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.

What kind of legacy will you leave?

I have to be honest. I have a terrible memory.

I remember weird stuff, like everyone’s birthday and other key events but I can’t remember any Christmas Day as a child, just snippets of those days but nothing concrete. I don’t remember much of my childhood at all.

However I remember some significant events in my childhood. Things like staying at friends’ houses and trying to impress my friends’ mothers so that they would invite me to come back and stay again.

And I have lots of memories of school. Of being involved in the school musicals, being a girly swat and organising the roster for the road crossing, taking the money I stole from my parents to buy my lunch most days.  I remember getting a detention from my best friend’s mother who was also my sport teacher because I left my sports uniform at home again (on purpose).

I remember going to the football with my younger brother, and catching the train to town and trying to stand up in the baggage carriage the whole way without falling over. I remember my brother and I going out on bikes all day every day of the summer holidays. No-one knew where we were. Such great adventures (no mobile phones).

I remember Dad deciding to buy a colour TV the day after my youngest brother was born, when he saw Bathurst on the television in the hospital. “OMG! Look at those colours!”

So I do remember some things. But there is a lot that I don’t remember.

This is not a pity party, but our family life was pretty awful when I was growing up. So I have just blocked most of that from my memory.

My family has lots of memories now. We have created a number of rituals to ensure that we are always creating great memories. Orange is our family colour that we include in every celebration; it was just something that happened organically but we made it a big thing in our family.  We celebrate Christmas in July, we now do the Mother’s Day Classic every year.  My husband has created these Awards to celebrate all his arty farty experiences throughout the year.  We have a day dedicated to a singalong of our favourite musicals.  When the kids were at school we had the Highlight of My Day so that everyone got an opportunity to share their day at dinner.

How do you create memories for your team? What are your rituals? How do celebrate your successes and how do you celebrate each other?

Great memories become part of our legacy. They are far more valuable than money or things.

It’s not about you

The other night I work up at 2 am and spent a good hour or two worrying about the fact that someone had not responded to an email I sent them.

He was a new client and we had got on famously at our first meeting. He was committed to working with me; so we made a follow-up time and I sent through some follow up materials for him to sign so we could proceed with the coaching programme.

But he hadn’t yet responded to that email and now it was three days later.

So at 2 am I decided that the deal was off, that I had stuffed it up, that I was hopeless and thought I should just get a real job.

I had really wanted to work with this person so I was so disappointed that it wasn’t going to work out.

Then I got up the morning, completely exhausted, and there in my inbox was an email from this client saying that he was so sorry for the delay in getting back to me, that he’d been dealing with two sick kids at home and that he’s really looking forward to getting started.

I had made this person’s lack of immediate response to bre all about me. I was tired and a bit run down, so I went into my paranoid state, focused on me and how I was feeling. I knew nothing about his circumstances; but had already assumed a heap of information.

I see this all the time in mediation and team conflicts. Lots of assumptions are made about what the other person is thinking. Taking every action or lack of action as evidence that this person thinks we are bad, wrong, inadequate, hopeless, annoying etc…

We’re human. It’s going to happen. It’s particularly likely to happen if we are highly stressed and a bit run down.

As hard as it is to do, remember to be curious. We usually have no idea about what is going on for someone else; we don’t know what they are thinking. But chances are they are not thinking about you.

My football team lost

My football team lost on the weekend.

I was incredibly disappointed. My husband and I had travelled to Melbourne to see them play. They have so much potential. They recruited well. They have amazing skills. We were so excited to go to the game.

But they lost.

I read the blogs, listened to the fans around me, heard the comments on talk back radio.

You’d swear that this team is hopeless, useless and lazy.  The coach doesn’t know what he is doing. Players should be dropped. The new players aren’t worth the money. Etc…

We caught the same flight home as the players. They look like ordinary people to me, although most of them are quite tall.

Disappointment is a painful thing. We all have to live with it.

I am confident that “my team” didn’t go out there to play badly that day. I don’t think that they deliberately trained less well during the week or that they slacked off during the game. I don’t believe that the team’s ultimate capacity to play the game has reduced.

There were lots of reason they lost that day. Some physical and some psychological.

But to suggest that they were hopeless, useless and lazy isn’t fair.

That language reflects our pain and our disappointment in the result. We turn on our beloved “boys” because they didn’t meet our expectations. We can be cruel and hurtful; to deflect our feelings. We want them to suffer because we have.

I am confident that they know that they disappointed us, their fans. They would feel terrible about it. We don’t need to sink the boot in to remind them.

This happens in the workplace as well. We are going to sometimes perform sub-par; we are going to disappointment our colleagues or our clients.  Or others are going to disappointment us. We don’t need the team to turn on us for making an error or not being on top of our game. We already know that we have disappointed them.

Acknowledge and own the disappointment; apologize if you feel you have let someone down.  Feel the feels and then move on. No further punishment is necessary.

Remember, we are very complex beings. Working and playing at our full potential all the time is the exception; most of us are mere mortals that constantly fail and stuff up and we will disappoint each other.

But it’s ok; there’s always next week.