Tag

Difficult Conversations Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

610: How to Communicate with People Who Disagree with You with Dr. Tania Israel

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dr. Tania Israel says: "If you actually listen... then they'll be more interested in what you have to say."

Dr. Tania Israel discusses the fundamental skills that help us have more empathic conversations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. One skill to make difficult conversations more manageable 
  2. How to stop seeing disagreement as a threat 
  3. The two fears that keep us from actively listening 

 

About Tania

Tania Israel is a Professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Raised in Charlottesville, Virginia and educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Arizona State University, Dr. Israel is known for her work on dialogue across political lines, social justice, and LGBT psychology. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Rise.com. Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome

Dr. Tania Israel Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Tania, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Tania Israel
Thanks. I’m delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to have you. And I think the first thing we need to hear about is your knack for writing, not just books, like Beyond Your Bubble, but also song lyrics. What’s the story here and could we hear a sample?

Tania Israel
Well, I have a quirky muse, and she writes lyrics but not the melody so I have to borrow the melodies from pop songs and showtunes and Christmas carols and all kinds of things. And I’m a lyricist but not a singer so I’m going to spare you. But if you want to hear my lyrics, I actually just started a podcast with a friend of mine who teaches about Buddhism, and then I write songs about the teachings, and a friend of mine who has the voice of an angel sings them, so that’s a much better way to hear my lyrics.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. I remember, in college, taking a class about Buddhism and, man, sometimes there was head-scratching. There’d be a long Sanskrit word, like, Tathāgatagarbha is not a something but it’s also not not a something, it’s like, “Oh, man.” So, maybe bringing it to song will help clarify.

Tania Israel
It’s really something where the teachings can sometimes be murky but I can summarize it in a catchy tune, so there’s something for everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a gift. Well, there are some murky stuff that I want to talk about and get your insight into. So, you’ve got a fresh book Beyond Your Bubble. Can you tell us, first of all, what’s the big idea here?

Tania Israel
So, the big idea is that it’s possible to have dialogue across political lines, and there are some skills that you can cultivate that are going to help you do so effectively.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. And we love skills here and dialoguing across difficult lines, be they political, or the silos in organizations, or just your boss or teammate who just has the complete opposite view of yours, I think it’s so important. But you know better than I. Tell me, what really do we have to gain if we really master this skill? And what do we have to lose if we don’t?

Tania Israel
Sure. Well, this book all started because, after the 2016 election, it was pretty clear that we have some divisions in our country and that we weren’t communicating effectively across this divide. And this has been affecting us in terms of our relationships, our family relationships, our relationships with people in our communities, but also in the workplace. And so, this is one way that it really can make a difference in terms of work.

Employers are actually losing people’s time and energy to tensions on the political divide and the stress about the divide. So, it turns out that people are more stressed now about politics than they have been in the past. And so, really, this book is something that I wrote to try to help to remedy this problem so that we can both reduce our stress and also have more effective conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great. And well, I’d love to get your take on this. To what extent is the stress, the fear, real versus imaginary? My perception is that it’s kind of real. I saw some startling stats about, and I forgot who did it, like the percentage of folks who don’t feel comfortable voicing their views, which I think was the majority politically, as well as the percentage of folks who said they might fire someone if they donated to the other side, which I found alarming. It almost made me think, “Well, maybe the smart professional choice is to not talk about it.” What do you think?

Tania Israel
Well, I think it is some real and it is some overblown in our minds. So, there’s certainly evidence that the country is more polarized politically than ever in recent history, and there’s also a lot of evidence that our perceptions of people on, what we would consider, the other side are distorted so we see that divide as being larger than it is.

So, if we’re imagining somebody who’s on a different political party than we’re in, we’re imagining the most extreme example of that that we’ve seen arguing on TV, and that they’re the spokespeople for that, and they’re super angry, and that’s not most people. Most people are somewhere in between there and that they can also be humanized a little bit so that they’re not these stereotypes that we have in our minds.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that’s dead-on when you said distortion. I’ve got Jonathan Haidt in my ear because I’d listened to his book The Righteous Mind, and he said, “Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. And it blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” And that powerfully resonated. So, if we are distorted, if we are blind, how do we get undistorted and unblind?

Tania Israel
Well, I think that there are a number of things that we can do. I think the first is just to be curious about people who have different views than we have. And so, if we recognize that we don’t necessarily already know everything about them and the way they understand things, then it’s going to lead us to want to know more.

And I ask people their motivations for…before the book, I had actually created a workshop, a two-hour workshop, that was building skills for dialogue, and I would ask people, “Why are you coming to the workshop?” And there were a couple of things that were the primary motivations. One is that, “I have somebody in my life who we have different views politically but I want to keep that person in my life,” and so that was a big one.

Some people are like, “I just don’t understand people who have a different view.” Some people want to persuade, some people want to find common ground, but these are sort of the most common things that I heard. That piece of, “I just can’t understand other people,” what I always say is, “Well, okay, you have somebody in front of you who could actually help you to understand. Wouldn’t you want to know? Like, wouldn’t you want to try to find out more from them rather than just sort of putting your framework on who you think they are and what you think they believe?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well-said to not sort of just ascribe things to people. And so then, can you sort of show us maybe how that works in action with that curiosity? I mean, what do you ask and what do you not ask?

Tania Israel
Absolutely. Sure. So, like I said, the book focuses on skills, the workshop focuses on skills, so I’ll just lay out the skills that seem most important. First of all, listening, and it’s what Stephen Covey calls “Listening to understand rather than listening to respond.” And in my field of psychology, we call it active listening. But it means that when somebody says something that rather than saying a thing that’s contrary to what they’ve said, instead we give them space to say it.

And then we do speak up, what we say is we reflect what they’ve just said to us so that we make sure that we understand and they feel heard, so we sort of summarize back what they said. So, that’s the key piece in listening. Also, managing our emotions is important. Just even imagining dialogue across political lines, people get so riled up. In fact, people have been telling me that, as they’re reading my book, it’s just decreasing their stress about the idea of having dialogue with somebody.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great.

Tania Israel
I know, which I’m delighted to hear that, so that’s fantastic. And then how do we try to take somebody else’s perspective and put ourselves in their shoes? And then when we are going to share our views, how do we do that most effectively? So, these are really the pieces that I think are important for the puzzle of making things work well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can we talk about each of those skills? How do we do each of those things well?

Tania Israel
Yes. So, I was thinking about this in terms of “What does this look like?” And in the book, I’ve got a bunch of examples, like, I’ve got a fictional set of cousins who are having conversations about a lot of different things. But let me just kind of bring an example to you. Right now, certainly, racial justice is in the cultural consciousness, and so this is something that people are really struggling with in terms of, “How do we have these conversations?”

I thought, “All right. What if you see a friend or a coworker wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and that’s not the perspective you’re coming from?” So, you could see that and you could say, “Well, I think all lives matter,” so that’s one way of responding, or you can say, like, “Tell me a little bit about what you believe. Tell me a little bit about why you decided to wear that T-shirt.” And the same is also true the other way that if somebody is wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and somebody comes up to them and says, “Well, I think all lives matter.” Then you can say, “Well, these are the reasons that I think Black Lives Matter,” or you can say, “Oh, tell me why you say that. Like, I’m curious about your perspective and I’d like to hear more.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That sounds simple enough. And so…

Tania Israel
It’s not.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like, the words are not complex to formulate. But, I guess, it’s just sort of like, well, what happens next? Where do things get really interesting?

Tania Israel
So, I think that the first thing is even to have that initial conversation and ask those questions, it’s helpful to have a connection with somebody, that that relationship with another person if you already have that. And people often do have that with their neighbors, and with their coworkers, and with their friends and family members. They’ve got already some kind of connection. And so, if you have a sort of trusting relationship, it’s easier to delve into that.

One of the challenges right now is that there’s so much conflict about politics that it’s harder for people to feel trusting. So, sometimes you have to lay some groundwork in terms of having some positive interactions with somebody, finding some things that you have in common that maybe don’t have to do with the conflictual issues, and that makes it easier to start that conversation.

But the other thing that comes up is just the emotional level of it because the things we’re talking about are political but they’re really also very personal that they get to people’s experiences and also their deeply-held beliefs, and so that can obviously trigger us in terms of our emotions. So, knowing how to manage our emotions, knowing how to breathe deeply when you start to feel yourself getting riled up, to notice when you’re feeling flushed and your heart is racing, and to know how to actually reduce that stress, can be really important in terms of persisting through a difficult conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, tell us, do you have any pro tips for how we do just that with the managing of emotions?

Tania Israel
Absolutely. Well, it turns out that breathing is something that we all do every day, and that is one of the most helpful things if you find yourself getting flushed and heart racing and shallow breathing. Taking some deep breaths can be very helpful to…basically, what happens when you feel a threat is that your body responds as if that threat is a saber-toothed tiger.

And so, even if that threat is somebody saying something that you disagree with, or that feels threatening to your beliefs, then your body is going to react in that same way. It’s the sympathetic nervous system. And so, what we can do to counteract that is we can breathe deeply. We can also do other things physically. We can pay attention to the feeling of the chair under us, of our feet on the ground. You can even touch your own hand to soothe yourself a little bit. And those things can actually help somebody to reduce that stress enough to continue on with the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there’s much I want to dig into here. So, let’s talk about that breathing more deeply. Sometimes I worry that if I do that, it might come across as a sigh, like, “Oh, boy, here it is,” and I don’t want to make that impression. So, can we breathe deeply on the sly or how do we do that?

Tania Israel
It turns out that because you’re always breathing anyway, that you can still breathe, you can change a little bit of the pattern of your breathing, and nobody needs to know. Actually, the best thing to do is to practice all of these skills when you are not in the middle of one of these conversations. So, doing deep breathing, practicing listening just with somebody who you super-well get along with is a great thing to do before you practice some of these listening skills with somebody who you feel some conflict with.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to the listening, you mentioned that we’re listening not to respond but to understand. Are there any particular kind of internal cues or prompts or questions, or how do you run your brain optimally so that you’re listening really well?

Tania Israel
That’s a great question. And when I do the workshop, I spend about half of the workshop on listening, and people tell me that one of the things that they get out of the workshop is realizing how hard listening is and sometimes what bad listeners they are because they notice how difficult it is for them to just stay attentive to what somebody else is saying rather than what they want to say.

So, that’s really part of it, is, “How do you keep focused on the other person?” And if you know that what you’re going to need to say, when you have a chance to speak, is summarizing what they just said, you’re going to pay a lot more attention to it. So, if you really think, “All right, my goal is to be able to listen so that I can say back to them a summary of what they’ve just said,” that’s going to help to keep you focused because you’re really going to want to try to understand it.

I think, also, if you know that you’re going to have a chance to speak later, then it can be helpful. So, recognizing that the conversation doesn’t have to be, “They say what they think, you say what you think, they say what they think, you say what you think,” that if it’s, “They say what they think, you summarize that back to them,” they maybe go a little bit more deeply into what they think, maybe you ask them open-ended questions, and you can stay with that for a little while to really make sure you’re developing a deeper understanding.

And then you can switch, so then you get to talk about your view. And what you would want is for them then to be focused on understanding more about your views. So, it’s doing the same thing for them that you would want them to do for you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a great perspective there. It’s like there’s no obligation, it’s not a courtroom for you to put forth your viewpoint. I mean, sometimes maybe you’re in the middle of a meeting and the decision is being made in that meeting, okay, yes, we got to hear all the viewpoints. But it’s like totally fine if we maybe have a full conversation about Black Lives Matter, and then we just don’t get to my view, that’s okay. And maybe we’ll get to it later, or maybe they ask, and it’s like, “Oh, shucks, I’ve only got two minutes so maybe we’ll do this over lunch tomorrow.” And I think, in a way, it’s almost like a paradigm shift to just sort of be okay putting that aside, like, nothing bad will happen if you hear them and they don’t hear you.

Tania Israel
Right. Absolutely. And I’m going to tell you the fears that people have about doing just that because people tell me these things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Tania Israel
So, one of the fears is, “There’s a thing that will make all the difference if I just say it that…”

Pete Mockaitis
You think so.

Tania Israel
“…then they will understand things the way that I do, and that will change their minds, and they will come around to the right view.” And that is one of the things that I hear from people that they feel like they’ve just got to say this thing because it’s going to make all the difference. And so, here’s the thing I just want everyone to know – it’s not going to make a difference. That amazing thing that you think is going to change everything if you just can get it out of your mouth, it’s really not.

And so, I think take some of the pressure off of yourself to feel like, “Oh, I must say the brilliant, clever, smart, right thing, and it’ll change everything,” because it’ll probably won’t. And what has a better chance of changing things is if you actually listen and they feel like you care, and then they’ll actually be more interested in what you have to say. So, that’s one fear that if you don’t say that thing, then you’re missing that opportunity to change the world.

