Conflicts of Interest
Everything you ever wanted to know about conflicts at home, at work, or in the neighborhood.
I’m having chicken noodle soup for breakfast—because I choose to. It’s probably not what most people are opting for this morning, and it certainly would turn a few heads if I ordered it at the local diner but I’m going with my gut here and answering my hankering for a bowl of comfort on this rainy, Seattle morning.
I didn’t feel the need to consult anyone about my choice today but the mental process I went through to heat up the good stuff made me wonder why the decision to buck the norm took so much time and seemed, well, a little radical. I remembered a recent item from the Internet that covered the idea of choices and how our preferences are often influenced by the preferences of others. We have a multi-cultural society and yet when it comes to what to have for breakfast we often limit ourselves to choices like eggs, cereal, and pastries. Most people would call that standard breakfast fare.
And, speaking of standard, many of my mediation clients ask me what’s standard or want me to tell them what most people do when faced with choices like the ones they’re about to make. What’s standard has become an artificial choice for many. When couples are building parenting plans the standard protocol seems to be that Mom becomes residential parent, the kids see Dad every other weekend and on Wednesday evenings, and then the two adults cannibalize holidays making the kids go back and forth for meals, events, and gifts. Turns out, this standard arrangement doesn’t really work for a lot of families.
My clients may not know in the beginning that standard isn’t going to work for them, so I suppose it’s as good a place as any to start. What would be nice, though, is after they’ve tried standard on for a while they could admit to one another that standard doesn’t fit the bill and maturely go back to the drawing board to create something that fits them like a glove. I’m not sure how to make that way of approaching agreements a standard approach, though. I’m just having one of my standard early-morning, single-participant brainstorming sessions. I’ll have to noodle on that for a while.
Mediators are trained to give clients instructions that both sides must be willing to listen to each other in order give resolution a chance. I’m going to stop requiring participants to listen because listening doesn’t accomplish squat. Let me explain.
In my opinion it’s too easy to listen—or at least claim you’re listening. All you have to do is sit there. You can think about your last vacation, try to remember the 5th item on your grocery list, or clutter up your mind with any number of ponderings—all under the guise of listening. Sometimes the only real effort listening takes is staying in one’s seat and not leaving the room.
Rather than requiring my clients to listen, I’m going to ask each of them to consider what the other has to say. I believe there’s more than a subtle difference between the two. I looked to Webster’s to see what the dictionary had to say and though there are a number of definitions for the words that are quite similar, I found these two meanings particularly interesting.
Listen: to pay attention
Consider: to look at thoughtfully
Considering allows one to move from idle listener to engaged co-participant. Listening doesn’t demand much but considering requires a lot. To consider fully one must mull it over, play “what if”, ask mindful questions, create clarity, and develop ideas that start with the initial proposal but end up somewhere else. It’s hard to do that if you’re just listening.
With the kiddos headed back to school and the adults jumping back into volunteer work, fundraising responsibilities, and committee dynamics I thought it might be a good idea to repost a bit I wrote last year about volunteers…
A few months ago I had lunch with a good friend who discussed some of the challenges she faces working with volunteers. After much discussion we came to the conclusion that all workers–paid or volunteer–are motivated by such things as recognition, reputation, and teamwork, but volunteers often place more importance on their unique motivating factors than paid employees do. If a paid employee isn’t getting the recognition he believes he deserves, he may say, “Well, at least I’m laughing all the way to the bank.” That fallback position isn’t true for a volunteer and thus his need for getting his values met amplifies, which can cause unwanted conflicts in the group.
Take a look at how to spot and work with common volunteer personalities:
The Fine Upstanding Citizen: Interested in building or keeping a solid reputation he may volunteer for too much because he wants to be seen as someone who can be counted on or he may want to focus on just a few things because he would rather do one thing well than a lot of tasks half-way. If you need him to do more, or less, appeal to his desire to keep his name in good-standing when making your request. And, recognizing his contributions with a simple plaque or mention in the newsletter will almost always motivate him to keep up the good work.
