When startups experience conflict — particularly between leaders — efforts quickly become uncoordinated, motivations get misunderstood, and results fall short of expectations. You simply can’t produce an incredible product if the team building it won’t agree on fundamentals.
Avoiding problems only allows them to fester and impact more people, while hasty, non-strategic communication can turn a small fire into a blaze.
It centralises around a commmon mistake:
Watch out, because the jump from observation to judgment happens almost immediately,
Which is often surfaced in unhelpful questions:
A. Will you get your work done this week?
B. What do you need to hit your deadline this week?
Open-ended questions ... acknowledge the level of effort you’re already putting in and offers to help. It asks for more than a one-word reply — it seeks valuable input.
While a lot of startups aim for modern team structures, they're still riddled with old-fashioned communication norms. A common one is assuming your perspective is complete enough that your assessment is accurate. Then, you start asking for things without communicating the context; you remove the others' ability to assess for themselves. The conflicting assessments are the root of more visible conflict, but those remain unaddressed.
A lesson can be drawn from large design firms that have become effective with functional silos - they make sure they communicate the options they're considering and the trade-offs between them, so others throughout the company can share relevant factors.
Mehl advises preparing constructive statements ahead of time before heading into any confrontational discussion. Doing this will help you stay focused and minimize incoherent or incomplete explanations. Preparing also sends the signal that you're invested in doing the right thing. It demonstrates good will.
Separate the person you’re in conflict with from that problem.
The post shares a few in-depth explanations of how to do this well, but it basically means assuming positive intent from the other person, respecting their time and sovereignty, sharing your feelings and needs, separating those from the outcome you'd like - and offering constructive suggestions.
They also share techniques for when team communication breaks down.
“It’s incredibly helpful to talk about the early days — the inside jokes, the long nights, what brought everyone together in the first place.”
“It's like a game of tennis — the longer you keep the ball in play, the more you learn from each other.” And, just as tennis players are happy winning best out of three or five sets, colleagues may need to go multiple rounds before a solution is reached.
If you're a startup founder, you probably have a big ego and a strong sense of direction. If you're co-founders, its' communication skills and empathy with your partners that'll manifest the multipliers between you.
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