The other fear that I hear from people is actually, “What if I listened to their view, and what if it actually changes my mind?” and that’s a little scary for people because these are really deeply-held views. So, I came across this literature on something called intellectual humility, and there’s so much richness here because, really, what I think of it is how to be righteous without being self-righteous.

And so, being righteous is really about holding onto deeply-held values that feel in alignment for you. But you don’t have to then put down everybody else’s views, that’s when you get self-righteous when you feel like, “Mine are the only views that are worthy.” And so, if you have intellectual humility, you can actually have these deeply-held views and be curious about where somebody else is coming from, and help them feel humanized and valued even if you aren’t going to change your mind about that issue.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, there’s so much good stuff there. And I’m thinking about that listening in terms of your odds of persuading are better if you say very little or even nothing in that conversation because there will be another time in which your influence and receptivity has grown there by having done that listening. And I think that’s a powerful reframe as well just right there in terms of, “By saying less, I will achieve more in the influence that I seek, and it’s fine to have a breath there.”

I also want to dig into this notion that we perceive a threat like it’s a tiger coming at us when it’s really not. I mean, that’s kind of the human condition. But how can we establish more of a baseline level of chill when we go there so that this falsehood does not feel real to us, we’re not really under attack, it’s just another idea that we can try on for a second and see what happens?

Tania Israel
Absolutely. And I appreciate you’re sort of talking about the paradox there of listening versus talking, and what’s most powerful. And it does mean that we have to go into this in a particular emotional state to really be able to hear what somebody else has to say even if it does feel threatening to our beliefs. And I hear a lot from people saying, “Well, it’s not just my beliefs. Like, I feel like if that person holds certain views or attitudes about my group, about the type of person I am, then it feels threatening on a more existential level, on a more, ‘Am I going to be safe here?’ level too.”

So, I think, in addition to the physiological ways that we can ground ourselves that help to manage emotions, having a clear understanding of those people who are on the other side can be really helpful. And that’s where recognizing where we might have distortions and stereotypes of people, I think, can help. So, some of those things that we can do cognitively just to recognize that people are not necessarily the extreme that we would think that they are. So, I think just knowing that is useful.

I think the other piece is that the more we listen, the more we know that. The more we really hear somebody, the more we hear their humanity and the complexity of their perspectives, and the harder it is to stereotype them. So, I think that knowing some things before we go in, and then really just paying attention to somebody and being curious, can help to make that person less threatening.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about growing the empathy over time then so you get a better understanding of where they’re coming from and how they might feel that way or conclude those things. Do you have any additional tips on how we can just have the empathy skill be stronger always?

Tania Israel
So, people have a lot of different approaches to building that empathy skill, and a lot of people actually find things in their faith traditions or in the field of psychology. I would say that these are some of the places that people turn to for developing more empathy and more compassion.

And so, I think if you have a faith tradition that gives some practice for that then that’s helpful. We’re talking about Buddhism earlier, if you have a loving kindness meditation that you do; if you’re Christian there are some teachings based on the “Love thy neighbor” kind of perspective; Quakers talk about holding people in the light. There are different kinds of things that people do for that that can help them to keep their heart open to other folks. So, I think if you already have something, that’s a tool.

And the thing I would say with that, and with any of the skills, is that practice is really helpful. So, always coming back to that and not necessarily thinking that in the first interaction you’re going to have with somebody, you will understand them and feel that empathy completely.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, I also want to zoom in, are there any particular phrases or scripts that you just love here? So, I don’t know, if it’s sort of, “Tell me more about that,” or, “I’m curious about this,” or, “When did you first believe this?” I’m just wondering, are there any things that you found, boy, again and again and again, they tend to open things up and be super helpful?

Tania Israel
Sure. One of the phrases that I like is “I’d love to hear more about that,” and just leave that open for somebody. One of the things that we don’t always do well is we don’t always allow a question to just be out there and then just for us to stop talking. Ask the question and then give them space to respond, because sometimes we’ll ask a question, like, “I’d like to hear more about that.” They don’t have a set response to that because it’s not what we usually do. We don’t usually sort of delve in more deeply. So, just putting that out there, “I’d love to hear more about that,” and then stop.

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe let’s back it up even before words start getting exchanged. So, use the example of a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, so maybe it’s that or a red Make America Great Again hat, it’s like a garment or a something gives you an indicator of what someone thinks about something, and you don’t care for that viewpoint. What do you recommend doing just like internally before we even start a conversation? Because I think it’s quite possible for the mind to leap to assumption, prejudice, judgment. It can be harsh, and it can be unfair, and it can be intense. How do you recommend we address that in ourselves if that’s there?

Tania Israel
Oh, that’s a great question. I think that it’s so important that we start with what’s going on internally for us. I think that the first thing is to notice that, to notice that that’s coming up for us, that we’re making these assumptions about that person, and maybe to start to get curious inside. Maybe you see somebody wearing a Make America Great Again hat, and you go, “Huh, I wonder why they made that choice? I wonder what their experiences are that led them to want to adopt that perspective?” And so, I think starting that curiosity internally, asking questions, rather than the sort of statements that we might be making to ourselves about that person can be a good start.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting, when you have that curiosity, and maybe this is a little bit too flippant or playful, but there could be any number of reasons that don’t even mean they love Donald Trump. Like they have lice and this is the hat they have available, it was a joke, it was a bet. They’re trying to develop these skills associated with having difficult conversations, they thought this would draw people to them. I mean, none of these are particularly likely but they’re all possible. And when you have that curiosity as opposed to assumption, it seems like it can take a lot of the intensity out of things from the get-go.

Tania Israel
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s true, like very likely someone is wearing that hat because they believe that, because there’s something about that that resonates for them, and don’t you want to know what it is? Don’t you want to know more about that? And I always think that that’s the most curious thing is that people say, “Well, I just can’t understand,” but when they’re given an opportunity to understand, they shy away from it, or not just shy, like forcefully push away from it.

And that’s actually probably the thing that I learned most from doing this work is that people have these motivations that bring them to it, that bring them to want to have dialogue but that’s not the only want that they have. They want to maintain this relationship but they also want to vent, and they want to feel validated in their own beliefs. And so, I think that having multiple wants is really important for us to really know about ourselves because if we think, “Oh, you know, I really want to have this dialogue but I can’t because the other side is not going to want to have this conversation.” I hear that from people a lot.

And what I know also is that, ah, people have a lot of reluctance to do it themselves because there’s another motivation that they have that either is stronger or, at least, is in conflict with that desire to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking a little bit about defensiveness now. We talked about some of the work we can do internally in terms of being curious and watching yourself and checking the assumptions that you might be leaping to, and not sort of being really eager to ensure you put out your viewpoint. Do you have any other perspectives on how we can sort of preempt defensiveness? Because I think some people get defensive quickly, and some people are defensive only when they think you’re really coming after them. So, what’s the best way to minimize this impact?

Tania Israel
So, it’s really helpful to get to know people outside of the political conflict. Sometimes there are things we have in common. People can relate a lot to other people who are trying to raise children in the middle of a pandemic. Like, okay, maybe that’s something you have in common. Maybe you both coach soccer. Maybe there are things that you have in common that you can talk about. You don’t have to start with the thing that’s most conflictual. You can build some connection.

In other ways, I mean, if you just see a stranger who’s wearing a hat or a T-shirt, sure, you might not want to go up and have that conversation with them, and so you can or not do that. But there are people who might be closer into your life and into your community or your workplace, and then maybe you’ve got an opportunity because maybe you’ve already got some foundation with them, and then you can venture into these conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now let’s maybe shift gears a bit away from explicitly political stuff. So, let’s say you’re working with a boss or a manager of another department who’ve kind of inferred that, or they’ve explicitly said that they’d like you or your department to no longer exist, like downsizing or outsourcing, or something that also just kind of hits you where it counts in terms of “What I have to contribute does not seem valued.”

Now, that may be a fair or unfair characterization, but if you’re in that place, well, you still need to consider their viewpoint and collaborate and get to great decisions together. Are there any additional things that you’d highlight here?

Tania Israel
Sure. Well, there’s a lot wrapped up in that. One is that if there’s a power differential between yourself and somebody else, so you’re talking about like a manager, that can really affect things because that feels more threatening, and it feels like you may not be as comfortable expressing a view, or even asking more questions about it. So, I think that’s another piece that we have to take into consideration with these conversations is, “Are there power differentials that are affecting things?”

Okay, I’m going to get to your question in a moment, but I’ll just share that I was listening to one woman who was interested in dialogue and, partially, because she was trapped in a car with her supervisor driving somewhere, and her supervisor was just like going on and on about his political views, and not something that she agrees with, and she didn’t feel like she could get out of it. So, I want to speak to the managers for a minute.

This is something to know is that you’ve got a lot of power, and putting somebody in a situation where they’ve got to hear your perspective can feel really vulnerable for that employee. And so, I think really being aware of how that might be affecting people in the workplace is really important. So, that’s if you’re coming from the manager side, and that’s, again, about politics. So, let me move back to your scenario then.

Listening is still really helpful. Somebody says, “Wow, I don’t really know that we need the kind of work that your department is doing.” You can argue back and say, “Well, yes, you do.” But don’t you, first, want to know how they came to that conclusion because you’re not going to actually be able to make an effective argument to them if you don’t know how they got there. So, “Oh, why do you say that?” or, “I’d love to hear more about that. I’d love to hear more about what a bad job you think I’m doing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Tania Israel
But, really, just asking, “I’m really interested to know how you got to that conclusion,” and then you actually got to be really interested to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay. Thank you. Well, tell me, Tania, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Tania Israel
The one other thing that I’ll add, because I talked about listening and reflecting and summarizing with somebody says, and I think that’s really important for people to know, is you don’t have to actually be able to create in your head a transcript of what somebody had said and say it all back to them. The way I would describe this is what you want to do is you want to nugget-ized what they said. You want to get the nugget of something really important. And so, just know that if you’re listening to somebody, that’s the key thing, it’s like, “What’s the nugget of what they’re saying that’s most meaningful and important to them?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Tania Israel
Sure. Lisa Slavid, who’s the fabulous cartoonist of Peadoodles and also did a drawing for my book, I first heard this from her, “With relationship comes grace.” So, in other words, the stronger our bond with somebody, the more forgiving they are when we stumble.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m going to chew on that for a while. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Tania Israel
I find myself referring a lot to the Hidden Tribes study that grouped people in terms of a lot of different factors related to political beliefs. And this actually helps with that, what we were talking about, which is that even though we think most people are at the extremes, they found that most people are in what they call the exhausted majority.

Pete Mockaitis
Exhausted majority. Yeah, that’s good. And how about a favorite book?

Tania Israel
Memoir is my favorite genre, and I just listened to Chanel Miller reading her own story in Know My Name, and it is absolutely stunning.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Tania Israel
I love the Pomodoro Method. And something that helped me to write the book was doing Pomodoro with colleagues on Zoom.

Pete Mockaitis
So, just like accountability there.

Tania Israel
Not just accountability but having company in it. So, yeah, that really helped me to stay on track and get the book written.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Tania Israel
I will sometimes record myself talking about something, and then I’ve been using Temi to digitally transcribe that, and that also helps me with my writing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And speaking of nugget-izing, do you have a particular resonant nugget that you share that seems to really connect and resonate and get quoted back to you often?

Tania Israel
Some people seem to love this thing that I created that I called the flowchart that will resolve all political conflict in our country.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s quite a claim. It sounds like there’s lots of love there.

Tania Israel
Yes, it’s sort of nugget-izing my book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Where do we find that?

Tania Israel
You can find that, and all my other stuff, on TaniaIsrael.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Tania Israel
Be curious about people who are different from you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tania, this has been fun. I wish you much luck with your book Beyond Your Bubble and all your interesting conversations.

Tania Israel
Thank you so much. It’s been great to be here.

603: Easing the Anxiety of Workplace Conflict with Liz Kislik

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Liz Kislik says: "The majority of workplace conflicts are actually about the work... not about a bad person."

Executive coach Liz Kislik discusses do’s and don’ts of conflict management and how to rethink the way you see conflict.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you don’t need to win every argument 
  2. The trick to stop conflict before it starts 
  3. How to make allies in every level 

About Liz

Liz Kislik is a management consultant, executive coach, and facilitator. For over 30 years, she has helped clients such as American Express, Orvis, The Girl Scouts, Comcast, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Highlights for Children solve their thorniest problems while strengthening their top and bottom lines. Her specialty is developing high performing leaders and workforces. 

She is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business ReviewForbes, and Entrepreneur, a TEDx speaker on “Why There’s So Much Conflict at Work and What You Can Do to Fix It,” and has served as adjunct faculty at Hofstra University and New York University. She has also written for the European Financial Review and the Forward. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Learn more, faster with book summaries you can read or listen to in 15 minutes at blinkist.com/awesome

Liz Kislik Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Liz, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Liz Kislik
Oh, Pete, I’m so happy to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I was intrigued to learn that your early career dreams included becoming either a rabbi or a popstar. Can you tell us about this?

