5 Ways to Humanize Conflict

You don’t agree with the trajectory of a project at work so you make up excuses to miss the meetings. You don’t want to openly disagree. You don’t want to upset the apple cart. You start talking behind the project leader’s back. You keep quiet at the meetings you do attend. You become passive aggressive. Sandbag as much as you can on your end. This ensures the project doesn’t succeed so that you can be smug when it fails.

This is all created by your conflict avoidance. Let’s be realistic. Most of us are conflict averse. We don’t want to hurt our boss’ feelings. We don’t want to make someone angry. We don’t want to make our coworker feel bad. And we don’t want to be part of a losing project. But there is a way to humanize conflict and have it be a win-win situation.


Here are the ways.

1. Seek first to understand. Habit 5 of Steven R. Covey’s, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” Most of us approach conflict to try and make our case. We want to be understood first. When we change that up and attempt to understand first, it has an enormous impact and builds trust.

Ask open ended questions and respond with a summary of what you heard. “Can you tell me about this project from the beginning?” “How do you feel about the data?” “Are there any other resources available?” These questions aren’t accusatory or judgmental. They are just about gathering information and understanding.

2. Humanize your opponent. In The Great Courses’ Your Best Brain, Dr. John Medina brought up a study done by two groups of business school students from competing universities. Group A was given a fictitious issue to negotiate via email with no other information. Group A was negotiating with someone who was essentially anonymous to them. Group B was told to exchange pictures and to reveal something about themselves before moving forward with the negotiation. Group B was humanizing their counterpart in the negotiation. The result? Group A had an impasse rate of 29% and Group B had an impasse rate of 6%. Remarkable! So if you are trying to resolve an issue with someone who is not in the office, or a customer via email; try and use their correct name (no one likes their name misspelled). Include your photo in your signature line. Be human.

3. Everyone is right…partially. This is a tenant of CRR Global. Everyone wants to be right. Like all the time. No one wants to go around being wrong. It’s human nature. So think about it. Is this really just you trying to be “right” versus what is best for the company? Can you admit that you might be 1% wrong and let it go? Sometimes we find conflict when there doesn’t need to be. We don’t need to crucify someone for misfiling the file; or changing the venue for the presentation because it wasn’t the one we picked.

4. Conflict norms. Patrick Lencioni espouses using conflict norms for a leader with his team. As he states, “To effectively make conflict a core part of a team’s culture, we suggest establishing ’conflict norms.’ Conflict norms are a handful of expectations the team establishes and commits to in order to engage in healthy conflict during team discussions.” Lencioni’s suggestions that the leader end the debate or discussion with the phrase, “Do You Support the Direction?” and make sure everyone responds. Another is for silence to imply you agree and making sure there are no offline discussions. You know – the meeting after the meeting. Make sure you have conflict norms for your team.

5. Positivity is infectious. Try and harvest what is good. What’s going well. Positivity builds rapport amongst the team. Think about people at work that you get along with. People you would go to the mat for. Odds are you have a good rapport with them and you have a positive relationship. They aren’t busy throwing other people under the bus or blaming everyone else for everything They are acknowledging what is going right. This builds rapport for when you need to step into conflict.

I have to say that our cable was out the other day and the customer service rep said to me “Catharine (see #2), please tell me about the issue (see #1).” After I explained the issue she said “Catharine, I am sure this is frustrating for you (see #3).” I felt heard, empathized with and humanized. I didn’t get angry. Amazing what word choice can do for a conflict.

Want to be Profitable? It’s All About Building Trust.

According to Gallup, the average U.S. organization has only 31.5% of its employees engaged. This is the highest rate of engagement since they started polling in 2000. Whoa. That’s a lot of disengaged associates sitting in cubes, waiting on customers, and collectively poisoning each other at work. The CEO of Great Place to Work, Michael Bush, spoke at a conference I attended and posited, “High trust companies make 3 times as much profit”. So the bottom line to making more money is a high trust environment. As Bush said, “You are either building, eroding or rebuilding trust.”

