Caution: Invisible Assumptions

When 300 engineers at a major East Coast utility were told to re-apply for jobs in their department as part of a major reorganization, they were livid.


"I've been here 18 years."  (Longevity means immunity to change)

"I hired the idiot who's running this thing." (If I gave someone their job, they won't mess with mine)

"They already know what I can do." (I only have to prove myself once)

"No other utility has ever had to go through this." (This place isn't being run according to the norm)

"No one told me this could happen when I was hired." (This wasn't part of the deal)

"My wife and I have planned our retirement for 23 years." ('They' are responsible for my cradle-to-grave existence) 

Iceberg
The Danger of The "Invisible Assumed"

When you signed on with your current employer you probably discussed:

Salary, benefits, corporate vision, the marketplace, performance expectations.

Chances are you won't become really upset as a result of any of those items changing a bit. It's the ones you assumed to be true that will come back to haunt you.

You'll become disenchanted as a result of someone breaking the implicit contract.

The contract that you created in your own mind. Visible only to you.

In the real-life example above, the implicit contract had to do with the unspoken nature of Utilities:

Stable, Secure, Lifetime Employment, Methodical Career Progression...

No one ever said those things out loud. They were just "known."

Q: Do you and your spouse get upset about what you talked about before you got married or what you assumed would be true?

Tips for Employees and Employers

Employees:

1. Before you sign on the dotted line, check out your assumptions.

2. Make a written list.

3. Check out their validity with your prospective company or boss.

Employers:

1. Before introducing a change, take a look at the culture.

2. What is it that drew people to your company in the first place?

    Security? Action? International travel? Work close to home?

3. If one or more of those traditional characteristics (the unspoken attraction) will change, then help neutralize the impact by discussing it openly.

Tell what is going to happen and why. Explain the reality of implicit agreements and that you realize this might be one such example. You'll give people a mental model to understand what they are experiencing.

Finally: What happened to our 300 engineers?

a. They had been told before the process started that no one would lose a job with the company. They would hopefully be better matched as a result of the process. And, everyone did remain employed.

b. The department as a whole was more effective.

c.  About 10% chose to retire rather than  make the change.

What is your implicit contract? 

If you have to act on it, will it match the explicit reality?

 

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Neutralize Fear, Bring Out the Sunshine

What do you do when faced with fear? Forget about saying you will overcome it, ignore it, or deal with it later. You have to make it real so you can see it and deal with it for what it is and isn't.

Give It a Name and Acknowledge It

In organizations we know "it" as "The elephant in the room." The unspoken "stuff" that is getting in the way of a meeting. People are afraid that if they name it, conflict and disaster will ensue.

Yet the opposite is true. Heck, I've earned significant income intervening with groups to neutralize an issue by identifying the Elephant out loud and then leading the ensuing discussion. It has never--ever--been the disaster that was expected. On the contrary, it usually leads to clarity of issues, acknowledgment and laughter about unspoken misunderstandings, and what could be described as a "breakthrough."

SunriseFear can be equally irrational individually. Fear is like "change." What the heck does someone mean when they say "We're going to change!"? No one knows what to do or how to do it. But if they say, "We're going to respond to customer inquiries within 8 hours instead of 24", everyone has an idea about how to deal with it.

Successful Twelve-Step programs are good examples of the importance of acknowledging or naming a situation in order to deal with it. They all start with an individual, verbal acknowledgment of a struggle, usually an addiction:

1. The problem is acknowledged by name

2. The verbal part acknowledges individual responsibility

3. There is accountability with one or more people to follow through

Name Your Fear Out Loud

1. Once you hear your voice speaking it, you own it. (If you keep it in your head it's like mentally practicing a presentation: it's never the real thing once you start the presentation!)

2. Tell someone you trust about the fear. Ask them what they know about it. Ask who else you can talk with about it.

3. Arrive at a point where you have a genuine, realistic grasp of the likelihood of the fear coming to fruition. Then, find out how serious it would be if it did happen.

4.  Determine whether or not it's something that's worthwhile avoiding or something that you want to act on.

Why be stupid or crazy? Some things are worth fearing and avoiding. But you won't know until you've done 1-3. To the extent we can, it's wise to base decisions on evidence and avoid negative fantasies.

Here Is Some Extreme Evidence For Naming It

Peter Koestenbaum is the author of Is There an Answer to Death. (OK, be honest. How many of you just bailed out?).

His intent is to show that there are times when dealing with existential questions can bring a greater meaning to life. He argues that the anticipation of the reality of death reveals who one really is. That act connects people with their deepest feelings, needs, and opportunities.

Koestenbaum says that anticipation of death can have ten consequences. Here is a suggestion:

Substitute the name of your fear for "death". Then, substitute "I" for "the individual."

  • By accepting the fact of being condemned to death, the individual can start living and thereby then neutralize fear.
  • By recognizing death, the individual is on the way to becoming decisive.
  • By remembering death, the individual concentrates on essentials.
  • By being aware of death, the individual achieves integrity.
  • Through knowing about death, the individual finds meaning in life.
  • By recognizing death, the individual will become honest.
  • Through the realization of death, the individual will gain strength.
  • By accepting death, the individual is motivated to take charge of his or her own life.
  • Through the thought of death, the individual is willing to assume a total plan for life.
  • By being aware of death, the individual escapes the stranglehold of failure.

What Does This Have to Do With the Workplace?

All growth is personal growth. If we're going to spend (way more than) 40 hours a week at our careers, then we're going to discover fearful situations. After 30 years of consulting I can tell you that no one ever really calls for organizational help. That's the presenting problem. The real issue is always, "I have a situation. Can you help?"

The next time someone faces a fearful situation, you can be the one to step up and help.

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How About Those Difficult People?

For more than twenty years I've been working with clients on "How To Deal With Difficult People."

It sounds kind of grim but it's really satisfying. Why?

Because everyone has someone who "bugs" them. When they think long and hard about it, what bothers people most is actually something they really don't like about themselves. There are lots of ways to have fun with this and learn new behaviors  at the same time without navel-gazing. What I like best about the approach we've developed is that it isn't about coping with jerks. Why settle for coping? Coping doesn't change anything.

DealingDo You Want To Change Something?

Good. Here are five good diagnostic questions I hope will help:

1. What really drives your blood pressure north?

Identify the triggers are that push your buttons by thinking about past experiences in which your "favorite" person finally got to you. What did they do? That’s different than why it bothered you. Simply identify their actual behavior. Was it the way they approached you? Looked at you? How did they look at you? Maybe it was a certain voice quality or tone of voice?

2. How did you react?

Do you immediately blame them for how you feel? Do you act distracted or quickly find a distraction? Disavow what’s really going on? When they do their "special" thing, what do you do in response?

3. What do you want from yourself?

What’s the very best you can bring to the situation? Regardless of what they did, what would you do to be delighted with yourself after the interaction?

4. What do you really want from them?

Yeah, I know: "Stop that stuff!" Not going to happen. So,think about this relationship the way the Cheerios people do on their nutrition label. "What is the MDR (minimum daily requirement) of behavior you can hope for and accept? Then start expecting nothing more. (it's quite free-ing, really).

5. Has someone else learned a way to deal with this person?

How do they do it? Who might know how to do it? Describe your situation in a way that combines "behavior-then-how-I-feel." No need to dump on the offender; besides, it makes you less attractive and less of a good candidate for help. When you've reached a point where you have an approach, use it. We train our muscle memories to play tennis, golf, and other sports in ways that become unconscious. You can train your nervous system in the same way.

If you do just one thing differently you may change the entire pattern.

_______________________________

Remember: Success in life isn't what happens to us; it's how we respond to what happens to us. And you are in charge of your responses.

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Decisions: Confused or Conflicted?

You and I go to meetings where the decision-making can seem unbelievably confusing.

And how about those decisions where we just can't seem to arrive at a peaceful conclusion?

After giving it some thought and observation, I think I've got a way to look at this that I hope will be helpful.

DecisionConfused or Conflicted?

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the two this way:


Confused:
 being disordered or mixed up. 

The result is not being able to think at your usual speed.

Conflicted: (a feeling of) mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands.

The result is inaction, over-reaction, or both.

Yes, both are possible. We can react strongly to the conversation around the decision, but still not be able to make the decision.

Note: Each of these phenomena apply to individual as well as group decisions. Those self-conversations in our heads can get every bit as frustrating as the ones across the table!

What To Do?

1.Stop and diagnose.

(Please remember Steve's rule for everything: "Prognosis Without Diagnosis is Malpractice").

2. If the issue is Confusion, ask:

    a. Are we clear on the goal of the decision?

    b. Do we have the right information, and all of it--or as much as possible?

    c. Do we have the information organized in an understandable way?

    d. Does everyone involved have the same understanding of the goal and the information?

    e. Do we have a structured process for making our decision?

When you are clear that all of the above have been satisfied, then you're probably dealing with Conflicted-ness. (My spell checker is definitely conflicted trying to deal with that one).

3. If the issue is being Conflicted, then you'll probably experience silence or overt argument. You're  seeing the result of deeper issues--perhaps even at the personal values level--that need to be resolved. Whether silence or argument:

    a. Talk straight immediately. Say, "We've got a good understanding and a good process. But there's something else stopping us.What's really getting in the way?

    b. Don't speak again until someone offers a comment. After the first person responds, don't evaluate the remark. Thank them. Allow for everyone to respond without evaluation.

Principle: Until the real issue is named out loud, it will silently undermine the decision process. Once it's named and acknowledged, it is neutralized. When it comes out into the light of day, it can be seen clearly for what it is and discussed accurately. This is the most difficult thing for groups (and individuals) to deal with. Why? There's always the fear that "my issue" will be discounted, misunderstood, or seen as a blockage to "good teamwork."

