conflict

Four go-to words for your next conversation

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Quick: Training!

What’s your first reaction?

 

Love it? Hate it? Somewhere in the middle?

All training is not created equal, and training to handle challenging situations can be deep, time intensive, and provoke a new level of growth for you and your team. When that’s the case, the skeptic becomes a supporter and your team grows.

Keeping the momentum going after a successful training program is usually the hardest part. It requires commitment and dedication, buy-in from your critical players, and constant reminders.

Team problem-solving is one of those complicated topics because it often focuses on moving through difficult moments. It’s complicated because teams are complicated – they’re full of people!

Sometimes, the complexity that is so useful in teaching the skills of problem solving gets in the way of the long-term application.

I’ve boiled several aspects of team-focused problem solving methods down to four words:

  • Ask
  • Acknowledge
  • Share
  • Solve

 

Ask: What information do you have?

Acknowledge: I heard you say this: ________________________

Share: I have this information: ______________________

Solve:

Your Interests My Interests Shared Interests
     
     

This approach, which is common to many systems for team communications, helps me

I also try to remember one primary point of  ! Caution !

Don’t do this: make assumptions about your partner’s inner state.

Example: “You were angry when I told you what I thought about our interview candidate”

Instead, do this:

Ask: “I saw you frown when I said I thought they were well qualified. Were you reacting to my statement or something else?”

Once you start to listen for it, you hear a lot of assumptions about why people are doing things (they don’t like so-and-so, they’re preoccupied with something else, they’re not skilled enough). These assumptions are just that: your assumption, not a fact.

Check yourself but asking how you’d react if someone stated that “fact” about you. You may be surprised to see how often you make these types of assumptions.

Here’s an example of the four questions in action.

The Setup:

Sandy has been given responsibility for managing three divisions that have not been performing well. She’s an up-and-coming worker in her organization but this is new territory for her. She’s had to learn new operations, build relationships, and try to sort through the opinions, facts, and the mountain of data that her division chiefs have brought to her in the past three months. Late on Friday, her boss, Ross, lets her know there’s a gap on the Board meeting agenda and he’d like Sandy to present an update.

Sandy doesn’t feel ready and tells her boss she thinks they’ll have better news next month.

What’s really going on?

Take a look at what Sandy’s NOT saying: I’m concerned that our numbers don’t look good and I won’t have a chance to talk to our managers in all three divisions before the Board meets on Tuesday. One has been out sick, one is on vacation and the other one always bombards me with data and spreadsheets instead of sharing real information. I’m worried that I won’t be prepared to answer questions and the Board will doubt my ability to manage this key transition. I don’t want to let my boss down by doing a bad job.

 

And what Ross is NOT saying: I’d like to fill the agenda for the meeting next week, and Sandy is always willing to help out. If I can get her to just let them know we’re on it, the Board will probably ask me fewer questions between now and our next full update. I don’t want to have a hole in my agenda next week and I’m upset that Jason’s group bailed on me at the last minute, putting me in this position.

 

It’s easy to imagine that a short conversation could result in something like this:

  • Sandy asks what about an update to the Board is important to Ross.
  • Ross says he just needs to give them something.
  • Sandy acknowledges that he wants to update them and shares her concerns about communication with her group and how it will look to the Board if she has incomplete information.
  • Ross asks what she could do by Tuesday.
  • Sandy says she has preliminary information about what’s been done so far and she thinks she’ll have data in a week.
  • Ross acknowledges she’s not going to be ready on Tuesday and shares that he primarily needs to fill a hole in the agenda.
  • Sandy’s interests are good data and being professional for the Board.
  • Ross’s interests are good data and keeping the meeting running smoothly.
  • Together they solve the situation by agreeing on a preview-presentation at the meeting with a report to follow.

It’s a better outcome for them both, and avoids a weekend of stewing about uncooperative staff and worrying about an upcoming presentation.

I hope Ask-Acknowledge-Share-Solve works for you.

 

 

 

 

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5 Ways to Receive Bad News Better

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I recently shared five ways to deliver bad news better, which got me thinking about receiving bad news.

We’re never just the person dolling out bad news (if we are, we might need to do some soul-searching with some close friends) and hearing something we don’t want to hear can be painful. But it can also be an opportunity to grow.

