Conflicts of Interest

Everything you ever wanted to know about conflicts at home, at work, or in the neighborhood.

Poor Behavior #3: Pitting People Against Each Other

February 5th, 2012 at 9:37 am by Vivian Scott
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Continuing the Dirty Dozen list of 12 behaviors that cause conflict at work and then are attributed to the catchall phrase, “personality clashes”, I’m adding:

#3 Pitting People Against Each Other

Building a cohesive work group is nearly impossible when behaviors that divide and conquer take over.  If your supervisor has a tendency to pit people against each other in what she thinks is merely a friendly competition for more sales or better customer service, she may not know that she’s tearing her team apart.  Dividing coworkers can cause deep divides that are hard to bridge.

Bringing up sensitive issues in a team meeting (like what’s-his-name’s inability to meet deadlines), or ignoring tension, playing favorites, and using sarcasm to make a point are all ways we can stir up issues at work.  Those specific behaviors do nothing for creating a productive workplace and when the victims of such actions clue into what’s happening they can sometimes turn on the culprit—creating a scene that doesn’t often end well.

No one likes to feel small in front of their peers; even if you think it’s the push they need to improve.  If you’re looking for ways to motivate an individual, start by seeing him as an individual.  Private discussions about shortcomings or areas for improvement will help him hear your message while you tailor your comments to his specific situation.  Let’s be honest; public displays that result in winners and losers are only fun for the winners!

And, then there’s gossip.  It’s the ultimate way to divide people and one of the most common behaviors that even the best of us have participated in.  If you do it, it’s time to stop it.  If a coworker comes with a juicy bit of information or you notice he’s good at throwing barbs at others when he has an audience, don’t participate.  Instead, say something like, “I’m not sure how necessary that was,” or “I think I’ll pass on this conversation.”  A good response that works almost every time is, “Oh”; followed by a prolonged period of silence.   That sends a clear message that you have no intention of participating in destructive behaviors that divide, rather than unite, the working relationships around you.

Why concern yourself with changing these behaviors? Consider that friends and allies come from all corners of the workplace.  The individuals affected today may be the very folks sitting on the hiring panel for your next position or, worse yet, the seemingly innocuous coworker who stealthily thwarts your every move as a way to repay you for the hurt you’ve caused.  Plus, there’s power in numbers and a united team is far more powerful than a divided team.

Poor behavior #2: Letting Ego Get in the Way

January 22nd, 2012 at 7:55 am by Vivian Scott
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Continuing the Dirty Dozen list of 12 behaviors that cause conflict at work and then are attributed to “personality clashes”, I’m adding:

#2 Letting Ego Get in the Way

Do you ever feel like a few doorways in the office need to be widened just to let some of the egos squeeze through?  Well, you’re not alone.  Yammering on about one’s greatness and making decisions based on the façade created for others is an interesting behavior because (it seems to me) that the louder one is about personal importance the more others can see just the opposite in them.

If your manager’s ego is so large it’s blocking out the sun, it’s very likely that he’s insecure, looking for respect, or bringing a whole lot of little red wagon issues from his past into the office.  So, how might you deal with him?  Easy: appeal to his ego!  Remember not to take personally his need for attention or think that any attention going to him is attention not going to you.  Instead, find a way to share in the spotlight he works so hard to garner.   Say things like, “I’d like your opinion on…” and “I think you could really help me with…”  Those are phrases that will perk up his ears because they make him feel good about himself and validate not only his position as your superior but showcase areas in which he really can add value.  Obviously, don’t forget to give him credit for things along the way because if he thinks he can get a little recognition from what you do, he’ll do a lot for you.

If you work with someone who isn’t getting the job done because she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, find ways to make it okay for her to admit she doesn’t have the answers.  Help her out by demonstrating through your own actions that it’s okay to seek more knowledge on the subject or say something like, “I’m not sure either of us knows the answer on this one, so how could we find out.”  If you believe you know what to do, saying, “What’s worked for me in the past is xyz; what do you think about giving that a try?”  Taking an approach that sends the message you’re all in this together and that you don’t know everything either creates the space for her (and everyone around her) to accept help from others.