Yet the person who offers the first bit of truth is the one who leads the group to a more satisfying decision.

    c. After 'b', you will know exactly how to proceed because the substantive issues will be out there in clear view. You'll see both an increase in both energy and collaboration.

Note: Organizations are usually pretty good at organizing. And even those of us with a more casual approach to life still have our own method of organizing it.

If you are really stuck on a decision, go with "Conflicted." In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and say that more often than not, we aren't confused. We usually know the right thing or best thing to do. It's facing up to our conflicting wants and needs that get in the way. "Having it all," whether in a business meeting or personal life, is a decision criterion that can only lead to internal conflict.

Thought for Today: Clear priorities offer the soundest foundation to decision making.

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Got A Jerk In Your Work Life? Read This

I've worked with individual executives and groups for more than 25 years on "How To Deal With Difficult People". 

It sounds kind of grim but is really a lot of fun. Why?

Because everyone has someone who "bugs" them. And, when they think long and hard about it, what bothers people most is actually something they really don't like about themselves in the situation. There are lots of ways to have fun with this and learn a lot at the same time without navel-gazing.

What I like best about the approach we've developed is that it isn't about coping with jerks. Why settle for coping? It doesn't really change anything. 

Do You Want To Change Something?

Difficultpeople

Good. Then here's a little synopsis that I hope will help.

1. What drives your blood pressure north?

Identify the triggers that push your buttons by thinking about past experiences in which your "favorite"  person finally got to you. 

What did they do?  That’s different than why it bothered you. Simply identify their actual behavior.  Was it the way they approached you? Looked at you?  How did they look at you? Maybe it was a certain voice quality or tone of voice?

2. How did you react? 

Do you immediately blame them for how you feel?  Do you act distracted or quickly find a distraction? Disavow what’s really going on? When they do their "special" thing, what do you do in response?

3. What do you want from yourself?  


What’s the very best you can bring to the situation? Regardless of what they did, what would you do to be delighted with yourself after the interaction?

4.  What do you really want from them?  

Yeah, I know: "Stop that stuff!" 

Not going to happen. So, think about this relationship the way the Cheerios people do on their nutrition label. "What is the MDR (minimum daily requirement) of behavior you can hope for and accept? Then start expecting nothing more. (it's quite free-ing, really). 

5.  Has someone else learned a way to deal with this person?

 How do they do it?  Who might know how to do it?  Describe your situation in a way that combines "behavior-then-how-I-feel." No need to dump on the offender; besides, it makes you less attractive and less of a good candidate for help.

When you've reached a point where you have an approach, use it. We train our muscle memories to play tennis, golf, and other sports in ways that become unconscious.  You can train your nervous system in the same way. Think about this: if you do just one thing differently you may change the entire pattern.

Most importantly: Life is not what happens to us. It's how we respond to what happens to us.

And you are in charge of your responses.


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3 Tips For Reducing Conflict

"My idea of an agreeable person is one who agrees with me."--Samuel Johnson

One of the fascinating things about conflict is that it can result from great work or poor work, from good behavior to bad behavior, and from good intentions to nasty ones.

Angermanagementcoupleconflict

Here are three areas of potential conflict and a tip for handling each:

Focus on the Goal, Not the Barrier

Both sides tend to lose sight of what they have in common when conflict starts to slip into a situation. The commonality may be business profitability, teamwork, or maintaining a solid relationship, or the welfare of a group: family, friends, colleagues. 

When you feel conflict creeping in, stop and focus on the goal--not what's getting in the way.

Dealing With A Power Play?

Flight attendants and waitresses have this one down pat. When they get a totally obnoxious customer, they simply ignore the person's demands. Do the same. Inattention is the easiest weapon in your arsenal against power plays--and it conserves your own energy.

Stick to One Issue

When things get heated it's easy to start rattling off a lifetime of sins. Even if past experiences and details are somehow related to the issue at hand, the other person is going to become overwhelmed, confused, and defensive. A valid response is almost impossible for the person to provide you.

Have one conversion about one issue. 




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The Other Person Determines What's "Fair"

You and I have seen this; and, we've done it as well:

You graduate from college and suddenly start ranting about how "all the good jobs" go to people with experience--people who are older and who've been around longer. 

Fast forward to your 'forties': "All the good jobs are being given to young people fresh out of school. Our management figured out they can hire them for less and save money." 

Pick any scenario in life: When your income is lower than you'd like, it's, "Tax the wealthier even more."

Voila! After a  bump in your employment situation, you discover you are in a new tax bracket. "Hmm, what are all these social programs my taxes are paying for? Can't people figure out how to 'get a life' like we did? And man, the salaries of the government workers are way high for what they do, there's no accountability, and everything looks mismanaged."

The-pot-of-gold
 

What's Fair?

"Fair" is, and always will be, determined by one's own situation, sense of (or lack of) personal responsibility, worldview, and values. I just came from a meeting where a middle manager who was transferred lamented her time at the current location. Why? The office was "small" and had only one window. In comes the new manager and shouts about how thrilled he is that his office has a window. "The last building was originally a warehouse and there just wasn't much window space to be had. This is great!"

The issue of perspective knows no organizational limits. The CEO of a client organization shared a similar incident when, due to the economic conditions, he downsized the physical space in order to use the money to save some jobs. The response of those involved: "I'm an executive; since when do executives share office space?" He reminded them that they could opt for another alternative to help him reduce costs.

Perspective defines the meaning of "fair" in any situation. Before making a change of any sort, discuss the reasons with everyone involved and intentionally address the notion of "fair." Let people know what you're trying to accomplish and why it's important. Listen for ways to accomplish the goal that may have escaped you and include them if they meet the criteria. Then, remember this:

It still won't "seem" fair to 100% of those involved because of their beliefs about "how things should be." In fact, some people will  be impacted negatively. However, most will ultimately respect you for "being just" in how you dealt with the situation.

Life Lesson #1: There is some percentage of people who believe that they are always victims. You won't ever change that. You move on; they won't.

Life Lesson #2: Life isn't fair. You don't have the power to make it that way even if you want to. 

Life Lesson #3: "Fair" is a somewhat juvenile notion. As an adult and a leader, you want to begin thinking about what is "Just." How can you ensure that all people are shown respect and dealt with even-handedly in the most difficult situations?

photo attribution: the very amusing folks with fun product at www.verydemotivational.com/

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Put Goals Before Solutions

How many times have you sat down to solve a problem and knew you had a great solution--only to find that it led to a heated debate?

Options  Here's the sticking point: When you start with solutions and one or both of you can't accept them, you could remain at odds indefinitely. 

If, on the other hand, you state only your goals and motives for the situation, you can then accept or reject the solutions as "options" and still work toward one that allows both of you to achieve (as much as possible) what you mutually set out to do.

Effective opening line for the discussion: "Let's talk about why we want to do this and what we hope to accomplishment. Then we can figure out which solutions work best."

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15 Useful Phrases At Work

I'm not sure where these originated, but they were emailed to me by an ex-boss. I'm not sure what that means, either.

Sarcastic-quotes  For those 'special' moments in meetings and cube interactions, here are:

Useful Work Phrases Guaranteed To At Least Make You Feel Better

 

1. Thank you. We're all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view.


2. The fact that no one understands you doesn't mean you're an artist.


3. I don't know what your problem is, but I'll bet it's hard to pronounce.


4. Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.


5. I have plenty of talent and vision. I just don't care.


6. I like you. You remind me of when I was young and stupid.


7. What am I? Flypaper for freaks!?


8. I'm not being rude. You're just insignificant.


9. I'm already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth.


10. I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you.


11. Yes, I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.


12. How about never? Is never good for you?


13. I'm really easy to get along with once you people learn to worship me.


14. You sound reasonable. Time to up my medication.


15. I'll try being nicer if you'll try being smarter.


Yeah. You really do want to try one out, eh? :-)

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Conflict: Integrity, Reruns, and Focus

We humans have mastered countless ways to start or extend conflicts, at work and at home. Here are three ways to help keep the air out of those 'conflict balloons:'

 1. Integrity: Don't Question It

We can handle a comment like, "You should have completed that marketing plan on the 15th, as agreed, with the data available at the time." But, we don't want to hear: "You didn't think I was paying attention so you were trying to sneak past the deadline, weren't you?"

The first is descriptive; the second impugns integrity,  is accusatory, and will stir up a tsunami of anger and denial.

Focus

2. Reruns are for TV

Watching reruns on TV can be fun and a nostalgic way to kill some time. Not so when you're wrestling with conflict.

Things that happened in the past do have some impact on you now. But this isn't the time to offer them as re-reruns. It will get you worse than nowhere. Sure, you'll feel a sense of smug satisfaction which will then add to the situation.

Memories are fallible; ask any detective. What to do?:

Stay current. Focus on now, not then.

3. Stick to One Issue

Fine, so you've been ticked off since the Y2K thing didn't happen. Don't start barfing up a bag full of wrongs into one conversation; you'll never get to the heart of the issue. Past sins and experiences--even if they're relevant in some way--will only cause more confusion. And, it's next to impossible for the other person to respond to everything in addition to feeling as if they are being arraigned in court.

One conversation. One issue.

________________________________

If this is a topic that hits home right now, I think you'll also be helped by:

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Holidays At Work: Reduce Stress, Increase Joy

If you are experiencing stress at the very time you are expecting joy, you aren't alone.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that:

  • 40% of workers report their job is "very or extremely stressful".
  • 26% of workers report they are "often or very often burned out or stressed" by their work.
  • 29% of workers report they feel "quite a bit or extremely stressed at work".

