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Harvard Business Review Editors Talk Women and Workplace Conflict at Podcast Taping

The Harvard Business School is located across the Charles River from Harvard College's main campus.
The Harvard Business School is located across the Charles River from Harvard College's main campus. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Dohyun Kim, Contributing Writer

Three Harvard Business Review editors and a Harvard Business School professor discussed approaches to resolving workplace conflicts at a live taping of the podcast “Women at Work” Tuesday night, drawing a packed crowd to the Business School’s Klarman Hall.

The Business Review launched “Women at Work” in Jan. 2018, and the podcast has since received roughly 6.2 million downloads across its four seasons, Business Review spokesperson Amy Poftak said. The podcast intends to create a platform for exploring issues women face in the workplace, from managing parental leave to dealing with credit-stealing colleagues, according to the Business Review’s website.

“Women at Work” co-hosts Amy J. Bernstein, Amy E. Gallo, and Nicole T. Torres invited Business School Professor Linda A. Hill to be a special guest on Tuesday’s live show, where the four spoke about resolving conflicts with colleagues or supervisors as a woman, sharing advice on how to manage emotions and move past workplace disputes.

Gallo said that when faced with difficult conflicts, she focuses on being self-aware and proactively managing her responses.

“If we see conflict as a threat to our identity, to our needs or resources, it’s very likely we will go into a stress response,” Gallo said. “The key is to try to calm yourself down. Think about the person, put yourself in their shoes. This helps to break the sort of narcissistic rumination most of us go into when we’re under stress.”

All four panelists stressed the importance of clearly articulating goals while resolving conflicts.

“I’ll admit, most of my adult life and probably for my childhood, too, anytime I entered a conflit my goal was to be right – and that is not a good goal,” Gallo said. “If Linda and I showed up to a conversation both trying to prove that we’re right, then where do we have to go?”

“Do I need to get this project just done and on budget? Do I need to preserve my relationship with this person I’m talking to? Do I need to just get out of this conversation and move on with my life?” she added.

Hill said she tries to recognize defensiveness when she negotiates a solution to a workplace problem.

“Separate their impact from their intent,” she said. “What makes us defensive is when we suggest that we’re not well intended and we can’t be trusted.”

In response, audience member Julie E. Salganik said the most difficult conflicts she has faced in her career have happened when people started conversations in ways that were insensitive, often because of the disparities in intent and impact that Hill mentioned.

“You have to be sincere about not just your goals, but also what you’re experiencing,” said Salganik.

At the end of the discussion, Hill urged the audience to remember that they “are not powerless.”

“If you’re in situations where you’re powerless, you can be taken advantage of. And the most important source of power is expertise, knowing something that no one else knows, having unique knowledge,” she said.

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