Singing your own praises can turn off even your closest ally.  Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the things you don’t know.  In fact, in David Marcum and Steven Smith’s book “Egonomics” they suggest we approach our workday with a mantra akin to “I’m brilliant and I’m not.”  I think that makes perfect sense because it’s not asking you to over- or understate your knowledge and experience; it’s simply suggesting that you apply a little humility to what you know and make it okay to talk about the things you don’t.  If someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer, it’s far better to respond with, “Good question, let me investigate that” than it is to make up something that only upsets people when it turns out not to be the case.

Okay, so now I think I should check my ego at the door because that’s about all I know on the subject.

Personality Clashes: A Dozen Dirty Behaviors

January 15th, 2012 at 10:23 am by Vivian Scott
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A smart guy and I are creating a webinar series for employees on the topic of conflict resolution.  In one section we decided to break down what it means to have a “personality clash” with a coworker.  The two of us are going back and forth on what to include and it all started with a study that indicated nearly half of all workplace conflicts are due to “personality clashes and warring egos.”  Well, what the heck does that mean?  I’m starting to think it’s been a catch-all phrase that’s been around far too long and was perhaps developed by folks who didn’t want to take responsibility for resolving issues.  I suppose the premise is that if you simply say a problem is due to a personality clash, then that absolves anyone from addressing it or being accountable for poor behavior.  And, how ridiculous would it sound to tell someone to change their personality?  Where would they start?  Maybe that’s why, in some cases, a whole lot of nothing gets resolved when there’s an ongoing problem between coworkers.

In an effort to demonstrate how a personality clash or warring ego might exhibit itself, I started a list.  So far I have a dozen behaviors that cause problems in the workplace—that could be attributed to the umbrella “personality clash” explanation.  I thought I’d share each of them with you one at a time so we could discuss and maybe refine the list; adding more when needed.  I’ll tell you now that each of them will be brief and won’t cover deep, psychological reasoning or have solutions based on behavioral science studies because 1) that’s not who I am, and 2) I want you to be able to get the message quickly and start to address an issue if it sounds familiar. Here’s the first from my dirty dozen list.

#1 Micromanaging

Ask 10 people the worst attribute in a coworker and most, if not all, will say micromanaging.

If you think you may be the coworker guilty of watching too closing or giving someone the sense that you’re breathing down their neck, try stepping back for a second so you can reassess your approach.  Instead of stressing over every little detail, set clear expectations regarding due dates and other expectations including the amount and quality of the work you’re looking for.

Nitpicking every little detail can make others feel small, so be sure to watch the level of criticism as compared to how much you praise.  Start by saying something like, “The layout works well and so the next step should be to make the message a little tighter,” or “You did a good job of getting all the data in, now let’s figure out a way to make the bottom line more obvious; what are your thoughts.”  Being hypercritical of every little detail puts you at risk for having a reputation as someone who can’t see the bigger picture.  As someone who has a tendency to micromanage, the bottom line message is: if you’re not directly responsible for the quality of someone else’s work, concentrate on your own backyard.

Now, if you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s micromanagement tendencies, start by seeing things from their perspective and consider the real motivation behind the behavior.  Once you get past flippant responses like, “He does that because he wants me to be miserable,” you’ll begin to have a better understanding of what motivates his hovering approach.

For instance, if your boss makes you feel as if she would be just fine pulling up a chair and sharing a desk with you so she can keep an eye on your every move, she may be concerned with her reputation or care deeply about the final product.  Try steering her in the right direction by considering what she does well and then say, “Where you really add value is with presenting the final data.”  Get her focused on areas that have the potential to help you.  Create check-in points at the beginning of a project.  If she’s not crazy about doing that, ask if she’s willing to give it a shot just this once and if she’s still uneasy, ask what would make her feel comfortable with fewer check-ins.

Finally, ask her to share her overall vision or goal and pledge to make decisions based on that goal.  Let her know that you believe an important part of your job is to make her look good and she may be more trusting.

Happy New Year! Resolve to Resolve

December 28th, 2011 at 9:18 am by Vivian Scott
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Happy New Year!  Yes, it’s that time of year when we collectively pledge to get thinner, richer, and more organized.  How about this year we forego some of the usual resolutions and instead focus on resolving some of those lingering issues we have with others?  If you’re ready to address the ice between you and another person, here are a few ideas from previous blogs to get you started.

