Conflicts of Interest
Everything you ever wanted to know about conflicts at home, at work, or in the neighborhood.
I’m lucky that I’ve had so much training and experience in mediating issues between others. It’s impossible to be a part of the mediation community and not learn a thing or two about oneself in the process. So, today I’m going to share, in no particular order of importance, ten things I’ve learned along the way.
1) Gossip is boring. I don’t mind people sharing updates about family or friends with me, but when it turns into a conversation that has too many oohs, ahs, and smirky faces, I’m out. My threshold for listening to someone jabber on about others is low because I have learned that if they talk about other people like that, they probably talk about me like that. No thanks.
2) Everyone cares about something so much that they’ll do crazy stuff to defend it. In the world of mediation those things are called core values, but without going into too much detail about them, I now know that when someone reacts to a small situation in a big way, it’s because something they value is being threatened. And now, rather than jump back at them, I’m curious to find out what that “something” is.
3) I don’t have to like you. I struggled for years trying to find the good in others, feeling guilty for being too critical of some people, and beating myself up for not making more of an effort with difficult folks. Now? I’m good not to like every single person on the face of the planet.
4) I don’t have to fix everything. It’s okay, and I mean okay, for me to let other people work out their own issues on their own timeline. I’ll just be over here focusing on my own life, thank you.
5) Everyone is a mess. I read a quote once that said something like, “everyone has a life and no one gets out of it”, meaning that every one of us experiences sad, bad, and lousy events that mess with us. We all have issues and we’re all trying to mask them, deal with them, or sometimes share them in the most inappropriate ways.
6) I can work things out when I’m ready. It’s okay to lick to my wounds, think about things, vent to my trusted confidants, wait a while, think about things some more, and then resolve issues with others. It doesn’t have to be on anyone else’s timeline if it doesn’t feel right for me.
7) Giving space to others doesn’t mean I’m giving up. If I’m willing to give myself the time and space to think things through, it’s certainly okay for me to do that for others. Everything doesn’t have to happen right now, right here.
8) Sometimes it’s not possible. Mental health issues, addictions, and things greater than all of us really can, and do, get in the way of mending relationships.
9) I truly can be happier walking away. After so many failed attempts to build a relationship that feels authentic and genuine, it’s okay for me to let it go. I mean really let it go. I’ve discovered that the empty feeling I thought would be there is actually a space that gets filled with contentment and peace.
10) I can think whatever nasty thoughts I want. Yes, it’s true, over the years I’ve become much better at editing my critical thoughts about others. I’ve also become much, much better at editing how those thoughts sound when they exit my mouth. But, there are those days when I give myself permission not to edit thoughts. I’ve learned that I can think whatever I want about whomever I want and that doesn’t make me a bad person. In fact, last I checked, it makes me human.
This is just a quick thought for today.
I’ve noticed a pattern during the private meeting portion of the mediations I manage. The intention of this one-on-one is to uncover what’s really at the heart of the matter and to help the person share that issue with the other party in a meaningful way when we’re all back in the room. This confidential conversation starts with me asking a question or two and often results in a ride down a road littered with signs demanding that the other guy change. Of course people should ask for what they want—that’s an important part of resolving conflict—but hurling out demand after demand after demand makes it nearly impossible for two people to get it together.
So, I have found myself asking a simple question: “What would you do if you had to create a solution that didn’t involve change for the other person?” I’ve come to realize that there is truth in the adage that states that in almost every situation you can only change yourself. I’ve also come to realize that the bonus in adopting that philosophy is that when you change yourself you absolutely change the other person.
I’m just sayin’.
I just got back from a holiday with my significant other and as I get ready to take a long weekend with family, I’m thinking about how fortunate I am this year to be taking so much time off. I realize not everyone has the same opportunity, so I thought I’d share some ways in which one can take a vacation at work without actually taking time off.
First, don’t sign up for things. If you’re the person who is always volunteering or stepping up to take on a task because everyone else at the conference table doesn’t seem to be picking up on the importance of getting things done, just wait a minute before you say yes. Believe it or not, sitting in awkward silence for even a few seconds just may be the thing that catapults others into action.
Be okay with not being included. Don’t feel like the last kid picked in gym class if you’re not part of the project committee or pout if you don’t have a role in the big product launch. No need to create work; enjoy the free time!
Invite someone to lunch. There’s no rule that says you can’t socialize during the day. Once in a while, take that full hour and just enjoy someone else’s company. If you need to take baby steps in this area, meet for coffee before work or challenge to yourself to have a 10 minute conversation with a coworker in which you talk about anything but work. Hint: let the other person talk!
