Conflicts of Interest
Everything you ever wanted to know about conflicts at home, at work, or in the neighborhood.
Usually blurted out in a moment of frustration, “How would you feel if I…?” is often a last ditch effort by the speaker to be heard, validated, or understood by the listener. I admit I’ve said it myself when I’ve fumbled around for the right words to express the hurt or disappointment another person has caused me. Hearing myself or anyone else utter something akin to, “How would you like it if I did that to you?” or “If I treated you that way, you wouldn’t be very happy!” almost always makes me wince because I know the question rarely moves a conversation forward. In fact, it frequently does just the opposite—and here’s why:
1) You’re asking someone to feel exactly how you feel; to have the same emotions, the same perspective, and then agree with you. If they don’t concur (and they probably won’t) you end up in a circular debate in which the other person finds new ways to discount your feelings. Replies such as, “Well, I would know that it was just a joke and I wouldn’t be such a baby about it!” or “I wouldn’t care so neither should you” most certainly won’t bring the two of you any closer to resolving the issue.
2) You’re asking someone to read your mind, to know the impact of every action that’s ever happened to you, and then know how that historical impact is being applied to the current situation. They can’t do that–only you can. Asking the other person to make the leap from “You wouldn’t like it if I took you to my company picnic and left you to fend for yourself” to understanding the issues you have with unpopular memories from high school is unreasonable if you haven’t explained yourself. People really don’t just know things; we have to tell them.
3) The question muddies up the conversation because the two of you start debating whether or not the statement is true. Responses that include odd and old examples like “that one time when you did that thing that’s sort of like the thing we’re talking about now and I was okay with it” only cause huge distractions and completely derail the discussion.
When “how would you feel” questions are inserted into a debate, the best one can hope for is a response with some level of understanding. And, that happens sometimes. But then what? It may seem you’ve gotten through to the other person but keep in mind that there can’t be that much understanding taking place because you haven’t spent any time discussing what the action brings up for you-i.e. the real issue. Rather than continue down the path of assuming synchronicity I think it’s beneficial to stop and reconsider whether the point is to get the listener to agree with you that they would feel exactly the way you feel or if the point is to gain understanding based on something deeper. I vote for gaining understanding based on something deeper.
When I’m the person ready to blurt out “how would you feel if…” I stop myself and reconsider. I take a moment (okay, sometimes I take days) to figure out what the real issue is for me. Then I own it. I will re-enter the conversation by admitting that what I have to say may make no sense at all to the listener but it’s how I feel and it explains why I’m having such an emotional reaction. I talk about what the situation brings up for me and I let go of the need to have the other person say she’d feel the same way in my shoes. Rather, I explain myself and ask if she will agree to do or not do xyz in the future now that I’ve shared with her where I’m coming from and, more importantly, why. Oh, and I make sure to include a discussion about what the issue brings up for her as well.
If I’m mediating and one of the parties starts in with a “how would feel if…” question, I help both parties through the same process I use for myself. I acknowledge the question by asking what the issue brings up for both them. Though it may seem obvious to focus only on the speaker, I know that there is also something at play for the listener. Perhaps she has no experience with the issues the speaker is bringing up or perhaps she’s applying her own historical event to today’s issue. The two don’t need to agree on how one should feel about the issue; they simply need to spend some time listening to each other’s expanded perspective on it.
Providing clear explanations about how and why an action affects you (or not) is a great way to set boundaries around possible solutions and agreements. Not understanding why one shouldn’t leave her partner alone at the company picnic makes it easier to come up with ideas on how to ease his anxiety with your co-workers than it is to smother him with embarrassing attention at the next event. If she knows how mingling with others without her makes you feel, she’s more apt to honor your request to stay nearby (or take the trash out without being asked, or pick up the kids from daycare on time, or refrain from rolling ones eyes behind your mother’s back, or…).
Wow! I just noticed that Amazon.com is selling copies of my book, “Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies” for $12.23 — that’s far less than the author price from the publisher!
If you have a tough situation and need some practical tips to help you through it, think leaving a copy in the break room for others to read might be a good idea, or would like to use some of the ideas I share with the folks at home, pick up a copy (or two!) today.