Building Trust 1

As the saying goes “People quit bosses, not their jobs.” I bet you have. I know I have. Over a decade ago, I was suddenly working for a new boss. He was a micro manager, which is a polite way of saying he trusted no one. I remember him telling me, or rather ordering me, to start journaling. He thought I would adjust to his management style if I did. That was strange. Like having your manager tell you to start meditating. Journaling is a personal decision. I barely knew this guy and he wanted me to journal. Within six months of this guy taking charge, there was 100% turnover in his direct report ranks. 100%! Including me. I had zero trust in that guy and so did everyone else.

So here are the ideas that Bush had on building trust and thus profits:

Thank people. Pretty basic, huh? This is programmed into me. I’m not sure why. I thank a server every time they bring something to the table. I thank people who hold the door for me. It’s auto pilot. Just because it’s easy for me doesn’t mean it will be easy for you. Thank your assistant for finishing the project on time. Thank your boss for the raise. Thank your coworker for finishing the report. Be the thanker in your organization.

Care about people. Do you know the children’s names of your direct reports? Do you know what musical instrument they play on the weekends? Do you ask if everything went well at the dentist appointment? Do you know your co-workers favorite author? Knowing these things shows that you care. I’m not saying you need to know it all. But if they were out yesterday, ask how they are. I heard a speaker say recently that it’s not about work/life balance. It’s life balance because work is everywhere now (on your phone, remote access etc.). So life needs to be brought into the workplace. Show you care.

Speak to people. This can take a lot of energy for introverts. It’s easier for people who are extroverts. Even a greeting and a smile can work wonders for those around you. Or a wave across the aisle. It’s easy in this day and age of technology to just text, email and message people instead of actually picking up the phone or walking down the hall to talk to someone. So much is lost when you don’t engage verbally with folks. Speak to those that work for you every day.

Listen to people. Everyone wants to be heard. I think this is the real reason people ask me to coach them. They want to be heard. Deeply heard. As Stephen Covey says “Listen to understand.” It’s not “Listen to rebut” or “Listen to get the last word.” Everyone has an idea of how things should go. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has frustrations. An engaged employee is one that is being heard and supported in implementing ideas that make sense.

Inspire people. What is the higher aspiration of your organization? What is the deep purpose of your company? Jeff Diana, CPO from Atlassian spoke at that same conference. Their software is used on Cochlear Implants to help deaf children hear. That is an inspiring message for their employees. I sat there saying to myself, “I want to be a part of that.” Craft a vision that your employees can align with and inspire them. Inspired employees are engaged.

Trust people. You can’t build trust if you don’t trust. This is not a chicken or egg debate. Trust is always first. I think this is why I left that boss a decade ago. He didn’t trust me; ergo, I didn’t trust him. Trusted employees are engaged employees. Delegate clearly and let go. As Patrick Lencioni defines trust, it’s not predictive trust (I will do what I say I’m going to do) but vulnerability based trust (if I mess up, I will admit it). I think in engaging your workforce, both types of trust are important. A lot of bosses spend a lot of time protecting their flawless image instead of being vulnerable. Trust your people.

Don’t try and take this all on at once. Pick one, or maybe two, and try them on for size. Hopefully you are already doing some of these already. Maybe it’s just keeping track of how many times you thank people during the day or admitting when you are wrong. What’s the first one you want to work on?

Sick and tired of being sick and tired? 6 Ways to Snap out of Role Nausea

You are getting to work and you realize you forgot to pick up the donuts for the morning staff meeting. UGH. You ALWAYS get the donuts. No one else even remotely volunteers to pick them up instead of you. Why in the world did the title of Production Manager land you the job of “donut getter”. You did it at first to be nice and now no one else in the entire group will pick up the slack and be the “donut getter”.

role nausea

Do you know what this is? It’s role nausea. You are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the same old roles. I learned about role nausea during systems coach training by CRR Global. It truly is possible to try on some new roles and to break out of the rut of old roles. It’s just takes a little understanding about how systems work. You may not think you are in a system but everything is a system. Your department, your company, your marriage, your family, and your basketball team are all systems and they are full of inner roles (i.e. Peacemaker) and outer roles (i.e. Production Manager). Role nausea as written in my ORSC training, “Occurs when someone becomes heartily sick of the same role.”