Close the door (literally or figuratively). If you’re lucky enough to have an office with a door, close it for 20 minutes while you clean up a bit or savor that one piece of chocolate your diet allows. No door? Dare to close your eyes while you listen to a cut from your favorite island music CD or change your monitor’s screen saver to something that represents your happy place.
Inspire yourself. Take 10 minutes to journal ideas that don’t have anything to do with work. What would you do if you weren’t working? What’s next on your bucket list? Find a way to create the essence of big ideas if you don’t have the time or money to bring the big things to life right now. For example, want to float down the Nile? Check out the local museums for Egyptian exhibits or spend 30 minutes during your lunch break reading about the adventures of other travelers.
Ignore the little things. So what if Karen is late again or Dave can be seen brown-nosing the boss? Take a vacation from the junk!
Who hasn’t seen the poster on a break room wall or heard the rally cry at a company meeting that shouts, “There’s no I in team!”? Yep, the quote is everywhere and even though I understand the intention behind it, I say pshaw to that notion!
It’s clear that the quote is meant to evoke enthusiasm for that teamwork thing organizations always seem to be striving for. They want that well-oiled machine that runs on all cylinders, never has a disagreement, and exceeds every goal put it front of it without breaking a sweat. But the idea that individuals don’t matter in a work group is just silly. Of course they matter! When individuals are able to share ideas, be innovative, and take personal accountability for words and actions, the sky is the limit. If employees are supposed to check their “I” at the door, it should come as no surprise that they also may check the level of interest and personal investment it takes for a team to succeed.
The experts at Question Behind the Question tell us to bring out the “I” in a team setting by asking these questions:
- “How can I elevate my performance?”
- “What can I do to move the team forward toward the goal?”
- “How can I support those around me?”
I think those guys know what they’re talking about. Imagine if you approached the next group meeting and started asking I questions instead of team questions. You’d be challenging the status quo, that’s for sure. Demonstrating that you’re willing to take personal accountability for how well (or not) the team does may start a brand new way of interacting within the group. Give it a try and report back, because, well, I would like to hear about the results.
In my line of work we talk about the importance of process. People like to know that we’re following a process; we know that everyone needs time to process, and some say it’s all about the process. Individual journeys are, well, individual and just because you’ve decided you’re ready to apologize or tell someone a thing or two doesn’t mean that they’re at a place in their own journey in which they’re willing to sit on a park bench with you and hear you out.
You’re ready to talk. She’s not. Now what?
First, know that you can’t love, force, or cajole someone into behaving the way you want. Putting pressure on a person who isn’t responding to you only makes you feel better. In fact, that squeeze often makes the other person exponentially more irritated. Yes, you may want to resolve this right now but if you really want things to be better then be willing to wait for a time when things could be better.
Don’t assume you know all the reasons the other person doesn’t want to talk or share his feelings. Of course your assumptions may be right, but you could also be very wrong and if you begin approaching him as if you have all the answers, the clam shell may close even tighter.
Leave the door open for when your journeys might arrive at the same rest stop. If you reach out to someone, be sure to let him know that if he’s not ready to resolve things now, you understand. Ask him to let you know when he is ready and in the meantime be patient.
Why is it that whenever someone shares disappointing or sad news with us our first inclination is to throw on a super-hero cape and deliver the perfect words that will make everything better? No matter our good intentions, what usually happens, though, is that we end up saying really stupid things—meant to be nice and comforting, mind you, but stupid nonetheless. Here are a few examples:
We say: If anyone can handle this, you can.
Why it’s stupid: In your effort to prop up your friend or loved one, you’re putting unnecessary pressure and responsibility on someone who is already feeling the weight of the world. Now they have to get through the situation and deal with your expectations? Please!
We say: Everything happens for a reason.
Why it’s stupid: Not everyone believes in the same fateful, every-dot-connected life you might. The middle of a personal crisis is not the time to burden your friend with the obligation to figure out the meaning of life (theirs, yours, or anyone else’s).
We say: Your loved one can hear you/see you.
Why it’s stupid: Believing, or not believing, in the hereafter is very personal. Even if the other person is staunchly religious, you may be dismissing their sadness or disappointment at not having their loved one with them in the way that they would want.
We say: You’ll be fine.
Why it’s stupid: No one has a perfect crystal ball that shows the accurate outcome 100% of the time. I think it’s one of the most dismissive things you can say to someone. It can also come across as calling the other person a liar, insinuate that they’re exaggerating, or sends a signal that you’re unwilling to listen.
We say: That happened to me, too!
Why it’s stupid: There’s no acknowledgement about what you just heard the other person say. It’s also akin to clumping a number of other poor responses into one big blurt (you’ll be fine, you can handle it, it’s not a big deal).