Be ready to be turned down:  You’re resolving to get things right but that doesn’t mean that the other person is going to want to make nice.  Choose language carefully so you can craft a message that fully expresses your desire for the two of you to discuss what’s happened and your willingness to find a solution that works for both of you.  Saying, “I think we should put this behind us” may be what you’re feeling but the other person could interpret that to mean, “Your feelings are unimportant in this and I’ve made a decision to ignore them.”  Not good.  If you get turned down, be sure to let the other person know that you’re leaving the door open for a conversation when she’s ready.

Be ready to admit your part:  Approaching the other person with an admission of what you could have handled better is a great way to deflate a stand-off and create the space for him to do the same.  He will likely be wary of your intentions so make sure you use “I” statements such as, “I felt hurt about the things that were told to Susan” rather than, “You really messed things up when you told Susan those things.”  Be genuine and leave the excuses (you may call them explanations) for later.  Offer a full apology that includes a commitment that you won’t repeat your actions.

Be open to considering the other person’s perspective:  You likely have a lot of points you’d like to make.  Perhaps you’ve even jotted down a few notes or created a list of items you’d like to talk about.  Hold that thought.  Start any conversation with a sincere invitation for the other person to tell you, from her perspective, what happened and how it impacted her.  When she’s talking, consider what she’s sharing (not just listening for an opening so you can jump in) and let her talk as long as she’d like before you ask questions or explore further.

Be clear about what you’d like to see happen:  So, now what?  If you don’t have a master plan to hold hands and walk off into the sunset, at a minimum you might suggest that the two of you can be cordial or have the capacity to be in the same room without making others uncomfortable.  Do a little thinking beforehand about what “putting it behind you” looks like to you and ask if the other person is willing to hear your description.  You may want to get back to being friends but it’s okay to be open to something less than that until trust is rebuilt.  Remember, you’ve had time to consider the full conversation so let the other person get up to speed and don’t try to rush things.

Making the Perfect Pitch

December 20th, 2011 at 8:29 am by Vivian Scott
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Needing to land a big client, talking the family into taking a risky adventure holiday, or sharing a perspective in a dispute all have something in common.  All three are presentations (or pitches if you will) for getting someone to agree to what you want.

Johnny Chan of the San Diego digital marketing consultancy firm eBoost Consulting, put together a few tips he thinks companies should remember when they’re out to impress and win business.  I think those tips also make sense for anyone who needs to get his point of view considered in a disagreement, so I’m going to share them with you with my interpretations for how they relate to resolving conflicts.

 
Johnny Chan says:

There are three things you need to do in order to produce an excellent pitch:

  1. Craft a compelling message
  2. Enhance with compelling      visuals
  3. Deliver with impact

I say:

There are three things you need to do in order for someone to consider your perspective:

  1. Craft a compelling message
  2. Enhance with inviting tone and body language
  3. Deliver with sincerity

Johnny Chan says about the message:
Children are great storytellers. They’re not only energetic and enthusiastic about what they’re saying, but they focus everything around the listener.

When you’re making a pitch, tell listener-focused stories that engage and spike the interest of your audience. You do this by crafting your message around your intended listener. Start with your point of view or the “thesis” of your presentation, move to the actions your client can take to achieve their goals and then explain the benefits of these actions.

Be compelling and grab your client’s attention with what you have to say. Sprinkling your presentation with anecdotes or opening with a story that will lead into your pitch is a great way to grasp attention.

I say about the message:

Yep, he’s right when he talks about being listener-focused.  Craft a message that will be easy for your listener to hear.  Only talking about your side of a disagreement or pointing out everything the other person has done wrong, isn’t compelling.  People want to do what’s right—especially for themselves—so if you’re only talking about you, you’ve lost half your audience.

Johnny Chan says about the visuals:
Compelling visuals can make your presentation interesting, engaging and memorable.

The most important visual aspect of your presentation are a killer title and opening slides.

These will set the theme (style, tone, color) to make it a cohesive story. Using beautiful and relative visuals will stimulate the listener’s interest throughout the entire presentation.