So here are the ways to snap out of role nausea:

1. Define what kind of role this is. Roles can be outer (something outlined in your job description like setting up a production budget), they can be inner (something like nurturer hence the donut getter) or there can be ghost roles (this represents something that is not here anymore but still has an impact, like an ex-CEO who was a micromanager). So if it’s likely found in your job description then you are probably dealing with an outer role which from a systems standpoint is a little bit easier to deal with. The inner roles can be naturally baked into our personality. If you are the one who is always the peacemaker it doesn’t matter if you are the receptionist or Production Manager, you end up taking on that role regardless of the circumstances. The ghost role can float in from anywhere and represent something that doesn’t exist anymore like your ex-boss or the way things were before children. Define what role you want to work on.

2. Gather the troops to discuss the team roles. This is ideally done by an outside coach (Work with me!). Educate the group on the types of roles as defined above, and point out that roles are functions and not people. Make sure they are open to collaboration. The easiest to work on are the outer roles first. These are more apparent and identifiable as well. Find out what outer roles folks are sick of or where there might be some confusion. Role confusion is when it’s not clear who is responsible. Like I thought I was the agenda maker but sometimes when the meeting gets moved, Suzy is the agenda maker. Have everyone write down or bring up any roles that are at issue. Find the roles that are at issue, write them down and put them out in front of the group. This separates the “role” from the person.

3. Brainstorm ways to handle the roles differently. It’s important that if you are facilitating this and you happen to be the boss that you listen instead of direct. Try not to be attached to the outcome or pretty soon your direct reports will be just giving lip service and trying to anticipate what you want to hear. This is about new ways of doing things so be open and listen. Ask a few open ended questions and then shut up. Let the group do the talking and don’t shoot down any ideas. Make sure you write down the ideas that come up and validate every one of them if possible.

4. Come up with a plan and verify that everyone is aligned. One of the tenet’s of Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Behaviors of the Cohesive Team is that we have to be OK with conflict. You have to be open to hearing everyone’s view point because then they will buy in as long as they were “heard”. So if you are trying to nail down the action plan and someone’s body language is screaming that they aren’t on board (i.e. rolling of the eyes, deadly silence); be sure to go back to step 3 and probe some more. Consensus is not needed. Only alignment. We don’t have to agree on which way we are headed from Point A to Point B but I need to hear you out without punishment or judgement.

5. Verify next steps. Coaching always involves next steps. It is pointless to talk about what you want to do differently and then do nothing different. Who is going to be the donut getter now? Does Tommy need to verify that he can get his kids to day care earlier so he can get the donuts (cough, we all know this would probably be done by a woman but that might be my ghost talking). Always get to action. What are we going to do differently in the future?

6. Rinse and repeat. Follow up in the future to make sure it’s working. Or it’s not working. Hold folks accountable to ensure what they said they would do is what they did.

You may find out that the issues continue. This is likely because of ghost roles (woman always get the food for meetings) or inner roles (I am always the nurturer and I feel most comfortable nurturing regardless of the role nausea). This will require coaching on a deeper level. The main thing is to air the issue and put it in front of the team. Sometimes even just expressing the role nausea and other folks showing appreciation for their efforts is enough for someone to continue on. What role are you sick of?

Stepping into Conflict; It’s OK to Rock the Boat

Over the last few months there have been several events accompanied by insights that bubbled up into an enormous realization; I avoid conflict. I think a lot of us avoid conflict but I realized this had become an almost daily occurrence. The illusion has been that if I avoid something uncomfortable like telling my son “No”, he will remain happy and the conflict will go away. In reality, it just builds. It may not appear today but that conflict will be back or the effects of not saying “No” will have a long term impact. The worst case scenario is that a relationship whether at work or personally, can be irreparably harmed.

I recently facilitated a fantastic new training model called “5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team” based on a book by Patrick Lencioni. The first behavior is vulnerability based trust, (i.e. can I admit mistakes, can I ask for help, showing weakness, etc.) and the second behavior is constructive conflict. Patrick describes conflict:

“Therefore, it is key that leaders demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict, and allow resolution to occur naturally, as messy as it can sometimes be. This can be a challenge because many leaders feel that they are somehow failing in their jobs by losing control of their teams during conflict.”