If you’re like me, you can probably think of a few  things you’d rather be doing instead of learning what’s not going right, but if you’re lucky, and people share the good, the bad, and the ugly with you, you may be able to mine some gold from those murky moments.

How to grow with grace?

1. Don’t try to be perfect, don’t pretend to be perfect, in fact, forget all about perfect.

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, baby, practice.”

When I was a kid, I took piano lessons. The thing is, I’m tone deaf and not musically inclined. A lot of practice made me better, but it never got me to Carnegie Hall.  Eventually, I stopped worrying about playing the piano and moved on to other things. But that phrase bugged me. A lot. The implication being that if you just work hard enough at something, you’ll get there. In my perfectionist mind, I hadn’t gotten there. That meant I was on the failing end and it was my fault.

The quest for perfection is something we admire and laude, but taken as an absolute it can prevent us from trying, learning, and seeing what’s not working. Criticism can bring up our defenses and a lighting-fast urge to “fix it” and get back on the perfectionist path can prevent us from taking the time to be open to what we’re hearing.

I’ve read a couple of books about Frederick Law Olmsted recently, and they both describe a young man in search of his path. Landscape architecture wasn’t a profession yet, and the man who eventually designed Central Park and so many other magnificent spaces tried his hand at surveying, being a sailor, running a gold mine, and farming (to name a few). When something didn’t work out, he tried something else. Over time, he developed his path and his profession in a way that suited his interests. I can only imagine that there must have been times when it would have been easier to try harder and stay with something he’s started.

Instead, he took what he needed from those experiences and moved forward; his ability to change course with integrity was a character trait noted by his friends.

If we’re not blinded by the search for perfection, we can be open to the sparkle of truth when something isn’t going as planned.

2. Give it a little time

Receiving bad news is not easy. No matter how much equilibrium we may be experiencing, it can knock us off balance. If we’re not ready to hear it, that’s okay. Sometimes the best way to receive bad news is over time. A day later….a week later…..sometimes it takes us a long time to see into our dark spots.

But what to do in the moment if you feel that rush of anger or adrenaline kick in?

Have this phrase handy: “I’m going to need some time to think about this.”

What if what’s really going through your head is “You have no idea what you’re saying, there are a million things wrong with your assessment and you’re wrong, wrong, wrong!”

You could try to set the record straight.

If there are inaccurate facts or missing pieces of information and the conversation is time-sensitive, you could try to share them on the spot. But if you’re emotional, you may not be able to hear what’s being said and you may not share your information clearly.

What about, “I think I can offer some clarification, can you give me a minute/hour/day/week?

3. Don’t let it get to you

I don’t mean ignore what’s being said, I really mean don’t obsess over it. When we ruminate, we can’t let it go. We have imaginary conversations in our head, we try out different versions, we test a response we wish we’d given. That’s a lot of brain power spent on being in a rut.

Does what you heard feel unfair? If so, ask yourself why. We react strongly to unfairness; we also react to the things that we know are our weaknesses. They rub us the wrong way and we go back to them like a spot we can’t reach, trying to resolve them.

If there’s  crumb of truth in what you’ve been told, you may be defensive, or you may eventually come to consider it closely and see it in a new light. Sometimes we’re just not ready to hear what someone else is saying. That’s okay. If the same thing comes up time after time, we’re likely to notice it and eventually come to it with an open mind.

Running up and down a rut, replaying a conversation, and imagining how we could show the other person how wrong they are are diversions that prevent us from relaxing into an open mind.

4. Let yourself change

We all change. An interesting study discussed in the New York Times about the “end of history” illusion shows that we are much better at acknowledging how we’ve changed from our past selves to today yet we are not able to imagine how we will be different in the future. Try it: have you changed from who you were 5 or 10 years ago? Now look forward: how different do you think you’ll be in 10 years? For most of us, it’s hard to imagine we’ll change as radically in the future as we have in the past.

It’s okay to change your opinion, to adapt to new information, and to seek out new situations and experiences.

You will change.

5. Know what to ignore

These suggestions assume that the giver of bad news is well intentioned. There will be times when someone says something that isn’t true, isn’t well intended, or is downright hurtful.

Not everyone is here to help us grow, and it’s okay to toss those in the mental rejection file.

If you’re interested in the other side of the conversation, check here.

5 ways to deliver bad news better

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We like to think of ourselves as decent people.

Nice. Professional. Fair.

