The Problem With Conflict

Relationship expert and author John Gottman says 69% of all conflict is unresolvable — That’s the bad news. The good news: Conflict doesn’t have to undermine relationships — professional or personal. The simple reason so much conflict is unresolvable is that it touches on who we are as people, and we are unwilling to give up who we are as people, especially when it comes to what we value and how we see the world. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Conflict is different for everyone; one conflict is trivial and solvable in one relationship and monumental and unsolvable in another. But, just because a conflict remains unsolved, doesn’t mean it has to cause an impasse or be negative. The difference between unsolvable healthy conflict and unsolvable unhealthy conflict that undermines relationships is how you treat each other in the process. Think about it this way: every business problem is a people problem. And in the end, the problem is never that people made a mistake; the problem is how others react to and are affected by those mistakes. Do they become wedges driving people apart, kicking up the dust of judgements, grudge and distrust? Or do they become opportunities to solve a problem, figure out how to connect on a more human level, and build increasing trust?  We live in a culture that wants to feel no pain. In fact, we live in a culture that will do just about anything to avoid pain and discomfort. We don’t want the awkwardness of disagreement — or even the discomfort of fluctuating temperatures, for that matter. But guess what? Temperatures fluctuate. We feel...

How To Really Measure Engagement

Look up employee engagement stats and you will largely find depressing results: more than half still hate their job, are disengaged, and/or want to leave; too few managers are interacting in meaningful ways with their people. You’d think we’d have learned this lesson by now, but we haven’t, and it’s largely because we still think in terms of silos and roles rather then teams and interdependencies. And as long as there are silos and separate roles, there will be us and them, zero-sum thinking, and “every-win-for-you-is-a-lose-for-me.” One of the most often overlooked aspects of engagement is the role everyone plays in engaging, connecting with and inspiring one another. Yes, a lot of managers suck; they’re failing to treat their people with respect, or to provide the necessary resources, support or even the encouragement necessary to thrive. And yes, some environments are simply toxic and must be abandoned. But for those that aren’t toxic, but still not great, it’s worth remembering: change isn’t a one-way street handed down from above.  Granted, leaders set the stage, but we are the actors on that stage. We are the ones around the water cooler either contributing to negative talk, company bashing, complaining about certain individuals, or worse, disagreeing with such behavior but walking away or remaining silent. What makes leaders effective is their ability to inspire action on the part of those they lead. And since we are all leaders, we have that ability to affect the environment, to change the dialogue, to counter a negative momentum and inspire engagement. We often measure engagement by the individual’s performance against the tasks of their...

Occam’s Razor

I have often said adults are like children — just with bigger allowances, and more freedoms. We can be just as irresponsible, just as excited, just as confused, just as inquisitive as a 6-year-old. And, like a parent, one of the toughest jobs a leader can have is the barrage of questions coming their way — questions that can often feel like a doubting of their authority, or a questioning of their wisdom. It reminds me of parenting, when facing some of life’s more challenging and existential questions from our children. You know, the easy ones, like how are babies made? Where do I come from? Hopefully your team aren’t asking those kind of questions, but when they ask ‘why’ questions it may be just as uncomfortable; why are we following this protocol? Why did you make that decision? Why are we not doing this idea? What can feel like a challenge or defiance in a poorly worded question may well be just a simple curiosity, and a shallow one at that. If we can just keep our interpretations, fears and judgments in check, we may find a powerful lesson from raising kids: simply answer the question that was asked. Keep the answer simple in your first response. If a member of your team asks a question about protocol, avoid the temptation to justify your decision and actions; instead, simply answer the question with the facts. That might well be all they’re looking for. And if it wasn’t, they’ll ask a second, hopefully better-phrased question. The objective here isn’t to avoid answering their question, it’s to not answer beyond...

The Show Must Go On

Consider this: the actors performing Hamlet deliver the same lines if it’s a free show in the park or a special appearance at Carnegie Hall, no matter the size of the audience. At least, we in the audience hope for as much, don’t we? Those performers know what some of us forget: The show must go on. Not because it’s important to you, but because it’s important to them — those who have paid you in money, time, or even just excitement. Because the people in your audience matter — no matter how many of them are sitting there, or how much they paid. Never underestimate that which is small, whether they be questions, commitments or engagements. What may seem trivial or minor to a leader might be seriously significant to the person asking. Unfortunately, it’s tempting to give half attention to something that seems small or unimportant. Take for instance, my profession as a speaker. It’s oh-so-easy to write off smaller groups with a, “Oh, it’s just 12 people,” as if that doesn’t demand or deserve the same level of respect, preparation, or commitment as an audience of 1200. But true personal leadership and professionalism means you bring your A-game regardless. That’s integrity. And you know what? Integrity tends to pay off, because the attention you give to that issue you deem minor may allow that staff member to better serve a client, a client who may end up referring more business or increasing their contract with you — or, in the case of that small audience, there may be a power player or your next client among those twelve. It doesn’t matter if it’s large and important or small and “trivial”...

How History Can Build A Great Team

I can’t stop thinking about our Eastern European vacation this summer. If you’ve ever been to Europe, you’ll know that one thing always stands out: History. Europe has couches older than our entire country, and that got me thinking. The First Nations of America can certainly relate to effects of being conquered and the loss of changing cultures, but as a nation, we can’t really comprehend what’s it’s like to have, to put it mildly, “new leadership.” However, many of us have experienced that in our work: a new boss, new CEO, new owner… If you join a department, company, organization as the new leader, it’s easy to fall into the temptation to assert yourself and your authority right away, and while establishing yourself has merit, remember – you aren’t “conquering a people.” Unfortunately, many new leaders come in with just that mindset, like Attila the Hun. But remember, every member of that team you just acquired responsibility for has been there longer than you, they have history, tradition, language — and you absolutely have something to learn from them. As a leader, part of that insatiable curiosity we talked about last week means humbly learning about each other’s history.  People use their history to lay claim to the land they live in; the idea that “we’ve been here longer” gives a deep authority to people, as well it should. It doesn’t mean they have to resist change with violence — it’s more the idea that they just want to hold on to an identity. As new leaders in the modern, civilized, professional world, we can learn so much from those who historically came before us. By honoring that history, we can find...