Just replace the word parent, partner or friend into that quote for “leader” and child, spouse or coworker for “team”. I realized that I felt like conflict was failing whether it was with my husband, my mother, my assistant or my son. It turns out that stepping into conflict is critical and necessary for all teams, relationships and marriages. Wow. So my avoiding the conflict or not letting the conflict occur between folks at work and at home was actually destructive. That’s a big, “Aha!” Rock the Boat.  Step into conflict.

So here are some of the things I’ve been working on in order to step into conflict:

1. Uncomfortable. I’ve been trying to embrace being uncomfortable. I’m the kind of person who goes around smoothing the waters. Human Resource folks do this all the time. Talk to Marketing, talk to Accounting, talk to Production and make it all right. Make sure everyone is happy. This is an illusion. It’s just pacifying everyone and no solution is ever figured out. In recent weeks I’ve tried to pick at the scab and to be uncomfortable. I need to rock the boat. I bring up the financial shortfall or the difference in opinion or talk about the lapse in communication. Step into being uncomfortable.

2. Discord. I’m trying to be accepting of discord. My idea or interpretation is not the only one that matters. I know that sounds obvious but we all have our own world view. I need to allow for a difference of opinion and let it go. It’s easy to get attached to a difference of opinion as if the other person doesn’t respect me or my ideas. Staying detached from the difference and not making up assumptions for the discord is critical. I realized this when I look at my parent’s marriage. My father is a devout conservative Republican and my mother is a bleeding heart Liberal. They will celebrate 60 years of marriage in 2015. That amounts to a lot of discord. From Carter to Bush, there was a lot of passionate debate but they were able to agree to disagree. Accept discord.

3. Ask. Be open to ask for help. As Tal Ben-Shahar espouses in his book, The Pursuit of Perfect, reaching out and being vulnerable enough to ask for help can strengthen your relationship with your team, your family and your boss. The perfectionist in all of us defaults to giving advice instead of asking for it ourselves. Think about it for a minute. When someone asks you for help, aren’t you honored? Doesn’t it strengthen your relationship? There is the fabled story that Ben Franklin asked to borrow a prized book from an arch rival. The arch rival lent it to him. From that point forward he was an ally. How can you keep an enemy of someone you lent a prized book to? It takes vulnerability to ask for help.

4. Empathy. Put on someone else’s shoes to understand where they are coming from. I’ve learned some very powerful tools from my training with CRR Global. One of them is about looking at someone else’s position from the perspective of them living in a different land. I did this recently with a group regarding the utilization of the company cafeteria. We divided the group into three “lands”, one group ate in the cafeteria on a regular basis, the other rarely or never ate in the cafeteria and the last group were the workers in the cafeteria. They each stood in their land and told us what is was like in the land. Then they each visited the other lands to find out what it was like to be from a different perspective. It was completely enlightening. To hear a coworker say that “it must be difficult to try and serve food when the employees are limited on time” or “I just want to escape from work so I go off premise”. Every point was valid and hearing it expressed built empathy for all the participants. Empathy is key.

5. Act. Do something. Sitting back and criticizing behind someone’s back is the coward’s way out. Take a deep breath, face your fears and take a step forward. If you don’t like the new policy, the bonus plan or the joke your co-worker just told; step up and speak up. This is definitely the hardest part for me. Based on several books and articles I have read this probably because women are more comfortable advocating for others than themselves. I’ve done this in baby steps. If I wait until I’m not emotionally charged and speak privately to the offender by saying something like, “You may not realize this but I was offended by what you said”, or “In my opinion this project looks tenuous based on the feedback I’m getting from our clients”; I am capable of acting to affect change Act and be heard.

Facing conflict instead of hiding from it is scary, messy and imperfect. It means that you can’t play it small. Rock the boat before it tips over! In the long run, your relationships and your team will be strengthened by it.

6 Ways to Build Culture. The Third Entity™.

The Third Entity™ is concept developed by The Center for Right Relationship (CRR Global) to describe the relationship that connects us but essentially has an existence of its own. In an organization it’s called culture. If the founder leaves the organization, the culture (and Third Entity) change. This phenomenon isn’t isolated to corporations.

