Amy Gallo, a leading expert on calm, confident conflict resolution, healthy communication and workplace dynamics, was approached by the Human Resources leader of a US-based biotechnology firm. Their leadership had recently read her indispensable, actionable guide to navigating tough relationships at work, “Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People)” (HBR Press, September 2022), and wanted Amy to help them address feedback from a recent employee survey.

The survey results showed that several leaders had received low scores, particularly on the questions asking if employees felt comfortable speaking up. The leaders were confused by these results because they felt they had communicated to employees that they were free to speak up; in particular, they recalled sharing this message at an all-staff offsite three years prior.


To better understand what was really happening within the organization’s culture and its biggest obstacles, Amy started by interviewing all 14 members of the leadership team. Then, during a half-day offsite meeting, she met with the leaders as a group and led them through a series of activities to help them self-reflect, including:

  • Analyzing a case study about conflict and applying the lessons learned to the team’s experience.
  • Discussing how leaders could, as individuals, make themselves someone whom people felt comfortable disagreeing with, speaking up to, and bringing both good and bad news to.
  • Modeling how to have healthy disagreements amongst the leadership team and with those they manage.

The group’s homework was to practice being more open about debates and disagreements. Because most leadership team members wore several different hats that required navigating their roles on various teams, Amy tasked them with being more transparent about their agenda – and any internal conflicts they felt – at any given moment. Finally, leaders were required to go back to their teams and talk about their genuine desire for feedback and good and bad news – and respond appropriately when they received it.


After the transformational experiences at the offsite, the leadership team brought Amy back to conduct similar workshops throughout the company: first, in a three-hour session with the next level of leaders, about 120 people, and then in a virtual session with the next level of managers, about 200 people. The aim was to cascade the learnings throughout the organization, altering the culture in the process.

The company experienced a leadership transition shortly after working with Amy but they had laid the groundwork for cultivating a speaking-up culture that helped with the transition. When the next employee surveys were administered, the scores around how employees felt about speaking up to their leaders had significantly shifted upward. Additionally, leaders and the managers who reported to them acknowledged feeling more comfortable with navigating conflict. Prior to learning Amy’s practical tools for having difficult discussions, rooms often fell silent when there was a disagreement. With Amy’s research-backed tactics, self-reflection and practice by the teams, and time, conflict became more normalized and allowed new ideas to be heard and discussed through healthy debates.

Stern represents many of world’s top thought leaders who continue to help organizations address a wide range of issues via virtual engagements including 1-to-1 or small group advisory and consulting services, interactive workshops, and dynamic keynote speeches. If your organization is looking for better ways to innovate and drive growth, contact us to connect with any of these transformative change agents who are helping businesses and governments strategically plan forward.

Advisory Services: How to Cultivate a Resilient Speak-Up Culture was last modified: March 29th, 2024 by Stern Strategy Group