We say: She’s just jealous!
Why it’s stupid: We don’t know the other person’s motivation. And, really, how often have you behaved badly toward someone because you were jealous? I mean really. The reasons are rarely that simple and often have more to do with the way people make us feel than being envious of one’s money, looks, or achievements. This can come across especially stupid when a parent says it to a child; missing a great opportunity to talk about human behavior and the impact of one’s actions.
I freely admit that I am not above saying stupid things (how do you think I came up with this list?!). If I’m on my game, though, when someone shares bad news with me I take a breath—or two or three—before I respond. And, then I do this:
Listen longer than I think is necessary.
Say,” I’m sorry this is happening” and then listen some more. Most people don’t want my advice; they want my ear and my undivided attention.
Say, “How can I help?” only when I mean it. I learned a long time ago that people will say “Let me know if you need anything” and then when you do let them know they’re not really willing to do what you’ve asked. If I’m not willing to do anything they ask, I don’t offer.
Say, “I hope it all works out the way you’d like it to.” Even if I believe the writing is on the wall, making assumptions on how things will end while the person’s head is spinning doesn’t help them. The last thing they need is to get into a debate with others over the details and potential outcomes.
Then, I listen some more. I probably still say stupid things but spending more time listening than I do talking helps me say slightly less stupid things than if I just blurt out what I think sounds nice.
Has anyone else noticed the so-called inspirational quotes flooding the social networking sites these days? Some of them actually do inspire me. Any quote by Maya Angelou is sure to be thought-provoking and insightful and makes me want to be a better person. Dale Carnegie quotes are often straightforward and to the point and help me get on with things. And, then there are the often anonymous quips that sound more like excuses than they do encouragement.
I’m talking about posts or tweets that say “Only God can judge me” or “I am not my mistakes” or any blurb that’s about never regretting anything you do. Really?! Never regretting your word choice or ignoring the impact of your actions on others is supposed to be inspirational? Of course we shouldn’t have to lug around every mistake we’ve ever made, but to perform the rite of self-absolution and give ourselves immunity in one fell swoop seems like we might be missing an important aspect of resolving problems. You know, the part where we make a mistake, learn from it, and do better next time.
The sayings that especially make me shake my head are the ones about how awful it is to be perfect; as if someone asking you to be better wants you to be perfect. Um, not quite. Forward progress would be just fine for all of us. In my opinion, anything that makes the quest for enlightenment sound dull or ridiculous is, well, ridiculous. Imagine what we could achieve if we stopped coddling each other when we didn’t need coddling! Actually, I think that last sentence is a good quote and I just may post it. LOL
I probably could have found a much classier way to state the title of this blog entry but, quite frankly, it’s in response to people asking me how to cut through the crap and settle things. So, here are the unrefined, in your face, things to do.
- Determine the long-term goal. Ask yourself what role this person will play in your life moving forward? Someone who is the mother of your children isn’t going away so think past next week. Your boss may not always be your boss but they may give you a lousy reference (on or off the record) that can haunt you for years.
- Take your own role seriously. With as much objective criticism as you can muster, it’s time to admit you’ve had a role in the conflict. If you want to drag something out, play the blame game. If you want to resolve it, come clean about your actions, your tone, your intentions, and get ready to apologize for all of it.
- Carve out the time and space. Make sure there’s enough time to get to the issues—the real ones. Asking someone to help you fix what’s wrong between the two of you in half an hour only puts a bandage on a serious wound. Face to face is the best way to resolve conflicts. Period. Well, unless the other person’s geographical situation gets in the way; then a phone call or Skype is okay. And, speaking of technology, quit with the multi-tasking. Focus on the conversation and only the conversation. No texting, email, checking the stock prices, listening to the phone jump around on vibrate, or letting others interrupt you.
- Be prepared to speak up. Before you meet with the other person write down what you’d like to say and then doodle on the paper until you can find a way to say it that won’t make the other person run out of the room and straight to the evening news to report what a jerk you are. Most people focus on telling the other person what they want stopped. Instead, come prepared to ask for what you do want. For example; rather than telling your ex-husband to stop being such a donkey when you exchange the kids, say that you’d like to see the two of you say hello in the same tone you might use with a friend and give each of the kids a hug before leaving.
- Sweat the small stuff. The first thing you did was to consider the larger picture (determine the long-term goal). Now, figure out the steps needed to get there. How will you know when you’re there? What will each of you be saying, doing, and feeling? The details of how we get along are often lost in the agreements we make to “just get along” and if you have a different picture of what that looks like than I do, we could find ourselves back to square one. Details, details, details are at the core of successful resolution.