Mr. Fix-It: New volunteers who want to swoop in and fix everything they perceive is wrong with the current program make the old guard uneasy and run the risk of alienating the very people they need to help them make changes. There’s nothing wrong with ideas that have the potential to yield higher returns, but there’s a method to helping others hear what one has to say. If you have an over-enthusiastic recruit spewing ideas left and right, suggest that his ideas be shared by first addressing the group and stating what is working, sharing what the proposed change would yield for both the organization and the other volunteers, and stating how much of the work he’s willing to take on himself. His ideas will be received better if he speaks to specific changes rather than suggesting everything is wrong.
Keeper of the Flame: Often known as the traditionalist or old guard, a Keeper may say, “It doesn’t matter whywe do it that way; what matters is that we’ve alwaysdone it that way.” She may be resistant to change because she values tradition and the status quo (and probably boundaries, too). Perhaps she feels she and others have put in a lot of work to hone a well-oiled machine and consequently will take any suggestion for change as a personal affront. Let her know her service and opinions are still appreciated and speak to what her role would be with any changes. Often breaking down proposals into more palatable steps is easier for a Keeper to accept, so suggest a few changes and get her opinion about where you might start.
Social Butterfly: Most organizations have folks who are less concerned about program efficiency than they are making sure everyone has a fun experience. However, meeting timelines or financial goals and building friendships don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You may be better served by utilizing her skills on activities that don’t require timely reports or consistent attendance. Give her permission to bow out of a task and, of course, be okay with having the occasional good time Charlie in the group because, let’s face it, they’re often the ones we appreciate most when it’s time to host the party and build enthusiasm for an event. Whoopee!
The Dues Payer: Often the most pragmatic of volunteers what you see is what you get. Many organizations require parents or members to make a volunteer commitment as part of the membership or tuition, so it should come as no surprise when you’re working with volunteers who are there because they have to be. For these folks you may be better served to find out what it is they would like to do and let them do it rather than assigning a task they have no interest in. Let go of the expectation that everyone shares the same level of enthusiasm for the organization that you do. Have these volunteers do what they do best, thank them for their efforts, and wish them well when they move on.
Resume Builder: Similar to the Dues Payer, the Resume Builder volunteers for no-nonsense reasons. Charitable organizations are a great way for the stay-at-home parent or displaced worker to build or expand his resume. A great way to motivate a Resume Builder is to help him create experiences that meet his goals while benefiting the organization. For example, if the volunteer is interested in leadership opportunities, help him develop his skills with group tasks or specific fundraising assignments.
My friend and I also came to the conclusion that it’s rare to find a volunteer with just one volunteer personality or motivating factor. You may encounter a Fine Upstanding Citizen who is fulfilling her child’s tuition requirement while simultaneously building her resume or a Mr. Fix-It hoping to be the next Keeper of the Flame. This may require more investigating on your part, but working to discover what makes a volunteer tick and then managing her accordingly will keep her motivated and minimize conflicts.
This just in! The City of Kirkland has proclaimed Sunday, August 28th as “Sasia Regan-Hughes Be Kind to Everyone Day.” Check out the link on Facebook to attend this virtual event and make a pledge to offer a simple act of kindness to everyone you encounter that day from wherever you are in the world. For some it will be easy. For others a bit of a struggle. Either way, I know you can do it.
A PROCLAMATION OF THE CITY OF KIRKLAND
Proclaiming August 28 as “Be Kind to Everyone” Day
in Kirkland, Washington
WHEREAS, kindness is commonly defined as a state of being or benevolent deed, and is synonymous with the words: compassion, thoughtfulness, gentleness, and sympathy; and
WHEREAS, anyone who experiences giving or receiving kindness or observes an act of kindness, innately knows the benefits of kindness and is motivated to be kind to others; and
WHEREAS, kindness guided the life of Sasia Regan-Hughes, a Kirkland resident and Lake Washington High School graduate, who showed thoughtful consideration of others, epitomized loving kindness, and looked for the goodness in everyone; and
WHEREAS, Sasia Regan-Hughes lived by her favorite “Words of the Day” – duende which is the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm; and ahimsa, an important tenet of the Hindu and Buddhist doctrine, which means kindness, and to refrain from harm of all living things ; and
WHEREAS, Sasia Regan-Hughes was born on August 28, 1985 and passed away unexpectedly on June 17, 2011 and her family wishes to carry forward her desire that people express kindness toward one another;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Joan McBride, Mayor of Kirkland, do hereby proclaim, in perpetuity, August 28 as “Be Kind to Everyone” Day in Kirkland, Washington and invite the community to be kind to others through words, actions, deeds, and thoughts; not just on this day, but every day.