Stress Levels Rise During the Holidays

Why do stress levels rise?

Joy The statistics show that 40% are already stressed out before the holidays arrive. In a poll of 600 full-time employees, Accenture’s HR Services found that 66% of the respondents reported additional stress at work during the holidays.

Let's face it. During the holidays you're faced with gift-buying in the midst of an already-stretched financial life; trying to shop while meeting job deadlines and other responsibilities; and thinking about the family dynamics that get played out each year.

I think there's one more big reason as well:

Unrealistic Expectations

For some reason, year after year, we cling to the hope of a perfect holiday, a perfectly loving family, and the perfect balance of work and life during the season. We're surrounded by images of happy families, ads that tell us how much we should be giving, and that joy will reign.

Yet the reality is that work and its deadlines remain (and are often shortened due to the holiday schedule); families continue to be families with all of their inherent challenges; our bank accounts don't allow us to give our spouses new cars or diamonds; and the gap between what we're told to expect and what is actually happening drains the joy from our hearts.

What Can You Do?

Individually:

1. Know that your family and friends don't care if everything is perfect. What they want is a relaxed atmosphere, according to the Harvard Medical School.

2. Money --and therefore, gifts--don't buy happiness. Yeah, I know you've heard that before.  Different studies suggest that, although poverty and low pay can cause unhappiness, once a certain level of compensation is reached, there is not a “significant relationship between how much money a person earns and whether he or she feels good about life” (Easterbrook 2005).

3. Supportive family and friends, on the other hand, appear to be crucial. This comes from Drs. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleague Martin Diener at the University of Illinois. Both are heavily involved in the study of happiness.. When Seligman and Diener studied a group of students, they found that the happier ones tended to socialize more. “It is important to work on. . .close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy,” says Diener. It's all about relationships.

Organizationally:

1. Provide employees with a more flexible schedule to accommodate added demands outside the office. The Accenture study found that 54% of the surveyed workers said that flexible hours during the holidays would help reduce workplace stress. Twenty-six percent said they would like to telecommute once in a while until the seasonal rush is finished.

2. How about a shopping day? Some employers provide one day between Thanksgiving and Christmas to give people a chance to do just that. And they say it reduces angst and is appreciated by the employees.

3. Provide an online shopping catalog and allow online shopping. Plenty of companies offer hard-copy versions produced by firms who specialize in such programs. Why not do it online and save people time?

A Final Thought

Dr. Seligman, arguably the premier researcher and proponent of the psychology of happiness, says that happiness has three essential components:

First: the ability to savor life’s pleasures.

Second: there’s a true engagement with one’s work, avocations, and loved ones.

Third: the sense that one is serving a larger purpose beyond one’s self (“Reflective,” 2005; Wallis 2005).

I think it's the third that we need to attend to.

Whenever we focus on something greater than ourselves--especially the well-being of others--our sense of satisfaction and peace grows exponentially.

So give yourself this year. Your stress and anxiety will begin to melt away. And for once, the people around you will actually get what they want.

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Five Signals You Should Make A Change

If you've ever wondered what executive coaches really do that's truly valuable, it's this: We create a relationship that enables people to clearly see reality.

Life isn't a part of business; business is a part of life. So, everything of consequence leads to confronting and resolving some kind of issue that leads to a choice about personal change. All of the choices aren't always huge, but they are necessary in order to develop more healthy and effective patterns of work and leadership.

What To Look For

I started thinking about the kinds of signs that flash to indicate the person across the table really does need to make a change. Maybe one or more apply to you as well. Here are five that stand out for me:

1. People whom you trust strongly believe you should make a change.

Let's be honest: sometimes other people see us more clearly than we see ourselves. Sure, it's important not to base your life on what others think. But if six people who have your best interests at heart all tell you the same thing, it's a good idea to pay attention.

Note: Last year an executive client who received almost unanimous feedback on certain behaviors chose to explain away every last one, attributing the information to the fact that "no one really understands me". Actually, they did. He is no longer working for that company.

Changes_sign 2. You're holding on to something and just can’t let go.

It's happened to all of us: we have an incident or a nagging situation, and are then unable to forget about it. That's a signal that you just might want to make a change. If you  can’t accept the fact that your manager won't acknowledge your contributions, maybe it’s time to update your resume and put it into circulation. There are times when letting go requires real action, not just a mental exercise.

3. You feel envious of what other people have achieved.

This involves action, too. Jealousy can devour us from the inside out if we let it. At the same time, it can be a signal that we have some meaningful goals on which we've taken zero action. If you find yourself resentful of a colleague who recently earned a professional certification, maybe you should ask yourself what kinds of professional accreditations you've been putting off. That could be the springboard to an advanced degree or a special class in your particular discipline.

4. You deny any problem--and are angry in the process.

I do a lot of confidential, "remedial" coaching for people who have been accused of acting in a harrassing or hostile manner.

Anger is a common symptom of denial. (Assuming that the evidence is valid; otherwise, there's darned good reason to be angry).

One way to get through the whole denial thing is to look for--or help someone else see--an abundance of objective evidence. That's why, in business, 360 feedback is usually pretty effective. The truth will, indeed, set you free. It does, however, seem scary in the moment.

5. If you do absolutely nothing, the problem will continue.

Interpersonal "stuff" is common in the land of cube-dwellers.

Let's say your next-door cubie listens to news radio all day, and you are really tired of hearing  Traffic on the Twos. Perhaps if you just let her know it was getting in the way of your work, she'd get a set of earbuds. Or, maybe not. But nothing will happen unless you broach the issue in a calm way. And you'll know that you took action, which will give you an internal sense of honesty and integrity. That almost always leads to a better sense of self.

What else have you found that might be good indicators for managers, coaches, and anyone looking for signs to change?

If you are faced with changes, you might enjoy:

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What To Do When People Avoid Conflict?

When we talked about Conflict At Work?, management authorities Jamie Notter and Wally Bock extended the discussion as a result of their experiences with conflict.

But there's another side to the dynamic: Some people on your team or in your family will have a tough time expressing--or even acknowledging--anything related to "negative" feelings. These folks want to keep the peace at any cost and are skilled at pretending that everything is fine. The ironic result:  underlying resentments that grow and eventually destroy relationships on and off the job.

Five Ways To Be Helpful and Effective

What do you do when you find yourself in a relationship with someone who totally avoids disagreement?

Conflict_resolution Here are some thoughts that will help you encourage those who are uncomfortable to work with you toward healthy problem solving. The goal: Get some honest conversation rolling before small irritations morph into significant issues that harm productive relationships.

1. Create opportunities for give and take.

By definition, people who avoid conflict really won't take the initiative to come to you about things that are bothering them. What to do? Create regular, scheduled times for discussion in which you invite the airing of issues, pro and con.

2. Emphasize how helpful accurate information and feedback--even the critical type--is to you.

Let's face it: folks who shun disagreement are often “nice” people and want to be seen that way. Take a moment to show them  that critical feedback is a way of helping you and that it's something you value highly.

Something along these lines could get it going: “One thing that helps me is to have someone who sees my ideas from a different point of view. That way,  I can refine the way I think about things and be more effective. Would you be willing to help me with that?"

3. Watch non verbals.

We have the human tendency, through unconscious body language, to show that something is bothering us even though we remain silent. So, those who avoid conflict verbally will still give off a signal--even if it is total silence--that something is going on "inside". This may also come in the form of a change in normal behavior or habits.

Let's say that a colleague has been completely engaged in a discussion, then becomes strangely quiet.

You can use this objective observation to non-threateningly dig a little deeper. “Meaghan, I’ve noticed that you became very quiet in the meeting yesterday and haven’t talked much with me since then. Is that would be helpful to talk about?”

4. Make conflict normal.

When starting off meetings and discussions, consistently set the norm with: “We all have ideas and ways in which we disagree at times. That keeps things interesting. What really matters is how we respond to these differences to discover what's really there and what there is to learn."

5. When someone tasks a risk, respond with support.

Understand that people who don't like conflict are taking a risk when they do speak out. Acknowledge the comment or suggestion and thank them. 

What else do you do to help people engage rather than "drop out" when there are conflicting views?


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Conflict at Work?

Conflict is bugging people.

When I check out the search terms that have landed people here, I see an increasing number of "conflict" and "conflict at work" searches.

I've met people who claim that they like conflict. I really don't think so. They might like competition; they might like winning; but the idea of liking conflict in and of itself seems unhealthy at best and perhaps evil at worst. And since none of these people I know is particularly fond of "losing"--(a possible outcome of conflict)--I think that they are exhibiting a bit of competitive bravado. Which, of course, could be a major source of conflict.

Conflict What Is Conflict?

Well, we know it when we feel it, don't we?

Wikipedia has a lot of entires, info, and resources. They also offer here what I believe are good definitions and discernment of different types of conflict:

Definition: "When two or more parties, with perceived incompatible goals, seek to undermine each other's goal-seeking capability".

One should not confuse the distinction between the presence and absence of conflict with the difference between competition and co-operation. In competitive situations, the two or more parties each have mutually inconsistent goals, so that when either party tries to reach their goal it will undermine the attempts of the other to reach theirs. Therefore, competitive situations will by their nature cause conflict. However, conflict can also occur in cooperative situations where two or more parties have consistent goals. Why? Because the manner in which one party tries to reach their goal can still undermine the other.

