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.

 

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Be Alert to Six Sparks of Conflict

As a founder you need to depend on your team to get their jobs done, done well and on time. But in any young startup, pressures mount, and personalities clash.  You may be uncomfortable with any kind of conflict – the healthy and the destructive kind. Healthy conflict is marked by openness and passionate debate that can yield positive changes. It requires a strong sense of trust between team players, and trust may still be a work in progress.  Destructive conflict, on the other hand, is mean-spirited and personal. Its source is often a grudge, an intent to find fault or weakness or a miscommunication. It can ignite a drama that spreads like wild fire throughout an organization wasting valuable time and money. It’s essential to know the difference.

The “sparks” I address in this post are the unhealthy, destructive kind. Those sparks, if ignored, can combust into bonfires. Some sparks fizzle out on their own. But if tempers flare, if your star players get snarky, or when people start calling in sick, a fire has begun because you’ve let things go too long. You can’t play parent to your team members, but it’s your job to be alert to these six sparks of conflict. Snuff them out before they affect your bottom line:

1) If you work remotely, make as many random, in-person appearances as possible. Meet face-to face with your team and watch them carefully as they tell you how things are going. Probe ambiguous comments or non-verbal behaviors that make you uncomfortable, by asking,

Nancy, I noticed you were rather quiet today. Is anything going on we need to discuss?

 Len, I need clarification on that last statement, can you help me understand what you meant?  

2)  Conference calls can be revealing too. Notice: Who is not participating like before? Who is interrupting or taking over the discussion? Do you notice anything unusual in the tone or energy of their voices? These behaviors may suggest a not-so-positive change in the group dynamic in the form of bullying, stonewalling or anger. Mention your observations to the team or the team leader and explore what may be going on.

3) Emails you or your team leaders receive may expose sparks of conflict. Look for unusual brevity, a change in tone, screaming CAPS, desperate run-on sentences with no punctuation, abrupt or disrespectful language. Approach the sender with your concerns and encourage team members to bring any disgruntled office communication, including tweets and Facebook posts, to your attention.

4) Teasing can be in fun, and if in jest, teasing can be a way to connect with the team and show a sense of humor. It can also be a subtle form of bullying. If you notice teasing, inquire privately whether the person being teased is 100% okay with it. If not, the teaser needs to cool down a bit – or a lot.

5) Listen for employees who are blaming others or not taking responsibility for something going wrong that was within their own control. Get the blamer and the “blamee” into the same room and hear both sides.

6) Are any employees taking frequent or suspicious sick days, arriving late to work or leaving early? This could be due to trouble with the team or personal problems that can affect the team. Take them aside, point out the irregular attendance, let them know their presence at work is valuable, and listen. You may discover the underlying cause(s).

Are you uncomfortable with conflict? Let me help you manage conflict painlessly. Contact me at [email protected]   

 

“Not Feeling Heard” What Exactly Do You Mean?

When teamwork is lacking at home or at the workplace, a common complaint is: “I don’t feel heard.” Children and adults speak it differently, using a wide range of emotions ranging from anger, sadness, frustration, indignation and resentment.

I probed deeper into what exactly “feeling heard” means to people. Over the last few months I took a survey of eight families (including the kids who say this) and four businesses (10-30 employees). I asked what they meant by “not feeling heard.” The most common responses (exact wording or paraphrased) were:

I can’t get X to agree with me.

X doesn’t respond; it’s as if I’m talking to a wall.

 X interrupts me all the time.

X thinks it’s all in my head, that I’m wrong or nuts.

X acts like he/she is listening, but then X goes and does what I was complaining about.

Conversely, when asked how they know when they have “been heard,” people said:

When X makes the change I’m asking for

When X tells me back what I said and says he/she will do something about it

When X makes me feel like I’m the most important person in the room

When X is not looking at his/her phone while I talk

 

This survey pointed out two misconceptions and one expectation about “feeling heard.” One misconception is that a good listener agrees with the speaker and makes the changes the speaker wants − false. It is also a misconception that it is responsibility of the listener to do all the communicating − false again. The expectation is that a good listener shows value and respect for what the speaker has to say − true. It’s important for all parties to come to a consensus of what “being heard” means. It includes the following:

1) listening does not always mean agreeing

2) as a speaker, be responsible for helping the listener listen by stating facts and feelings in a calm, clear and concise way. It means collecting your thoughts before sharing them, toning down emotions and avoiding expletives or loud talk.

3) as a listener, try to limit distractions, pay close attention and tell back what the speaker said in your own words as evidence of your effort to hear them and to clarify that you heard them correctly.

Managing Drama in Your Startup

According to a new book, No Ego by business consultant Cy Wakeman, the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day distracted by drama! We’ve all experienced varying degrees of workplace drama in other jobs – personal losses, power struggles, insubordination, office gossip and petty arguments.  Until you start a business of your own, you may not be aware of how significantly drama can hurt your bottom line. How to manage workplace drama is not typically noted in the founder’s play book. If no drama has spiked in your startup thus far, good for you, but unless you’re working with robots, it’s inevitable.

