Political Views and a Friendship at Odds

Ben has been friends with his boss Joe for many years with very few and short-lived disagreements over the years. Ben is a very responsible and loyal employee and highly valued in the organization. He has always enjoyed working for Joe. But a wedge has come between them, or it’s more accurate to say, a wedge Joe has created – intolerance for Ben’s political view.

Ben writes:  Joe always used to greet me and send me referrals; we’d even hug on occasion. Since he found out who I voted for however, he averts his gaze, gives me a gruff “hello” and ignores me the rest of the day. It’s astounding! Occasionally, he pops into my office, sits down, lambasts my position and shares his disbelief at “my ignorance.” He has no patience for hearing my perspective. If I calmly offer to share my side and the facts behind it, he gets red-faced, loud and angry. The staff scatters to an office within earshot to witness the drama. If I ask Joe questions about his position, I get a flurry of expletives and more insults. I want to keep our friendship and my job! Help!

Ben, keep your cool, and show that you care about the friendship and doing your job. Greet him every day as you normally would. At the water cooler talk about what you have in common – projects, family issues etc. If he brings up politics, or makes a remark about your candidate, laugh it off and get back to work. Keep your door open to him and welcome healthy discussion. I suggest you listen to Joe with curiosity and only share support for your position if asked. You can be the sounding board he needs to air his frustrations, but not the whipping post. If the discussions get heated, calmly state that it’s okay that you see things differently and you have work to do.

In time, Joe will see that the tantrums and grudge-holding waste energy and look bad to staff. Conversely, you will be seen as rational, mature and open to healthy conflict – all admirable qualities in life and at the workplace.

The heated political arena is a good test of friendship. Do you need help keeping an open mind and a friendship intact? Contact me at [email protected]      


The Power of “Willing”

If you are trying to get someone to buy into an idea, purchase something from you, or just cooperate, consider the power of the word “willing.” Questions like “Would you like to sign up for a week’s membership?” “Are you interested in making a donation?” “Did you ask your teacher about extra credit?” are all yes/no questions that hope to elicit a commitment. The trouble with these questions is that they don’t tap into the integrity of the person or make them reflect on what kind of person they are. It’s too easy to snap a “yes” or “no” reply.

I learned the power of “willing” while I sat in on a conference call with a group of very savvy salesmen and potential customers. They were not the “high pressure” kind you might expect; instead they used the power of “willing” to turn a “no” into a “yes” or a “maybe” more of the time. They asked, “Would you be willing to sign up for a week’s membership?”  “Are you willing to make a donation? These questions (spoken, by the way, without any vocal emphasis on the word “willing”) evoked surprisingly different replies:  “In that case, yes!” “Yes, I can do that.”  “Perhaps so, that sounds reasonable.”

The credit for this discovery goes to Elizabeth Stokoe, a professor of social interaction at Loughborough University and the author of an interesting book called Talk: The Science of Conversation.  She claims that “willing” works best in situations where “they care about the type of person they are, and where they’ve resisted doing the things you’re trying to get them to do.” What is fascinating about this approach is how one simple word shift changes the emphasis from what the person would like to do to the kind of person they are or how they would like to be perceived: cooperative, open-minded, reasonable.

So, how about that extra credit question and a few other chores you’d like your teenager to follow up with?  Give the power of “willing” a try! It may lead to better grades and a cleaner room!


6 Ways to Communicate with Highly Sensitive People

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are those who “feel too much” and “too deeply (emotionally)” than the average person. They experience acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to external (social, environmental) or internal (intra-personal) stimuli. Highly Sensitive People are neurologically different from others and have many gifts, but their intense reactions to people and situations often cause confusion, conflict and greater emotional turmoil. In order to foster positive and constructive relationships with a HSP, the less sensitive person, or the person who is less extreme in their responses to various stimuli, must utilize special communication strategies.

Here are 6 of the most helpful strategies:

  1. Pause for processing. HSPs deeply process internal and external information and the stress of this can be overwhelming. This will look like they are struggling to express themselves. Give attentive silence and avoid interrupting them or feeding them the words you think they are looking for. When they are done talking, tell back how you understand what they said. Conversely, ask them to tell back what you have said to be sure they have understood you and captured your message accurately.
  2. Notice and gently suggest alternative behaviors. How you point out weaknesses and shortfalls can make or break relationships. Avoid a voice tone that is condescending, patronizing, too loud or parent-like. Say instead, “I noticed that…” or “Are you aware that…” or “Another approach might be to…” These words carry much less blame and shame.
  3. Timing. Pick the right time to give feedback. If you or they are tired, rushed or upset, it’s likely that your feedback will be less appreciated. No one needs to hear that they did 25 things wrong all at once, and this is especially disturbing for HSPs. Pick the top 1-2 to address at one sitting. Engage in a problem-solving discussion that keeps the emotion from escalating. Notice when they are getting overwhelmed and take a break. They may need more time to process a mistake and a solution than you do.
  4. Praise and encourage authentically. Be modest and honest in your praise; many HSP shudder when given a compliment, even a well-deserved one. To keep stress low for both of you, try not to get overly excited about their successes or lack of progress. If emotions aren’t kept in check, your highly sensitive friend will lose face if they disappoint you.
  5. Invite questions. Positive, inspiriting talk and a supportive attitude make you more approachable for questions. They may be hesitant to bother you when they become bogged down with a problem. Let your open door policy (with its boundaries) be known. You may be the “safe” sounding-board they’re looking for. Don’t criticize.
  1. Don’t rescue them from distress unless absolutely necessary. HSPs learn from their mistakes, but with more pain. If you rescue them too often, they may never acquire the thick skin needed to get through life. Your constant rescuing might actually hinder their growth.