Sometimes, we have to deliver bad news to someone, which can set off internal anxiety and ratchet up our emotional state. “Nice” and “Fair” no longer feel like they’re part of the game, making our situation more challenging.

The good news is that you can deliver bad news better.

1. Hone your message

Preparation for the conversation is essential. I once read that we should spend twice as long preparing for a meeting as we spend actually holding the meeting. While that seems ideal (yet impractical, perhaps?) for many situations, bad-news meetings may be the best time to apply that mindset. Ask yourself what you really need to talk about. Remember that the person on the receiving end is probably going to jump to an elevated emotional state of their own. You’ve had time to prepare, but maybe they haven’t. Choosing your topic and making sure you have researched the facts is important. Don’t overwhelm the conversation, don’t pile on the problems. Choose your message, practice it so you can deliver it without rambling, and avoid the urge to add “one more thing”.

What if you actually do have a lot of things to cover? Take, for instance, the situation where you thought you had one problem and as you looked into it, the problems snowballed and now you’ve got a list of 10 things to cover.

Should you begin by running through the list? That depends. Looking closely, you may be able to prioritize and identify the primary issue or the most time-sensitive one. You may want to start there, let them know upfront that you have multiple concerns but you’d like to begin with your strongest one and return to the others at a later time. Then see #3 below for follow-up

2. Maintain your focus

Remember when you were a kid and you knew you were in trouble? What was your best defense? Distraction!

“But, Lisa didn’t do the chores you asked her to do” (focus on someone else)

“But I did make my lunch yesterday and I fed the dog” (divert to other issues)

Since a lot of our defense mechanisms were developed early on, they can emerge strong when we’re stressed. If the person you’re talking with heads down another path, you will want to bring them back to the topic at hand.

“We can talk about that other project at another time, let’s stay focused on your project for now.”

“I haven’t had time to think about this new issue you’re raising, let’s set a follow-up time for that.”

It’s helpful to spend a few minutes of your preparation time thinking about how the person you’ll be speaking with has reacted in the past. Can you anticipate any of these behaviors? If so, have a few phrases ready to help bring them back into your conversation. When you’re feeling anxious, this will help you bring things back to calm, which is good for everyone involved.

Be true to your word during the conversation. If they are bringing up legitimate concerns and you offer to talk about them at another time, include them in #3.

Platitudes will diminish trust even if they seem to diffuse the situation in the moment.

3. Have a plan for resolution, but hold it lightly

I remember getting into some kind of trouble when I was a kid and being asked “What do you think your punishment should be?” This was such a startling question to seven-year-old me and I remember thinking “Isn’t that your job?”

As adults, we can, and should, have some responsibility for resolving the situation we’re in. Of course, there may be situations where policies, laws, and other governing direction has already been set, but many of our interactions are less prescriptive and what we’re looking for is an approach that brings us to a shared understanding of what happens next.

If you’re prepared, you may have some suggested corrective actions. This is useful, but don’t forget to be receptive to new information during your conversation and work that into a plan of action.

The best possible outcome is an agreement on action that has buy-in from both parties involved.

4. Agree on follow-up with clarity.

This one’s simple. What are you each going to do? By when? And how will you know it’s done.

Too often, we leave meetings or conversations in a rush with a general sense of what will happen only to later discover that we didn’t leave with the same tasks in mind.

  • Write it down.
  • Repeat it back.
  • Exchange notes after the meeting.
  • Set a follow up date and time

Having clarity, especially after an emotional discussion, is key. When we’re angry, upset, or otherwise distracted by our emotions, we’re not thinking at our clearest. Having something in writing and an ability to check back for clarity can help set things back on track.

5. Let it go

We all make mistakes. Every single one of us.

You never really know what else is going on in someone’s life and how your issue fits into their constellation of events. They may be struggling with something in their personal life, they may be excited about a positive change and focused elsewhere. They may have a different style of relating or communicating that’s making it hard for the two of you to connect.

You may have other pressures and situations that are impacting your view of the situation. Stress about another part of your job, anxiety about your career, personal demands, they can all influence our actions in ways we don’t see clearly in the moment.

You don’t have to like everyone you meet or interact with, but remembering that they each have some humanity and respecting that can help you move away from the emotional reactions you’re having and focus on the discussion at hand.

When it’s done, if you have a clear plan of action, you can focus on that and let the rest go.