- Do the hard things first. See steps 1-5.
When I first decided to join the social media bandwagon I thought it would be fun reconnecting with high school pals, friending relatives near and far, and generally creating what I thought would be an interesting community of online connections. That certainly happened, but in the course of logging into Facebook for the purpose of keeping up with people I care about, I also got this:
Posts about your fake life. Did you forget that I know you? Really know you? I know about your financial issues, your messy relationship, and your less-than-stellar parenting skills; so when you post things that show off your newest purchase, gush about how much you love your man, or give tips on how to handle tough situations with a teenager, it makes me wonder what planet you’re living on.
Contradictions. Yes, this I realize this might be the same thing as the above point, but I’m going to take it a step further with an example. Someone I know provides link after link, post after post, about clean eating, organic food, and her obsession with feeding her children only the best of the best. Um, maybe she should have removed the huge bag of Cheetos the kids were clearly munching on before taking the picture she posted. Just sayin’.
Naïve statements. Let’s all agree that we don’t know what we don’t know. If you’ve only lived in one place, never traveled, don’t read much, only watch one news channel, and then blather on about something you clearly know very little about, you may want to re-think how loudly or forcefully you state your opinion on the subject.
Arrogance. I’m over the “shove it where the sun don’t shine” approach to any topic. If your first reaction is to poke someone in the eye or put a boot up their booty, it makes me think you may be a little intellectually lazy.
Single-mindedness. I understand, from your last 50 posts, what your views are on marriage equality, the President, anyone in public office, the military, global warming, your one and only god, and the local sports teams. Is there a box you’d like us to check when we figure it out so you can stop posting about it? Please let me know where I can find it – thanks.
Misuse. Facebook is not a place to post recipes – that’s allrecipes.com or Pinterest. It’s also not a place to post something every ten minutes. That’s what Twitter is for. Again, just sayin’.
FML statements. If you want (repeatedly) to say that your life is “fricked”, please use a better example than having to wait so long at a red light that you were late for an appointment. Or, that you broke a nail. Or, well, you get it.
Thank goodness for that option that lets me hide people! Now, back to my page to remove anything that might fall under any of these categories (smiley face).
When companies consolidate departments or lay-off employees, the action often results in administrative support staff working with multiple bosses. Though the strategic goal is to save money, the act can backfire if the new normal doesn’t quickly fall into place. Assistants play a critical role in how swiftly that happens. Here are a few tips to help:
1) Acknowledge that bosses are unique individuals. Managers don’t all come with the same personality, or work style, or expectations. It’s difficult enough to create a smooth routine with a single manager, let alone two or three. If you’re trying to make your work relationships “one size fits all” you risk not getting the most out of your manager in terms of what she’s willing to do for you. Spend some time getting to know what makes a particular boss tick and you’re well on your way to success.
2) Openly discuss sharing your time and talents. One-on-one working relationships can be tricky on their own but when you add in another boss the solid and dotted lines on the org chart can feel more like a twisted path to Satan’s playground than the reporting structure they’re meant to describe. Relax. Meet with the managers in the same room at the same time with the intention of creating a plan that makes sense for all parties. Conduct the meeting without whining or complaining or pointing fingers. Start by letting them know you’re interested in everyone looking their best and then be specific about items that may fall through the crack or any awkwardness you anticipate regarding what to work on when. Have at least three solutions ready and let the conversation go from there.
3) Throw favoritism out the window. Don’t worry about trying to be fair in the sense of “split down the middle” fair. Instead, concentrate on needs and expectations. If one boss requires less, so be it. If your managers are pretty equal in terms of workload, then talk with them about your ideas on how you’ll prioritize and then get their buy-in on the plan so that you can refer to it later if needed.
4) Be flexible. Everyone knows there’s a certain amount of shifting, adjusting, and modifying that takes place with any change at work. Accept that. If Plan A isn’t working, be okay with going back to the drawing board and reworking, rediscovering, and revising.
5) Stay focused on the work. What you produce is the currency that others are judging your bosses on. Sure, they’re graded on their leadership or people skills, but if at the end of the day they don’t make their sales quotas or are late with reports, they’re penalized. And, you don’t want to be the one responsible for that! Managers have been known to hang on to administrative assistants who have rough personalities but get the work done more than they retain assistants who have great people skills but don’t accomplish anything. (Disclaimer, this is not permission for you to behave poorly, it’s simply an example of how important the work is.)
Lastly, a good thing to remember about managers (or any individual coworker for that matter) is that people are never against you, they’re simply for themselves. Regardless of the reporting structure, look for ways to let people know you have their back. They, in turn, will have yours.