Liz Kislik
It seems quite strange to me reflecting back because I’m a very deep introvert, but there are ways in which I like an audience. When I was a kid, I thought being a rabbi was one of the coolest things you could do because you took care of so many people, and you got to make these fabulous speeches, and it just seemed good. But at that time, it was long enough ago, that the conservative movement of Judaism was not ordaining women as rabbis. So, that wasn’t an option.

And then when I was in high school, I started writing music and I had a band, and I continued performing in college and, basically, did a show, a semester, sometimes with a band, sometimes solo, and I thought I might do that until I realized that, first of all, there would just be way too much drugs and other things on the road for my sensibilities, and also that you traveled all the time. So, I decided it wasn’t for me. But as a consultant, I travel all the time when it’s not the pandemic anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And you touch audiences.

Liz Kislik
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And, specifically in the realm of conflict, conflict resolution, I’d love to start with all your usable work, what would you say is maybe one of the most surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about conflict?

Liz Kislik
I think the thing that is so amazing is how most people really don’t ever want to have any of it, and yet we’re in it so much of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well-said. Boy, and you said so much of the time with your TEDx Talk is called “Why there are so much conflict at work and what you can do to fix it.” Lay it on us, why is there so much conflict at work?

Liz Kislik
Oh, because we all need different things and have to take care of different things, and if you think even just in terms of having your calendar match with somebody else’s, it’s just tricky. There are so many ways we can vary in our opinions, positions, preferences, etc. The thing that is amazing though is that we don’t consider it a conflict if it’s easy and it doesn’t feel bad. We just think we’d work it out and it’s fine, we have a schedule now.

We consider it a conflict if we project certain ideas, like, “The other person is trying not to give me what I want, or they’re trying to make a problem for me, or they don’t care about me, or they’re against me.” It’s those ideas that make us feel bad and then we say we’re in conflict.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great insight. And I venture to guess, tell me this is your experience, that most of the time those things are not true.

Liz Kislik
I would say most of the time they’re mostly not true.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Liz Kislik
Because once it starts to feel bad, people do get on each other’s nerves and sometimes they don’t mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s like, “I know you don’t want to hear this but it’s got to be said, so I’m going to say it.”

Liz Kislik
You nailed it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Liz Kislik
That’s exactly right. It’s like, “I’m so aggravated already that if I poke you a little in the process, I won’t feel too guilty.” That happens a lot. A lot. A lot. Or just think of the term personality conflict. A personality is not even a physical substantive thing. It is amazing. It is as if two emanations could leave our bodies and fight in the middle of the room somewhere, which on its face makes no sense at all. It’s not that there is one personality that can never be at peace with this other personality. That’s just not true. It’s all the stuff we bring to it and layer on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I’d love it, before we get into the nitty-gritty of how this is done, could you share with us really, hey, what’s at stake in terms of for professionals, if they got a really great handle on conflict and managing it well versus not so well, what are the implications, repercussions?

Liz Kislik
That is a wonderful question. It goes in two directions. First, I’m going to tell you about what people often think is at stake.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Liz Kislik
That they will lose face, that they’ll lose status if they don’t get the thing they want, that they’ll have failed, that they owe it to themselves to triumph over the other person or other department. Those are the things we set up for ourselves. What’s really at stake is that if we approach differences of opinion as if they are pitch battle, we end up not making progress, our initiatives stall out, our teams can become dispirited or demoralized, people start getting caught up in the smallest of petty grievances and weird details. Basically, good work stops and people get caught up in this idea that they have to fight somebody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there we have it. Those are pretty significant stakes, so let’s do it well. So, you’ve got a five-step process. Can you walk us through what those steps are and maybe bring it to life with an example as we’re walking through these steps?

Liz Kislik
Sure. I’m going to sort of use the steps from the TEDx. I may modify them, we’ll see.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Your latest take and we’ll take it.

Liz Kislik
Yes, I think about it differently all the time. It depends on like the last one I saw or that kind of thing. But the first thing I talk about in the TEDx is that you have to rule out the possibility that whoever your opponent is actually is the cause of the conflict, either because there’s something wrong with the way they’re approaching things, and this can be a real thing.

If the person you’re dealing with is actually incompetent, not skilled in the job, not skilled in interpersonal communication to an extreme extent, they really can be the cause of conflict. If somebody doesn’t know the right thing, that can be a real problem. Or if, for whatever odd reason in their history, experience, lifetime, whatever, if they truly behaved badly, if there is someone who really is a bully, who is a lifetime narcissist, sometimes they can be the source of a problem themselves that has nothing to do with the work.

And if that is the case, it is very, very hard to deal with that person. And if you are not the highest authority, you may need help from someone above you in the hierarchy to deal with this problematic person. But the majority of workplace conflicts are actually about the work, how we do the work, what we think we’re responsible for, that kind of stuff. It’s not about a bad person. Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, to that, I think that you say rule it out, and most of the time that’s not what’s going on there. Although I think we may jump to a conclusion that it is. So, how can we bring some rigor to that so we’re not jumping to a bad conclusion?

Liz Kislik
Good. So, the reason we feel like it’s that person is because humans are really good at pattern recognition, particularly when it involves some kind of potential danger. And we might notice that every time we go to a meeting and that person is there, we feel tensed or on edge, and so we assume that’s something about that person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Liz Kislik
It’s like hearing the rustle in the grass, and you jump away before you even look to see what was there. So, that’s why we attribute it to a person. We think, as I said before, “They’re against me,” or something like that, “They don’t want me to get what I want. They’re going to favor my colleague over me. It will be unfair.” These are all things that we think of as existential and that they’ll ruin us.

And unless we can engage our curiosity to find out what’s really going on, we can just stick with that for the rest of the time we work with that person, years. I mean, there are people who, literally, have conflict for longer than a decade, which is kind of crazy if you think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And that’s well-said because there is something emotional so it really connects inside of us, and it happens again and again when we’re with them, but it could be related to any number of factors. Like, they have, I don’t know, a cologne that we find repulsive, consciously or subconsciously. Or they came out strongly on an issue that negatively impacted us but they may well have had excellent reasons for doing so, and we just are kind of the collateral damage.

Liz Kislik
Correct. Correct. It’s really a tough thing to pull back from those reactions and try to figure out, “Why am I responding this way?” So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go on a different thought pattern and say that one of the things to do, because your example of the cologne is so spot on, like, “Who cares?” But that’s the kind of thing. You wrinkle your nose, that signifies to your brain, “Nose wrinkling. I smell something bad.” That is an archetypical neural response that often comes with a feeling of disgust. And if you have a feeling of disgust about a colleague, why would you ever try to work well with them?

So, it’s actually worth checking your physicality, and actually relaxing your body, and grounding yourself before you try to think logically about what’s going on, because we jump to conclusions all the time. So, pausing and letting that go, “Oh, I hate that cologne.” Oh, my goodness, Pete, you made me think about a guy I used to work with. I hated his cologne. This was when I was quite young and I ran a sizable operation, and he reported to me, and I don’t think he liked it very much. And he would come and stand over me. I mean, he was almost a foot taller than I was, and he would stand over me, and I hated his cologne. And it is so funny how you brought that back, so you see how strong these things can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we rule that out by checking ourselves and our patterns, and seeing, “Hey, what’s really going on here? And is this person truly a bully or a narcissist or socially inept in a big way.” And assuming that, “Hey, you know what, they’re okay. I just don’t like their views.” Where do we go from there?

Liz Kislik
So, then it’s looking at, “What is the issue at hand that we actually need to be solving? Is there a real problem or are we just feeling like we have a problem?” And digging into whatever is in the situation that we’re confronting, and not just the top layer of it, which might be about, oh, take a classic sales and marketing versus operations and production kind of conflict. Is that a good one to use?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Liz Kislik
Okay. So, if I’m on the sales and marketing end, in general, I want the production department to do whatever I need to keep my customers happy so that they will continue to buy, be happy with me as their salesperson, I’ll be successful, the company will have money, and from my perspective, everything will be perfect.

But if I’m the operations or production person, I’m worried about, “She wants all these variances, she needs stuff customized, that’s very expensive. I don’t have the right tools or I don’t have the person with the right skillset to take care of it. So, how am I suppose to get that done? It’s going to be too expensive. We can’t do it.”

So, you often see this kind of charged-up salesperson and you can just picture the ops person with their arms folded, rolled back in their chair from the table. And then you need a deep discussion about, “How is it that we want to serve customers? What are our goals? What are our values about, could be anything from the level of service we provide and how we want customers to think about it, to the requirements for gross margin?” And all of these are factors in the workplace that are a kind of mental overhead.

We think about them but we don’t necessarily think about them while we’re having the argument. But if we could lay them all out, then we might be able to make choices together about what’s the best mix of factors.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, that step there, asking the right people the right questions to get that, what are some of the best ways to do just that?

Liz Kislik
So, this depends on who you are. For me, as an outsider coming to diagnose these things, I often have access to anybody who’s involved, and that’s really what you need because what sometimes happens is you’ll get two department heads who are accusatory about the performance or dedication of each other’s teams, and the two of them are having an argument, and what you really need to do is to back off from that and actually ask the team members what is and isn’t working for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Liz Kislik
And at some level of granularity because you often find out it is very small stuff. Somebody has to submit a form on Tuesday when their information is never available till Wednesday.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Yeah. And you got to get granular, as you said, or else you wouldn’t know that, and you’ve got to have that deep understanding of what exactly is their life and work like in practice.

Liz Kislik
Yes. So, in general, the lower in the organization you can get these things resolved, the better off you are. But there’s often a countervailing pressure that is coming from more senior leaders based on they’re trying to defend their own turf and their own beliefs about how things should be, and sometimes they don’t let the people who are actually doing the work work it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, let’s hear about the third step, making sure folks are aligned.

Liz Kislik
So, that is really about ensuring that there is clarity about what the responsibilities are, who has which ones, where they’re shared, and that people agree that they’re going to operate on that basis. They have to understand what’s expected of them and commit to delivering on it. If you don’t have both those things, the understanding of what’s expected and the commitment to deliver, it’s very likely that somebody’s going to drop the ball at some point.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in practice, to get that, is it just as simple as, at the end of the meeting, it’s like, “Okay, here’s my understanding of the next steps, A, B, C, D. This person is doing this by then, and that person is doing that by this time. Are we all good?” Is that what you do in practice or how do you recommend getting that alignment?

Liz Kislik
So, that often is enough in the stuff is straightforward. I believe that at the end of every meeting there should be a readout just of that kind, either at the meeting or immediately after, so that people can then say, “Oh, no, no, that’s not what I understood. I thought we said X.” Or if there is a one-on-one kind of meeting, somebody should send an email after that, saying, “Here are the things we said we are going to do. Is that what you meant?”

I think that kind of documentation is extremely helpful not only for the kind of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s what you said audit trail that some people use it for,” but actually to lay out what we committed to each other. Because when it’s clear, say something goes wrong, then we can come back and say, “I know I committed to doing these things. Here is the outside influence that got in my way. Can you grant me extra time, extra funding, etc.? Or can we negotiate a new agreement?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That sounds good. Okay. And so then, the next step is finding allies at all levels. How do you recommend we do that?

Liz Kislik
So, this will sound so simplistic as to be almost dumb, but the first thing is actually to behave nicely to everybody.

Pete Mockaitis
That makes sense. No wants to ally with the treacherous.

Liz Kislik
Correct. And people don’t…this is so funny, Pete. People don’t like to be known as the friend of the creep. So, it just makes sense to have good behavior. When you have good behavior, and you show interest in your colleagues, then people think, “Oh, that’s a nice person,” and so they’re more inclined to want to be agreeable and support you. So, that’s one thing.

A second thing, though, is looking for ways to help other people and back them up. If you’re in a meeting, and your colleague makes a statement about something, say, that isn’t going very well to the senior leadership, and you know it’s true, instead of hiding in the corner hoping the senior leadership won’t be mad at you, if you back your colleague up when she’s in a tight spot, when you need something, your colleague is much more likely to ride to your defense.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very clear and real, because the temptation is like, “Oh, boy, I don’t want to get in the middle of this.” But it may not be so scary, it can be just as simple as like, “Yes. Oh, I’ve observed similar things.” Like, “Hey, there it is.”

Liz Kislik
That’s exactly the right language. It’s backing up the factual quality not necessarily, say, your colleague was getting a little intense as she was explaining this thing because it is so important to her team and making sure her area is well-ran, etc., and we’ve all been in a meeting where we heard that sound in somebody’s throat that says, “This is really important to them.”

Pete Mockaitis
Can you make it for us?

Liz Kislik
Oh, I don’t know. I would have to get really tense and talk for a while, and start to sound kind of a little louder and with a little bit of edge, you know, like when it’s really important to you and it’s urgent, and you think someone’s not listening. Is that alright?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty good. Thanks.