A clash of interests, values, actions or directions often sparks a conflict. Conflicts refer to the existence of that clash. Psychologically, a conflict exists when the reduction of one motivating stimulus involves an increase in another, so that a new adjustment is demanded. The word is applicable from the instant that the clash occurs. Even when we say that there is a potential conflict we are implying that there is already a conflict of direction even though a clash may not yet have occurred.

What Does This Mean In Real Life?

Let's look at it this way:

1. Competitive conflict. We are at odds about the "what" question. "What" we want to do will diminish the other person's chance of success if we succeed.

2. Cooperative conflict. Now there's an oxymoron. This one is about the "how" question. "How" you want to do something conflicts with how I want to do it, or think it should be done.

These are classic because they reflect the ongoing tension between goals (what) and process (how).

3. Values conflict. An action or direction violates  "who" we are at our core.

What Can You Do?

(The examples below assume that those involved are people of good will).

Competitive conflict calls for the possibility of re-defining each others' goals. This is the notion of "win-win." It requires honesty about why you are trying to achieve something. Until you understand each other's "why" the "what" will seem conflicting and self-serving.  It calls for a willingness to have a conversation that exposes each person's vulnerabilities.  Someone has to go first.  If your conflict is about the "what," then why not go first? Heck, you're already in conflict anyway. What do you have to lose?

Cooperative conflict. This is where the control freak managers lurk in organizations.

Stay with me here.

I can't state this strongly enough. Job satisfaction and personal motivation are closely tied to one's ability to bring one's uniqueness to the task or team. When we sign on for a job, we implicitly  are saying that  we pretty much agree with the goals of the organization. What we want to do is  "ply our craft."  And that uniqueness comes in "how" we are allowed to perform the job to achieve the goals. A manager who has gotten commitment to the "what" and then wants to be involved in everyone's "how" is killing his  people's spirit and undermining the talent that they offer. (Note: certain jobs focused on safety and security do not leave room for personal creativity. I have often hoped that the pilot flying my plane was not feeling in a very creative mood that day).

What to do? Gotta have another conversation. Explain that the over-management is doing two things:

a. It is taking time away from you actually doing the job.

b. It is getting in the way of your ability to stay committed to what your boss wants to accomplish.

Then ask about your results. If you have a wrong perception of how you are doing, this is the time to get it on the table. If your boss tells you your results are good, then your boss will hopefully have an Aha! moment regarding your contributions.

The worst that can happen? You'll find out sooner, rather than later, that this isn't a place you want to be over the long run.

3. Values conflict. When asked to do something that violates your beliefs, you're about to experience a personal growth moment. Do you know why you believe what you believe? If you aren't sure, this is a primo time to find out.

Did you find out that your value wasn't really a value at all, or not in the way that you thought? Then maybe you can re-consider the request.

Your value is rock-solid? Then "no" is the only answer of integrity.

Conflict and Forgiveness

You may not be able to resolve the conflict, whatever it is. But how you respond will determine your peace of mind and ability to move forward. The act of forgiving following a conflict is important to your well-being.

Bitterness and self-justification will kill you from the inside out. You can't live well and help others if you are filled with bitterness. Life isn't fair. But it's a wonderful life if you choose to live it that way. And that means emptying yourself of real and perceived wrongs.

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Change How You Deal With Difficult People

I've been presenting a program for clients on "How To Deal With Difficult People" for more than 20 years.

It sounds kind of grim but is really a lot of fun. Why?

Because everyone has someone who "bugs" them. And, when they think long and hard about it, what bothers people most is actually something they really don't like about themselves. There are lots of ways to have fun with this and learn a lot at the same time without navel-gazing.

What I like best about the approach we've developed is that it isn't about coping with jerks. Why settle for coping? It doesn't really change anything.

Difficultpeople Do You Want To Change Something?

Good. Then here's a little synopsis that I hope will help.

1. What really drives your blood pressure north?

Identify the triggers are that push your buttons by thinking about past experiences in which your "favorite"  person finally got to you.

What did they do?  That’s different than why it bothered you. Simply identify their actual behavior.  Was it the way they approached you? Looked at you?  How did they look at you?
Maybe it was a certain voice quality or tone of voice?

2. How did you react?

Do you immediately blame them for how you feel?  Do you act distracted or quickly find a distraction? Disavow what’s really going on? When they do their "special" thing, what do you do in response?


3. What do you want from yourself? 

What’s the very best you can bring to the situation? Regardless of what they did, what would you do to be delighted with yourself after the interaction?

4.  What do you really want from them? 

Yeah, I know: "Stop that stuff!"

Not going to happen. So, think about this relationship the way the Cheerios people do on their nutrition label. "What is the MDR (minimum daily requirement) of behavior you can hope for and accept?
Then start expecting nothing more. (it's quite free-ing, really).

5.  Has someone else learned a way to deal with this person?

 How do they do it?  Who might know how to do it?  Describe your situation in a way that combines "behavior-then-how-I-feel." No need to dump on the offender; besides, it makes you less attractive and less of a good candidate for help.

When you've reached a point where you have an approach, use it. We train our muscle memories to play tennis, golf, and other sports in ways that become unconscious.  You can train your nervous system in the same way. Think about this: if you do just one thing differently you may change the entire pattern.

Most importantly: Life is not what happens to us. It's how we respond to what happens to us.

And you are in charge of your responses.

Go for it!

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Non Verbals Across Cultures: Start Teaching It

It's easy to misunderstand someone from a culture different than your own--especially when it comes to non-verbals. 

Despite this, there's not much intentional training on nonverbal behavior in global corporations. Perhaps there should be. I recall my initiation into this special "world" as a new  management trainer in Saudi Arabia in 1979. Since then, the whole idea of cross-cultural teams and travel has become the norm. I'm not so sure that the same is true with purposeful understanding. Here's my Day One experience; perhaps you've had a similar one:

Nonverbal Real Life

Our support staff was made up entirely of Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Thai folks. When addressing the group about an administrative problem, the silent responses ranged from a head shake (Indian) to downward stares (Pakistani and Bangladeshi) to a bright smile from our Thai guy. I took this to mean lack of concern or a misunderstanding--perhaps I wasn't speaking clearly. I finally left the discussion puzzled by what appeared to be a collective lack of concern.

By the end of the day the situation was, without fanfare, totally resolved. Huh?

It was only later that another native English-speaking manager with considerably more experience sat me down and gave me a million-dollar lesson in cultural non-verbals. He shared that the Thai smile signaled an apology; the Indian head-shake wasn't a "No" (a U.S non-verbal) but in fact a "Yes, I understand." The other two fellows were from cultures that didn't value constant eye contact while being engaged--but they were listening carefully and clearly engaged.

Teaching and Learning, Explicit or Implicit?

So: is non-verbal behavior something that can accurately be picked up by informal exposure to other people or does it need to be specifically taught?

A study by  Damnet & Borland (2007) (don't seem to be able to access this any longer) suggests it may be better to teach nonverbal behavior explicitly.

This study examined Thai university students learning English as a foreign language.

One group saw videos of native English speakers along with being taught the meaning of the words. While they were not explicitly taught the nonverbal communication, they were implicitly exposed to it.

A second group was purposefully taught about nonverbal communication in addition to learning the grammar and vocabulary. It was this second group that showed the best understanding of nonverbal communication.

In Organizations, It Matters

It can be tough enough during meetings and normal interactions to interpret the nonverbal cues from our own culture . Add the global nature of doing business and one would have to ask: Wouldn't it make sense to simply put this out there as a training program? It could be a lot of fun as well as highly educational in a way that would reduce unnecessary misunderstandings.

Add your own examples to the comments. It would be a big help to readers everywhere.

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Even More: Honesty, Boldness, and Sins of Omission

It's clear that people do want to deal with truth, not a sanitized version of it.

Honesty, Boldness, and Sins of Omission generated comments that went below the surface to address, well, some truths.

Wally Bock and Dan Erwin weighed in with workplace and personal examples. I'm going to use both to hopefully shine even more light on the issues.

Dr. Peter Vajda  works with local business professionals in the Atlanta area on these issues quite frequently. Here is what Peter adds:

Honesty Few People Know How

My experience says few folks know how to have a conversation that may be uncomfortable...at work, at home, at play or in relationship...most avoid difficult conversations...the major reason being they never felt comfortable around conflict growing up..or learned how to "be" with conflict...and now as an adult, this "child-ish" reaction leaks out when the idea of conflict arises...leading to avoidance, excuse-making for not broaching it, or coming across like a sledge hammer....all defensive mechanisms.

What To Do that Is Helpful

1. Be conscious of any type of "history" (bad blood, resentment, jealousy, etc.) between you and the person with whom you want to have this conversation. If there is history, creating a container of safety will be challenging. Building that container will take time and it's wise to do so before having the "conversation." You'll need to create a bridge of trust and respect before having that conversation.

2. If you have behaved inappropriately or have contributed to any aspect of the issue, then you need to own that.

3. It's important that your motives are pure and heart-felt. If you make this a right-wrong, me vs. you, win/lose type of experience, it won't work. So, you might ask three questions: (a) what do I want for me? (b) what do I want for the other person? (c) what do I want for our relationship? All responses should have some degree of mutual coming-together "for the good of the order" perspective. Else, just more conflict or misunderstanding and mistrust.

4. Speak about specific measurable and observable behaviors...not attitudes or personalities.

5. Use a "soft" start-up. John Gottman, in "The Seven Principles that Make Marriage Work" (tools and principles that can apply as much to the workplace as home) speaks about the soft start up. Beginning a conversation without any flavor of: contempt, criticism, defensiveness or stonewalling. A "harsh start-up, on the other hand leads to emotional reactivity, emotional flooding and only creates distance between those involved. So, it's not about being "diplomatic". It's about NOT being critical or expressing contempt, even in a masked or subtle manner. No subtle or overt attacking - making the other feel "bad" or "wrong."

