back from that and engaging in that self-awareness and giving them the opportunity to first show.

 

Giles

Sure, sure. 

 

James

Do we expect trust first or do we give trust first? 

 

Giles

Well again, I don’t think there’s a right way. Is there? I know that my wife, for example, is just openly trusting. She will trust first and wait for that trust to be challenged. And there are other people and I think I probably put myself in this camp who actually need to stand back and see a person perform in order to feel trust in them.

So I won’t immediately trust. And then, of course, we get this lovely phrase down ‘trust takes years to build and seconds to lose’.


James

Yeah. 

 

Giles 

Hmm, mm. And again, that’s just so true. It’s such an important element of a relationship that once lost, it feels almost impossible to rebuild.

 

James

Do you believe you can rebuild ii?

 

Giles

Ooh, I’m not 100% sure. I don’t know how to answer that. James, can you?

 

James

I think there are certain steps that you can take in order to rebuild the relationship whether the original level of trust can be achieved again. 

But I do believe that takes some really open and honest conversations between two individuals and a new form of trust can be built.

 

Giles

Yeah. 

 

James 

Which is an evolution of the first.

 

Giles

Okay, yeah.

 

James

Step setting. 

 

Giles

Yeah, that’s nice, yeah.

 

James

So, when this all plays out in leadership, and I have to say, Giles, you are probably one of the best provocateurs out there in the business and challenging of behaviours, and in order to do that, you need to have self-trust. From my perspective. 

It’s going to go okay. If you’ve got any advice to anybody out there on how to possibly become a little bit more challenging if one wants to?

 

Giles

Whoa. I’m not sure. I mean I appreciate the compliment, if it is a compliment? That I’m one of the best provocateurs.  I think that’s just a natural part of my style. I remember when we first did business cards at The Colour Works and we had to pick out a phrase from our profiles for the back of our business cards to describe us.

 

James

Yeah. 

 

Giles

And one of the phrases that I chose was, I think it was something like ‘sympathetically challenging’. 

And someone took offence at that and just said, “What do you mean sympathetically challenging? How can you be both?” And I think it is just a really, really interesting combination. 

 

James

Yeah.

 

Giles

And I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody. It just happens to fit my particular style. I, therefore, in terms of my own personal values, would use the word challenge as being up there in the top five.

 

James

Yeah. 

 

Giles

And that is challenge outwards because I love to say the stuff that I’m thinking that I think might contribute to the situation without upsetting. But I think that challenge is a critical part of change. 

 

James

I agree. 

 

Giles

But if we sit down and we just accept the status quo for what it is whilst internally we’re thinking this is rubbish, this could be better. We’re doing ourselves and the people that we were with a huge disservice if we’re not saying that stuff. 

 

James

Yeah.

 

Giles

Now saying it sympathetically is tough. And of course, I don’t always get it right. I still upset people unwittingly. They tend to be people on the opposite of the wheel to me, and that includes my wife.

So, I think that I am being decisive and focused and driven, and she thinks I’m being aggressive and loud and these are just misperceptions. And the more my wife and I understand each other, and we’ve been together now for over 30 years and we’re still on that journey, the more we understand each other; the less we upset each other because we know that it comes from a good place. So, I don’t think that I would ever promote being provocative to people who aren’t comfortable being provocative.

I just think it’s something that I can add to the team and hopefully do so in a constructive, productive way as opposed to a destructive and personally attacking way. 

 

James

And I guess that comes right back down to the conversation we had around trustworthiness and how we develop trustworthiness and that sense for authenticity or self-trust.

 

Giles

Absolutely, yeah. 

 

James

And the clarity in your intention. 

 

Giles

Hmm, mm. 

 

James

And if that’s coming from a place of compassion. People get that look in your eye, that feeling from your energy although the words you’re delivering might be quite difficult to hear to them. 

 

Giles

Yeah. 

 

James

So, the combination of those I think can also improve the way people might challenge or stand up or push back is certainly something I wish to develop a little bit more in myself at some point. 

Brilliant. Giles, say the teams can engage in healthy conflict. What do you think they need to consider?

 

Giles

Well, I think I’m going to head straight back to Lencioni. I think that in order for conflict to be healthy, there needs to be that psychological safety that culture and environment of trust within the team so that each team member knows that wherever there is challenge, it’s coming from a good place. 

 

James

Yeah.

 

Giles

Secondly, most important is evidently to recognise our different communication styles.

 

James

Yeah. 

 

Giles

As I’ve already alluded to, I know that I can be direct and sometimes overly direct and therefore, we know that on that conflict continuum, there is artificial harmony on one end of the continuum i.e. everyone’s smiling and nodding and pretending that things are okay.

And then on the other end of the continuum is personal attack and aggression. Evidently, we need to be somewhere in the middle there, but everyones middle of that continuum will be different. 

 

James

Hmm, mm.

 

Giles

So, let’s have an exercise here within the team. What does healthy conflict look like to you? Where are the boundaries? Where can we push each other without it becoming negative and personal?

 

James

And the assumption there is the ideal point of conflict is just in that middle and when you’re pushing those boundaries and because of the difference, you’re going to step over occasionally. 

 

Giles

Absolutely, but as long as it’s coming from a place of compassion and good intent, then we’re safe.

 

James

Great. Well, Giles, it’s been fascinating talking to you about this and I think we could actually just keep going all day talking about these subjects but if you’d like to know more about the trust and healthy conflict module on The Colour Works website, go to www.the colourworks.com and click the Solutions tab. 

Tune in next month for Leadership 360 and Feedback. Thanks for tuning in.