Do you need more help communicating with a highly sensitive employee or co-worker? Contact me at [email protected].

Managing Conflict: What Planet Are You On?

Marlee, my 11 year old niece, sent me a picture of her science project on the solar system. As I looked for a way to describe the wide range of styles for managing conflict, her picture offered a perfect metaphor.

Imagine the sun being CONFLICT, the good and the bad. It is hot, powerful, intense and we depend on it for survival. The Mercury and Venus types among us, closest to the sun, are very cozy with conflict – they thrive on it. They are the prosecutors and debaters. Armed with strong verbal skills, they are quick, persuasive, and hard-driving critical thinkers. Conflict huggers, comparable to Mercury and Venus, pursue drama in their lives and love to “stir the pot.”

Earth types feel the heat, but do not fear conflict. They line up their facts and listen intently to adversity. Earth types are able negotiators too. They appreciate how different perspectives promote creativity and personal growth. Alert to flare–ups and other signs of conflict, Earthlings snuff out sparks of conflict before they become dangerous.

Martians, farther away from the sun than Earth, are not as proficient with conflict. They stuff their emotions and try to get along so as to diffuse disagreements. They prefer to mediate rather than meet conflict head on. Some have passive-aggressive tendencies− the unpredictable volatility makes others want to tread carefully near their orbit. This is a trait one might associate with the orbit of a “red” planet.

Then, in our solar system, as in real life, there is a BIG gap. We come upon Jupiter, a large slow moving planet. Jupiter types avoid external conflict; it has enough turmoil on its own turf. They will approach conflict reluctantly because they are awkward with it. They deflect conflict with bravado, an over-bearing presence and feigned optimism (Hey, what conflict? We’re all good here, right?) Jupiter types may stonewall, engage behind the scenes, or step in clumsily if the Earth/Mars folks can’t get the job done.

Saturn, with its many moons to distract it from conflict will, along with the Neptune types, please, appease and keep their opinions private.

Uranus-types, very far from the sun but still in its orbit, call in sick, put off performance reviews, and hate meetings. They will do anything and everything to avoid confrontation.

Pluto (a ball of ice considered to be a “dwarf planet” rather than a full-fledged planet) has an eccentric orbit compared to the other eight planets. Folks who cling to this sort of path freeze in social situations and prefer to be reclusive. They isolate themselves and find interactions of any sort, including confrontation, highly reprehensible.

Where do you stand in the solar system of conflict? Perhaps your job or family situation requires a more flexible orbit that wavers between Venus and Jupiter?

Is it possible to change? Nature says “yes!” If the Sun and Earth were the only bodies in the solar system, Earth’s orbit would have a constant shape and orientation in space. However, because the planets exert a pull on each other, orbits change slightly over time, even Pluto’s!

It is helpful to know your style and the styles of those around you. If you can exert some gentle pull, if you can demonstrate a positive change in the way you manage conflict, others may move with you, slightly over time.



Capture Ideas and Connect Better with Information on Paper

If you want to get your ideas out quickly, put them on paper. Research shows that you’ll process your thoughts and remember more when you draw or write them down. I’m not a fan of GAGs (Gadgets, Apps, Gimmicks) because by the time you find and launch a note-taking app you could have instantly secured your thought on paper. Besides, if you use a phone or computer to take notes, it’s easy to get distracted by other GAGs on your desktop.

The same goes for using a paper calendar vs. an electronic calendar. Many of my hi-tech clients swear by the week-at-a-glance paper calendar book as a way to block off hunks of time and create a vista view of the week.  (See www.ata glance.com)

When reading something you care to remember, you’ll deep-process more of what you read if you annotate in pencil or write a note on a stickie. After you finish the book, skim through your annotations or collect your stickies to review those highlights. It’s so satisfying to remember what you read so you can have an intelligent conversation on the topic well after you put the book down. Keep your stickies together and put them in an envelope with the title on the front. It’s interesting, several months later, to open that envelope and refresh that information.

Be like Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson and Indra Nooyi and have paper and pen ready to jot down thoughts and brainstorm ideas anywhere you’d find yourself hanging out —by your bed, poolside, TV room etc. Keep a moleskin in your pocket or purse to write down ideas when you’re standing in line or getting a haircut. And, if by any chance that little piece of paper is swept off by a gust of wind, you’ll have a better chance of remembering what you wrote if you wrote it!

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