The same thing happens at home when my husband and I have had an empty nest for 6 months and suddenly have it disrupted by having an 18 year old at home. The Third Entity shifts. The relationship has more of a strain because there are more needs to be met (and more food to be purchased) and boundaries tested (dishes being washed at 3 AM). The Third Entity

I had the privilege to test out the Third Entity of my Rotary club a few weeks ago. I say, test out, because I had never used some of the tools that I learned from CRR Global until I used my Rotary Club as guinea pigs. I have to say it was an eye opening and inspiring experience. I’ve been a Rotary member for over 10 years but to actually work with this group to discuss our culture and aspirations was really gratifying. You just don’t know until you know.

So this is what I learned about the group culture that ties us together:

1. Alliance. It’s really important to clarify the team alliance. When was the last time you verbalized what your marriage or culture or relationship is all about. What is the basis for its existence. I asked the club what sort of culture they wanted to create and the first thing that anyone said was “Fun”. I have to say it’s one of the main reasons I enjoy getting up every Wednesday for a 7 AM (yes…7 AM) meeting; we always have fun. Always. There is always good natured ribbing, crazy birthday hats and a joke that’s just clean enough to tell but raises a few eyebrows. Clarify your team alliance.

2. Flourish. What will it take for your team or relationship to flourish? I was surprised that there were many viewpoints on this question. Some folks said we needed more members, others said more fundraisers, and still others said more participation. These are all very different tangents for a small club of some 30 members. When is the last time you asked your spouse or partner or organization at-large what it will take to flourish? I think you would be surprised at the answer. It might be time to ask.

3. Conflict. Find out how you want to handle conflict. As in Patrick Lencioni‘s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “All great relationships, the ones that last over time, require productive conflict in order to grow. This is true in marriage, parenthood, friendship, and certainly business.” If you can’t debate and raise some of the “Elephant in the Room” issues, it is impossible to progress. If you are surrounded by a lot of “Yes Men”…you are not likely to be making the best decisions. Create some ground rules on how to handle conflict and to make sure it’s not taboo.

4. Alignment. It’s not critical that we are in lock step as much as that we are headed in the same direction. You and I don’t need to be on the same exact path for us to succeed but we need to be in alignment. Marketing and Operations are going to take very different paths but if they know and are aligned with the overarching goal of “Outstanding Customer Experience” then we can succeed. Marketing might be creating authentic marketing collateral while Operations is making sure the quality and delivery times are superior. Different paths but aligned to the goal. Be aligned.

5. Listen. We need to be able to listen to dissenting voices. Some of the Rotarians wanted more members and others joined because we were a small group. These are dissenting views. But it had to be spoken. It needed to be acknowledged. This shows up all the time in parenting. Dad wants Johnny to go to the concert and Mom doesn’t. Let it be spoken so both sides can be heard. Listen to the dissenting view even if you don’t agree. Acknowledge the differing viewpoint. “So I hear you saying that Johnny shouldn’t go because there are likely to be drugs present”. Listen to dissenting views.

6. Decisive. Someone needs to make a decision; whether it’s the president of the Rotary club, the parent or the department head. Are we after more members or are we going to let it be? Dad acknowledges Mom’s apprehensions but they decide to say “Yes”. Decide and commit to move forward. If you don’t, there are back alley deals that will go on which will undermine the Third Entity. As Patrick Lencioni espouses, “Great teams understand the danger of seeking consensus, and find ways to achieve buy-in even when complete agreement is impossible.” Give up on consensus, make sure everyone has had their say, decide, commit and move on.

I think what surprised me the most about coming up with the team alliance with my Rotary Club is how much we were of the same mind. Here is a diverse group of professionals from varied fields, industries and backgrounds but we all had the same ideals. Service above Self. It’s the team culture that holds us together.