Liz Kislik
Okay. See, I don’t like making that sound. It makes me tense because you only make that sound if you feel under threat, which is part of how you got into a conflict in the first place. So, we get that kind of intensity when we feel like we have to justify ourselves, and we don’t have confidence that we’ll be heard. And if you have a comrade at arms who says, “Oh, yes, I’ve observed the same thing. Isn’t that interesting?” without a charge on it, then the senior leadership doesn’t hear this sense of danger and threat so they don’t have to minimize the issue. They can just say, “Oh, that’s interesting. We weren’t aware of it. Give us some more evidence.” And then there may be no conflict at all. That’s something an ally can do for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And then the final habit is to teach new habits, step is to teach new habits for managing differences. What are some of your top habits you recommend?

Liz Kislik
So, a couple that I love, really love, one is what I, and now, numerous of my clients call playing an elephant card, you know, the expression of the elephant in the room. And, very often, people will be in a meeting, and it’s like there’s a silent agreement that we’re not going to talk about a certain thing even though we know it’s the real problem. That’s sometimes called an undiscussable.

And when there is an undiscussable issue in the room, whatever else happens around it, you’re not dealing with the real thing. So, there may be a stated agreement that includes, just as you said before, the dates and the costs and the who’s doing what to whom, and all of that, but everybody knows it’s not real because we didn’t talk about the fact that you can’t actually count on Joe. So, everybody knows it’s not really going to happen, and that’s a kind of passive-aggressive culture where we don’t want to say publicly the thing we’re all afraid of. So, playing an elephant card means there’s something up we’re not talking about, and we know we need to talk about it to move on. That’s one favorite.

Another thing that I do very, very often is I ask, and this is a different circumstance. This is a circumstance in which you and your team are together and, basically, you’re complaining about the other team or the other person. And to break that habit, I like the habit of asking, “Why would a smart person do a stupid thing?” because as soon as you acknowledge that the other person has a real reason for whatever makes them seem to be against you, then you can uncover what their issue is and the real content and you don’t just continue in the fight.

Pete Mockaitis
And now is that a question you ask internally to yourself or out loud?

Liz Kislik
Oh, I use that all over the place, internally and aloud, because we’ve all been in circumstances where somebody does something that just makes no sense. And it could be a very small thing. I’m thinking of a client who, he’s just not skillful with his language in the sense that he can’t seem to hold back. He interrupts everybody, and so people sometimes treat him as the disliked person. They don’t want to be with him because he has this constant stream of language and nobody else can talk, and his issues have to be handled, etc.

But when you ask, not his direct colleagues, but other people who have to deal with him and think he’s a problem, he’s so smart. Why would he have that stupid annoying habit? Why would he do that thing? And then they realize it’s because he cares about it so much, so then they can forgive him a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha. Okay. Lovely. So, that really reframes things in a great way. And I’m curious, we talked about…I love to hear good phrases and bits of verbiage that can make a world of differences, and one was “Why would a smart person do a stupid thing?” Are there any other key questions or statements you think are just powerful and you recommend people use them again and again?

Liz Kislik
Oh, yes. Here’s one I love. I’m smiling because I am picturing one group of clients that quotes it all the time, which is, “That’s accurate but incomplete.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Liz Kislik
We all see things from our perspective, and it is totally accurate but there’s more there, and so it’s worth going to look for it. And that little phrase reminds us that we have to take things into account besides our own opinions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Liz, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Liz Kislik
I think one of the…I want to give you one other habit, if I may, and that’s to think about how the other person will actually hear what you’re planning to say to them, because they won’t hear it the way you hear it because they’re not you. So, to remind yourself that before you go to the meeting and take something on, to really look at it from the other person’s perspective, and how would your language play, and how will your tone play, and how can you reorient yourself to speak or write or communicate in a way that sounds, at a minimum, neutral, but, if at all possible, caring and concerned about the other person, you’ll generally get a better hearing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Liz Kislik
Yes, there are two that I like a load. One is Maya Angelou who said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” So, that gives you credit for earnest effort, but as soon as you know it could be better, you’re obligated to do that. And that relates to a Talmudic quote that I love, which says, “You are not obligated to finish the work, neither are you free to desist from it. You have to do your part.” You may not be able to fix everything, but if it’s in your control, you have to step up and do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Liz Kislik
You know what I like? I like the idea of one percent improvement. Are you familiar with this?

Pete Mockaitis
Like the compounding there?

Liz Kislik
Yeah. Yes, that it compounds, and that doing a little bit just adds up in a way that having a great idea but not getting to work on it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Liz Kislik
I recommend The Art of Possibility which is by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. He has a very, very well-known TED Talk, and it is about looking at the world from a perspective that there is hope and possibility and resources that you didn’t know you had, and that you’re probably doing better than you think if you let yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Liz Kislik
My website is great, if they come to my website. There’s loads of material that may be useful to your audience, Pete, because I’ve been writing a blog for ten years, and they’ll also find a free ebook there that’s about the interpersonal aspects of conflict at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Liz Kislik
I would say that there is always something you can do, that the one thing not to do is to feel helpless and hopeless, even if you have to pause. Sometimes the one thing to do is to stop in your tracks and not react at that moment. But there is something that you can do that will improve the situation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Liz, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all your adventures.

Liz Kislik
It’s been so nice to talk to you. I really appreciate it.

587: Finding the Beauty in Conflict with CrisMarie Campbell

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

ChrisMarie Campbell says: "Do you want to be relational or do you want to be right?"

CrisMarie Campbell discusses how to get comfortable with handling disagreements.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make conflict productive 
  2. The magic question for when you reach an impasse 
  3. A handy script for when you need to disagree with your boss 

 

About ChrisMarie

CrisMarie Campbell is a former Olympic and World Championship rower. She has also previously worked at Boeing as an engineer and helped initiate a groundbreaking cross-functional team approach for how Boeing designs and builds airplanes.

CrisMarie, together with her partner Susan Clarke, founded Thrive!–a coaching and consulting firm that specializes in helping individuals, leaders, teams and entire companies learn how to deal with differences to ignite creativity and innovation.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

CrisMarie Campbell Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
CrisMarie, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

CrisMarie Campbell
I’m excited to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your wisdom. You have had adventures in Olympic rowing, Boeing engineering, and now speaker, author, thought leader in the realm of conflict stuff. So, could you just give us a snippet, an anecdote, a tale, from your adventures in Olympic rowing?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yes. Well, first, you have to know I did not pop out of the womb being, “Woo, conflict.” Definitely, I was a professional conflict avoider. And I rowed at the University of Washington, go Huskies, and then went on to the Olympic team, and the National team really, and I had two boats that were very different. So, high-caliber athletes, both teams, but one team, I call it the tale of two boats because one team shouldn’t have performed, and we did, and the other team, we should’ve performed and we didn’t.

And what happened is, in the year before the Olympic Games, I was on the National team, and we had a group of people, I was wet behind the ears, I’d never been really on the world stage. I could’ve stroked the boat, which is the leader of the boat, the first person that everybody follows and sets a rhythm, but because I hadn’t raced at a national level, that we had this conversation and we picked a more senior person who had been at the Olympics before to row.

And so, that boat, we trusted each other, we dealt with conflict, we had each other’s backs. And when we came to the World Championships, we hadn’t beaten the Russians in like 15 years, and the Russians, they were so dominant. They were on lane one which is smooth water on the inside lane. We were all the way across the course on the outside lane, lane six, choppy water. And the start of the race happened, the Russians just took off, and we were rowing in the pack. And then halfway through the race, the cox then said, “We’re moving on the Russians.” And, you know, our boat just sparked alive and we picked up.

In the end, Romania won gold, we won silver, but we’re also happy to topple the mighty Russians. There was this big Romanian woman, and when we came to the docks, she had this big white hair, she picked me up in her arms, she picked another U.S. rower in her arms, “We beat the mighty Russians!” It was so cool. But that boat, we were able to deal with conflict and we trusted each other.

Now, the Olympic year, we had the same caliber of people. My story was I was injured and so I was off the water for three months before the games. I had to climb my way back in. I had made it into the boat, but that boat, we had factions, we had egos, and when it came, a month before, so bad, strategic decision, a month before the games, we made a last-minute decision to use an experimental boat. And I tell you, in that conversation, I didn’t speak up. I couldn’t row the boat, but I was like, “Who am I to say anything? I’m the last one in. I’m not going to speak up.”

And at the Olympic Games, we came in a disappointing sixth, and it was really heartbreaking, and that boat was never rowed again. It was scrapped because it was built on a computer. It was designed. But that team, I think we were more brittle because we didn’t have conflict, we didn’t speak up, I didn’t speak up. And so, I think that happens all the time in business where there’s egos, factions, people say, “Well, it’s not my place to speak up,” and then you don’t get good results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is a tale of two boats, and handy in the illustration there. So, your book is called The Beauty of Conflict. Tell us, can you make your pitch for why, in fact, conflict is beautiful?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, and I never would’ve believed it. I think conflict is beautiful because when people are willing to hang in there and hold for the tension of conflict, because conflict is when you have different opinions, passion, and you’re focused on a goal, and you bump into each other’s, well, different opinions, and we’re not comfortable with that tension, so we tend to opt out, and, “I’ll just do it myself,” or, “Wait a second. I just want to make sure you’re okay with me,” or, “I’m just going to focus on something else, not this problem,” and so we don’t hold for that tension. And that tension is potential energy. That conflict, that discomfort, that none of us like is pure potential creativity.

And what I’ve seen time and time again is when people can develop enough trust on a team or in a relationship to hold for that, what happens is new ideas emerge. That’s not your idea, Pete, or my idea, but something else percolates up because we’re holding that tension. And this happens all the time when we work with teams. We’ll do a two-day offsite when we could meet in person. We’re doing it virtually now, but that we develop trust, people get to know each other, they clear up some differences, and then we start talking about their business ideas.

If they had started right at first in the morning talking about it, they’d be grinding away. But when they’ve learned something to hold for that tension, new ideas percolate, and they have so many innovative and creative solutions that emerge. It’s really powerful. So, that’s what I think the beauty of conflict is.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it’s intriguing. And you say that it’s uncomfortable for everybody.

CrisMarie Campbell
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I think that’s handy to understand that it’s not…is it fair to say that it’s not so much that once we just understand the theory about why conflict is beautiful, then we no longer feel those feelings? I guess that’s what I want to hear. So, I’ve done some training in Myers-Briggs workshops, and thinkers versus feelers. What’s really fun is that I’m a feeler myself.

CrisMarie Campbell
Me too, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I will talk about conflict, and then I’ll ask, “Hey, if you get this weird sensation of discomfort, like crawling on the back of your neck, raise your hand.” And, usually, it’s mostly feelers and no thinkers who raise their hand, and it’s sort of a fun aha moment, like, “Oh, we are getting mutual understanding. Thanks, Pete. You’re great.” Anyway, that’s where I’m going for. And so, for those who are feelers, and still have this uncomfortable and unpleasant icky feeling like we still would prefer to avoid the conflict. Well, how can you encourage us and give us hope?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, you know, it is tough. And I think thinkers, because Susan is also a T and I’m an F in the Myers-Briggs, but it looks like they enjoy it. They like debate but only kind of on their terms. If they get threatened enough in their ideas, it’s uncomfortable for them, I think, as well. My story, I could be wrong. But I do think… so your question was how to actually get comfortable with it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so yeah, maybe and maybe we never will. But if you could give us a little something so that we can feel better when we’re in the midst of it.

CrisMarie Campbell
Right. Well, there are things that I actually do to help settle and I teach people to do this, just help settle the nervous system. Because, really, if you ask anybody, “What did you learn about conflict growing up?” That’s a great team conversation because I grew up with an Army colonel dad who was pretty angry at dinner times, pretty consistently, but you never knew what was going to set him off. And my older sister liked to press his buttons, so every night at dinner I was like, “Oh, my gosh, don’t get him upset.” And so, I’d change the subject, I’d rephrase what my sister said, I’d do anything to kind of try to diffuse the energy of conflict. So, that’s how I became a professional conflict avoider, an accommodator.

And I think what I learned is that was wired into my nervous system so I’ve had to actually do things to help settle me in the midst of conflict. And one of the things that I do is I actually bring my awareness down to my feet because usually in conflict, my energy is up and out. I’m trying to manage and calm everything down, “Please.” And if I actually bring my energy in and down, I cultivate a sense of safety in my own skin. I can also notice…

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re just thinking about your feet and how they feel? This is what you’re doing then?

CrisMarie Campbell
So, you can do this right now. Like, wiggle your toes, swipe your feet, and just imagine, you could feel your feet getting heavier, and you could even visualize like you’ve got roots coming out of the soles or cement blocks on them. And when I do that, because I’ve done that enough…

Pete Mockaitis
I’m waiting for you to insult me now, it’s like, “Okay, I’m ready. Bring it on, CrisMarie.”