Seven things that actually mattered

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Pick a Puddle.

At my freshman orientation for college (year omitted!) the university’s president said “Don’t be like ducks, with opportunity rolling off your backs like raindrops. Take advantage.” I thought I got it. I wasn’t going to be that duck. I chased a lot of rain, which was great. For a while.

Looking back, I realized he forgot a key point: Don’t forget to pick a puddle.

If you find your puddle and fill it with the things you care about most, you get the good out of it. Puddles don’t have to be small and limiting. They should have room for the things you’re focused on – family, key career ambitions, personal growth – and they should’t overflow with things that distract you from your integral purpose.

Picking a puddle brings focus. It also means saying “no” to the distractions. The nice-to-have resume builder that you don’t really care about? No, thank you. The I-really-should obligation? Maybe there’s someone out there who actually wants to do that one.

This idea really hit home for me when my kids were little. There were other moms in their preschools who volunteered in the mornings and put together events. I worked. I scrabbled time off to go to the early-afternoon cupcake party or the holiday parade, but every time I passed on the sign-up list I felt like I was letting my kids down or somehow being a second-rate mom. I realized that I had to make peace with this situation or drive myself batty.

So I focused on what I could do. I took good care of my kids. I provided supplies. I attended the events the other parents organized. And I let got of feeling like I wasn’t doing enough to pitch in. Much  of my work has been community-focused, taking time and energy during evenings and weekends. That’s my puddle. My kids’ well-being is my puddle. They didn’t care whether I was being a super-mom in everyone else’s eyes. They just wanted to know that I came to their event and that I cared about them. That was enough.

Be purposeful in your career.

Purposeful is not the same as ambitious. Ambition is great. Positive ambition moves us forward, gives us direction, and helps make the world a better place. Ambition alone can be directionless. It can propel us through choices, through jobs, through decisions yet still leave us hunting for the next gold star or seal of approval.

Purpose depends on understanding what’s important to you and making your decisions with both your short-term satisfaction and your long-term interests in mind.

Purpose helps you shape decisions, see opportunities, and follow a path that may not always be direct or clear, but brings you meaning along the way.

I’ve had friends who went for the higher salary and better title with each promotion only to find themselves making a lot of money, living in a nice house, and wondering how they’d ended up there. They could tell their story – they’d been ambitious and collected all the prizes – but they ended up saying things like “I never thought I’d work in a company that doesn’t really do anything.” or “I just make lots of money for other people and they let me keep some.”

Other people I’ve known have been deliberate about taking only opportunities that delighted them at the moment and are left wondering where all the time and money went.

I’ve done both. Taken jobs because they were safe or necessary. Taken risks because I felt cornered. It wasn’t until I started to develop a better sense of my puddle and my purpose that I could begin to make decisions with some long-term meaning.

For some people, this appears to be easy. They seem to know their purpose and pursue it with great intention. When I listen to my friends, co-workers and family though, I believe that most of us don’t have this kind of singular drive. In a world of endless opportunities and choices, this part of career management is a learned art.

Learning yourself is a good place to start.

Don’t stay in bad relationships.

We’ve all gossiped about someone in a bad relationship. Why doesn’t she leave him? Can’t he see what’s wrong with this situation? Most of us know that it’s really hard to see from the inside what we clearly see (or think we see) from the outside.

We stay for many reasons. We fear failure and loss. We rationalize, we make excuses, we don’t question our story about how we arrived here and why we stay. But our story is just that. It’s a story we tell ourselves about the path we’ve followed, the choices we’ve made, and how they all hang together. The thing to remember is that we are writing that story all the time. When you find yourself stuck, wondering where the love went, it’s time to put on your best-friend-perspective and try to see your situation from the outside.

If a co-worker is consistently egging you into situations you’re not comfortable with, maybe it’s time for a new relationship.

If you’re not feeling fulfilled by the choices you’re making about your time, maybe it’s time to choose differently.

Sometimes we stay because we “owe it to them.” Loyalty is good. But be sure you’re being honest. Loyalty that’s a cover for fear, insecurity, or failure to reflect is not good. It’s fine – admirable – to be loyal, and, like with any good relationship, you will change, you will grow, and you can participate in the relationship to make sure you’re getting what you need out of it. That’s when everybody comes out stronger.