Along with photos, data can be effective. Data provides concrete and tangible detail to your presentation, and allows for minimal word usage. Remember that your entire presentation should be no more than 25 words.

I say about the visuals:

The way you talk about your point of view can be more impactful than the content.  Having relaxed and open body language from the start (your opening slide, so to speak) can set the tone for a productive conversation.  Unfold your arms, loosen that stiff upper lip, and keep control over your rolling eyes

Johnny Chan says about the delivery:
Delivering a message with impact relies completely on the presenter, and what that presenter does.  The entire delivery of your presentation should include these five things:

  1. Story
  2. Humor
  3. Analogies
  4. References
  5. Pictures

I say about the delivery:

How your perspective is received relies heavily on the level of sincerity in which it is delivered.  Recap the situation as you see it without placing blame.  If you’re generally good at humor, it’s okay to use it but be sure you’re the target of the humor, not the other person.  Analogies are my best friends—I use them daily!  If you’re having a difficult time explaining the impact an action had on you, it can be very helpful to use an analogy as a way to create common ground.

Johnny Chan’s extra tips

  • Use Guy Kawaski’s 10:20:30 style: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 size fonts.
  • Always supply the client with a document of the proposal along with the presentation. The effects of your stunning presentation will eventually fade and that is when the document comes into play.
  • If you get presentation nerves, practice at least 20 times so that you are completely comfortable and familiar with it.

My extra tips:

  • Keep it short, simple, and to the point.
  • If you’re nervous, practice what you’d like to say with someone you trust so they can give you pointers if you’re veering off course.
  • Once you’ve had the discussion, either create a written agreement right then and there or follow up with a note recapping what you believe the plan is moving forward.

Johnny Chan says anyone can do it:


Chan believes that you don’t have to be a natural-born presenter in order to give engaging, compelling and interesting presentations.

I say:

Oh, absolutely, anyone can do this.

Why Sucking Up at Work Isn’t a Bad Thing

December 4th, 2011 at 8:41 am by Vivian Scott
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Brownnoser, suck up, and backslapper are just a few of the monikers folks at work get when they have the boss mesmerized and delivering whatever they want.  Coworkers may like to point out a yes-man’s flaws and make a lot of noise about his behavior, but that doesn’t stop a teacher’s pet from receiving special attention and perks.  Rather than getting angry about her techniques, it may be beneficial to take a look at what she’s doing from a strategic perspective.  Here are a few things to consider:

1)  Throwing an occasional compliment your boss’s way or being the first to volunteer on a project she cares about can get you what you want down the road.  If you have
your sights set on leading the next big assignment, your enthusiasm for a less than exciting task now is a good way to talk about your commitment later.

2)  People help people they like.  If you’d like to map out a successful career path, who better to help you get there than your boss?  She most likely has the ear of other managers and execs so it makes sense to have her on your side.  Demonstrating that you’ve got her back today shows her how she can have yours when you need it most.

3)  It’s easier to get work done when you’re able to discuss the pros and cons freely–and you can do that when the boss feels good about you.  If you’re only complaining, she may see your critiques as just another string of negativity and treat you like the boy who called wolf.   If she knows that you approach things with balance and include praise with your criticisms, you may spend less time convincing her to try it your way.

A word of caution, though. The art of sucking up should be about you and others.  If you’re not willing to help others along the way and help your boss achieve her goals, then
your self-serving behavior could backfire.  Absolutely do not ostracize others, step on backs, say only negative things about your peers, or push them out of the way.  That behavior isn’t sucking up; it’s just plain sucky.

It’s never too late

November 29th, 2011 at 8:18 am by Vivian Scott
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This article is a great reminder that it’s never too late to make amends.  What’s even better is that the store management is allowing the man to move on–there won’t be a big investigation, just acceptance.  Nice job all the way around!

SEATTLE (AP) — The manager of the Sears store in downtown Seattle says an elderly man has repaid — with interest — cash the man says he stole in the late 1940s.

KING-TV reports that the man hand-delivered an envelope Monday addressed to “Sears manager.” Inside were a note and a $100 bill.  The note said the man stole $20 to $30 from a cash register decades ago and wanted to pay back $100.

