‘Nice’ Teams Don’t Win Championships: Success May Allude Women’s Sports Teams That Are ‘Too Nice’
By Mel Fabrikant Thursday, February 21, 2013, 03:52 PM EST
Tips for Engaging in ‘Productive Conflict’ to Help a Team Reach Its Full Potential
Coaches and parents of female college athletes know well the challenges of a team embroiled in gossip and backstabbing. But what about those athletes who call home to complain about how bad things are but are unwilling to “create waves” or risk “hurting feelings” by saying anything to their teammates? Many young women do not know how to have a tough conversation, even when doing so would make their team better.
According to Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”), a nationally known conflict resolution consultant, speaker, and author, “productive conflict” allows female athletes to address disagreement and resolve the conflicts that inevitably arise on teams so that team members can work together better and realize their full potential on and off the field.
“I have worked with teams that ‘brag’ about how well the members all get along, that practices aren’t contentious, and that there really aren’t any problems. However, decisions are not being made, communication is stifled, and every so often, a major blow-up finds team members screaming at each other in the middle of practice. Silence does not mean agreement,” explains Doc Robyn.
“If two or more people are engaged in conversation and no one is disagreeing, someone is lying. That means whether they say it aloud or not, people always have different ways of looking at the same situation. Playing nice in this manner can really hinder a team’s true potential. It’s important to air issues and concerns and talk through sticky problems as they arise before they fester into something bigger,” she notes.
According to Doc Robyn, it’s important for team members to understand that it’s possible to respectfully and kindly disagree with someone and be able to say “I hear you. I understand you. This is where my ideas differ” – a skill that everyone needs to hone. She offers the following suggestions to help female athletes and their coaches understand how productive conflict works and can benefit the team as a whole.
• Believe productive conflict is a good thing. Conflict has a bad reputation. It makes people uncomfortable, and the general feeling is if two people are disagreeing it should be stopped. Certainly not all forms of conflict are good – screaming, silent stalemates and fistfights in the locker room are bad for everyone and unproductive. Productive conflict allows teammates to approach and resolve disagreement, misunderstanding and differences of opinion using a standard, agreed-upon set of guidelines. Coaches might even implement a team contract and a summary list of the guidelines to help his or her team through this process.
• Start the conversation. The coach really needs to set the tone to open the door for a genuine exchange of ideas. He or she may start by saying something like this when opening up the dialogue to address a problem: “We may not all agree, but let’s hear what everyone has to say about this matter.” Don’t shoot the messenger or respond in a negative manner to ideas. Ultimately that tells everyone on the team that it is not safe to speak up.
• Take the lead. A coach can open a discussion about productive conflict by asking the team what it takes to be respectful when sharing a dissenting opinion and then, together, work to agree upon a definition. Once agreement is reached, ask each player if they are willing to use it to become a more successful team.
• Professional skepticism is what makes good ideas great. When everyone just nods and smiles to avoid conflict, bad ideas are implemented, and hurt feelings may become institutionalized on the team. Being willing to disagree in a respectful manner can help bring the best ideas to the surface or air concerns that, until this point, have been hurting team members’ feelings and hindering performance.
• Reward bravery. When someone shares a dissenting opinion, the coach can step in and ask if anyone wants to add to the thought. Say “How can we make this suggestion even better?” Thank the athlete for sharing her idea with the rest of the team. Even a “bad” idea can be the stepping stone the team needs to get to a great one.
“Being ‘too nice’ is a lie which leads to the pressure of discontentment and resentment that will eventually explode. The only way to keep ‘nice’ from limiting your team’s potential is to develop open, honest, respectful conversation as a pathway to productive conflict. Ultimately the coach must set the tone for how their team functions and to remove the obstacles to giving their athletes the best opportunity to win on and off the field,” Doc Robyn explains.
About Doc Robyn
Dr. Robyn Odegaard (aka “Doc Robyn”) is a nationally known motivational speaker, author and conflict resolution consultant. As CEO of Champion Performance Development (www.ChampPerformance.com), she works with female college athletes, their coaches, parents, faculty and female professionals to help them achieve excellence on the field and in all aspects of life through the development of leadership, teamwork, effective communication, productive conflict and professional disagreement skills – strategies typically reserved for high-level corporate executive training. She is the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign (www.StopTheDramaNow.com ) and author of the book Stop The Drama! The Ultimate Guide to Female Teams.