Focus on your strengths and fill in your gaps

There are a lot of people out there who are willing to tell you what your weaknesses are and how to fix them. It’s easy to get sidetracked into a self-bending case of triple-i: Insecurity, inadequacy, inferiority. Don’t go there.

You’re not perfect.

But you already knew that.

I remember a favorite teacher telling our class that her job was to help us learn to think. “You need to know how to think and how to find information. You don’t need to memorize the dictionary.”

Find out what you’re really good at and focus on that first. Great with numbers? Master everything you can about budgets, financing, and software. Good at people? Get some experience mediating, leading discussions, and public speaking. Shine.

When you realize you’re not good at something, don’t obsess, just fill in the gaps

You’re the numbers guru but not great at public speaking? Offer to make a budget presentation to your group. Take your strength and use it to support your attempts to fill in your gaps.

Great at leading teams but terrible at meeting deadlines? Get your best performing team together and poll them for suggestions. Then put them in play.

Any change requires discipline, doubling up something that’s easy for you to do with something you need to improve gives you more energy to pull through the tough parts.

Fix. Don’t obsess.

Learn to have difficult conversations

Here’s the exception to “don’t obsess.” If there’s one thing I think we should all obsess over, it’s learning how to have difficult conversations.

Figure out what you fear (confrontation, anger, being wrong, being vulnerable) and find out how to get better at it. There are resources out there. Read them. Learn them. Practice.

This is one skill that you can, and should, master.

It will make you better at everything.

Stuff happens. To everyone.

It’ll happen to you. The thing you didn’t expect that knocks you off your track. It may be temporary, it may be life-altering. It will happen. Probably more than once.

It’s never over.

Keep going.

Ask for help.

It’s probably happening to someone you work with right now.

Give help.

We’re all in this together.

Have a heart

Take a moment to say hello. Notice something. Ask a question. Those people you work with? The ones who annoy you, don’t meet your deadlines, and can’t see what’s completely obvious to anyone who would stop to think for two seconds? There’s probably something good about each and every one of them.

Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with people I didn’t particularly like at the time. But if you’re willing to set that aside and listen, you may find that they’re only human. They have lives, problems, and people who drive them crazy.

You may be one of them.

You never know when somebody is trying to manage a sick parent in another state, dealing with a rocky marriage, or worried about a kid in trouble.

All you can do is respect them as fellow human beings and try to do your best.

I’ve had the good fortune to know what it’s like to work with people of integrity, to work with a sense of purpose, and to feel compassion and care for the people around me.

I’ve also known what it’s like to be a nameless cog, to be looked down upon, and to feel under-appreciated and unfulfilled. In those circumstances, it’s difficult to bring our best to the table. When I found myself babysitting the monster of all copiers for days on end, shuffling different colored papers in and out of trays and tugging torn bits of confetti from the guts of that toner-laden beast, I was not bringing what I had to offer to the picture.

When I left that job, not knowing what was next, one woman took me aside and said “I’m glad you’re leaving. You’re going to do so much more and when you need a reference, just ask.”

Her confidence gave me hope at a time when I really needed it.

Those are the people we remember.

Maybe if someone had handed me this list years ago, it wouldn’t have meant anything to me, but eventually enough experiences run together and there you have it – your puddle.

Do you agree with these two truths for ending the blame game?

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The rate with which germs have been flying around reminded me of a conversation I had with a close friend not too long ago. She was wondering why everyone is so quick to point the finger, sending the blame flying around the room from person to person.

“Why do we spend more time figuring out who’s to blame and defending ourselves than we spend just fixing the problem?” she asked.

Good question.

A recent encounter with a fast-moving virus gave me an excellent opportunity to sit around and ponder this question between sniffles. (blame the germs)

Is it because we are constantly bombarded with news of who’s to blame for the latest political crisis, celebrity scandal, or consumer fraud? (blame the media?)

Is it because the economy’s been through the wringer and many of us are clinging onto jobs, dealing with circumstances different from what we’d hoped for and expected? (blame work?)

Or is it because we’re so quick to publicize the failures and shortocmings of the people around us and we’re afraid that will come back around to bite us when (not if) we make our own mistake? (blame ourselves?)

No matter who we blame, we can be pretty unforgiving. And sometimes it’s for keeps. Especially online.

If we want to understand blame, it’s helpful to begin with two truths:

  • I am part of the situation.
  • I may see how you are part of the situation.