Manager Gary Lorentson says he thinks the man’s conscience “has been bothering him for the past 60 years.”

Store security cameras recorded the man, but Sears officials said they don’t know who he is and they won’t release the video.

The store plans to put the money toward helping needy families in the holiday season.

You Know You’re Over it When…

November 21st, 2011 at 8:51 am by Vivian Scott
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I was chatting with someone the other day who told me a rather drawn out story of a past conflict and then said, “But I’m over it.”  He went on to say more about the situation and again told me that he had moved on.  A few hours later, he had more to say.  And, the next day, even more to say about the same problem.    I chuckled to myself because I could relate and wondered how he (and I) can tell when we’re really over something.  As is my way, I came up with a list.  Maybe you have more you would add.  If so, let me know because a list of signs that you’re over a conflict, can never be too long!

  1. You no longer try to convince others to take your side
  2. You don’t make little digs about it to the other person
  3. It doesn’t cloud your ability to do the right thing
  4. There’s no need for you to add it to the pile when something new arises between the two of you
  5. Long periods of time go by without you thinking about it
  6. You don’t speak of it
  7. You can’t quite seem to pull up the same emotions about it as you could before
  8. You can clearly see your role in it
  9. Speaking about it bores you
  10. You see it for what it was – and nothing more

Conflict on Aisle Three!

November 7th, 2011 at 7:39 am by Vivian Scott
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Last year I posted this a little late in the season and I thought now would be a good time to repost it as a quick reminder on how to conduct ourselves this time of year no matter what others are doing.  Happy Holidays!

Shopping during the holidays can be a real nightmare.   Facing parking lots jammed with cars, performing complicated search and rescue efforts to find an available cart, and approaching aisles with your best obstacle course strategies can cause even the most happy-go-lucky holiday shopper to start a conflict with any stranger who dares cross his path.  Delivering an emotionally-charged snarky remark while juggling the sweater you’re buying for Nana doesn’t say much about your ability to spread joy or share in the holiday spirit, now does it.  

I can’t tell you how to manage every potential conflict you’ll face during the holidays, but I can pass on a few tips retail workers have shared with me.  Of course, I’ve added my own two cents worth on the subject and hope there’s something in here that will help you keep your cool this season.

1)      Minimize the material and maximize the experience:  What I mean by that is limit the amount of “stuff” you buy and, instead, think about experiences you can share with your family and friends.  Throwing a potluck or hosting a game night will deliver a much better experience than being angry with those around you as you wait in line after line after line spending money you don’t have. 

2)      Shop on-line:  Avoid the lines (and the other crabby people!) by hitting up your favorite stores’ websites.  Check out promotion sites to find deals on price discounts, free shipping, and the like.  Words of caution, though; make sure you’re carving out uninterrupted computer time so you steer clear of fighting with the family when they “just won’t leave you alone.”  Also, practice scanning Internet deals quickly to avoid getting to the checkout page only to discover the discount you’re counting on doesn’t apply to the items in your shopping cart.

3)      Use parking lots as personal training sessions:  Why get worked up when you can work out? Use the back entrance to the lot and take the first spot you see.  Walk the extra distance to the front door with a smile on your face and daydream about what you’ll do with all the extra time you’ve given yourself by not circling the same aisles over and over.  Unless you need to build your demolition derby skills, let the other shoppers honk their horns and yell obscenities. 

4)      Shop the little guy:  I called a warehouse store to ask if they had any tips on avoiding shopper conflicts and the person who answered the phone said, “Don’t shop here.”  Good point.  If crowds, long lines, and oversized carts bumping into the back of your heels make you mad, shop at smaller stores that offer fewer items to fewer customers.

5)      Plan to be patient:  No matter what anyone else does, have control over your own emotions and reactions.  Prepare yourself to take a “we’re in this together” attitude whenever possible.  If the cashier is rude, empathetically ask if she’s having a rough day.  She’ll probably appreciate your interest and lighten up for the next guy.  Smile at everyone even if—and especially when—they don’t return the gesture.

