Liane Davey on Knowing Your Currency and Why Engaging in Conflict is Actually Being Kind

Liane Davey is the Co-Founder of 3COze Inc., an independent consulting firm with a big vision to radically change the way people communicate, connect, and contribute so they can achieve amazing things together. Liane is a sought after speaker, facilitator and New York Times Best Selling author with two decades of experience working with Executive teams of large organizations to help them engage in productive conflict. She is also a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review. Having just launched her latest book, The Good Fight, Liane is on a mission to debunk the notion that conflict should be avoided at all costs. Liane holds a PhD from the University of Waterloo and when not traveling, speaking, writing or consulting, she can be found in the dance studio supporting her daughters Kira and Mac.  

Did you ever think that you would get to the point where you are now? Did you always strive to become an author/ speaker?

When I started out, I was focused on finding a way to work with senior, smart and influential people. Being a speaker/author was never something I really thought about. The funny thing is I had a bit of an inferiority complex back in high school English class because I was so intimidated by it! If my teachers back then saw me now having written a few books, they would probably laugh in disbelief. When it comes to speaking, that is something quite new to me so I’m still developing myself in that area. It’s been a lot of fun getting to where I am now but I never thought I would get to this exact place.

Was there ever a time in your career where you felt uncertain about your trajectory or if you were on the right “path”?

Coming out of grad school, I was 100 percent sure that I was going to be a University Professor. I even had a contract waiting for me upon graduation. It was only after discovering the world of human capital consulting where I started to second guess the whole professor thing because I got to know what that industry was about and met some amazing people who worked in it. Until that time, my whole identity was wrapped up in this idea of becoming a professor so that directional change wasn’t one that I anticipated or knew that was going to happen. As it turns out, Consulting ended up being the perfect industry for me because it really appeals to who I am. Tripping into Consulting was the best thing to happen to my career. 

What was the most important career decision that you have had to make?

After 17 years of working in Consulting firms, I realized that it was time to do something crazy and try my own thing. While I’ve only been at two companies throughout my career, my husband and I thought it was a good time to go out on our own and start our own shop. Going out on our own lets us do the work we want to do with the clients that we really want to work with but it also allows us to do work for clients who wouldn’t have been able to afford our services while we were working in big firms. You get to do the work that really matters to you.

What is the most misunderstood thing out there when it comes to conflict?

We often think that conflict is unkind, not polite and for half of the population, unladylike. The reality is though that conflict is such a necessary ingredient for running an organization, building a home, and even having children! Conflict does not mean that you are doing something wrong. Since I’m actually such a conflict avoidant person myself, it was super liberating to be able to write a book about conflict because I ended up writing a book that I needed to read myself. I’ve come to learn that life gets so much lighter when you get on the other side of conflict and I’ve really learned that over the last five years.

Do you have any advice for those who need more conflict in their lives?

Stop confusing being nice with being kind. You aren’t being kind by not giving needed feedback to someone who is doing things that aren’t hitting the mark or annoying others. It’s kind of the spinach in the teeth metaphor. If you don’t give people feedback, then it is like letting them walk around with spinach between their teeth. It’s not always nice to point something like that out but it is kind to help that person see their blind spots.

I’d also say that if you let issues fester and don’t deal with them via productive conflict wen you need to, those feelings stay with you. An important question to ask in that situation is around, Do I want to be feeling this way about this person or situation next week? Imagine what your life would be like if you had all of the conversations that you wanted to have? You feel so much lighter and in business, get more done. Having uncomfortable conversations is all about reframing what is on the other side of the conversation.

Tell me about an important lesson that you had to learn the hard way. How did it make you better?

Being the conflict avoidant person that I am, I got into a tough situation with my boss at my first job where we didn’t have enough healthy conflict. I ended up quitting as a result but the whole situation leading up to that was very unpleasant. After going through that experience, I went looking for an organization that was free of conflict (ya right) because I didn’t want to experience that situation again. Funny enough, I stumbled on this amazing little company called Knightsbridge which I thought was that company but yet again, soon came to realize that there is no organization in existence without conflict. Once again, I found myself in a similar situation that I did previously and once again was getting ready to leave. Thankfully, things got saved but it was then where I learned how important it is to be comfortable having productive conflict. Those series of events were the defining lessons of my career.

What piece of advice would you give to someone in the workplace today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

You have to understand the types of currencies that you have and what you ultimately want to buy with them. One of the problems we often have is that we don’t recognize what our own currencies are because they are apart of us. It then becomes important to ask other people what they think our currencies are so that we can get a better understanding. If you know what your currencies are, you will be much more able to buy the experiences and roles that you are looking to secure.

For example, I first started out doing employee surveys because I knew that my currency was being really good at data and analysis. While I didn’t want to be just a number cruncher, I used that currency to buy my way into discussions with senior and influential leaders about organizational culture and that got me closer to where I wanted to be. It is always important on the flip side to ask yourself what currencies you are missing that will help you get to where you want to go next.

To make work fulfilling though, you need to just be yourself and not worry about what others think about you. If you are cookey, be cookey. If you are nerdy, be nerdy. Yes, doing that might turn some people off but it will provide you with information that will get you closer to people who you want to be close to. By doing that, you will have much more joy in what you do.

Aubrey Chapnick