Why are you telling me?

We live on a steep hill. Apparently, it’s a great road to ride your bike up.  Nice and steep and really hard. It’s also a nice road to ride your bike down – super fast.

The other day, when I was getting into my car which was on the road at 5.45 am to go to a breakfast networking event, a middle-aged man on a bike was huffing and puffing as he made his way up the hill.

Now our road is so steep that it is truly much easier to get off your bike and walk it up the hill than ride it.  So you have to be very strong and fit to ride up the hill.

So I called out to the cyclist and said “you’re really strong” because there’s no way I could ride my bike up the hill and he was going so slowly there was plenty of time for conversation.

He responded by telling me that he wouldn’t be able to get to the top of the hill today because he had to go to work. He said a couple more things, and then I was on my way, and the conversation was over.

I thought to myself that the information about his not being able to get to the top of the hill was probably not relevant.  So why did he tell me? Well, I surmise that it was important to him. He had started justifying what he was and wasn’t going to do. I had given him a compliment and he countered with a reason as to why he wasn’t really strong.

There is always a reason for us to say something. We might be trying to impress someone, get noticed, demonstrate that we are a friendly person, hide our embarrassment, educate someone or show them that they had made a mistake.

If someone comes to you and starts talking and won’t stop, chances are they want attention. They might not feel valued in the workplace or at home.

Everytime someone says something and you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself what are they trying to achieve by telling you this information?  It will help you to find the right question so that you get to the cause of the problem. And the other person will be valued and respected.

Sucked in

I see it all the time. We just can’t help ourselves.  

Someone says something rude or cruel in the heat of the moment and we take the bait and we jump in and take offence and may say something rude and cruel back. And it’s on. The gloves go on and the conflict begins. And sometimes these conflicts can last for days, weeks, months and even years.

And the more stressed we are, the more likely that we are going to be sucked into this scenario.

We take the words and actions of another person about us very personally; and yet so often these words and actions have nothing to do with us.

When a person is stressed and in pain, they go inwards. They worry about themselves. They notice their own hurt, they feel like the world is happening to them, they are reactive.  They go into an increasingly victim state. The world of one. The world of me.

And they think it is unfair that they hurt so much. Why should they be the only person to suffer? So they lash out.  They want other people to hurt like they do. The reflect their pain and thoughts about themselves onto other people, usually the people the love the most. Because those people are the safest people in the world to attack.

And if we are in the firing line of this type of stressed out attack, and if we too are stressed, then we can very easily get “sucked in” and want to hurt them back.

When a toddler has a melt down we can usually very easily recognise that this a child that is overwhelmed by something in the moment and that this will pass. We just need to be patient and calm and make sure that they are safe and that we maintain our usual boundaries so that they know that they are safe.  But as adults, we often struggle to see that the person behaving badly is actually overwhelmed with stress; that they just need to have their melt down safely and they need your reassurance that everything is okay.

But it is so hard not to react to someone being so rude, so cruel.  So we all too often react and go down with them.

We need to remove ourselves from the space we are in if we find ourselves either feeling abusive towards someone or being abused.  We need to leave the room, the building or get out of the car. We need to walk and walk and calm down. We need some space. We can’t think straight when we are emotionally triggered.

And if words are said and pain caused; go back to the other person when things have calmed down and revisit the conversation. Get vulnerable and help the other person to understand what was going on for you in that moment. And they might get vulnerable too.

Don’t let a stressed out moment destroy a relationship.

Pressure points

I am an elite athlete – NOT!  

According to all the health professionals who I need to see on a regular basis just to keep me upright, I have hyper-flexible joints or muscles or… something. I also have lazy glutes and a dodgy back. In fact I was told about 15 years ago that I would need surgery on my back one day because my back looked like it was about 20 years old than me. Impressive.  Oh and I have the tightest and possibly sorest calves in the land.

And because I got read the Riot Act by my doctor a few years ago who said I was going to die if I didn’t start looking after myself, I now exercise pretty much every day and put this poor troubled body to work.

In fact I run; very, very slowly. And then when I’m tired I walk. And I love it. Best time of the day.

But I still have this problem of very, very tight and sore calves.  I used to try and stretch them out to release the pressure and stop them aching but it didn’t work. Then one day I realised that every time I got a massage or saw my chiropractor they would apply firm pressure on my tight shoulder and neck muscles.  They didn’t try stretch those muscles, the just applied direct pressure.

Initially that pressure hurts a lot.  I have to breathe through the pain and then slowly but surely the muscle releases and the pain is gone.

So I started applying the same technique to my poor old calves and ta da – it works. I get far more relief in my calves by applying pressure. It hurts a heap when I first press my thumb into the sorest spot but then almost like magic the pain is gone.

And so it is with dealing with a conflict situation.  The greatest pain, the sorest spot is that moment just before the parties come together to have a “difficult” conversation.  In that moment before we rip off the bandaid there is so much fear and uncertainty. So many negative thoughts and concern that the other person will be proved right, that we are a bad person or worse still, a loser.