My local grocery store manager said that for the most part, holiday shoppers and retail employees are a cheerful bunch.  His staff actually notices that most of their patrons display quite a bit of holiday spirit even when they’re stressed and tired.  He said that the happiest customers are the ones who have paid attention to the ads (which are timed to coincide with shopper habits) and are completing their lists with time to spare.   He hinted that the best time to grocery shop is before 11:00 a.m. when most of the staff is in, the departments are fully stocked, and there are fewer customers to contend with.  He also said that a shopper shouldn’t wait until late afternoon the day before an event to rush around the store and then get angry with a cashier who’s helping another customer count out change.  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty good piece of advice for any time of the year.

 

 

Here comes the bride…zilla, that is!

October 24th, 2011 at 9:41 am by Vivian Scott
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Getting married is such an exciting time.  The one you love proposes, you honor your best friends by asking them to participate in the big day, the planets align, and all is right with the world.  Until the issues of time and money bring out the worst in you and everyone around you.

When did we get so weird about weddings and all their trappings?  Big, blowout bachelorette parties that involve cross country plane tickets, hotels, limos, embroidered sweat pants, umbrella drinks, and financial responsibility for anything the bride orders seem to be the norm.  Whatever happened to a night out with the girls and a few naughty gifts?   Invitations to multiple showers; some themed, some coed, and some out of the area have even the most experienced etiquette masters confused about the rules.  How does one respond to a bridezilla’s supervac sucking up more cash and time than one is willing to invest?  How does one deal with the family members, bridesmaids, and others who get in on the act by switching on their own sucking machines?  Perhaps a few changes on the modern bride’s etiquette website are in order.

I wonder if it would be helpful if a two-part form was submitted with every bridesmaid request so that everyone would know what they were getting into.  On the form could be a few boxes to check like, “I believe I am the center of the universe”, “Only my wedding matters right now,” or “Get ready to spend some cash because I’m in competition with the last friend who got married and everything surrounding my wedding needs to be bigger, better, and more expensive.”  Then, there could be a response form on which a potential bridesmaid could check, “Seriously, I love you but I need to make rent”, or “This will be my third wedding this year and I’m exhausted.” 

Maybe a more realistic approach is in order.   I would suggest the bride and groom make some decisions about financial responsibilities before they ask their friends to participate.  Will they purchase their own dress, tux, shoes, special jewelry, etc.?  What are your expectations for hair and makeup?  What about lodging for the event?  Etc., etc., etc.  Are you asking a friend who is just starting out in her career to pay thousands of dollars to support you on your big day?  Give her a reality check before asking her to write a check.  While you’re at it, don’t forget to think about time considerations.  Asking a friend with small children to spend multiple weekends away from home on your behalf may come across as selfish.

Feel free to keep others under control.  Sometimes it’s not necessarily the bride who goes a little nuts.  A friend of mine recently experienced another bridesmaid wanting to throw an over the top shower for a bride whose family had already hosted one.  I suppose that’s fine, but after her big announcement she then sent each of the bridesmaids a bill for their share of the cost.  When my friend put on her big girl panties and politely told the organizer that she had budgeted only enough time and money for one shower and would not be participating in the second event, the crickets were deafening.

Be sure to keep your flexibility while keeping your eye on the bigger picture.  It’s really fun to get inspiration from all the great bride magazines and wedding websites on the Internet.  It’s also very tempting to add a little of this and a little of that or change your mind about previous decisions.  It’s your day after all!  But keep in mind the impact these little decisions have on others.  Schedule changes, additional work parties to tie ribbons on new place setting markers, or spending just a few more dollars on these pair of shoes instead of those pair of shoes add up.  Keep your friends your friends by considering their needs.  It’ll give you good practice for the marriage to come!

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About Vivian Scott

Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator with a private practice serving King and Snohomish Counties. She is the author of, "Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies" and a contributing author of "Thriving in the Workplace For Dummies" as well as "Managing All-in-One For Dummies" (Wiley Publishing). Ms. Scott is a Certified Mediator Member of the Washington Mediation Association and received their Outstanding Contributor Award in 2012. Her mediation cases range from assisting couples through divorce and parenting plans to creating new workplace environments for organizations of all sizes. You can learn more about Vivian by visiting her website at www.vivianscottmediation.com. or www.anytimeseminars.com

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