6. Most conversations that deal with conflict end the same way they start. So, if they start "softly", they'll most likely end that way...ditto, "harshly."

7. There's a way to complain, without being critical, without blaming, evaluating or judging. John Gottman's book as well as "Non-Violent Communication" and "Crucial Conversations" (Google, if interested) deal with this.

8. Do it now. Storing things up only serves to create cortisol and leads to stress and most probably a less-then-pleasant interchange.

Thanks, Peter.

What are your experiences with honesty and discussions?

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Right, Wrong, and Who Will Let Go First?

“When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college - that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared at me, incredulous, and said, "You mean they forget?"--Howard Ikemoto

                                                _______________________________

Dr. Peter Vajda continues as our guest contributor today, looking into the deeper issues that impact influence, managing differences, and building relationships on and off the job.

Do You Want To Be Right or Happy?

“Why do I live from an “I’d rather be right than happy” perspective so much of the time?” 

That's the awareness-raising question that I left off with yesterday.

Kittens Here's a fact that each of us must reconcile: Somewhere along the path of our growth experiences we separated from the heart-felt and interconnected aspects of our child-like innocence and non-judgmental connectedness to others and began to focus on being separate — in psychological terms, the human and ego aspects of our selves. In this process we  created, and were indoctrinated with, beliefs, assumptions,
expectations and world views that we ultimately took on and which defined: “Me!”. 
 
As a result, we live in a world of assorted folks who have assorted beliefs and opinions. When we live life from an ego-directed place, then it’s “all about me.” In order to feel safe and secure as “me”, our initial reaction to a competing belief or opinion is reactivity — a fear of losing “me”, of feeling that “me” is being threatened. So, we start relating to other people based on our need to be right which means, being "me."  Let's be honest here: not being "me” is a very scary and threatening proposition.
 
Yet when we're able to let go of the need to be right, we are able to foster relationships that build harmony, give us a sense of connectedness, and ultimately allow us to be be more creative in the workplace. When I don't have to focus on being right or making you wrong, we can see things in new and different ways.

Steve's note: This flies in the face of many traditional workplace dynamics. Meetings are designed with goals and time limits. Many meetings are also designed to achieve a specific, pre-determined outcome regardless of other evidence that may exist in the room. If a senior person decides that something is "right," the options for exploration can become very limited. 

As you move through your day, take time to continually ask yourself about your underlying motivations in win-lose conversations. Do you need to “win” for selfish, manipulative or fearful reasons? That is, what’s your real intention when engaged in win-lose interactions?  
 
Different people latch onto different questions to reach a new level of awareness about this critical work/life issue. Here are some that have proven helpful in my professional practice:
 
What will happen if I let go of my need to be right? 

• What won’t happen if I let go of my need to be right? 

• What will happen if I don’t let go of my need to be right?

• What won’t happen if I don’t let go of my need to be right? 

• What is threatening to me about not being right? 

• Do I ever feel enslaved by a need to be right? If so, how does this feeling affect me? Affect others? 

• How do I feel when I am “wrong?” Why do I feel this way? 

• What was it like to be “right” and “wrong” when I was growing up? What did “being right” get or not get me and what did “being wrong” get or not get me? How does that dynamic continue to play out in my life as an adult?  

• How do I deal with the “unknown?” 

• Would I rather be right or happy?

For a breadth of reading and insights, wander over to Wally Bock's Three Star Leadership for some of the best HR-related writing in this month's Carnival of Human Resources.

_______________________________________

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counseling and facilitating. We thank Dr. Vajda for joining the discussion this week and point out that the material is (c) 2008, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and SpiritHeart. All rights in all media reserved. 


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Interaction At Work: Do You Need To Be Right?

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Mark Twain

 

Dr. Peter Vajda is our guest contributor today and tomorrow as we look at the deeper issues that impact influence, managing differences, and building relationships on and off the job.

I'm Right, You're Wrong

Rightwrong Take a moment and reflect on your relationships at work and at home.

Ask yourself:“How much does the ‘I’m right – you’re wrong’ dynamic govern my everyday interactions?”  Perhaps we’re not aware of it at the time, but we consistently encounter situations where we feel
not only need to be right, but  make another be or feel wrong.

Our ego personality is the culprit here;  it wants and needs to feel strong, safe and secure.

When the situation is reversed and we have the sense that we are “wrong”, our ego personality reacts in a way that has us feel afraid, bad, stupid, insecure, deficient, diminished, small and even invisible!

Does Someone Have To Lose?

There's a real problem with this dynamic: someone has to lose. As a result, these kinds of interactions breed mistrust, conflict, competition and separation — all based on fear. 

The solution is not to consistently live in the world of polarity, but perspective, to live in a world of differences, not in a world of debate, to live in a world of “both/and”, not “either/or”. 

The challenge for the ego here is how to relate in a way that transcends the personal in order to focus on commonalities. In the world of the ego, it’s all about being separate and independent — win-lose, “I vs. you”. In the world of commonality, it’s all about “you and me.” 

Here are a few questions to help uncover what's going on:

  • “What excuse am I using to rationalize and justify a win-lose?
  • “Why can’t I simply feel content about being right without needing to make someone else appear wrong?”
  • “Why do I live from an “I’d rather be right than happy” perspective so much of the time?” 

In the next post we'll look at how people got to a point of right/wrong thinking and offer more diagnostic questions to help move away from it.

 ________________________________________________________

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counseling and facilitating. We thank Dr. Vajda for joining the discussion this week and point out that the material is (c) 2008, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and SpiritHeart. All rights in all media reserved. 

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Differences, Transaction, and Transformation

I received this email relating to Making A Difference With Differences:

Steve: Have enjoyed your recent posts.  I would like to see an exploration of how to explore beliefs and assumptions in a meaningful way without destroying working relationships.  In particular, how does one become aware of the areas where your own assumptions are so deeply ingrained that you see them as "facts of life" rather than your own biases or personal quirks in action?


Good point.

I believe there is a process by which this can happen. As the writer notes, part of it rests within each of us as individuals. The other resides in the group and what the individuals have allowed it to become up to this point. That is: "Am I safe expressing my beliefs without fear of reprisal?" That's a legitimate fear when your livelihood depends on the answer.

I find myself rather frequently called in to facilitate conversations between executives who Allchange somehow have reached a point in their relationship where they are at a standstill. As a result, so is the company. I think this is a good starting point to address the question and to continue the discussion.

Transactional and Transformational Conversations

If you haven't thought of conversations in this way before, I hope you'll find this useful and productive.

Most conversations we have are transactional. They are all about exchanging information and reactions. They are also fairly predictable. We know what we want going in and in many cases know what to expect as a result.

Often, these can be dysfunctional because they sustain an already bad situation. (For those of you who are married or in a long term relationship, think of the habitual argument or the habitual silence maker).  Transactional conversations can be fruitful as well. Using negotiation techniques or Roberts Rules of Order, participants can exchange ideas that expand the common ground on which they are able to work together. Sweet.

Their real use: Keeping things as they are. They don't move people outside of the boxes in which they've placed themselves.

Transformational conversations are different. When we enter this kind of a conversation we don't know the outcome and may not even know what our world will be like as a result. It may even start off transactionally but something changes along the way.

In order to begin moving in a transforming way, there are at least four unknowns that are necessary:

1. Not knowing what the solution will be.

2. Not even being 100% sure of the topic or the problem.

3. Not knowing how we will "be" when we leave the meeting.

4. Not knowing "how things will be" when we are finished.

Can you accept those in order to begin having conversations that make a difference?

I'll dig a bit deeper as the week goes on and look forward to a transforming discussion.

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Conflict and Resolution: On and Off the Job

Workplaceconflict Conflict is bugging people.

When I check out the search terms that have landed people here, I'm seeing an increasing number of "conflict" and "conflict at work" searches.

I've met people who claim that they like conflict. I don't think so. They might like competition; they might like winning; but the idea of liking conflict in and of itself seems unhealthy at best and perhaps evil at worst. And since none of these people I know is particularly fond of "losing"--(a possible outcome of conflict)--I think that they are exhibiting a bit of competitive bravado. Which, of course, could be a major source of conflict.

What is Conflict?

Well, we know it when we feel it, don't we?

Wikipedia has a lot of entires, info, and resources. They also offer here what I believe are good definitions and discernment of different types of conflict:

Definition: "When two or more parties, with perceived incompatible goals, seek to undermine each other's goal-seeking capability".

One should not confuse the distinction between the presence and absence of conflict with the difference between competition and co-operation. In competitive situations, the two or more parties each have mutually inconsistent goals, so that when either party tries to reach their goal it will undermine the attempts of the other to reach theirs. Therefore, competitive situations will by their nature cause conflict. However, conflict can also occur in cooperative situations, in which two or more parties have consistent goals, because the manner in which one party tries to reach their goal can still undermine the other.

A clash of interests, values, actions or directions often sparks a conflict. Conflicts refer to the existence of that clash. Psychologically, a conflict exists when the reduction of one motivating stimulus involves an increase in another, so that a new adjustment is demanded. The word is applicable from the instant that the clash occurs. Even when we say that there is a potential conflict we are implying that there is already a conflict of direction even though a clash may not yet have occurred.

What Does This Mean In Real Life?

1. Competitive conflict. We are at odds about the "what" question. "What" we want to do will diminish the other person's chance of success if we succeed.

2. Cooperative conflict. Now there's an oxymoron. This one is about the "how" question. "How" you want to do something conflicts with how I want to do it, or think it should be done.