But once we move past that first initial discomfort and lay our pain and troubles on the table and we start exploring the issues and getting clarity, the pain starts to whittle away.  The wound might still be there. It might take a bit of time to heal. But the outcome is never as bad as people imagine it will be.

Focus on the trigger points. Apply pressure to the sore spots in your relationships and then enjoy the benefits of the release from the discomfort, the emotional pain and lack of certainty.

Conflict is not a dirty word

I reckon conflict gets a bad rap.

I reckon that conflict is a word that is regularly misunderstood.

People tell me that they think I’ve made a mistake having ‘conflict’ in my business name – too negative they say. People don’t like conflict, they say.

They’re right, many people don’t like conflict. They run away from it; avoid it.  They handle it badly. They tolerate inappropriate behaviour because they don’t want a scene. They don’t want to upset anyone.

But what they miss out on when they avoid conflict is opportunity.

They miss the opportunity:

  • To learn more about themselves and how they deal with what might be a difficult situation
  • To learn and develop new skills
  • To learn more about their business, their staff and their industry
  • To find out more about the gaps in people’s knowledge and to understand the increased risks that the business may face as a result of the unresolved conflict
  • For innovation – because the outcome of a conflict might lead to different and new thinking about a problem
  • To do the more appropriate thing; that might be the more ethical approach

If we approach conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem; we stop being so scared of it.  We recognise that it is just information. Sometimes it is telling us that there is something wrong but it might be telling us that we are on the verge of some significant development or growth.

We can do something about a problem if we acknowledge it and find out more about what caused it. If we are curious.

But the problem will, without a shadow of a doubt, only get worse if it is ignored or played down as not being an issue.

More often than not you will discover that there is a miscommunication or that a situation has been misread. And sometimes you will decide to end a relationship (work or personal) and that’s okay too.

Don’t be afraid of conflict. Embrace it. Engage with it. Explore it. Learn from it. Manage it. And reap the incredible rewards from not feeling afraid so much of the time.

Prevention is better than cure

I was speaking a new client the other day. I am going to do some work their team who have been through a lot of change in the last twelve months.  He said how can I promote your business to my team? You have “conflict” in your title. They’ll think we have a problem.

I said you work in an area where there is lots of conflict. Good healthy conflict. It’s important that your staff disagree and debate and care deeply about the best way forward to deal with the issue at hand.

Conflict is normal, inevitable and an important part of a healthy relationship. We are not robots.

Conflict ensures that we, as a society, are creative and innovative. Conflict occurs when we need to challenge behaviour that may be unethical or greedy.

I said learning how to manage conflict does not mean you have a problem with conflict; it means that you respect how important conflict is to your organisation. That you understand and respect that in order to get the most of out of your fantastic employees that there needs to be rules and boundaries about how you conduct those robust discussions, knowing that they might get heated from time to time.

You need to know how you work as a team. You need to know each other well and high levels of trust.  You need to know what respect looks like to you as a team. You need to have some rules about how you move forward when there are high levels of disagreement about a particular issue.

To get the most out of your team, to have a team that flourishes and creates outcomes that are greater than the sum of their parts; then you have to manage conflict and you have to manage it well.

What question do you need to ask?

What don’t you know?  What question do you need to ask?

It is so easy, when we don’t know something, to fill in our knowledge gap with assumptions.

We don’t want to look foolish; we want to be perceived as being on top of our game. We want to impress others.

But what are the consequences of proceeding without full knowledge; what will happen if we rely on assumptions instead of facts?

What usually happens for me is that I end up apologising for something. Nearly every time I rely on assumptions and not facts I get it wrong – in part or in full.

Then I say “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry. I thought…”  Then I engage in some negative self talk! Gah! Oops, I did it again.

Make life easy for yourself. Ask the question. Get clarity. Make good decisions the first time.

 

Emotions are not facts

Last Sunday I decided to go into the office at 7.30 am to smash out some work without any interruptions (revisit Kate’s recent blog about working too much).

I had had a difficult week. I’d had a week dealing with a lot of upset people. One group of people had been particularly unhappy with some of my findings regarding their culture and the way in which they treated each other. They started slinging barbs at me too.

I was feeling battered and a bit vulnerable. I was tired and probably needed a day off; not a day in the office.

I parked my car by the back door of my office and there was a scruffy looking man sitting in a daggy van outside the building.  I noticed him getting out of the van as I entered the building. I started to feel a bit nervous.

I work from a large co-working space and I was the only person in the office at the time. I had been working away for about 30 mins when someone started knocking on the back door. I couldn’t see out and check who it was; so in my stressed out and vulnerable state I decided that it was someone coming to get me and I didn’t let them in. About 20 minutes after that they knocked again. I turned the volume up on my headphones. I sent a text message to my family telling them that I was scared and had decided not to open the door.

About 30 minutes after that the back door opened and three scruffy looking men walked in, including the guy from the car. They cheerfully told me that they were there to clean the carpets.