CrisMarie Campbell
Often what happens is I take a deeper breath because, usually, when I don’t feel safe inside my own skin in conflict, I think, “Oh, my gosh, you’re going to get mad at me, or you’re going to attack my idea, or you’re going to leave.” So, we have these two basic things. Either somebody is going to attack me or somebody is going to abandon me at the core root of who we are as humans. And that’s the fear that comes up. So, when I can cultivate a sense of safety in my own body, it expands my ability to tolerate the tension out there if you’re upset at me. Does that make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s interesting, I think I buy it as I’m doing it right now. And I guess I used to, when I was getting nervous when I was an interview candidate, you know, job hunting, I would just try to plant my feet on the floor, like, “We’re grounded here.” And so, it seems like you’re really kicking this up a notch in terms of imagining cement blocks and weights and rooted firmness, and sort of take it to the next level, so I think that would be just as good or better.

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, yeah, you can do feel your feet and also your seat. So, you can feel the weight of your bum in the chair, and just relax into it. Because, again, I’m up and out trying to like protect, “He’s leaning back.”

Pete Mockaitis
Adjust the mic stand.

CrisMarie Campbell
It usually helps me settle down. And if I’m really stressed out, okay, let’s say I’m really stressed out and I need to take a break, I actually go to the bathroom and I do a sound called voo, and this is from Peter Levine. And what it does is it vibrates your vagus nerve which is the second largest nerve in your body beside your spinal column, and that goes into your rest and digest.

And anything you can do to turn on your rest and digest, which it actually, it floods your brain back with more blood so you’re thinking more clearly. When you’re in that, “What’s going to happen here?” we’re in flight or fight, or freeze, or faint, whatever it is, and our brain is not online so you’re not going to be saying the best things or your eyes get very narrow like, “There’s the enemy over there,” versus opening up your eyesight, and even turning your head sideways. That’s another thing you can do. And I would suggest doing it slowly, and then picking an object and noticing it, and then turning slowly again.

And it gets you out of that, “Oh, my God, somebody is going to attack me over there,” which is the beady-eyed narrow focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that and I experienced that when I’ve done some keynotes in terms of if I’m sort of doing this scan. I just somehow feel more powerful in terms of, “I’m surveying my dominion,” as opposed to, “Uh-oh, that guy thinks I suck.”

CrisMarie Campbell
I can so relate to that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say voo, is that it?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, it would be a big inhale and a vooooo. I’d keep doing it, like a long exhale, and that’s the vibrating. And you could even…

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a lower tone, too, as opposed to…

CrisMarie Campbell
I like to do it lower, yeah. And if you purse your lips tight enough, you’ll vibrate your lips which, by the way, even if you were in a meeting and you couldn’t do the voo, you can touch your lips, and that actually accesses your vagus nerve which, again, goes to your parasympathetic rest and digest. So, even in meetings, if you can’t get out and go voo, because who wants to do that, you can just rub your lips like you’re thinking, like, “Yeah, hmm. Tsk, I wonder.” And that’s why kissing actually makes us feel better because it’s accessing your parasympathetic nervous system. That’s one reason, yeah. It activates a lot but…

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, CrisMarie, this is the good stuff in terms of it’s simple, it’s actionable, it’s tactical, and I have heard it before, so that’s why I love to hear it. Thank you.

CrisMarie Campbell
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there we have some comforting approaches when you’re in the heat of the moment, so that’s really handy. Thank you. Well, then let’s discuss maybe the actual content of the conflict in terms of what makes it come about and how do we engage it well in terms of actual maybe word choice or do’s and don’ts?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, I think, Pete, most of us sometimes we’re not aware we just bumped into conflict. Like, if you’re upset about something I’ve said, I may not be aware of it, that, “Oh, my gosh, we’re, all of a sudden, in conflict.” So, to be aware and checking what are the signs and signals that somebody is upset. A feeler is probably hyper-aware, could be, scanning, “Are you okay with me?” that sort of thing. And if you are, let’s say, somebody gets defensive when you’re saying something, and you’re kind of taken off guard, the key that I usually suggest is rather than respond or apologize, is actually just reflect back what you’re hearing them say, like, “Oh, so it sounds like you think I don’t like your idea and I’m actually trying to put you down. Is that what you’re thinking right now?”

Because, one, if I take the time to reflect back, I’m buying myself time if I’m escalated or heightened. I’m also letting this person know that I hear them and see them and that they matter. I’m not agreeing with them. I’m just reflecting back what they’ve heard. And that, I know when somebody does it to me, I often settle down, and go, “Yeah, that is what I think is happening,” if I’m brave enough to acknowledge that. And then that’s a place of starting if you do bump into defensiveness. Or even if you’re defensive, you can reflect back what somebody else is saying as a way of buying yourself time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a handy tip right there. And is there anything else that you recommend in terms of particular, I don’t know, scripts or specific words that seem to really help out frequently?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, reflecting back is good. And then, also, usually, the heat comes up inside of me if I think you’ve said something that I take as like disrespect. That’s how it lands over here and that’s when I get upset. So, rather than just assuming that’s what you meant to do, is actually stepping back and asking, “So, I heard you say the Olympics were dumb. I’m wondering, was it your intention to insult me and my Olympic background? I just want to check.” So, I’m pulling something.

Pete Mockaitis
Has anybody said, “Yes. Yes, CrisMarie, I’m trying to stick it to you”?

CrisMarie Campbell
But you’re usually not trying to stick it to me. You’re usually just being you, but I take offense to it. And if I can say, rather than just react, like, “Pete, stop acting that way. You’re such a jerk,” which often people do. Rather than doing that to just, “Wait a minute, is that what your intention was because that’s how it’s landing over here?” And often you can say, “Well, yeah, I was in a snarky mood. I was trying to give it to you.” And then there’s something we can talk about, “Well, I don’t like that.” Or you can say, “Well, no, I was just teasing you,” or whatever is happening for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That is helpful. And then tell us what not to do. Those are some top things you recommend we do do. And what should we not do?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, a lot of times what happens is we take in information through our senses, what we see and hear, and then it goes through our own personal filter. And this is all our historic significant emotional events, our gender, our culture, our race, what’s ever happened to us. And we have this giant data table in our head that says, “This is good and this is bad,” and out pops our story. And the problem that most people have is we think our story is right or fact.

“And so, it’s clear you don’t respect me,” that might be something that I lead with. We’re like, “No, no, no, don’t lead with your story.” Actually, break it down and say, “Well, I heard you say this. My story is you disrespect me but I want to actually check it out and find out what is going on with you right now.” So, one, break it down, and, two, check it out. That’s another language thing.

So, you’re not saying, “Am I right or not?” You’re just saying, “What fits and what doesn’t fit?” so it creates room for dialogue in this whole interchange. So, what you don’t want to do is assume your story is right. What you do want to do is break it down, check it out, and come to the conversation with some vulnerability and realness, and also curiosity about maybe, just maybe, you aren’t right about how this person is responding to you in that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really handy in terms of I guess this entangling honest misunderstandings and I think that really does cover a lot because most people most of the time are not trying to stick it to you. Can you share then when we think about healthy conflict versus unhealthy conflict, are there a couple sort of principles or guidelines that you recommend that just sort of all professionals follow all the time?

CrisMarie Campbell
Well, there’s no one right way to be. Like, even teams, different collections of people have different things that they think is okay. Like, you can work with a team in New York and they’re into really hardnose teasing, and then somebody, a team in L.A. and they’re all very polite and nice. Those could be any two spots. So, each collection of people has to figure out what fits for them and in relationships.

I think if I could give kind of…when you’re stuck in a spot, do you want to be relational or do you want to be right? And, quite often, we get stuck trying to be right because that’s what we’re trained to do in school is get the right answer. That’s what got us the good grades. And that is just never going to be an influential relationship tool. If I proved that I’m right to you, what does that make you?

Pete Mockaitis
Wrong.

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah. Who wants to be wrong? So I would say notice, if you’re trying to be right, or do you want to be relational? And can you actually bring some curiosity even if you think that…Like, we were dealing with a group and we work a lot with teams of people. That’s often what we come in and do. And so, my examples are related to that.

But we had a team, it was an executive team in China, and we had done kind of a one day of healthy how to get along, deal with tough conversations, and then we’re dealing with their business strategy. And they were coming up to something, and everybody was kind of agreeing except for this one woman and she had a differing agree. Well, they got so mad at her. It was almost like they were going to back her into a corner like, “No, you have to agree with us.”

And we said, “Time out. Wait a minute. Do you remember any of those tools that we taught you?” And so, one person said, “Okay, I want to see if I can do this.” At first, he went over and sat next to her, so not right across from her, but next to her, and said, “Okay,” and this is a magic question we suggest you ask in your relationships at work when you’re at really big odds and you can’t get through, is, “Tell me, why is this so important to you?” And he said, “You keep pounding on this one idea. None of us agree with you. Tell me, why is this so important to you?”

And she started to talk, and he was reflecting back, he was doing that really well. And then, all of a sudden, you saw that, like, we’re going through interpreters. But, all of a sudden, you could tell like lightbulbs started going off in his head because he had slowed down the conversation enough to get what was underneath the strategy. So, they were all fighting over strategies, but he said, “Why is this so important to you?” And she was talking about how to grow the business in a whole different way, and then the whole room lit up, and they totally took in her idea and changed their strategy to incorporate it only because he was willing to slow down enough to try to understand what was going on with her.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is powerful and I think a lot of times, we just sort of assume that the other side is aware of these strategic implications, and we’re just sort of ticked off, like, “What’s wrong with these people? Why on earth would you be advocating these things which are diametrically opposed to what we obviously need to be doing?” And then they say, “Oh, yeah, we actually kind of forgot about that thing that we said we were supposed to be doing. Oh, I do kind of see.” So, that’s excellent.

And I’m curious. Like, I know that a lot of times, we want to move quickly and we want to have something close-ish to consensus and we find that holdout irritating. Like, “You’re slowing us down and being difficult. Now, cut it out.” But I think most of the time we don’t say it like that. But what are some like maybe the words or phrases that, if we hear ourselves saying them or hear someone else say them, we should be on the lookout, like, “Ooh, watch out. It sounds like you’re quashing dissent or destroying psychological safety to get the benefit of those holdouts”?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, I think it is like, “Could you just…? Like, what is your problem?” That would probably be one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
“Is this fun for you to slow all of us down and be annoying?”

CrisMarie Campbell
Because, again, usually people are just…they are putting the world together very differently, and so, yeah, “Could you just stop being a problem? You’re always the naysayer. Why are you such a pain? We just all need to agree.” And we don’t actually believe in consensus. We believe in having each person, kind of as adults, we don’t need to get our way but we do need to feel heard and considered.

So, if you have that naysayer who contend to be a scapegoat or the black sheep, if you can slow down and see how are you putting the world together, because this happens all the time with Susan and I, we work together. And she puts the world together so differently. And I have to admit, my first impulse is, “You’re just dumb. No way.” I have my arrogance about me because it’s so clear to me. And I have been confronted with, when I actually slow down and listen to her, it’s that same aha like, “Oh, wow, I did not think about that.”

And this is so important with what we’re going through today in our divides because it’s like we all collect our different pieces of data differently and put a story around it. Most of us want health and safety and success, economic, and all these things, but we’re almost too afraid to talk about it because we’re talking about that topline, like, “You’re right,” “You’re wrong,” versus, “Wait a minute. How did you come to that conclusion?” That would be another good question, like, “Help me understand how you came to your conclusion,” and slow down and don’t interrupt how they’re putting the pieces together so you can see what’s underneath that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it when someone shares a magic question, which you did, “Why is this so important to you or what makes that so important to you?” Any other magic questions that we should all know?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yeah, “Help me understand how you put the world together, how you put these pieces together.” That’s one. Like, “Help me connect the dots.” And then the other is, “Why is this so important to you?” Because what happens, this is a really good one in couples because we also work with couples. And often, “You want to save money, I want to spend money,” we’re focusing on that. But when we slow it down, and couples usually want to get to a solution, work teams want to get to a solution, and so a lot of this is about slowing down and having the conversation, which seems like such a timewaster in the moment but it’ll save you so much rework in the end.

And you ask, “Why is this so important to you?” You’re going to get to people talking about what their values are, and why this matters, and what they’re really trying to get at. And that’s really the influence piece. This is a neat little tool that you can use this at home, you can use it with a coworker, if you are really stuck in loggerheads. It’s usually best done one-on-one, it’s called the 5-5-5, where, let’s say, you have a topic, let’s say you and your business partner are talking about expanding, and one agrees and one doesn’t.

And so, this 5-5-5 is you take the first five minutes and person A just talks about their position on that topic. There’s no interrupting, B is just listening and letting it in and letting it soak in, and A has enough time, five minutes could feel like forever. You don’t have to fill that whole space but it’s kind of like your space, your block of time to kind of, “Hmm. Well, I think this is why it’s really important to me. And, wow, I haven’t thought about that.” And so, what happens is the person is thinking out loud a bit more and they’re connecting the dots, and B is witnessing. And you use a timer, at the end of five minutes, then you flip, and B talks and A listens. Again, uninterrupted, not with a lot of reactions or theatrics, just kind of taking it in. You don’t have to take notes. You’re just kind of letting it wash over you.