The usual sources of drama in a startup can be traced to hires without proper job descriptions, under-performing or disgruntled employees, changes in procedures, slow periods and accelerated periods where the company has to scale up quickly. Another source of drama is the life of the employee. Just as employees bring the work stress home with them, employees bring their home traumas to work. Let me address some solutions the “trauma to drama” variety.

Most CEOs want to create an open, caring work environment where people look forward to coming to work. The workplace  may be the only safe and inspiriting environment in some people’s lives.  I support mindful listening as a way to understand an employee who is experiencing personal problems outside of work. Listening wholeheartedly to an employee can help you gauge the intensity and duration of the situation so as to come up with solutions that will prevent company losses. It is the responsibility of the employee, not the employer, to ultimately solve his/her personal problems. It must be made clear that work is not a counseling center or a rehab. His or her fellow employees are not being paid to be social workers. Allowances such as a more flexible schedule, an extended lunch hour or such accommodations are appropriate. A business may have to find some temporary coverage, and if possible, the employee may need to train the temp. Your HR department may assist in finding counselors or support groups. But, I suggest that a business set in advance, reasonable limits to these assists. Meet with your staff and talk about what to do if such drama erupts.

More to come on workplace drama in future blogs.

Are you the frequent victim or the instigator of drama at your workplace? Being one or the other could cost you your job or your career. If that’s you, let’s discuss! [email protected]      

A Tale That Could Be Your Truth

Over the years I have studied procrastination and its roots. For many of my clients, procrastination is an affliction that rivals the fear of public speaking. Getting started and following through on difficult, overwhelming and intimidating tasks no matter how much you may want to accomplish them can be tough. You need a powerful thought, a mind hack that immediately gets you in gear.

Thanks goes out to Tim Ferris who recommended the book Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. Of all the weird afterlife possibilities Eagleman suggests, there is one tale from the book that scares the livin’ daylights out of me. It makes me want to spring out of bed at an hour earlier, add another 20 pushups, learn to like wheat grass, and relentlessly tackle every task on my agenda. It’s this:  If you procrastinate and ignore your potential greatness, imagine that “after you die you are forced to live out your afterlife with annoying versions of who you could have been.” Yikes!

I think there is a strong likelihood of this. I believe that we are born with a wide array of potential talents for the purpose of making the world a better place. It would make a lot of sense, on judgment day, to be compared to what you could have been minus laziness, lacking a plan, or harping on irrational fears. I submit that entrepreneurs like you, people who build something from just an idea, have been awarded a unique opportunity (and a responsibility perhaps!) to make a difference in the world. If we put off doing things that a higher power has given us the chance to do, it’s like casting aside a precious gift.

Whether this prediction is true or not, why not make it YOUR truth? Before bedtime and when you wake up every day, imagine your ideal self in all aspects of your life.  How would you compare today’s performance with your potential performance? Without blame or shame, how can you get closer tomorrow? Therefore, if having to watch annoying versions of who you could have been is your fate, your best defense on Judgment Day will be: I Tried!

Having trouble creating that vision of your ideal self and making it happen? Let’s strengthen the likely culprits – your core skills and routines! Contact me at  [email protected] 

Leadership Is a Posture, Not Just a Position.

Leadership is a posture not just a postion by beckky shafirThat suggestion from Dr. John Izzo’s book Stepping Up should strike a chord in the minds of those who want to be more effective leaders. “Posturing” yourself as a leader is a way to inspire others by your actions. It includes how you choose your words, the sound of your voice, how deeply you listen, how you problem solve and respond to setbacks. The title of CEO means little if the person holding the position lacks the presence of a CEO. Currently, I’m working with a small business that is training managers to be leaders. I asked them to write down the traits that they aspire to and want to communicate to their direct reports. Interestingly, many of the traits listed are the traits these budding managers admired in the CEOs who came before them: direct talk, caring, efficient, organized, energetic, etc.

The Number One rule in Dr. Jordan Peterson’s book The 12 Rules of Life: An Antidote to Chaos is to “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” Presenting yourself physically as confident and strong sends powerful messages to your team. More than an influential pose, good posture can change your mood and your physiology. Research shows that a strong physical posture releases a flurry of neurotransmitters, serotonin, for example. Standing up straight sends a message to your brain to release serotonin which mimics the effects of anti-depressant medication. You feel happier and get better sleep when your serotonin levels are high.

Start your day standing up straight with the intention to consistently demonstrate the leadership qualities you aspire to. Write them down and post them in a few different places as reminders. Watch how your behaviors shape the actions of your employees and, consequently, how your combined actions boost the bottom line.

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