I immediately felt like a fool. In my head I had built this up to be all about me. That I was being targeted by people out to get me. Doh!

We are often motivated by our emotions; not the facts of a situation.  I was triggered by the events of the week. I was not grounded. My mind was overwhelmed by emotion, by fear from recent threats. Fear that had no basis in fact.

I turned a very simple situation into the beginning of a horror movie. It was all in my mind.

We all can very easily be triggered by something someone does or a situation we are involved in. It triggers memories or emotions from past experience. We then let our emotions dictate our thoughts.  We look for evidence to validate our decisions or our behaviours made in these emotive states.

I work with a lot of clients who find themselves in a world of pain that is based in their emotions; not the facts. They find it hard to separate the two.

The first step to changing that state is to become self aware; to notice that you have been triggered. Then do something that requires you to think. Solve a problem, say the numbers in your phone number backwards. Something that requires some effort. And if that doesn’t work; then talk to someone and tell them what is going on.

Emotions are not facts; they are our response to a situation. Our emotions are real and we feel them. But they are not facts. Take the emotion out of a difficult situation and it is so much easier to see the solution.

 

Car park assumptions

Today I drove into the big car park opposite my office. I was in a hurry (I am always in a hurry).

The driver in front of me was not in a hurry. They kept to the speed limit of 10 kilometres per hour – who does that?

I may have had some very bad thoughts about this driver.

I made all sorts of assumptions about him; that he was a bad driver, that he clearly didn’t work, that he was old, that he got his licence in a packet of Twisties, etc…

I knew nothing about this person; but in the blink of an eye and about four floors later he found his reserved parking space. He carefully and slowly backed into his park; something he has probably done many times before and I eventually got to speed off to go up one more floor to find a park.

As he got out of the car I saw that he wasn’t old and it did look like he also had a job. So my assumptions were wrong – again.

We have so many preconceived ideas. We can so easily assume a whole back-story for someone based on how they drive a car, if they are late to a meeting or if they ask for soy in their latte!

We don’t know. We don’t know very much at all. We don’t know and we don’t find out because it’s easier and so much more fun to judge strangers, to create some drama about the made up personality traits we have assigned to them.

So I would like to apologise to the young man in the car ahead of me in the carpark today. I am sorry that I had pre-judged you and your driving abilities because I have zero patience when I am in a hurry.

Rude!

I have an admission to make. I am rude to telemarketers. Very rude. I usually interrupt them and say something like “I am not interested” and hang up without further discussion.

They often ring through on my work land line which is a silent number (for a Government contract) so I get very annoyed that they even have my number let alone know my name.

I can also be rude to people who come to my door during the middle of the working day wanting me to change my electricity provider or to sell me their super duper fresh food package.

So today I want to say sorry to all the people that I am rude to because

  1. You are doing what I consider to be a horrible job; and
  2. You would only be doing that horrible job because you need the money
  3. So that tells me that there is probably a whole backstory I don’t know about and I just dismiss it.

So you might be reading this thinking, yeah we’re all rude to telemarketers – it’s a thing. They’d have to expect it.

So when is it okay to be rude and when is it not?

Why is the rudeness bar so low for telemarketers and so high for other people that we know and like?

Why do we have so little empathy for some people?

I believe that it’s because we don’t know them or because we know them so well.

Who are we rudest to? Often it is strangers doing things we don’t like and our family.

Many of us will say things to our family members and treat them with incredible disrespect because they are family. We have developed some rules around communication and patter that would not be tolerated in any other forum. We tolerate it. We’re family. It’s always been like this.

I challenge you to reconsider how you speak to everyone. The telemarketer, your siblings, parents and children.

Everyone has a story. Everyone is important.

A lot of people have been yelling at me lately

I have been yelled at a lot lately. I am working on some very difficult projects and emotions are running high.

I work in the world of conflict – what should I expect!

There are lots of loud voices. They yell and demand and accuse. They send threatening emails. They demand to be heard. Their opinion is so important.

They tend to have black and white thinking. It’s all or nothing. My way or the highway.

They can be very intimidating. It works. People do what they are told to do. They are scared of the loud voice in the room.

Sometimes, in the moment, I get intimidated too. I get scared. I doubt my own thinking and decide it’s easier to agree; not rock the boat. Just get me out of this situation. I am not feeling comfortable at all.

Then I breathe. Go for a walk. Talk to someone not attached to this issue. Recognise that I have just been triggered. That it is ok. I am ok.

I remember that this person is reacting to their own strong emotions. They are reacting to what they consider is an injustice.   They are yelling because this issue is important to them.

So then I think about what questions I can ask them so that they recognise that their response is them protecting themselves or another person.

How can I help them recognise that this emotion is not a fact; it’s just a feeling.

People who are yelling and abusive have been triggered by something that they see is very unfair.

Help them to see what is triggering them by asking great questions. Eg… you seem to be very concerned about what is happening to Bob at the moment. Tell me more about why Bob is so important to you.

Start a conversation.