Why Fear Doesn’t Work

I just got back from a conference by the NeuroLeadership Group on Results Based Coaching developed by David Rock and all I can say is, “Wow”.  Intimidation and fear have no place in the workplace; or in healthy relationships.  This may seem obvious but aren’t we all guilty of using ultimatums (eat your peas or else I’ll….)? I know I am.  We have this notion that we have to drive performance with the “whip”; much like the slave driver in the movie “The Ten Commandments”.  As Dan Pink has illustrated in his book “Drive”, unless it’s really the type of straight forward, non-thinking kind of work; threat will not drive performance. hebrew slaves building Rameses city_thumb

Paul McGinniss, an outstanding trainer for the NeuroLeadership Group, illustrated this in the training by suggesting that if the leader says “create or else”, you aren’t going to drive performance.  He also said that it takes five “towards or reward” feedback to counteract one “away or threat” responses.  So every time you criticize your employee or your child, it’s going to take five (yes, five) positive responses to get the limbic system back to equilibrium.  And you want that equilibrium.  If the brain of your direct report or spouse is in “fear” mode (when the limbic system is lit up), there ain’t no productive thinking happening.   When was the last time you made a meaningful decision when you were under stress or fear?  Yeah. right – I thought so.  Fear is not going to drive performance.

Here are some ideas on how to diminish fear in those around you:

1. Presence.  Are you aware of how your direct report is reacting or acting at this moment?  Is he tapping his foot with a furrowed brow?  He’s under stress.  If your spouse looks preoccupied; they probably are.  When your child is on the phone and takes a moment or two to reply or to answer a simple question; they might be in the “away” state.   You can’t move on.  We can’t move on, when one of us is in fear, preoccupied or as my husband says, “too many people on my stage” (the prefrontal cortex).  Being present makes you aware.

2. Esteem check.  It’s a good idea to maintain or boost other’s self-esteem (one of the Key Principles from DDI).   Criticizing and nit picking will not enhance performance.  Your teammate will not start picking up the pace or lend you a hand when they are on the defense.  Nagging your partner about mowing the lawn or asking your daughter if she’s gained weight; will not enhance either’s performance.  A thank you or specific positive feedback, on the other hand, will help bring them back to equilibrium.  If you want enhanced performance, make sure you are boosting self-esteem.

3. Steady.  Being steady or consistent is a tenet of emotional intelligence.  Be the same boss, mother, brother or team mate on Monday as on Friday.  Try to keep the team on a steady course as well.  If you are constantly changing directions or “flip flop” on decisions, you will have the team on the back of their heels waiting for the next shoe to drop.  There are times when this is impossible, and that’s OK, just remember that it isn’t the best time to introduce a new project or expect a breakthrough with the team.  Their limbic system is lit up and they are sitting in threat mode.  Wait till the storm passes and keep a steady course.

4. Justice. Hand in hand with being consistent is handing out equal justice.  The same way you need to show up and be the same person day to day, you need to treat Sam, Suzy and Old Joe the same as well.  I’m not suggesting you be a robot but handling situations with an even hand will build respect with the team.  Your family is likely to call foul on this immediately.  If I let my son take a car alone on a weekend trip and didn’t let my daughter (this actually almost happened), your child will educate you on the discrepancy.  Trust me.  Your teammates may not.  Reflect on the manner in which you dole out punishments, rewards and delegation.  Make sure you are using equal justice.

5. Let go the reins.  Let your children, your direct reports or your teammates call their own shots.  Keep your fingers out of the pie.  As I’ve written before, delegate the monkey and let the receiver of the monkey take it from there.  Self-mastery isn’t built under the direction of micro managers.  Delegate the project, figure out the available resources and let them loose.  At some point, you have to allow that 16 year old behind the wheel and Let. Them. Go.

6. Human.  People want to be recognized as human beings.  As Patrick Lencioni wrote in “3 Signs of a Miserable Job“, “People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known”.  This is one of the signs of a miserable job, anonymity.  Know your teammates children’s names, if they play a sport, where their spouse works, what their hobbies are.  You don’t need to know what they had for dinner last night or when their last dental cleaning was, just be able to stay connected.  Make sure they know they are human; that they matter.

There is no need to get wrapped up in perfection with these ideas.  Don’t worry about conquering all 6 by Monday.  Try one out a week and see if you don’t get better performance around you.  One or two tweaks in your approach can go a long way.