One of the most interesting people I know just happens to be 100 years old. Mr. Raynes is long retired from a career as a pharmacist in Dayton, Ohio but he still volunteers at the local hospital. I’m not exactly certain what he does there, but one thing I know for sure is that anyone who has the opportunity to come into contact with him is one lucky dog. His gentle spirit and fascinating stories will suck you in from the get-go. At least I know they did me when I first met him a number of years ago.
I was thinking about him recently and realized his 100 years on this earth have probably given him quite a bit of insight into conflict and relationships in general. I asked him to share some wisdom with me so that I could share it with you. After thinking long and hard about it (weeks actually), he finally replied with, “Don’t hold grudges. Nobody wins.”
I thought about adding a few hundred words about the problems with grudges but I think I’ll just leave it at that. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need me to expound on his thought because, well, it’s pretty clear. Instead, I’ll just thank him for the reminder. “Don’t hold grudges. Nobody wins.” Got it.
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 up 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 in the next month or so, 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 sites like www.retailmenot.com to find deals on price discounts, free shipping, and the like. A word 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 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 duke it out, 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.
Because of the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday I wanted to find something for this week’s blog that would speak to thankfulness (is that a word?). I also got to thinking about ways the holiday season brings out the worst in us and decided to settle on a subject that’s rarely easy to discuss with our loved ones–namely money. So I asked a friend to talk about what it’s been like for him and his family to experience a lay-off in a down economy; what conflicts it’s caused, how they’re dealing with the tension, major points of contention, etc. Posting his thoughts today are my way of not so subtlysaying, “If you have a job, be thankful while being kind to those around you this week. And, if you don’t have a job, be thankful while being kind to those around you this week.” Sean’s done a great job of finding the silver lining in an anxious situation. I love that he and his wife have taken the opportunity to do a little self-reflection and work on the problem together rather than playing the blame game. So, without further ado, here’s what he had to say:
My wife and I almost never fought about money before I was laid-off. And, for a short time following the lay-off the money argument was relatively scarce due to a decent severance package, billable hours from a few small projects I found, and an agreement to slash our budget. Our third child was born in May, and by the time I was dropping off my laptop and Blackberry to the HR director in July, my wife was happy to admit she was looking forward to my help on the home front. Perhaps this was serendipity, or providence; perhaps we were exactly where we should be at that time in our lives: job free.
Divine guidance or not, our new life-style has had its share of difficulties. With the novelty of being job free wearing off, and the last paid quarter of our healthcarebenefits expiring, the anxiety about our future is growing. It’s easy to lose focus and hope in the face of dire statistics about ineffectiveInternet job postings and the expected year-end hiring slow down that accompanies the holidays. I admit that sometimes my motivation to find work is sporadic at best and that every minute I spend on the computer isn’t dedicated to sending out resumes and drafting cover letters. Some days, none of them are. Of course, those always seem to be the days my wife REALLY wants to know how the search is going (in great detail!). I try not to get defensive or annoyed, but I fail. And she sees through it every time.
Another source of contention between us is time. Quality time and family time were rare and cherished occasions when I was working 60-70 hour weeks, spending days, sometimes weeks, on the road. Now we’ve got nothing buttime together. We’ve become ubiquitous to each other, irritatingly omnipresent as we literally spend 24 hours a day co-parenting, co-cooking, co-cleaning, and co-habitingwithout end. We came to the conclusion that each of us needed to start scheduling “me” time during the week if our marriage was going to survive any more of this togetherness!
As my wife does her part to brace our family for extended unemployment, slashing the family budget has become its own part-time job for her. For the first time in our lives we’re looking at our account balance as a limited and precious resource. If we spring for that car repair this week, are we spending food money our kids will need three months down the line? So when I considered buying a $500 plane ticket to Cleveland in order to deliver a six-figure proposal (a long shot at best), I came up against this obsessively frugal mentality. Classic idioms such as “it takes money to make money” became the toxic advice of irresponsible dare-devils, willing to risk their family’s safety and security for some desperate uncertainty – or so my wife tells me. The fight escalated, turning into a bitter dispute over support, faith, and what respect we still had for each other.