How do you feel?

I had to stop for a moment after I typed that and screw my courage to the sticking place.

It’s a whole lot easier to focus on the second one, but that tends to turn into putting all the responsibility on the other person and it’s rare for any one person to be entirely to blame for a situation.

Instead of hunting for a scapegoat, it’s useful to think about how we’ve contributed and how the other person may have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the problem.

You don’t typically go into your work with malicious intent, right?

Well, your co-workers probably don’t either.

There are a host of explanations for why people act the way they do and why they make the decisions they do. If we assume the worst of them and don’t bother to ask them, we’re really only operating with half the play book. At best.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume you’ve made your peace with the two truths and you’re ready to begin putting them into play.

How’s that going to work?

In my friend’s example, after she described her work-place, I imagined some sort of dysfunctional family holiday where she would walk in and announce “I’m part of the problem! So are all of you and I can tell you what you’re doing wrong!” Yikes. Pass the turkey.

You may be in an environment where you’re ready, collectively, to take that big step.

Or you may need practice.

Beginning with the smaller situations may be easier. Ask someone you’re on good terms with to observe you in action and to share their point of view  – it could help you uncover your role.

Spend some time disentangling your observations about what someone else did versus why you think someone did something – it could help you discover their role in a way you can share. This is key because nobody wants to be told why they’re doing something (you’ll probably get it wrong). But they can probably have a conversation about what specific things happened and their impact on the task at hand.

It’s the difference between “you always try to undermine me when I speak up in meetings” and “When I tried to share our sales data you interrupted me.”

Practicing with these two truths in smaller situations can help warm your team up for the big game.

This is really complicated and I’m curious what other people are experiencing. I’m waiting for my friend to let me know what changes in her workplace, what about you?

Have you tried to deal with the blame game in your workplace? If so, what do you think?

Do you think the two truths hold?

 

Why are you yelling at me?? (does anger work @ work?)

wpid-2014-08-06-21.08.15.jpg.jpegFacing someone who is angry at you – outright yelling-and-screaming angry – is a scenario that comes up when people are trading work horror stories.

I haven’t found a lot out there about how to deal with it well – just lots of “can you believe s/he did that?” 

I remember the first time I listened to my boss yell at someone for a solid ten minutes behind closed doors (his and mine!) before he fired her. My stomach churned like I was twelve years old and about to be grounded. Not exactly how we want to feel at work.

We spend our entire lives developing our personal reaction to anger and those life-long habits are strong ones. They’re our go-to survival techniques. We may avoid situations that may result in anger. We may try to get in with the first punch. Dealing with anger can take a lot of practice if someone yelling at you isn’t in your comfort zone.

If you’re conflict-adverse, it’s helpful to remember that anger isn’t all bad. When it provides the fuel to make a change, it can really help you. We all hear stories about the “I’m not going to take it any more” moment when people stand up for themselves and they get the respect, attention, or result they’re seeking.

That’s not the kind of anger I’m thinking about here. I’m thinking about the situation when anger is a weapon to tear people down, intimidate, and cause fear, it’s destructive. It’s bullying. It’s the feeling in the pit of your stomach that something suddenly went wrong and you’re being attacked.

And it usually makes you….angry.

It’s not feeling angry that’s a problem. It’s the doing. What are they – or you – doing with that anger?

I certainly don’t have all the answers to this one, but I suspect there are a lot of answer out there from your experiences.

I’m happy to share a few ways I’ve been able to deal with these situations better in recent years than I did in the past. I’m really hoping you’ll share some of your experiences too.

What has been working better for me?

1. Ask: Are they really yelling?

If you’re sensitive to criticsm, hard on yourself, or not a fan of anger, it’s easy to misconstrue someone else as “yelling” when they’re frustrated, anxious, or upset.

If you feel like people are yelling at you all the time, you might want to figure out if they really are, or if your perception is playing into the situation. Maybe you need to hear what they’re saying instead of focusing on how they’re delivering the message.

But, sometimes, they really are yelling…..what then?

2. Walk away

There is great power in the polite exit. “I can see you’re upset. I’m going to take five minutes to gather my thoughts.”

It’s okay to leave. Especially if you can feel your emotions rising to meet theirs. The only thing worse than one really angry person is two.