Signed this 28th day of August, 2011
______________________ Joan McBride, Mayor
Old, unresolved conflicts can be maddening, heartbreaking, and distracting. And, because it takes two to tango you may think that it takes two to bring closure. Most times you’re probably right but I discovered the other day that that’s not always the case.
For the past few years I’ve gotten the cold shoulder from someone who has the skills to address disagreements with me but has chosen not to. Every once in a while I would run into him and be reminded that he’s very angry about something and it would dredge up the fact that even as a mediator there are some things in my personal life I’m just not interested in “fixing.” Sometimes I would see him and think, “What a jerk,” and sometimes I would feel guilty about not being the bigger person and working to make things right between us. There was a time when I thought highly of him and truly enjoyed his company. I considered him a friend.
After our falling-out I gave him the space to speak about it when the time was right for him and didn’t try to rush a conversation. The weeks turned into months and the months turned into years. Crickets. A few weeks ago I attended an event and saw him from across the room. The usual contradictory thoughts of his character ran through my mind and I decided I was no longer willing to have this situation hanging over my head. I, too, have skills and it was high time I used them. So, I approached him.
I found a moment in which no one else was around and sat next to him. I said I missed him, that I had tried to ignore the good things about him in order to stay away, and then stated that when he was ready, I was willing to talk. I had no expectation that my approach would make him melt. And, I was right. I was vulnerable and as he sat in stony silence, I felt he was taking advantage of that vulnerability to try to make me feel small. It took a lot of self-talk not to go to the “what a jerk” place in mind. He finally said he would need more time to which I reiterated that whenever he was ready the door was open and then I walked away.
And, then I saw a flash in the room. Not a real flash from the overhead fluorescent lights, but the kind of lightening strike that comes when you have a life-changing realization. I had closure. I realized that it didn’t really matter to me if we ever talked. For a second that thought felt very wrong because it didn’t fit my perceived notion of closure. And, yet, I felt closure stronger than I’d ever felt it before. I was good, I had clarity, and I considered it “over” for me.
My hope for you, reader, is that you have a similar experience. Is there a negative situation hanging around you that could find closure without the other person? Maybe putting your thoughts down in a letter, extending as much of an olive branch as you’re willing, or simply breaking the ice with a quick email wishing them well might help you get there. It doesn’t have to be a big production. You don’t have to get the House and the Senate to agree, you just have to open a door and let the fresh air into your own house.
“Some people should know better”. “Somebody is making things worse by doing that”. “Someone should really mind his own business”. Some people, somebody, and someone? Who are these nobodies?
When I mediate I follow a pretty universal process that was developed a long time ago by folks unknown to me. I appreciate the trial and error it must have taken to get to a point where they felt pretty good about stamping the structure as an effective way to resolve disputes. These designers had the forethought to leave any nuances to the process to individual mediators which has allowed me to add a few negotiation requirements of my own. I found one a while ago that can significantly change the direction of any conversation—not just a mediated one. Namely, say the name.
Real conversations give you the best opportunity for resolution and if things don’t work out at least you know you were real and said what you needed to say as clearly as possible. Real names help make for real conversations. “Somebody” isn’t going to have to apologize…you need Dave to say he’s sorry. “Someone” should know better… actually, that would be Stephanie. “Some people get their feelings hurt when someone acts like that!” Would that be everyone in the universe or are you referring to yourself?