There’s a popular book out that compares the love a significant other feels to a gas tank. When the tank is full (when we feel loved) we have spare love to give. When we give love without feeling it’s returned, our tank drains. By the fight’s end, it became obvious that both of our tanks were pretty low, and the stress and disappointment of my job free days were playing a major part in that. Our solution was to go out of our way, twice a day, to speak the love language (the preferred method of demonstrated love) of our spouse. It’s a technique we’ve successfully used in the past, but this time around I encountered some difficulty. My wife loves the honey-do’s and chore lists. It makes her feel special to know that I’m willing to actually DO something to take a little off her plate and make her life easier. To my surprise, I learned that anything I’ve completed for her in the past no longer seems to qualify. My current job free state has relegated the special deeds and extra considerations of yesterday to mandatory and expected contributions today. This one, I’m still working on… Stay tuned.
Note from Vivian: If anyone is interested in learning more about Sean Casey’s superb sales and customer service training skills, or has been holding a job open in the Southern California area waiting for a guy just like him to come along, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m sure he would be very thankful!
A great article by Aaron Crowe for Aol Jobs… includes a small quote from me (#19), but I so enjoyed reading the other 24, that I thought I’d share them with you. Great examples of how small things can cause big problems at work!
“At the end of the day at work you want to have achieved passionate synergy as a team player that’s consistent with corporate culture, and take it to the next level through an idea shower for a win-win game changer.”
Hopefully, that’s a sentence that has never been spoken in your office. But, since it’s chock-full of some of the most hated phrases used in the business world, it’s a distinct possibility. AOL Jobs received so many responses in creating a list of the Most Hated Business Terms that it could have listed 100, but decided to keep it to relatively modest 25.
Here’s a real-life example from Australian entrepreneur Paul Breen, who heard this at a management presentation from the CEO of a $400 million company:
“We need to do some out of the box thinking from the get-go with sufficient granularity in the drill-down phase to ensure our value-added strategy is consistent with our core values and beliefs.”
“Nobody in the room questioned what he had just said or what he meant,” Breen said. “Most just nodded their heads in agreement. I nearly burst out laughing. It was just so ridiculous. This company had, without knowing it, invented their internal language. I think they believed it helped their culture — it didn’t. It robbed the company of its creativity and created a bunch of management drones that cared less about their customers and more about fitting in with their peers.”
Here are 25 terms that fixate on the language instead of the message, and don’t do much to get a point across:
1. “At the end of the day” Public relations executive Kevin Dinino said he always wondered, “As opposed to what, the beginning?” Does a sentence or point have more “oomph” if you say “at the end of the day?” Ex-jocks on ESPN say it throughout the day, Dinino says. Many more of these may come from the sports world.
2. “Synergy” or “synergies” are the worst business phrases ever to Kristen Carney of Austin, Texas, and co-founder of ThankThankNotes. “It’s completely unfair of me, but when I hear someone say “synergies,” it immediately discredits everything else they’ve said. After that point, all I can hear when that person speaks are phrases like ‘Let’s extend our collaborative synergies by evolving our value-add enterprise platform.’”
3. “I need this to be turn-key,” as submitted by Greg Jenkins, a partner at Bravo Productions in Long Beach, Calif.. “Of course, it needs to be exceptional,” Jenkins said. “Who would expect ‘junk?’ And when you ask a person how to describe their idea of turn-key, they can’t tell you specifics.”
That seems to be a common thread among these business phrases — they’re vague cliches that people use to avoid having to come up with specific details.
4. “Win-Win,” as in “This is a real win-win solution.” Michael Buckingham, owner of Holy Cow Creative, wrote that he uses it, but still hates it “mostly because it was overused, but maybe more so because most people don’t mean it. Most people mean ‘This is really good for me and I hope you think it’s good for you.’ Why can’t we just talk like normal people; is there something wrong with ‘I think this is good for both of us?’”