3. Regroup

Take a break. Find a way to get your thoughts out. For me, writing them down helps a lot. For others, it may be physical activity, talking to someone about the situation, but whatever it is, if it helps you group your thoughts or prepare mentally to deal with the situation, do it.

4. Deal with it

This is the kicker, right? Sometimes, we want to just lash out and then not deal with it. Or we want to just pretend “it” didn’t happen. Not dealing with the situation or the person is not good. It’s like the time you got a terrible report card and hid it from your parents. But you knew it was there. Lurking. And when you least expected it, the reality of having to deal with it would come popping up, spreading that dread all over your bright world of denial.

You’ve got to deal with it, or you’ll be sabotaging your way forward.

Dealing with it can take lots of forms. Maybe you can use some of the ideas in this post, or maybe you have other ways of having difficult conversations. That’s another topic.

But what’s the goal of this topic? Dealing with the initial outburst. Whatever your technique, I wonder if our ultimate goals is to not let their anger trigger the same emotion in you.

Can you do it?

How? 

 

 

Do you leap over conflict, duck under it, or belly-smack your way through?

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Anyone who has spent some time at the beach knows there are a lot of ways to deal with the waves.

On a calm day, you can just bob along, enjoying the sun and the motion of the water. But once things start to churn, you have to decide how you’re going to deal. The beach is a great analogy for our conflict styles.

  1. Run for the safety of the towel. Maybe you just don’t engage, sit it out and watch from the sidelines while everyone else struggle or surfs.
  2. Leap over the waves. The dolphin divers take the waves with a lot of grace.
  3. Duck! It’s pretty easy to just take a deep break and let the big one wash overhead. You can barely feel it as you settle into the calm beneath.
  4. Bellysmack! whether intentional or not, this one can hurt. A full frontal or side-smack? Doesn’t matter much, you take a beating and sometimes a snort of seawater to boot.

Of course, you can always choose a combination approach, tailoring your reaction to the waves, if you have time.

Regardless, after a few hours of battling it out, you’re probably ready for a break. It’s brutal business. You’ve been knocked off your feet, your knees are scraped up, and you’ve probably been caught by surprise a time or two.

Time to return to the towel, chair, pool, sofa, and reassess.

And this may be the critical part of your strategy.

As you replay the day’s decisions, do you beat yourself up for the waves that caught you by surprise? Or do you visualize the next day’s trip to the beach, with better outcomes?

 

 

What do whitewater rafting, the beach, and conflict have in common?

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Nothing, right? One takes place on a river, one at the ocean, and the other could be anywhere, but not while we’re having fun.

I was at the ocean with my children and my daughter was showing me her “techniques” for managing the rather sizable waves. She crossed her arm behind her head, grabbed her nose with her other hand, and yelled “whitewater!”

This was a new one. “That’s what you do if you fall out of the boat,” she explained. She’d been whitewater rafting a couple of weeks earlier and made a logical leap from protecting your head from rocks to protecting your head from the breaking waves. It worked, too.

In a stressful situation, we can easily rely on our learned behaviors instead of reaching out into other experiences to refresh and replenish our tool box.

Moments of conflict, with their intense emotion, can shut us down. This isn’t just something you’re imagining, either. Research shows all sorts of negative effects on our bodies and our ability to make decisions when we’re under stress. A quick online search turns up scholarly articles about our tendency to consider fewer options to solve problems when we’re under stress. And the media is flooded with the ill effects of stress on our health and our interpersonal relationships.

Insight can come in a flash, but the mind has to be able to adapt and see it.

How can we cultivate these types of moments?

We can boil a lot of this down to two main ideas.

Give yourself something to work with ahead of time

Go on vacation – even a saturday afternoon doing something different in a nearby town can help. Take a break from your “usual” and do something different. Drive a different way. Read a different type of book, different newspaper, check out an industry journal that has nothing to do with your field. These activities can expose you to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and give you a flash of connection. Take care of your health.

Prepare yourself to be open in the moment

Before your afternoon of meetings, go for a walk. Breathe. Stand up and stretch, look out a window. Make a point of going to the gym. Make a list of your key thoughts. Dump the “to-do” list you’re carrying around in your head on paper so you don’t have to worry about forgetting it. Whatever it is that can calm you, make you feel more receptive and more open to the situation you’re going into, take a moment to fit that in.