These are classic because they reflect the ongoing tension between goals (what) and process (how).

3. Values conflict. An action or direction violates  "who" we are at our core. 

What Can You Do?

(The suggestions below assume that the people involved are people of good will).

1. Competitive conflict calls for the possibility of re-defining each others' goals. This is the notion of "win-win." It requires honesty about why you are trying to achieve something. Until you understand each other's "why" the "what" will seem conflicting and self-serving.  It calls for a willingness to have a conversation that exposes each person's vulnerabilities.  Someone has to go first.  If your conflict is about the "what," then why not go first? Heck, you're already in conflict anyway. What do you have to lose?

2. Cooperative conflict. This is where the control freak managers lurk in organizations.

Stay with me here.

I can't state this enough. Job satisfaction and personal motivation are closely tied to one's ability to bring one's uniqueness to the task or team. When we sign on for a job, we are saying implicitly that we pretty much agree with the goals of the organization. What we now hope to do is  "ply our craft." And that uniqueness comes in "how" we are allowed to perform the job to achieve the goals.

A manager who has gotten commitment to the "what" and then wants to be involved in everyone's "how" is killing his  people's spirit and undermining the talent that they offer. (Note: certain jobs focused on safety and security do not leave room for personal creativity. I have often hoped that the pilot flying my plane was not feeling in a very creative mood that day).

What to do? Gotta have another conversation. Explain that the over-management is doing two things:

a. It is taking time away from you actually doing the job.

b. It is getting in the way of your ability to stay committed to what your boss wants to accomplish.

Then ask about your results. If you have a wrong perception of how you are doing, this is the time to get it on the table. If your boss tells you your results are good, then your boss will hopefully have an Aha! moment regarding your contributions.

The worst that can happen? You'll find out sooner, rather than later, that this isn't a place you want to be over the long run.

3. Values conflict. When asked to do something that violates your beliefs, you're about to experience a personal growth moment. Do you know why you believe what you believe? If you aren't sure, this is a primo time to find out.

Did you find out that your value wasn't really a value at all, or not in the way that you thought? Then maybe you can re-consider the request.

Your value is rock-solid? Then "no" is the only answer of integrity.

Conflict and Forgiveness

You may not be able to resolve the conflict, whatever it is. But how you respond will determine your peace of mind and ability to move forward. The act of forgiving following a conflict is important to your well-being.

Twice in my life I have been wronged in huge ways by anyone's standards:

I was once actually accused of a hideous crime. After a 2-year investigation and the attendant legal fees and law enforcement interaction, it was discovered and affirmed that I had been the object of a conspiracy.

In the second instance a client unilaterally walked away from a contract. It cost me nearly 1 million dollars. It is the only client in 30 years of practice who has reneged on a contract or payment. I have never had to "go to collection." My attorney told me that I would receive full payment if I took it to court. However. . .his investigation of this company revealed that the president had done this before: contracted with "boutique" consulting firms the size of mine and knew that his legal "team" could keep appeals going far longer than my ability to pay our attorneys. He informed me that although I would win I would be financially broke by the time it got to trial.

In both instances the strangest thing happened: I "let it go." Now, I'm not a saint and I know very well how to get ticked off and stay that way longer than I should. But in these two overwhelming cases I literally forgave and walked away.

Why?

Because bitterness and self-justification will kill you from the inside out. My reputation was still intact and there was nothing stopping me from continuing to run my consulting practice. You can't live well and help others if you are filled with bitterness. Life isn't fair. But it's a wonderful life if you choose to live it that way. And that means emptying yourself of real and perceived wrongs.

Chances are, someone is going to bug you at work today.

What choice will you make to ensure that your personal joy is intact?

photo source: www.und.nodak.edu

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The Business of Forgiveness

Downsizing. Corruption. Bullying. Harassment. "Do more with less." Reduced benefits. Add to that list some of the people with whom you have to work every day (see Bob Sutton's No Asshole Rule).

There's a lot of opportunity for anger and hurt on the job.

Where you find anger, you find the need for forgiveness.

Why?

It's good for you. For your physical and mental health. For your relationships. For your ability to move on peacefully and productively.

Forgivenesslogo Why forgiveness instead of revenge?

Christina M. Puchalski, M.D. is the Founder and Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine. She says:

"On a personal level, forgiveness of self can help us achieve an inner peace as well as peace with others and with God. Wrongdoing against others and ourselves can result in guilt and resentment.  This can then lead to self-recrimination and self-loathing; it also can create a distance or disconnect from self and others. Resentment can give away to hate and intolerance. Forgiveness is the first stage of self-love and acceptance. It is also the basic building block of loving relationships with others."

It's not the offense. It's your response to it.

I confess, I'm not always a quick-to-forgive person once I've felt "wronged". I give people a very long leash and a long time to "get their act together" if things aren't going well. But there is some point at which I just say "that's it" and cut them off from my life. It is very infrequent, but the pattern is always the same. I decide that the differences are irreconcilable. So, the relationship in its present form is finished.

Does that serve me well?

Only if I genuinely forgive. It is both possible and imperative to do that and, at the same time, acknowledge that the nature of the relationship may not be productive. This is the harder part, I think. It begs the nagging question, "If I can forgive, why can't I just continue?"

Sometimes it's possible. More often, it becomes apparent that I wasn't seeing clearly to begin with and that continuing the relationship--without changing expectations--would not be peaceful or productive for either of us.

Dr. Frederic Luskin specializes in Learning to Forgive. He explains that:

"The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health."

Dr. Luskin's 9 Steps to Forgiveness

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the "peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story."

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes--or ten years ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body's fight or flight response.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize that "unenforceable rules" you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you.

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

If you would like to explore other resources, check out The Forgiveness Web  and Forgiveness Net.

Think about this today: Your workplace is a web of relationships. Being at peace with them can only make your own life a lot more satisfying.

photo attribution: www.thirdway.com 

 

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Communicating on the Right Wavelength

"The two words 'information' and 'communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through."--Sydney J. Harris

Communication: Don't Mix and Match Your Verbal Wardrobe

I want to offer an easy, uncluttered model to use when you want to bump up your communication game.

Kids_talking Think about your levels of interaction on a scale of Nicety all the way to Intimacy. One of the keys to keeping your interactions on target is making sure that you "meet people where they are" and not try to take them where you want to go before they are ready. (They may never be ready).

Here's a way to look at it on five levels of increasing depth:

1. Niceties. "Hey, how are you?"

"Fine,how are you?"

"Ok."

Polite acknowledgment of another person is part of social graciousness. If you or the other person doesn't want to take it any further, that's fine. Just don't mistake it for anything other than what it is.  But don't discount the social importance of niceties, either. It' s amazing how many people get miffed when they offer a "Hey, waddup?" and don't get a response.

2. Facts. If the other person is into facts, stay with the facts until (s)he moves on. If that's where they stay, just ask if there is anything that you should do with those facts.

3. Thoughts and Ideas. These are different from facts. They reflect what's going on inside someone's head. This is also where we get into difficulty by passing judgment on someone in the middle of their personal brainstorm. Stay in non-evaluative brainstorm mode with them.

4. Feelings. When people start expressing how they feel, you've hit a pretty high level on their personal trust scale. The best way to keep it is to acknowledge the legitimacy of how they feel. The best way to lose it is to tell them they shouldn't feel that way.

5. Intimacy. Familiarity that reaches a deeply personal level.

In the workplace you may not reach this level inside the confines of the office building. In fact, it may be totally inappropriate. But highly relational people can have a tendency to unconsciously go here because it's so innately comfortable and meaningful (for them).

I can't tell you the number of coaching/advising engagements I've had with people who have gotten themselves into difficulty at this level. They've said things that were taken as "way too intimate" by others. Fortunately, most well-meaning people "get it" when they are coached regarding the distinctions in levels and how other people may interpret personal warmth or familiarity.

If you want to keep your emloyer--and yourself--out of litigation, save your intimacy-level conversations for home and friends.

Meetthem_blog_070108001

How to Use This?

The next time you're engaged in a discussion, pay attention to where the other person is operating on the "depth" chart.

1. Listen and stay with them.

2. If you want to move from one level to another, say something like: "We've been talking about the factual data related to the Romanian project. Would you be willing to hear some thoughts and ideas I have about this?"

They'll tell you if they need to play with the facts some more. And your question will be appreciated because it acknowledges that you've really heard them and aren't going to automatically step on their "stuff."

3. Building trust takes place at levels 3 and 4. The more time you can spend there, the closer the working relationship can become.

Share this with the people around you. It may get you out of "mix" and into "match."

What do you think?

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When Does A Strategy Confuse Action?

The answer: When the strategy doesn't start with a sense of peace.

Yesterday's HR: More Implementation, Less Strategy, More Success generated comment and email activity as part of The Carnival of Human Resources.

You and I seem to recognize the need for "getting it done." Excessive discussion and strategizing can produce a sense of movement but not the real thing. We need to step out and start doing something. Hopefully the right thing.

But we won't know until we try.

That's why good managers, HR people, marketers, web designers, and leaders of all sorts make mistakes. It's also why they should be lauded when they make one, figure out what happened, and quickly re-direct their efforts.   

They did something!

In an imperfect world filled with imperfect people, mistakes are the norm.

Yet I think implementation difficulties actually emerge in part from faulty strategic processes and their follow-up. I've been involved in some pretty cumbersome ones myself (please note that my head is momentarily hanging in shame). Had I not, I would have no clue how clue where things might be improved.