5. “Consistent with corporate culture.” It’s a phrase that Carrie Rocha hates. “If we have to regulate culture by telling people what they can and can’t do to maintain consistency with the corporate culture, then maybe the culture isn’t a reflection of the people working there anymore,” Rocha wrote in an e-mail to AOL Jobs.
6. “Need to touch base with senior management,” another phrase submitted by Jenkins of Bravo Productions. “Why not have senior management in the room when the materials are first presented?” Jenkins asks. “Would this not be a time-saving solution? Senior management should understand that concept.”
7. “Ping,” as in “I’ll ‘ping’ Bill to see if he has the files.” David Skinner, who owns his own company but worked for many large corporations, says, “It’s used in exchange for ‘email’ or ‘call’ and most often by someone with no understanding of ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol). Did you know PING is actually an acronym? Packet Internet or Inter-Network Groper.”
8. “Can I be honest with you?” Submitted by Bruce M. Colwin, president of Legal Minds Media, who asks, “Otherwise, are they usually dishonest with me?”
9. “Idea showers.” Can anything be more inappropriate in a workplace?
10. “Putting out fires” is often about managers that seem to be running around because planning didnt occur, says Liz Cosline, a life ownership coach.
11. “Take it to the next level.” Crystal Brown-Tatum, a public relations consultant, wrote: “I cringe when I hear this phrase around the office or by consultants and coaches promising to take one to the next level! What is the current level and how does one quantify the ‘next’ level? What if you are comfortable at the level you are on, and doesn’t this assume you are not at the highest level?”
12. “Think out of the box,” as submitted by Josh Kotlar, founder of MyOfficeHelper.com, a Web design and marketing firm in New York. “I simply do not agree with the idea behind it,” Kotlar wrote. “Sometimes, being creative entails an improvement of something that has already been used and succeeded. I do not think that one needs to always do things that are out of the ordinary in order to have a successful campaign or project. I prefer the term ‘think creatively.’”
As public relations consultant Jen Olewinski put it, “What box? There is a box? Who decides what is inside or outside the box? It makes no sense and is so overused in the creative and PR fields, and probably in every industry as well.”
13. “Passion.” As someone who is in the entrepreunerial business world, Robin Barr, president and product inventor at ColdlSoresBegone.com, says he hears again and again the use of the word “passion.” “To succeed, you must feel passionate about what you do,” or “The passion I feel for selling garden sprinklers gets me through the rough spots.”
“Don’t get me wrong — like any word used in a new way, its always interesting for a short while,” Barr wrote. “Then people get lazy and use it repeatedly rather than communicating with original thought. In my mind, it effects their credibility.”
14. “Going forward,” which Sally Treadwell of Boone, N.C., describes as “often used as a whitewashing weasel phrase.” As in “Going forward, our company’s policies will be changed to better reflect our changing customer dynamics.” Treadwell said she took that to mean: “The past is past and we don’t want to talk about it, because you might realize that we have some liability. So I’m going to dazzle you with the future. The future! Look! Aren’t you excited to be part of it?”
16. “Bandwidth,” as in “I just don’t have the bandwith to deal with this right now,” because in the time it takes to say it, the person took up more “bandwith” than just saying “I’m sorry, I’m swamped,” as submitted by Janet Schultz, CEO of Organic Janet.
17. “Reach out,” as in “I’m just reaching out to you” or “Can you reach out to so and so?” Jill Mikols Etesse, creative director at Smarty Shortz in Washington, D.C., says she has banned the phrase from her company’s vocabulary. “I want to pull my hair out every time I hear it! Everyone we know says it; it is soo overused in every industry,” she writes.
18. “Piggy back,” as in “Yeah, so to piggy back off of what Jason just said…” Submitted by Kasey Woods, director of publicity and marketing at Digiwaxx Media, who says it sounds juvenile and forced.
19. “Team player.” Vivian Scott, author of ‘Conflict Resolution at Work for Dummies,’ wrote: “What in the world does that mean? It’s a terrible term that lets people in the workplace speak ill of each other without having to provide any evidence. And, because it’s so vague, anyone being accused of ‘not’ being a team player hasn’t a clue what it is he’s supposed to do to correct the problem.”