And the last five minutes is a dialogue where that’s where you can ask clarifying questions, or, “Wait a minute. Did you just say that because I disagree?” You can have more of the dialogue. But at the end of the 15 minutes, you stop talking about it. It’s not a 5-5-45, it’s a 5-5-5. And what happens is the idea is not to come to solution. It’s more this investigative process. And if you have a stuck issue and you did this like once a week, or once a day, or whatever it was the right rhythm, you will find a much better solution and you’ll at least know you’ll have so much more clarity about what’s going on with each of you and what you want to do in that situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, what I really love about that is that, in a way, so it’s time-bound, so that’s great, it’s not going to carry on forever so you feel a bit more maybe safe or comfortable going there, it’s like, “Oh, boy, this is such a mess. I don’t even want to start.” It’s like, “Well, hey, no, we’ll do it in 15 minutes.” And, in a way, the fact that it’s likely incomplete after the 15 minutes, almost creates an improved condition to have great ideas in terms of like, “Hey, I know some stuff I didn’t know before, you know some stuff you didn’t know before, and now as we live our lives, we go to sleep, we wake up, we’re in the shower, like new ideas can come to life over the interim period before the next conversation pops up.”

CrisMarie Campbell
That’s true and I love that. And what you’re describing is what we think happens in the brain. Your brain keeps working on it in the gap, and that’s the same thing when you hold for the tension and you don’t run to a solution or opt out of the conflict. Like the energy is held and things start to percolate that’s why new ideas emerge with a group or a pair of you versus just the same thing that happens in your brain happens in the system, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, tell me, I’m also curious, if it’s someone more senior, like your boss or your boss’ boss, how do you play that game? If you have a difference of opinion and you’re extra uncomfortable about bringing it up, what do you recommend?

CrisMarie Campbell
There was a study, it wasn’t done by us, it was where this organizational development group, they would do a survey, you know, they did their regular company surveys, and they said, “Hey, can we tack on a question just for our own research when we’re doing your survey?” And they said, “Sure.” And the question they added on is, “Who’s most influential in your company?” And if the name showed up three or five times, no big deal. But 30 times, they ask if they could shadow that person.

And what they found is, first, all the influential person weren’t the VPs. They were scattered all around in the organization. And what they found is that those people were most influential when…they were pretty average performers, not too stellar, but 5% of the time, when there was a difficult conversation, they showed up differently. And what they did is rather than let it go by or assume they couldn’t speak to a person in power is they would actually basically check out their story and say, “Hey, I heard you say this. I’m thinking this,” so they’re saying, “I’m thinking, I’m making up this story. My assumption is, my theory is, the story I’m telling myself is blank, but I want to check it out with you. Do you agree or disagree?”

And that simple model of, “I heard you say this,” or, “I saw you do this, so my story is blank, but I want to check it out with you,” is a very, “I’m speaking tentatively. I’m not attacking. I’m not assuming.” That was so powerful in shifting the dynamics of the discussion that they were influential in specific situations, powerful situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s beautiful because, I mean, anyone can do that and to know that that can get you on the most influential list with one little trick. It takes such courage I think to do it but it’s nice to know that there’s a framework. And it’s very hard to imagine the person on the other end saying, “How dare you?” So, it’s like, “Oh, well, no, that’s not what I meant.” Or, I guess the worst-case scenario is like, “Yeah, you’re darn right that’s what I meant. If you don’t like it, you can get out.” It’s like, “Oh, okay. Well, I guess I know now where we stand and, in a way, that’s helpful too.”

CrisMarie Campbell
Right. That’s clarity. I really appreciate that, Pete. You’re exactly right. Do you really want to be working for that type of person in that sort of situation? And it does take courage. And we say courage is vulnerability and curiosity. We call those the two magic ingredients – vulnerability and curiosity. The willingness to share, “This is how I’m putting the world together,” and most people just want to ask a question, like, “Do you really agree?” whatever it is. They don’t want to reveal themselves. But you are more influential when you do speak up, and say, “Hey, this is what I saw, or this is what I heard, and so this is the impact over here, the story I’m telling myself but I want to check it out.”

And nine times out of ten, when people don’t take those times to speak up, they start to feel smaller, like a victim, and resentful in the situation if they have to take on more work or things like that. And even if I do speak up to you, you’re in a position of power and I speak up and it doesn’t go well, or I don’t get what I want, you don’t change, you’re my boss and you still give me this same amount of workload, you’re right, at least I have that clarity, and I also have my own back. I spoke up for myself. And that’s often what I am coaching.

I typically coach women leaders who are successful. They’re smart even assertive but struggle speaking up to power in those 5% of the times to actually create the influence that they want and, I mean, because that was me. I remember my boss, I was working at Arthur Andersen for a big project and I was leading a team of six and we mapped out the strategy. And my manager came in, a senior partner, and he said, “No, you’re not going to do that, you’re going to do all this.” And he changed the whole thing. And I thought, “That’s not going to solve the client’s problem.” But I didn’t say that. I just asked a question, I said, “Do you think that’s going to solve the client’s problem?” And he barked at me, “Yes! Get back to work.” And I was catapulted back to the colonel, my dad’s dinner table, and I shut up.

We got to the end of the project, we did it his way, it didn’t solve the client’s problem. And, of course, we wanted to have more work at this client so all the partners came in, they invited the vice president in, and all the project managers were sitting around the sides of the room, you know, the peons. And they said, “So, how have we been doing?” And he goes…this is a humiliating experience. He actually pointed to me and he goes, “Well, you know that project, CrisMarie ran? That’s a disaster. Complete disaster.”

Now, my manager was sitting in the room, he didn’t say, “Oh, no, she followed my strategy.” I took the blame for it, and I was like, “Okay, I got to figure out how to speak up because this is career-limiting.” And it often is when we don’t learn how to speak up to power and especially bully-type power. We wind up feeling marginalized and less than, and we energetically shrink and take less risks, which I think is horrible.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you have to finish the story now, CrisMarie. So, then what did you do in the moment?

CrisMarie Campbell
I did not know. I did not know. I actually met Susan like in a few months, and I saw her deal with a group of people, this is why I probably thought of the bully. She was facilitating this group, and this guy was just being not very…I don’t want to say anything bad on your podcast. He just wasn’t being a nice guy. And she said, “Hold on a minute.” And she went toe-to-toe to him, and he backed down, and the rest of the group took a sigh of relief, and I thought, “I want to know what she does.”

And so, that actually was the start of our working relationship because I wanted to work with her, and that was 20 years ago. I brought her into a project, a different project than Arthur Andersen, and she just was willing to stand up to people in power in a way that was strong and worked. And I thought…and so that’s how I solved it. I changed my whole career.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is this sort of using the tools that you’ve spoken about here? It’s like…

CrisMarie Campbell
It’s using the tools and it’s also really, Pete, I had to go through my own un-programming of my nervous system based on my upbringing with the colonel, the dad, because I basically was terrified. But that wasn’t because of what was happening in the room right now. It was actually because of how I grew up. And so, when I realized, “Wow, this is just like…” how you know it’s an old pattern is it happens every time, you feel the same way. That grip on your shoulders. Mine was like, “Ugh.”

I remember I was in a situation where I recognized it. I looked down, my shoulders curled…I couldn’t breathe, and I went to the bathroom, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m terrified of conflict,” and I was shaking. And I came out and I said, “You guys…” this was with a group of friends and they were debating, and I said, “I can’t…I need you to stop.” And they were actually more curious but it was the start of me unraveling this pattern from before.

And once I did that, you know, you can have all the tools but unless you do kind of that discovery work, and it’s often in the body in the nervous system, that is what really creates the free…the courage, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
This is lovely. Thank you. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

CrisMarie Campbell
Yes. “It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next,” and that’s from Susan Clarke who I work with. And she’s a great believer in, “Hey, if you say something, and somebody across from you is like looking hurt or upset, it’s not not to say it, but then to be interested.” Like, “Whoa, okay, something I just said landed over there the way I didn’t intend. Tell me what’s going on,” and to be interested. So, “It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

CrisMarie Campbell
Currently I am reading Permission to Feel, and it is a book about how emotions are so important and we try to pretend they’re not there, and it’s really harmful for us. And so, how to actually deal with your own emotions as a tool to help you make better decisions and have a happier life.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

CrisMarie Campbell
It’s going to be feeling my feet and my seat because I probably do that 20 times a day. It seems simple but it’s something that brings me back inside of myself versus trying to please or achieve, and it helps me settle down and make better decisions. It’s free.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote it back to you often?

CrisMarie Campbell
A lot of people like “Do I want to be relational or do I want to be right?” They think about that in their primary relationships because we so often want to be right when with our spouse, and that seems to really resonate for them. Ask yourself that in the midst of a tense situation.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

CrisMarie Campbell
You can check out our website which is ThriveInc.com and I’m also CrisMarieCampbell on LinkedIn and Facebook, there’s not too many of those that spell their name like I do.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

CrisMarie Campbell
I would say slow down and ask the people around you, “Why is this so important to you?” to really find out how they’re putting their world together. And while you’re doing that, especially if you’re getting triggered, feel your feet and your seat so you can keep coming back to yourself and not worry about changing them or agreeing or thinking you have to do something different because that’s usually when we get ourselves upset.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. CrisMarie, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your conflict situations.

CrisMarie Campbell
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate that. You, too.

581: How to Empower Teams in Difficult Times through Coach-like Conversations with Michael Watkins

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Michael Watkins says: "You're not there to provide answers or solutions, you're there to help facilitate a process... of discovery."

Michael Watkins shares the new conversations leaders need to have in order to empower and support their teams during difficult times.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The question all leaders must ask during a crisis
  2. Why you don’t need to solve problems to be of value
  3. The best thing to do when conversations get emotional

About Michael

Michael Watkins is the co-founder of Genesis Advisers, a global leadership development consultancy based in Boston, Massachusetts, specializing in transition acceleration for leaders, teams and organizations, where he coaches C-level executives of global organizations. He is the Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at the IMD Business School. He has spent the last two decades working with executives—both corporate and public—as they craft their legacies as leaders and was ranked among the leading management thinkers globally by Thinkers50 in 2019.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Michael Watkins Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Michael Watkins
It’s great to be back, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s great to have you. Boy, I think it’s been about four years. You were episode 29 back in the day. What have you been up to in four years?

Michael Watkins
Well, it’s been interesting, right? So, still at IMD, still doing a lot of work on leadership transitions, still running the consulting company, coaching a lot of CEOs these days, which is absolutely fascinating because, of course, going into a new job right now is just so different than it was before; writing some stuff on onboarding people remotely. But probably the most interesting work has been around the crisis and how people are responding to it, how companies are responding to it, that’s really been the most interesting stuff in the last sort of two-three months.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes. And tell us, what have you discovered in your observations, in your research, in terms of what’s new, what’s different? How is work a different ballgame?

Michael Watkins
So, there’s a few different dimensions to that, Pete, and maybe we can unpeel them a little bit, right? The starting point for me getting really interested in this work was I was sitting with an executive team, and it was a senior C-level executive that I was coaching, and she had her team together to sort of talk about the crisis and how things were doing, and doing a little bit of a check in, and they were all kind of expressing their gratitude for, like, “Hey, look, this hasn’t been so bad for us really, but when we look at our people, I mean, look at a level down below that, there are some really different level of magnitude of impact on lots of people.”

And one of the leaders in the room said, “We need to understand, as a leadership team, that we’re in the same storm but we’re in very different boats.” And that was, I think, a very interesting phrase. He knew it wasn’t an original phrase and I tried to kind of track it down. But that got me thinking a lot about just how different the impact, Pete, is on people by age, by stage, by industry, and so I started doing a little bit of writing about that. We also did a pretty big survey through IMD looking at some of the impacts, and so a survey of 600 or 700 leaders across the globe, looking at how they were being impacted.

And one sort of related finding that was really interesting was that it’s the middle tier of leadership that’s really being hit the most by this. The junior people are doing reasonably okay, the senior people are doing reasonably okay, And our theory about this, basically, is, “Look, you’re a part of a two-career family, people you know are losing their jobs, you’re trying to manage the kids at home,” so that was kind of an interesting piece of research and writing. And I want to help leaders think about what’s the impact on their people and begin to coach those people in a reasonable way.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say hit hardest, is this just like on the questionnaire that says, “Hey, I am experiencing a great difficulty,” and we see like those responses are kind of the strongest there? Or what do you mean by hit hardest precisely?