See if this 3-step process comes pretty close to what you've experienced:

Strategyimplement001_2
At least two potential glitches emerge in this somewhat standard approach:

1. We may have the best brainstormers in the world.

Is that kind of Strategy Session the best dynamic to use to deal with deep issues affecting every aspect of the organization in the years ahead?

2. Participants distribute strategy books or Powerpoint slides and encourage the troops: "Go ye forth and multiply Earnings Per Share, Return on Capital, and other things that are good to multiply."

As a result, I have developed (on the back of a cocktail napkin),

Roesler's Simple (but attractive) Diagram of Strategic Planning:

Strategyimplement2001

1. Start the process with an explanation of what the main issues really are. There are only a few. Really. But they are important.

2. Anyone involved has to have time to think clearly about how (s)he would approach those strategic issues.

I'm not naive. I know that people are laughing right now saying "Man, he doesn't know squat about how business really works." Actually I do. And I know my suggestion won't be acted on by the majority. "We have work to do." "My people don't get paid for deep thoughts." (Wow. But apparently they do get paid for shallow ones).

Find a way to give the principals enough time to think clearly, quietly, and uninterrupted.

3. Each person starts off by discussing the "what" and "why" of their strategic thinking. The only conversation involves clarifying questions. No comments pro or con.

Once everyone has been heard do the task at hand. Do it with the knowledge that the information came from thoughtfulness, not spontaneous combustion.

4. Context and Content. Meet with the employees. Depending upon the size of your company, the configuration and process will be a little different. Here is what needs to be common to all:

Explain what the strategy is, how it was developed, what they considerations were, what you argued about and why, and what each group needs to do to make it happen.

5. Align it and Do it. Once people have had a chance to ask for clarity about implementation let it roll, manage to results, learn from mistakes and, if necessary, stop. Re-align. Then start up again.

Help People Make Their Mistakes Working On the Right Things

This deserves it's own blurb.

The reason for Context, Content, and Alignment is to help other adults understand why they're doing something, what's really important, and how they fit into the grand scheme of accomplishment.

Really effective people make mistakes while they are working on the right things. That way they learn to do the right things the right way.

Managers: help your people stay focused on the right mistakes.

Starting with thoughtfulness and the peace that follows breeds a sense of quiet confidence about the work being done. That kind of peace gives all of us a little more willingness to try, fail, try again, and learn how to "do it better."

Please weigh in: What's your experience with strategic planning and the implementation that follows?
As always, your Comment may help someone at just the right moment.

If today is Strategy day for you, be sure and check out Ten seemingly logical excuses for clinging to failed strategies by Kent Blumberg as well as Mark Howell at Strategy Central.

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Decision Making: Confused or Conflicted?

You and I go to meetings where the decision-making can
seem unbelievably confusing.Decisionsdecisions_fmn

And how about those decisions where we just can't seem to arrive at a peaceful conclusion?

After giving it some thought and observation, I think I've got a way to look at this that I hope will be helpful.

Confused or Conflicted?

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the two this way:


Confused:
 being disordered or mixed up. 

The result is not being able to think at your usual speed.

Conflicted: (a feeling of) mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands.

The result is inaction, over-reaction, or both.

Yes, both are possible. We can react strongly to the conversation around the decision, but still not be able to make the decision.

Note: Each of these phenomena apply to individual as well as group decisions. Those self-conversations in our heads can get every bit as frustrating as the ones across the table!

What To Do?

1.Stop and diagnose.

(Please remember Steve's rule for everything: "Prognosis Without Diagnosis is Malpractice").

2. If the issue is Confusion, ask:

    a. Are we clear on the goal of the decision?

    b. Do we have the right information, and all of it--or as much as possible?

    c. Do we have the information organized in an understandable way?

    d. Does everyone involved have the same understanding of the goal and the information?

    e. Do we have a structured process for making our decision?

When you are clear that all of the above have been satisfied, then you're probably dealing with Conflicted-ness. (My spell checker is definitely conflicted trying to deal with that one).

3. If the issue is being Conflicted, then you'll probably experience silence or overt argument. You're  seeing the result of deeper issues--perhaps even at the personal values level--that need to be resolved. Whether silence or argument:

    a. Talk straight immediately. Say, "We've got a good understanding and a good process. But there's something else stopping us.What's really getting in the way?

    b. Don't speak again until someone offers a comment. After the first person responds, don't evaluate the remark. Thank them. Allow for everyone to respond without evaluation.

Principle: Until the real issue is named out loud, it will silently undermine the decision process. Once it's named and acknowledged, it is neutralized. When it comes out into the light of day, it can be seen clearly for what it is and discussed accurately. This is the most difficult thing for groups (and individuals) to deal with. Why? There's always the fear that "my issue" will be discounted, misunderstood, or seen as a blockage to "good teamwork."

Yet the person who offers the first bit of truth is the one who leads the group to a more satisfying decision.

    c. After 'b', you will know exactly how to proceed because the substantive issues will be out there in clear view. You'll see both an increase in both energy and collaboration.

Note: Organizations are usually pretty good at organizing. And even those of us with a more casual approach to life still have our own method of organizing it.

If you are really stuck on a decision, go with "Conflicted." In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and say that more often than not, we aren't confused. We usually know the right thing or best thing to do. It's facing up to our conflicting wants and needs that get in the way. "Having it all," whether in a business meeting or personal life, is a decision criterion that can only lead to internal conflict.

Thought for Today: Clear priorities offer the soundest foundation to decision making.

Related bonus for today: Check "What Do Peers Say About Your Smarts"  by Dr. Ellen Weber at Brain Based Business . The questions that she poses for self-development are really the kind of  "self-clarifying" questions that ultimately lead to better decision making.

 

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How Are You Dealing With Workplace Conflict?

Workplaceconflict Conflict is bugging people.

When I check out the search terms that have landed people here, I'm seeing an increasing number of "conflict" and "conflict at work" searches.

I've met people who claim that they like conflict. I don't think so. They might like competition; they might like winning; but the idea of liking conflict in and of itself seems unhealthy at best and perhaps evil at worst. And since none of these people I know is particularly fond of "losing"--(a possible outcome of conflict)--I think that they are exhibiting a bit of competitive bravado. Which, of course, could be a major source of conflict.

What is Conflict?

Well, we know it when we feel it, don't we?

Wikipedia has a lot of entires, info, and resources. They also offer here what I believe are good definitions and discernment of different types of conflict:

Definition: "When two or more parties, with perceived incompatible goals, seek to undermine each other's goal-seeking capability".

One should not confuse the distinction between the presence and absence of conflict with the difference between competition and co-operation. In competitive situations, the two or more parties each have mutually inconsistent goals, so that when either party tries to reach their goal it will undermine the attempts of the other to reach theirs. Therefore, competitive situations will by their nature cause conflict. However, conflict can also occur in cooperative situations, in which two or more parties have consistent goals, because the manner in which one party tries to reach their goal can still undermine the other.

A clash of interests, values, actions or directions often sparks a conflict. Conflicts refer to the existence of that clash. Psychologically, a conflict exists when the reduction of one motivating stimulus involves an increase in another, so that a new adjustment is demanded. The word is applicable from the instant that the clash occurs. Even when we say that there is a potential conflict we are implying that there is already a conflict of direction even though a clash may not yet have occurred.

What Does This Mean To You and Me In Real Life?

1. Competitive conflict. We are at odds about the "what" question. "What" we want to do will diminish the other person's chance of success if we succeed.

2. Cooperative conflict. Now there's an oxymoron. This one is about the "how" question. "How" you want to do something conflicts with how I want to do it, or think it should be done.

These are classic because they reflect the ongoing tension between goals (what) and process (how).

3. Values conflict. An action or direction violates  "who" we are at our core. 

What Can You Do?

(The suggestions below assume that the people involved are people of good will).

Competitive conflict calls for the possibility of re-defining each others' goals. This is the notion of "win-win." It requires honesty about why you are trying to achieve something. Until you understand each other's "why" the "what" will seem conflicting and self-serving.  It calls for a willingness to have a conversation that exposes each person's vulnerabilities.  Someone has to go first.  If your conflict is about the "what," then why not go first? Heck, you're already in conflict anyway. What do you have to lose?

Cooperative conflict. This is where the control freak managers lurk in organizations.

Stay with me here.

I can't state this enough. Job satisfaction and personal motivation are closely tied to one's ability to bring one's uniqueness to the task or team. When we sign on for a job, we implicitly  are saying that  we pretty much agree with the goals of the organization. What we want to do is  "ply our craft."  And that uniqueness comes in "how" we are allowed to perform the job to achieve the goals. A manager who has gotten commitment to the "what" and then wants to be involved in everyone's "how" is killing his  people's spirit and undermining the talent that they offer. (Note: certain jobs focused on safety and security do not leave room for personal creativity. I have often hoped that the pilot flying my plane was not feeling in a very creative mood that day).

What to do? Gotta have another conversation. Explain that the over-management is doing two things:

a. It is taking time away from you actually doing the job.

b. It is getting in the way of your ability to stay committed to what your boss wants to accomplish.

Then ask about your results. If you have a wrong perception of how you are doing, this is the time to get it on the table. If your boss tells you your results are good, then your boss will hopefully have an Aha! moment regarding your contributions.

The worst that can happen? You'll find out sooner, rather than later, that this isn't a place you want to be over the long run.

3. Values conflict. When asked to do something that violates your beliefs, you're about to experience a personal growth moment. Do you know why you believe what you believe? If you aren't sure, this is a primo time to find out.

Did you find out that your value wasn't really a value at all, or not in the way that you thought? Then maybe you can re-consider the request.

Your value is rock-solid? Then "no" is the only answer of integrity.