21. “Game changer,” which Todd Brabender of Spread The News PR, Inc., found to be full of hyperbole from a client who brought a marketer onto a product launch campaign and insisted on incessantly using “game changing” or “game changer.” His example: “It will be a real game changer for us is if we can convince people that we are best of breed and state of the art — that will be game changing!”
22. “Out of pocket,” as in, “I’ll be out of pocket all next week so let’s circle back about this project in two weeks.” Dana Marlowe, president of Accessibility Partners, said the phrase for being unavailable is overdone and ridiculous.
23. “Enterprise risk management.” It’s used often at insurance and other financial services, and means nothing at all but is used to mean things as varied as “shopping for an insurance policy,” “managing an investment portfolio to achieve stable returns,” “improving plant safety,” or “acquiring a competitor,” said Eli Lehrer of the Heartland Institute.
24. “Actionable item.” Anything that needs to be done at work is an “actionable item,” so why use silly jargon to emphasize the obvious, wonders Rease Kirchner, a travel adviser in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who heard this buzzword too often as a marketing analyst in St. Louis, Mo.
25. “Negative growth.” Carol Heiberger, a consultant and entrepreneur in Philadelphia who has written a dictionary defining business terms in plain English, has found the offensive phrase in a letter to shareholders from a CEO. What it really means is that revenues are down. Maybe that CEO, and others, could use Heiberger’s dictionary.
I’m surrounded by smart people. A friend of mine shared this other day. I have no idea who originally said it, but I love it because it could not ring more true. Try it!
“When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin. It works not because it settles the question (or the conflict) for you, but because of that brief moment when the coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you are hoping for.”
“Quality is never an accident… it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” I lifted this from a friend’s Facebook status. I don’t know whom I should attribute this to, but I’ll share it anyway.
When I first started mediating I thought every case would be as unique and different as the individuals coming to me. However, when it came to divorcing couples it didn’t take long for me to become aware of an obvious pattern I still see today. Quite often I notice that my clients want to “split” the relationship but they don’t want to “split” the lifestyle. Of course there are exceptions to every pattern, but for the most part each person approaches the break up insisting that they should be able to continue life as they know it – just without the other person.
When asked how they’ll fund multiplying today’s lifestyle by two, responses range from, “Well, he’s just going to have to figure that out,” to “I’m not the one who wants this, so why should I have to change anything” to a whole host of reasons why cutting any line item in the budget is unthinkable and would seriously harm the children. These answers help me as a mediator understand some of the underlying issues involved, but they don’t answer the funding question and they certainly don’t help the couple see that the math just doesn’t add up.
Changing your lifestyle is a very real result of changing your relationship status and even though arithmetic is supposed to be pretty cut and dried, discussing the math of divorce is one of the most emotional discussions separating couples will have. My wish for these clients is that they find a way to see the bigger picture. Being too close to the forest to see the trees makes people argue over the crockpot, fight for things they don’t even want, and spend tens of thousands of dollars battling over a house that’s in foreclosure.
As a neutral facilitator I try to help individuals see themselves separate and apart from their things. I encourage them instead to focus on the intangibles they find important like peace of mind and joy. In the course of the conversation they may come to realize that keeping the DVDs no one listens to anymore doesn’t really give them the satisfaction they seek. I know it’s hard to let go (quite frankly, I’ve had to do it myself), but letting go of things in exchange for holding on to or getting back to one’s real values is actually trading up. Besides that, staying stuck in a fight over the portable basketball hoop as a means to hurt the other person rarely works (see previous blog on forgiveness!).
The election season has me wondering about something. Why is it that we seem to be so deeply divided on issues and candidates that we’re afraid to concede we might actually agree with certain points the other side is making?
Rather than have an open dialogue about the points we think make sense and the ones we’re not so crazy about, we force each other to take an all or nothing position. I wish we could get better about the way we discuss politics and allow each other the opportunity to have a few doubts without jumping in to say, “Aha, see! My side is right!”