Michael Watkins
So, the way we framed the question was, “To what extent is the crisis creating negative impacts for you at work and at home?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Watkins
And so, what we saw that was really interesting was the biggest impacts for work, the work side, were senior then middle then lower level. But the biggest impacts on the home front were the lowest on the senior because often their kids are gone, they’re pretty well off, somewhat higher at the bottom but it was the middle tier that was really suffering at home, and that’s, I think, not surprising in some ways once we thought about it given the pressure that you’re facing if you’re dual career, with kids, trying to manage some of what’s going on right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And so then, you field out this whole COVID-19 stress index, and what kind of insights can we glean from that in terms of, let’s say we are in the middle, it’s like, “Hey, we’ve learned it sucks to be you”? Okay, well, that’s one insight. What else do we got?

Michael Watkins
No, it really sucks to be you. Let’s be clear, right? So, look, I think the biggest insight here was that senior leaders needed to understand, first of all, at much a deeper level than typically they do, what’s going on with their people. And they need to be willing to coach those people in a way that they probably have never coached them before, and they need to get over the terror of opening up that box of kind of “What’s going on with you really, Pete? Like, what’s really going on here for you?” Because normally, most leaders in normal times, they don’t open that box up very often, and they don’t dig into sort of, “Where are you energetically? Where are you in terms of what’s going on with you right now? How much capacity do you have to really deal with more?”

The context was, by the way, the team was trying to decide how hard to push on the transformation. They’re like, “Yeah, we got everything under control. We did this, we did that. We reacted beautifully to the crisis. We’re feeling great about things. So, hooah!” And this is something else we could talk about, Pete. The crisis is actually accelerating a lot of transformation in ways of working and digital, we can talk about that a little bit, so let’s just drive. And there’s kind of like a, “Well, wait a minute. Let’s take stock of how much energy our people really have and try to understand and factor that into our thinking about how rapidly we’re going to try and push this whole process forward.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s so many fun directions we can go. And I want to talk about that notion of “How are you doing really?” is not something that people go into very often in terms of sort of a work context. So, I want to learn all about that in terms of to what extent should we, “Hey, work is work, and home is home, and people need personal lives”? To what extent is it optimal that colleagues engage in that discussion? Let’s start with that. Tell me this, how often do you think we should go there?

Michael Watkins
Well, I think we should go there now a whole lot more as leaders than we normally would because this is not normal times, and there are such major differences in the impacts this is having on people. And I guess I start with a very pragmatic point of view, which is you want to try and get the best out of your people right now. That’s part of your role as a leader is to mobilize and focus and to sustain the energy of your people. It’s core to what leaders fundamentally do.

Under normal circumstances, we create this kind of reasonable division between work and life, and we tend not to dive too deeply into people’s lives because, in general, we’re not responsible as leaders in a business for those lives. And you know people are going through things, they’ve lost a spouse, they’ve lost a child, they’re going through financial difficulty, and, depending on the leader you are, you may open that selectively for certain people. If you are someone who’s a real high performer, Pete, “Here’s Pete. Pete’s a real high performer but something is not right. His performance has dropped off pretty significantly. He doesn’t look like the Pete we know, so maybe we’ll peel open that box a little bit and maybe we’ll say, ‘Look, we’re going to give you a little time to get through this divorce, this situation.’” That’s the norm, the way it was before.

Now, almost everybody, when you get down a level or two in organizations, is in some form of challenging situation right now. If you think about the people at the very top of organizations, in general, they’re not going to lose their jobs; in general, they’re financially secure; in general, they’re living in safe places, but so many of the people below them in the organization, none of those things are true. And so, what would’ve been an exceptional thing that you might’ve done, Pete, to open up that box and, “Pete, how are you?” I think it’s become what you normally need to think about doing. Doing those check-ins with your people, seeing where they are, just for the simple reason that you want to try and push that organization forward, continue to get work done.

Like the team I talked to, that chief quality officer, knowing how much she can push forward with something without crashing the organization, crashing people, it’s just, to me, is a very different situation. most leaders are not equipped to open that box up on a fairly broad basis with a lot of people. In fact, they’re often terrified, Pete, about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I want to talk about how you open the box well and how you deal with the internal terror. But, first, if we could maybe get a preview of the prize to be had when you go there, could you share with us a cool story about a leader, a team, who made the shift and saw some cool results?

Michael Watkins
Yeah. So, this, I’ll keep with the example I gave you because I think that what happened, it was fascinating what happened, which is the CQO, the chief quality officer, she said, “So, how are we doing?” And the first person out of the box basically just kind of bared their soul not about their personal challenges, but about some of the challenges that a couple people who were working for them were facing. And there was this kind of like silence, kind of this “Huh,” kind of everyone else sort of when she finished, there was this kind of like, “Wow, I didn’t think we were going to go there. I thought it was like the usual check-in where we’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, everything is fine. Things are going great. Working on this now. Everything is good.” But it opened the floodgates of a lot of dialogue about the differences in what some significant people were facing.

And this person was, “We didn’t know they were high risk. We didn’t know they had a mother who was living in an old-folks home in the midst of a fire zone of virus.” You got to understand the things, right? And so, there were decisions made about how quickly and in what way to push forward with that transformation that were very different than what would’ve happened otherwise, Pete. There was a decision, “Hey, we’re not going to quite push with the pace we thought. We’re going to buy ourselves more in the direction of asking for volunteers, for people to step up and do things, rather than start to assign roles and responsibilities.” And, to me, it was just fascinating how different the response could be if you had people who, as leaders, were tuned in to some of the emotional reality of what was going on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s cool. Well, then it sounds like that team had a greater appreciation, understanding, camaraderie, bond there, and just didn’t put people in terrible burnout-type situations by demanding that they step on the gas full steam ahead when there’s not much in the tank available to do that.

Michael Watkins
Oh, exactly. Right. Exactly, Pete. And I think that if you ask sort of what’s the longer-term benefit of that, it creates a greater sense of cohesion, it makes people feel connected to the organization and not so alone, it’s an expression of humanity. We don’t expect humanity necessarily in business organizations but it turns out that there are humans in business places, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Michael Watkins
So, yeah, to me that was just kind of fascinating. And then the other point you were getting at a little bit was, “Okay. So, wow, I’m going to open the box. I’m going to sit with Pete and three or four of his peers on my leadership team, and I’m going to open the box. And, Pete, how are you really doing?” And you’re going to start with level one of, “I’m fine. Everything is good. Yeah, challenging times. It’s good. But when the going gets tough, the tough gets going, you know. Ah, I’m fine.” “No, Pete, how are you really? Because I’ve seen, to my eye, it looks like there are some challenging things going on for you.” “It looks like, whoa, you actually are asking me what is happening for me?”

And there may be a little bit of time and you may have to do it a couple times, but pretty soon there’s a real discussion going on. Now, you might ask yourself, “What’s the benefit of that?” And you might ask yourself, “That sounds like the work that a coach would do, or a therapist would do, to open that little box up. I’m neither of those things. I’m a leader. I’m not a therapist and I’m not a trained coach. And a kind of this scary thing for me.” And think about it, Pete, why is it frightening to do this?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess, as I’m putting myself in that shoe, well, one, I guess it could just be anytime something is new, different, unfamiliar, there is a weirdness or awkwardness associated with, “Oh, we’ve never really talked like this before, so this is…” So, it’s just weird because it’s new. That’s one thing. And then I think the other thing is, as a leader, I kind of want to be able to provide all of the answers and resources and solutions, and when you sort of go into a different domain or arena, I may very well have really nothing to offer, and that feels uncomfortable as well, like, “I can’t give you what you need.”

Michael Watkins
Well, so I think that you just nailed the second one. I think there is, “Uh, this is different,” but it’s really that second insight, Pete, that’s so crucial which is, “I’m used to solving problems. Part of the reason why I’m a leader is because I’m really good at diagnosing and solving problems. And so, my inclination to a situation like this is to try and fix your problem. And so, if you present a problem to me, I’m going to feel like I’m responsible for solving that problem, and I can’t.” And so that’s part of that. Part of it, too, is, “If I open this up, what happens if Pete really starts to show his suffering? What if, all of a sudden, I’m confronted with a Pete who’s really suffering in front of me clearly? How do I respond to that?” So, I think it’s a combination of those two things.

And so, the implication is that you need to kind of really shift your mindset a little bit as a leader away from thinking that the way you’re going to add value in this situation is by solving the problem, to where it’s thinking that just by opening up the conversation, you’re creating value here. Simply giving you a forum, Pete, to talk about what’s really going on with you, express your emotions, feel like someone cares to some degree about what’s going on, recognize what’s happening, that’s what needs to have happen here. But, for most leaders, you nailed it, the terror is, “I’m going to be confronted with a problem that I don’t know how to solve.”

And, by the way, when you’re trained as a coach, one of the most important things I think you learn is that you’re not there as a consultant, you’re not there as an advisor, you’re not there to provide answers or solutions, you’re there to help facilitate a process. A process of discovery, a process of learning, a process of connectivity. But there’s lots of leaders who don’t, have never really been trained, and perhaps think that they can’t do that, or they worry a lot.

I talked to someone recently about this, they said, “It’s like if I open this up, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to close it. I don’t know where this is going to take me. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to manage what flows out of that box at me.” And I think, again, the advice I give to people is, first of all, you don’t have to be a trained coach to deal with this but you do need to adopt a different mindset, and that’s a mindset of curiosity. It’s a mindset of inquiry. It’s not a mindset of, “Let’s frame your problem and solve it.”

And you need to accept that you may not accomplish much in terms of solving the problem in the moment. But that, even by showing that degree of humanity, even by allowing that person, allowing you, Pete, to begin to express yourself to some degree about what you’re really up against, you’re creating what psychologists would call a secure base, a place that this person can anchor themselves. And, in times like this, the role of the leader in providing a secure base for their people, it’s essential. And you can imagine, too, what happens if you’ve got leaders who don’t create secure bases for their people in times like this.

By the way, this is another part of the conversation. I actually wrote an article after listening in on this meeting. I was just so fascinated by the dialogue. And there was another leader who said, basically, “We have to show them, them being our people, that we have the backbone and strength to lead them through this, but the heart that lets them connect and know we care.” And, to me, that was just such a brilliant articulation of the tension that you feel as a leader in moments like this, because I can’t just go all soft and gushy on you, like, “Oh, poor Pete. That’s terrible. Let me hold you, Pete.” There are limits, obviously.

To be a secure base for you in a moment like that, you have to feel like you can trust me, that I’m going to lead you and the organization towards promising directions, that I’ve got the emotional capacity to deal with what’s happening, but you also want to feel like there’s some connectivity. And this is the way to begin to create that kind of connectivity. Does that make sense, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And so, I’d love it if we could get a little bit more of the verbiage, or not that it’s a script, but I imagine there are often some keywords, phrases, expectation-setting, follow-up, bits of dialogue, that come up again and again. So, one example you shared was, “How are you doing really?” Any other things that…?

Michael Watkins
“What’s going on for you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “What’s going on for you?”

Michael Watkins
“What’s on your mind?” And not accept the first answer necessarily, “Okay.” “Yes.” You saw a little bit in that interaction, “Yeah, I hear that things are basically okay on the work front but it feels like there’s more going on for you.” And then the person on the other side of the table, you in this case, has a choice. They can say, “No, everything is really fine.” And, at that point, you’ve done the work you need to do as a leader. You’re not there to try and force people into revelation. That’s not your job. Your job is to create a safe space within which that person can share things to the degree they feel comfortable doing so. But the key is not to necessarily accept the surface answer but to maybe open that box up a little bit more.

And there’s other things you can do. You can share a little bit about what’s going on with you. Social psychologists, there’s lots of good studies that have been done on what’s called the reciprocity dynamic. I do a favor for you. You feel obligated to do one for me. It works in a funny kind of way with self-revelation, Pete, which is if I engage in a little of self-revelation, you can feel like it’s okay. Now, I’m not going to say, “My life is a mess, Pete. I can’t begin to tell you how bad things are.” That’s not what I’m saying. But you could give an example of someone, “So, my brother-in law just lost his job. It’s really challenging right now.” And the key here is to be willing to demonstrate a little bit of vulnerability yourself in the name of creating that secure space, again, within which that dialogue could begin to take place.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, let’s say that we do go there, we open it up, and then some, I guess, the fears are realized, yup, some big problems have emerged that you can’t do much about. Let’s say, “You know what, it’s just like…” Let’s just say, “Hey, my marriage has been kind of tense and rocky before the crisis. And then when you add in all these extra obligations and difficulties and challenges, now it just seems like we are really at the breaking point.”

Michael Watkins
So, first of all, “I’m really sorry to hear that because it’s coming at a really tough time for you.” And the second thing is, “Are there ways that you can get support that might help you through this? Who are you able to talk to about this? Are there resources that you can start to bring to bear?” You can begin to ask questions that are about creating a context within which perhaps they begin to see alternative ways of looking at the situation, “Is there another way to look at what’s going on? Are there alternative perspectives you might explore about what’s happening here?”