Conflict and Forgiveness

You may not be able to resolve the conflict, whatever it is. But how you respond will determine your peace of mind and ability to move forward. The act of forgiving following a conflict is important to your well-being.

Twice in my life I have been wronged in huge ways--by anyone's standards:

Once I was accused of a hideous crime. After a 2-year investigation and the attendant legal fees and law enforcement interaction, it was discovered and affirmed that I had been the object of a  conspiracy.

In the second instance, a client unilaterally walked away from a contract. It cost me nearly 1 million dollars. It is the only client in 30 years of practice who has reneged on a contract or payment. I have never had to "go to collection." My attorney told me that I would receive full payment if I took it to court. However. . .his investigation of this company revealed that the President had done this before; contracted with "boutique" consulting firms the size of mine; and knew that his legal "team" could keep appeals going far longer than my ability to pay my attorney. He informed that although I would win, I would be financially broke by the time it got to trial.

In both instances the strangest thing happened: I "let it go." Now, I'm not a saint and I do know how to get ticked off--and stay that way longer than I should. But in these two overwhelming cases, I literally forgave and walked away.

Why?

Because bitterness and self-justification will kill you from the inside out. My reputation was still intact and there was nothing stopping me from continuing to run my consulting practice. You can't live well and help others if you are filled with bitterness. Life isn't fair. But it's a wonderful life if you choose to live it that way. And that means emptying yourself of real and perceived wrongs.

More Related Advice from a Respected Source

Actually two: Liz Strauss, blogger extraordinnaire, has a wonderful post titled Do Good Anyway, highlighting "The Paradoxical Commandments" of Mother Teresa.  Check it out...and return to Liz's blog often. She's the real deal.

photo source: www.und.nodak.edu

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Want to Build Trust? Say "No."

There's some twisted thinking going on about building trusting relationships. It goes like this:

"If I make people happy by not disagreeing with them they will like me more. Then they'll trust me more because I'm agreeable. Wow. Then when I need something or want something I'm more likely to get it. And if I'm a manager, that's good."

Right?

Grouchobirdsmall Think for a moment about the people--or person--you trust the most. Do they always say "yes? No. And that's why you trust them.

We trust people who have limits and beliefs, then care enough to state what they are. A relationship of "yeses" leaves us suspicious at best.

People don't have to be disagreeable in order to disagree. We often respect someone who tells us not only that (s)he sees things differently, but who then takes time to calmly explain "why." Taking time to explain "why" is a sign of respect toward us.

When you mean "yes" say "yes." When you mean "no" say "no." And share your reason.

In an era that seems to beg for leadership, become someone who people want to follow because they trust that you mean what you say. An honest "no" to others will get you an honest "yes" on their trust scale.

Photo source: www.tvacres.com/

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Help for Your Work Life AND Your Love Life!

Have you ever wondered why teasing doesn't always get the intended results?

Because it's ambiguous. And anytime we're ambiguous we risk being misunderstood. Our fun can turn into someone else's humiliation if it's misguided or misinterpreted.

Justin Kruger, a professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, recently conducted research in this area. He asked roommates to tease each other and found that those who were teased almost consistently felt more antagonized than was intended. Instead of feeling a little "nudge" of teasing, they felt ridiculed.

Here's what really happens: The actual content of a tease is, by definition, negative. But seldom do the teasers intend it to be taken literally. So they try to temper it with body language or a tone of voice that implies "only kidding." Its too late. The person being teased is actually unaware or unmoved by the harmless intentions and perceives it as being malicious.

Teasing: A potential career-ending moment

During the past year I've intervened in two situations that were presented as harassment cases. In one instance the accused apologized immediately in front of a roomful of people. Not good enough--a complaint was issued and follow-up action prescribed. In the second, a similar tease took place but with no apology. Instead, an explanation was offered to explain the tease and why the recipient "shouldn't be offended." It was unbelievably difficult for the "perpetrator" to understand why the person was so deeply offended. In both instances the teaser was a high ranking executive and the recipient was a woman one level below in the hierarchy. Both situations were ultimately resolved. In the interim, both execs were in genuine danger of losing their jobs.

How to Tease

Kathleen McGowan of Psychology Today magazine offers these tips:

  • Choose your subject carefully. Being ribbed about something silly you did or said is much easier to take than being kidded about a basic trait like weight or appearance. Harass your friend for bragging, for mispronouncing words or for being unable to parallel park—not about his big nose or her hefty legs.
  • Tease up or across your social world, not down. Because teasing playfully punctures another person's sense of self, it is more wounding when directed at someone of lower status.
  • Exaggerate the tease. Go for absurdity, not subtlety. Exaggerating your body language and your words clarifies that you're just joking and makes it less likely that your intent will be misread.

Bonus Love-life Tip

From Kathleen: "Beware the Gentler Sex. In the context of romance, women are more likely to feel insulted by teasing than are men, perhaps because guys are used to it: Young boys often express friendship through taunting and banter."


 

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Stringless In Seattle: "My Cellos Can Beat Up Your Tuba"

At best, Bad PR.  At worst, Dysfunctional Organization.

Here is a situation for you managers, board members, consultants--anyone interested in organizational analysis. It contains conflict, power, harassment, an Executive Director revolving door, inability to influence. . .

The Seattle Times reported a story titled Vandalism, threats strike sour note in SeattleSeattle_frontpage Symphony. If you want to join in the organization analysis, read the full story and we'll continue.

Got it? We need to start with one assumption. Since we don't have the ability to go into the situation and do a proper diagnostic, let's first take the report at face value. Looking at some common diagnostic areas, here's what we might surmise:

Structure

The governance/management situation seems out of balance.  Does the structure actually support a strong Executive Director or does the Board make all of the managerial decisions?  The allusion to a 56-2 vote would indicate the latter, although on issues of Conductor tenure the Board would, in fact, be the deciding body. If all decisions are taken in that manner it would be more difficult to get a new coffee machine for the musicians' lounge than it would to have a small country admitted to the European Union. If I'm reading this correctly, are there really at least 58 people on the Board? Nice perk for big donors, unwieldy to govern in any meaningful way.

Systems

How are things supposed to get done? Is there a system in place that allows the orchestra (musicians) to be heard on issues that impact performance, including leadership and colleague behavior?  If there is, it would seem ineffective at best. I'm not sure what to make of the "survey" issue, but I can say this: It is the norm--and for most consultants an ethical "must"--to provide respondents with survey results. If the surveys are done using interviews the actual quotes don't have to be presented to protect anonymity. But the thematic issues do need to be fed back. The absence of this step discourages people from future participation ("Why bother?") and raises the question "What was so bad that we couldn't see it? (negative fantasy). "If we didn't see it, who did? And why them and not us?" The list could go on.

Note: The nature of the music world normally has musicians represented by a union. Not sure yet where their representation is on this one.

Communication

This can be a catch-all phrase. In this case, don't we have to wonder how this ended up in the newspaper? It seems that there is a clearer channel between someone(s) within the Symphony and the media than there is within the organization itself. If there is a communication system within the organization, who is responsible for accuracy, timeliness, and coordination? Does everyone get the same information at about the same time? Or are there some things left dangling so that different constituencies have to "fill in the blanks" on their own. They will. The world abhors a vacuum. In this case, the symphony may need a vacuum cleaner.

Leadership

Judging from the article, the Board exercises some of the leadership normally performed by an Executive Director. Not sure why there is turnover--that would be an area to explore. Experience with similar organizations has shown me that there are inherently different focal points for the internal constituencies. The musicians are concerned about performance quality, sitting under an effective conductor, tenure, and workplace issues: travel schedules, rehearsal schedules, and administrivia that can impact them.

Boards are concerned about generating revenue, endowments, reputation, etc.  They are frequently composed of donors (nothing inherently wrong with that) who are interested in the organization.

An effective Executive Director really manages the constituencies and keeps operational rules and guidelines as well as cooperative communication on track. This role is key to the healthy and successful functioning of this type of organization.

What if?

The above represents some stream-of-consciousness diagnostic thoughts, by no means complete. But  let's knock off the serious, navel-gazing stuff. There are some factors here that could lead us elsewhere.

1. The issue is about the continuance of the conductor. Conductors often leave or are asked to move on after a reasonable amount of time for creative reasons. In a creative industry you just need to renew your own batteries or bring someone else in to spark the creative juices. There is a time and a season for everything.
2. According to the article, the conductor hired the Principal Horn who is a main figure in this soap opera. If the conductor goes would he go, too? One of his colleagues notes that Principal Horn has a high self-opinion but that it is justified, implying that he is a good player. (For our readers in the U.S.A., this would equate to American footballer Terrell Owens with an embouchure).
3.  Principal Horn-guy is the only one being vocal about this "terrorism." The other alleged victim has refused comment.
4. Alleged acts that supposedly include razor blades and attack-by-killer-coffee-cup have not been reported to the police. But they have been reported to a reporter. I don't know about you but if I am being "terrorized," my first phone call isn't to a journalism school graduate.

And so on. Now I'm thinking:

What if this whole thing is really about trying to keep the conductor and keep one's job. What if the orchestra members don't have the kind of union representation that can actually give them collective clout when it comes to their collective wishes? What if the absence of a proven, trusted Executive Director produces enough of a leadership vacuum to allow mischief to get played out through the media instead of managed through a legitimate process.

The only thing that seems clear is that there is no honest, legitimate, and internally accountable management process to deal with this in an upright way.

The good news: Jerry Springer is tied up on "Dancing With The Stars." We won't see any white tie, tails, oboes, and flying coffee cups on our local stations.

Your armchair analysis is invited. Please don't key the blog.







 

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