Not being willing to say you hurt me or when you do that I get angry only makes a situation worse and makes for some pretty convoluted conversations. Clearly stating that you believe Joe is the culprit, that you shouldn’t have reacted that way, or that you’re quoting Susan lets a conversation move from two people talking around a problem to two people addressing a problem.
Who here hasn’t walked away from a fight and immediately started thinking of all the things you should have said? Let’s be honest. After a heated exchange we’re mentally churning away because we want to find just the right zinger to show the other guy who’s who. Sometimes we think of a “good one” later and sometimes we think of a low blow that we smugly deliver in the middle of the argument with great gusto. So proud! So, did we win?
When you talk over someone, serve up cutting remarks with dramatic flair, and try to out shout the other person, do you win? If you’re really so interested in “winning,” why then behave in a way that doesn’t get you any closer to what you really want? It might be better to think a little more strategically about when to zip it than to spend time thinking about the next zinger to dish out. Trust me when I tell you that practicing the art of silence at just the right time could benefit you. Here are a few good places to start.
When the other person is very emotional he’s not going to hear what you’re saying, so why not listen. Any time someone is crying, screaming, turning red, or having difficulty breathing and talking at the same, just be quiet. Let him get through what it is he’s trying to say and listen for clues to what’s really bothering him. He may not even know what the real issue is and allowing him the space to sort through the emotion will help him get there faster. Plus, when emotion is high, reasoning is low.
When the other person is repeating herself she’s trying to tell you something. As a mediator who is witness to a lot of arguments, I know that this is the easiest clue to overlook but, quite honestly, it’s also the easiest clue to recognize if you’re willing to pay attention. If you’re talking, you may not hear how many times she’s said the same thing or you may become unnecessarily irritated at the repetition. Ask more questions about the thing she’s repeating when it’s your turn to talk.
When you truly need to consider what another person is saying, start the work early on. If you’re supposed to be coming up with ideas to resolve a specific situation, doing all the talking means you’re missing out on 50% of the ideas. Of course you’re not going to agree with everything he says, but what’s the harm in letting him know you’re considering his proposals. You never know what’s going to spark your next big idea so why not let the other person provide a little inspiration. Besides, coming in with only one idea and a fixed position is boring!
As arguments go, there’s a lot of stuff flying back and forth. Some of it is helpful and some of it is, well, destructive. If neither of you are willing to practice the art of silence, you won’t get to the important stuff. If it feels better to ask for an agreement that both of you will have uninterrupted time in which to share your perspective, then ask for that. It’s a pretty common practice in mediations because it works. Allowing someone to get it out—all of it out—is a strategic move. It’s not weak to listen; it’s smart.
Now, for a little warning. There’s a big difference between practicing the art of silence and being a jerk. While you listen, throw in a few nods, the occasional “uh huh”, and keep good eye contact. That’s the art of silence. If you listen with your arms crossed, refuse to make eye contact, or use dagger eyes to stare down the other person, that’s practicing the art of war. Big difference.
Tell everyone you know. Washington State now has a new foreclosure mediation act that requires both parties to meet face-to-face with a mediator when a homeowner is facing foreclosure. Check out the details: http://www.commerce.wa.gov/site/1367/default.aspx
My massage therapist and his wife, who have become dear friends over the past decade, lost their beautiful, spirited, and wise 25-year old daughter, Sasia, about 10 days ago. She unexpectedly passed away in her sleep from a rare heart condition. I saw her father today because he was determined to go back to work and on my way to the appointment I was a little nervous about seeing him for the first time since hearing the terrible news. I decided I would give him a big hug as soon as I saw him. While developing the hug plan I realized that I have never really touched him before…even though as my massage therapist he touches me all the time. This morning’s appointment was no exception—but he wasn’t the only one who touched me today.
