The key to negotiating rapids is to foster the type of work climate and workforce that is excited and motivated to do their best at all times, is familiar with your company, is committed to your goals and is comfortable confronting employees who are not.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series

By Dianne Crampton


Encourage workforce conflict and confrontation when business stability is shaky? Yes, and there is no better time to do it. 


Imagine your company as a river raft and you and your employees are entering class five rapids.  Negotiating though the rapids is tricky because you could easily enter a drop sideways, resulting in spilling everyone and your provisions into treacherous water.  As you enter the rapids, you notice that some of your people aren’t paddling.

When times get tough, many business leaders begin to scrutinize their employees.

Is Mark putting in an honest day’s work or is he doing just what is necessary and goofing off the rest of the time?  Is Ann becoming more contrary and defensive?  Why does Julian hunker down at his desk and never talk to anyone?

The rules of whitewater rafting include not standing up in the boat or exchanging seats with someone else while the crew is paddling as hard as it can to keep from tipping over.   

The key to negotiating rapids is to foster the type of work climate and workforce that is excited and motivated to do their best at all times, is familiar with your company, is committed to your goals and is comfortable confronting employees who are not.

According to Morrie Shechtman, author of Fifth Wave Leadership: The Internal Frontier, just because there are many people looking for work, that doesn’t mean they are the right people for your company.  During hard times, it is important that all team members are in sync with your company values and goals.  And, it is difficult during hard times to hire and orient new employees, when the natural business survival instinct is to conserve resources.  As founder of the TIGERS team and leadership model, I could not agree more.

TIGERS is an acronym for six collaborative values that are demonstrated by behaviors that build exceptional leaders and teams.  The values are trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success.  These values strengthen and reinforce your company’s operational values by building strong collaborative relationships with focused commitment in achieving goals.  And, of the six values, genuineness is a learned behavior and skill that each person brings to the team.

Unfortunately, life and work lessons often teach people not to be genuine.  Here are ways to promote genuineness in the workplace.

Diminish Competition and Encourage Collaboration

Rewarding one employee for achieving a collective goal rather than all the employees who achieved the goal results in plugging the flow of information and knowledge sharing  within your company.  When times are uncertain, it is important for information to flow and for all your employees to gain more knowledge and skill.  

Employees are motivated to learn and want to know that their contributions are valued and important.  Your best teachers during uncertain times are your current employees.  So when you recognize that you are approaching a class five rapid, your seasoned paddlers can demonstrate to others how to hold the paddle, when to paddle right or left, or backwards or forward, and what paddling as a coordinated unit will accomplish to keep everyone in the boat and your provisions dry.

More often than not, the employees who are not paddling simply don’t know how to, and they do not want to upset the boat.

Reward Relationships and Forgo Increasing Monetary Incentives For Managers.

During uncertain times, fat salaries and big bonuses teach key people to work for the salary rather than the good of your company.  Likewise, when times are uncertain set your goals higher.  If your company achieves these goals, the money will be there to perk the entire team rather than a chosen few.

This strategy helps you build a company culture that values excellent working relationships. When people have good relationships, they enjoy coming to work.  When relationships are good, kindness and trust allows people to change and grow both in and out of the boat. 

Help your employees discover their internal barriers to being genuine.

Work behavior is rooted in family relationships.  If being genuine was discouraged or asking for what you need was reprimanded, people bring this history into the workplace.  They will be reluctant to share what they know or be assertive when they need to be.  Encourage the services of an outside coach or provide a workshop and support a process for your employees to recognize family of origin issues and find ways to diminish negative impacts. 

Confront by asking questions rather than promoting judgments.

Creating a questioning culture helps employees understand how what they do affects others and to become more accomplished in both work and relationships.  By asking questions, employees are compelled to evaluate themselves and to come up with their own inner knowing.  It also helps employees develop sound reasons for doing what they do and unlock their own motivations. 

Examples of questions include:

  1. I noticed during the meeting when group members decided to abandon the idea, you didn’t say anything —  How come? 
  2. Why did you say that to Ann? 
  3. When you were in the meeting and someone challenged your idea, why didn’t you defend it? 

Confronting others through the art of asking questions is a coaching role. And this role is very important to growth-oriented cultures. It builds relationships and promotes problem-solving and teamwork.  It also helps managers and teams achieve consensus by exploring more deeply how decisions affect both work and relationship quality.

Provide honest, timely and caring feedback

Feedback and performance evaluations should never be annual events.  Employees need to be given frequent, caring feedback on how well they are performing work and coming across to others.  This is essential to a growth-oriented organization. 

Becoming skilled in questioning, sharing your own feelings,  and listening and responding appropriately in a guidance fashion builds trust and helps people become more effective in both work and relationship situations. 

Create accountability partnerships

Frequently people in work relationships do not want to appear vulnerable or unaccomplished.  That is one reason why the coaching profession has become so popular. 

A coach is an accountability partner who is completely invested in their client’s success.  And, when an employee knows that their partner has their best interest at heart, it is much easier to confront inner barriers and growth opportunities than in a competitive dog-eat-dog environment. 

The ideal accountability relationship includes:

  •  Learning how to give and receive timely and caring feedback,
  • Identifying the growth opportunity,
  • Creating action plans to achieve growth,
  • The mandate to be held accountable for completing the plan. 

Being genuine is a personal matter and a learned skill that each person brings to work.  And organizations that hold this value as important build loyalty, commitment and excellence in the most difficult times.  Confrontation and conflict become caring opportunities to pursue excellence by having everyone in the boat paddling well.