When you’ve been fortunate enough to have one of those flashes of insight or cross-pollination, share it with someone else, or let us know here what you think helped it happen.

 

 

Kicking the (Big Blue) Can Down the Road

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Isn’t she a beauty?

95 gallons of recycling capacity on wheels. Who wouldn’t love having this baby delivered to your front door, ready for use? No more stinky bin sitting around in my mud-room collecting cans and paper. Instead, she’s neat, she’s tidy and, best of all, she lives out doors. Like the cat.

While I was happily making room for Big Blue in our lives, my neighbors weren’t quite as enamored.

I live at the top of a gravel road so for me it’s a quick (wheeled) trip down the driveway and out to the curb. My neighbors however had to bring their bins to the top of the longish drive, which wasn’t such a big deal when they could stick their bin in the car, truck bed, trunk…. Big Blue? She’s not going to fit. And the collection trucks don’t go down the gravel drive.

One of my neighbors caught me on my way out the door to work and asked if I would mind if she just left her can up against my shed. Where it would be easier for her to get to the curb. I had visions of everyone down the road asking for the same and suddenly, the image of a Big Blue family reunion without end practically undid me. If I said yes to her…..where would it end? Yet I’m sympathetic. It is a long way to go, and for some people it won’t be an easy task. We live in society, we don’t want to be the grouchy automatic nay-sayers, and we want people to like us.

In my perfect world, the exchange would have proceeded with me having just the right graceful “no” on hand, she’d have walked away completely understanding my point of view, and we’d be all set.

Instead, we had one of those cringe-inducing conversations where I stammered and she backed away, and I couldn’t quite say no, and she’s a wonderful person who probably realized how unexcited I was about the idea and we left it with one of those awkward “I’ll get back to you” things….and I hurried off to work.

So what now?  After I cancelled the “replay” tape, I got to thinking. It wasn’t too late to have the graceful no. And it also wasn’t too late to address the situation my neighbors were facing. I can call the recycling folks and pass along the concern my neighbors have. Perhaps there’s a way they can help the folks who are having a hard time dealing with the new cans? Maybe they’ve already anticipated this and have smaller trucks handy since they’ll need new equipment to collect these new bins? And I can let her know what my concerns are with saying yes (where does it stop?) and let her know that I’ve heard her concerns and passed it along to the right place.

And then? Hopefully we’ll all recycle to our heart’s content.

Have you wished for a “do-over”? How did you handle it?

Tear Down the Argument to Build Agreement

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We had a department store in our town that is being converted into a new movie theater and shops. I drove by today and all that was left of the old store were piles of debris and the metal structure sticking out in the 90* heat.  I could still imagine where the door had been, the shoes, the connection to the rest of the mall, but it looked so different that I could also imagine big theater screens, new seating, and openings to restaurants where there had been blank walls.

I love this stage of renovation, when you’re freed up from what you used to know about a space or a place, and your mind begins to see the possibilities.

In the middle of an argument or conflict, it can feel like you’re dealing with a lot of “knowns” but, if you can get down to the structure of the situation, there are usually more possibilities than we first see.

The metal framework is the essential area for discussion. The bricks, doors, windows, wires, tiles – they’re all extra. They shape the final form and function of the space, turning a two-story box into a department store, a theater, or something else altogether.

Usually, when we walk into a negotiation of any sort, we come with our building. We know what we want from the interaction and how the agreement should look when we come out.

What’s difficult is to engage with an open mind about what the other person sees, to work with them to tear down their building (and yours!), and construct something together that works for everyone.

At the heart of this approach is listening to understand. Since we’re not mind readers, we have to ask questions. Lots of questions.

I deal with a lot of situations that appear to be black-and-white at first. “We can’t do that, can’t approve that, it has to be like this, that’s impossible, can’t be done, this is the only way….etc.” These are position statements.

Usually, there’s a very good purpose behind the initial statement. Finding out what they’re concerned about (safety? cost? management? precedent?) and sharing your interest (and don’t slip a position in here – be genuine about what’s important to you) gives you an opportunity to ask my favorite question: “Is there a way for us to meet both our needs here?”

This approach takes time and a willingness to remain calm, keep asking and digging, and listening for the interests and concerns behind the words.

“How do we both win?” It’s the golden question that, when coupled with really hearing what the other person needs are, can help move us into constructing a shared solution.