Over the weekend my friend told me about an entry found in one of Sasia’s journals. In it she proclaimed that she was going to change her life by being nice to everyone. What a concept—I should do that! When I saw my friend today I told him that I had been thinking about “the being nice thing” but that I was struggling with something. I explained that I have no problem being nice to complete strangers; in fact it’s quite natural for me to smile and strike up a conversation even with uber crabby people. I’m also pretty good at being nice to family, friends, and individuals I like. Where I falter is in knowing how to be nice to people who have done something awful or who constantly show their bad side. Being nice to those people doesn’t feel like “nice” to me; it feels like disingenuous fakery. Being nice to someone who steals, cheats, lies, and has no remorse for her actions (yes, I do know a few people like that) makes my skin crawl. How would the victims of those behaviors feel about me being “nice” to their perpetrator? Wow, I guess I don’t really know how to be nice after all. I asked my friend if he knew how Sasia handled that dilemma.
Turns out that in her wisdom she accounted for such situations. According to her dad’s interpretation of Sasia’s-Being-Nice-Rules, one begins by understanding how a person would come to exhibit such behaviors. That’s good because that approach makes sense to me. Through my own soul-searching I’ve come to learn that fractured people do hurtful things and even though I believe every action is a choice, sometimes the need to strike out is bigger than the little voice that says not to.
Then what? The second Rule includes a refusal to strike back or play any nasty games because of the empathy you have for the other person. Yes, I can and will do that. And, then, finally, it’s okay to let go of toxic relationships after you’ve applied enough of Rules No. 1 and 2. What a great set of rules.
So, once again, I’ve been touched by this family. Without knowing it Sasia reminded me that being nice is a good thing and that we all have the capacity to make the decision to do it. It should come as no surprise to any of us that a young woman with such a message was found to have a heart twice the size it should have been for her age and physical structure. No surprise at all.
Bosses don’t generally take it upon themselves to hand out generous raises without employees making a good case for increases. You may have only shot to get it right so avoiding common mistakes could mean the difference between disappointment and getting the hefty increase you believe is warranted. Steer clear of:
Rambling. Going in to have an important conversation about your paycheck should be approached with great care and forethought—not with the attitude that you’ll just wing it once you close the door. Instead, decide what you’ll say, the order in which you’ll say it, and be succinct. Bring a few notes, the documentation you’ll need to support any claims you’ll be making, and keep to an agenda.
Making threats. Blurting out that you’ll walk if you don’t get what you want often comes across as an empty threat and makes you look silly especially if both you and your boss know you’re not going anywhere. Similarly, trying any sort of blackmail tactic (like saying you’ll let his manager know what an idiot he is) is a great way not only to avoid a raise but to get booted as soon as your boss has the chance. If you feel you need to provide an ultimatum, present it respectfully and be prepared to follow through.
Talking about personal problems. Blubbering about collection agencies or the fact that your wife just took the dog, the flat screen TV, and moved out of the country won’t win you any points. It’s not your manager’s responsibility to put your life back in order. Use outside resources to fix what’s outside work. If your work performance merits a raise, your personal finances are irrelevant.
Asking too early. If you’re still carrying the new kid on the block moniker, asking for an increase could send the wrong message—and delay any raise that your boss may have been considering for you when the time was right. Get your feet wet, have accomplishments you can point to, and let your boss know you’re in it for the long-run. Raises are often based on past performance and future potential. Make sure you’re covering both.
Assuming that time equals money. Believing you should get a raise because your warm body made it into work for an extended period of time may not cut it. Talk about how your experience was applied. What did you do that someone with less experience may not have been able to accomplish? Simply saying you’ve “been here longer” may cause your manager to glaze over.
Only talking about what benefits you. Forgetting to mention what you’re willing to do for your boss, her manager, or the company in general could be a mistake. How will you grow the business? What’s the next big idea you’ll tackle? Asking for a pay increase is a strategic negotiation and only thinking about one side isn’t strategic at all.
Failing to perform. Some employees think that if they suck up a little during the few weeks prior to a review, the boss will forget or overlook the fact that they’ve made mistakes, presented sloppy work, badmouthed others, had attendance issues, and generally did as little as they could to get by. Not so. Your plan for a raise at the next review period should begin as soon as you finish the last one. Map out what you’ll do and work the plan, keeping track of your achievements along the way.