And, again, there’s no rocket science here. It may be that you help someone just get a little bit different of a view. Maybe you help someone think, “Hey, wait a minute. There is someone maybe that we could talk to about this. There may be someone in the family system that can help us think about this a little bit.” You might ask, “Have you talked to each other about it? Do you feel like you’re communicating well about it?” And, again, none of this is about you solving the problem, Pete. It’s about you enabling a thinking process to go on, and a feeling process to go on, and may take people in a potentially productive way.

And, by the way, you don’t have to go too far down this road necessarily, and it may be a few different conversations that lead to this, or they may just walk away feeling like, “Hey, at least someone was listening.” Does this make sense to you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got you. Thank you. Yes, that is good. And just to reassure listeners, Katie and I are doing well. That was an invented example. Not to worry.

Michael Watkins
But you say you’re doing well, Pete. But do you feel like everything is going on…? I’m teasing you. I’m teasing you. We’re not going to do this.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hey, I was going to say, well, we could do it. I think demonstrations are valuable. Well, I talked to Marcia Reynolds, who’s a great coach, on the show. We went into this a little bit. But I do, I feel like I have less, I think, capacity is a good word, in terms of I’m a bit less zesty, energized, fired up. I have a harder time doing a 10-hour workday in terms of real work than I used to. And so, a lot of times things just seem too hard, like little things. Like, “Oh, I should maybe clean up this office a bit.” It’s like, “Oh, it just sounds so hard. I should go to that pile of mail there.” It’s like, “Oh, geez, that’s too much.”

So, there’s been some of that in this midst of feeling kind of I’m an extrovert, I like to see my people and have some adventures. And two plus months of deprivation on that front, in church, I miss that. they wear on you, and so I’m feeling less zesty and less capable of cranking out great work hour after hour. But I do like that I’ve gotten pretty good at prioritizing, it’s like, “This is the stuff that really, really, really, really matters,” and I’m kind of managing to be consistent in executing those things.

Michael Watkins
So, there’d be a few different directions we could go. And, by the way, we’re kind of a little past the leader stuff and into the coach stuff now, and that’s okay, right? You can have a conversation that revolves around a little bit of what you just did, which was sort of the good and the not so good, and try to see that there are different perspectives about what’s happening, that it’s certainly not all bad. I certainly don’t feel like everything that’s happened is bad. There’s some been real positives. So, how do we sort of explore that a little bit?

I’d be asking you whether there are things that you’re doing that are consistent with your values and do you feel like you’re creating value with what you’re doing. And I can tell you do, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

Michael Watkins
For sure. I’d be talking to you a little bit about your energy probably, which is sort of what you’re describing is a situation within which the normal things that energize you, especially as an extrovert, may not be as present for you. There are some different ways to deal with that. One is to accept it, “Okay, I’m going to have a little less energy right now. I’m not going to beat myself up about the fact that I didn’t deal with that little pile of stuff today.” Or there could be a discussion about, “Are there alternative ways of replenishing your energy?” Maybe even a discussion about, “How in tune are you with your energy level?”

Now, we’re sort of past what I would expect a typical leader to do in a situation like this. What I would expect a leader to do in a situation like this is at least open up a discussion, create a space within which some conversation can happen, demonstrate that secure base, that you are a secure base for this person to some degree, and maybe you can offer them some ways of thinking about things in somewhat different ways, or seeking out other sources of support. I think, as a leader, you can go. Beyond that, you’re into the realm of coaches and perhaps even therapists, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s helpful. Thank you. And it paints a nice picture. I want to address the fear or concern that, “Uh-oh, if I open this box, maybe I can never kind of bring it back.”

Michael Watkins
Let’s imagine the worst case happens. So, I say to you, Pete, “How are you doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I say, “Fine.” Okay.

Michael Watkins
And then I say, “You know, Pete, it seems there are some things you seem to be struggling,” and you just break down completely in front of me, which can happen. And it’s not a male-female thing. It could be that you’re under so much pressure and so much stress that at that particular moment it all comes crashing in on you, and you break down in front of me. I mean, I can’t imagine anything that’s a whole lot harder than that, to see somebody having to just crash on you.

Pete Mockaitis
Full on crying, yeah.

Michael Watkins
What do you do in a moment like that? You wait and sit with the person. You’d be present with them. You give them the space to recover. You engage them in a way that you can tell they’re willing to be engaged with. I think the bottom line, Pete, is that there’s kind of an overblown fear here, that if I’m in the presence of such powerful emotion, I’m not going to be able to deal with it. But the reality is I don’t think it’s that.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. I buy it. I’m with you. And then, I guess, I imagine that it’s overblown fear. It’s not going to continue forever. I guess maybe the fear is that if you’re going on for two hours, like, “How can I…?” how to say, like, “Well, we’re done now.” How do we bring it to a close?

Michael Watkins
“Pull yourself together, Pete,” you know. Start the Patton solution, right? The General Patton solution comes in. Like, that’s not going to happen. It just isn’t. And if it does, then you’re dealing with someone who probably needs some real therapeutic support because they’re depressed it’s probably better that you know that, honestly, and you can suggest that maybe they need to do it. You also need to deal with the next-day phenomenon, too, which is they come to work the next day, and they’re kind of embarrassed by what they shared.

And you kind of got to be thoughtful about making sure that they understand that whatever was revealed was okay. You haven’t lost respect for them. They’re still a valued member of the team. Because I’ve seen this happen, I’m sure you have too. It’s kind of you do something, you make a revelation and then you go back, and then you kind of go, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe I shared that with Michael. What must he think of me?” And so, you’ve got to be aware of the residences, the waves that kind of flow out of something like this.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Michael Watkins
But, again, there’s nothing rocket science here, Pete. It’s just kind of this whole humanity but we’re not used to as leaders necessarily playing that role.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, thank you, Michael. So much good stuff. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Michael Watkins
No, I think that’s the big point. I think the other thing that I’m finding interesting these days is how organizations are kind of how organizing to thrive as we come out of this, so that’s been another stream of work I’ve been doing because the tendency at times like this is to really focus on the crisis, focus on trying to deal with the financials, trying to retrench, you get into survival mode. But I see some organizations that, even though they’re in the midst of that, you’ve already got leadership that’s beginning to think about, “What might after that is going to look like?”

I’m working with a big healthcare system right now. It’s been pretty fascinating because they’ve been very badly hit, as you can imagine by what’s happened. And the healthcare systems have taken a double blow, Pete. On one hand, they are the frontline of what’s going on with COVID-19, and so they’ve got frontline caregivers that, as you can imagine, are going through really tough stuff. They’re mobilized into trying to deal with this crisis. They’re trying to find the equipment. They’re doing all this stuff that they’re doing. And, on the other hand, their largest sources of revenue are being demolished because people aren’t coming for office visits. Some of them are doing better with virtual stuff. They haven’t been going for surgeries, and so they’re kind of watching their financials just go, right?

Now, you can imagine that the response would be, “Oh, my God, we need to focus just on the financials. We need to focus on those caregivers. We need to retrench.” But what I found fascinating with this particular organization is the extent to which they have kind of pulled out aside some energy, some leadership energy, and devoted that leadership energy to imagining how they are going to reimagine key parts of their business to really propel themselves out the other side of this. And I think that’s pretty rare but it’s pretty fascinating how they’re doing it. And if you think about the value of doing that, they will be in so much better a place when they come out the other side than they are right now.

And I’ll give you an example of something they did. There’s lots of little examples. So, the crisis breaks, and all their offices are closed, all their primary care practices are done, all their elective surgeries are cancelled, and there’s COVID-19 in the area. This is a big healthcare system in the southeast U.S. And, all of a sudden, they’re getting deluged by calls from people who are saying, “I think I might have COVID-19. How do I…? What do I do? Well, can you see me?” And so, sort of day one, when this happened, when it broke, they got 35,000 calls.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Michael Watkins
Thirty-five thousand calls, okay? Now, how do you respond to something like that? One answer is you don’t take the calls. They’ve got a lot of people who are very worried. But what they did was just fascinating, and their chief strategy officer in this organization is a real visionary. He happened to have some great connections with Microsoft, and they knew that they were building these AI chatbots for healthcare. And, within two days, they had a functioning screening chatbot that would basically triage people to determine whether or not they really were likely to have COVID-19, and if they did, they would then take them to the next phase, which was a virtual care that fortunately they built the platform for that.

That system, in the first month and a half, handled more than a million and a half calls. Now, you can say, “Hey, that’s a great reaction to the crisis and very innovative.” But they then took it one step further. They said, “Okay, this is really what the future is going to look like from this, so we’re going to use this to learn about our customers. We’re going to use this to pilot this technology. We’re going to lay the foundation to take this in a number of different diagnostic directions even as we’re dealing with this particular issue.” And, to me, that’s what differentiates an organization that’s operating in that reimagined mode and not just in that reaction mode. And I personally find that pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And it’s a lot more fun, as I’m imagining being in that workplace in terms of like, “Okay. Well, hey, we got a capability now to handle a ton of incoming calls that we didn’t have before. That’s great. We’ve got a capability to do virtual appointments now, which we didn’t have before. Okay. Well, now what do we do with these sort of like two new toys that we have to play with in the marketplace to really help patients and financially stabilize?”

Michael Watkins
But I think I would add to that, Pete, think of what it takes from a leadership foresight point of view to devote some of your time and energy in the midst of something like this when, literally, all hell is breaking loose to reimagining the future even while that’s happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it takes some fortitude, and you’ve got to kind of…

Michael Watkins
Discipline, my God.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you want to do this but you force yourself to go do that.

Michael Watkins
Yeah. And, to me, this is just…as you know, I’m fascinated by great leadership, and I think that these two examples are examples of ways in which the crisis is driving new types of great leadership whether it’s at the micro level with the coaching and the stuff that we were talking about, or it’s at a more macro strategic level when you’re seeing people who have the foresight not just to react but to reimagine in parallel. And I think we can talk lots more about things as the crisis is accelerating in terms of transformation, ways of working.

Well, same healthcare system but another discussion with the HR chief of staff. Before this broke, this is a 70,000-employee healthcare system. They systematically discouraged work from home, systematically, because they had a culture that basically had a belief in it that, “If I couldn’t see you in the office, you weren’t working.” And, all of a sudden, they’ve got a quarter of their workforce working from home 100% of the time. That’s accelerated the way they will work in the future by five years, more. They’re already putting in place new policies, they’re rethinking their real estate needs for the future.

And, again, it’s just part of that foresight, that reimagine and don’t just react piece that I just think is really so fascinating. But we’re seeing lots of examples of things where something that could’ve taken five years or more and a half is happening in the space of months if you’ve got leadership that is willing to kind of embrace it. Not just react but engage in that reimagination and actually devote some energy to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michael Watkins
Maybe not a quote but I have a mantra, so maybe that’s a little bit in the same ballpark as a quote. “Every day is a new adventure.” And that adventure can be a great adventure, a fun adventure, or it can really be a hard thing you go through. But, in these days, you’ve got to expect change. You’ve got to expect challenge. You’ve got to expect that you need to be resilient against those things and, indeed, embrace them to a degree.

And then the quote that I’m thinking about, I guess, goes back to the discussions we had about the first 90 days and leadership transitions in the last session we did, the work I do there, which is, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Pete Mockaitis
I believe you shared that on episode 29.

Michael Watkins
Yeah, exactly. That’ll take us back. It’s a little bit of a time warp for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Michael Watkins
So, I was trained at Harvard Business School originally many, many years ago. And as part of the doctoral training that we went through, we studied classic studies of human behavior, and there was something called the Hawthorne experiments. Basically, they were early studies that were done on productivity where they basically took a factory and they tried different things to see if they could make people more productive. And they’ve crunched the data, and in the end, what do you think they discover?

Pete Mockaitis
I think, as I recall from the Hawthorne experiments is they tried to change something, like the light, it’s like, “Hey, it’s better.” And it’s like, “Oh, wait, maybe it’s not.” And it’s sort of like I think what they’re finding was people just liked feeling that you were listening and trying things with them.

Michael Watkins
Exactly, Pete. Well, that’s great that you know that. Not many people know about that study.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Michael Watkins
But the bottom line was that it was the simple act of paying attention to people and making them feel like they were part of something, that was what grew performance. It wasn’t the amount of light. So, to me, that was a really seminal kind of insight that came from that particular piece of research.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite book?

Michael Watkins
I’m very interested in strategic thinking these days, and so I’m going back to some of the original literature that was done about decision-making and how people actually make decisions as experts.

And so, it’s funny you say this, there’s a book, I’m going to pull it out from under my computer right now, believe it or not. It’s almost like I had a prop ready for this, called Naturalistic Decision-Making. And this is a book that probably no one but me could love but it’s absolutely fascinating. Because if you think about it, it’s really all about what is the foundation of human expertise? What is it that makes us reasoning, thinking, decision-making creatures? And it’s not that we run like computers. It’s that there’s something about the way our brains work that allows us to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Michael Watkins
I’ve used mind mapping some and I’ve found that’s a pretty productive way to do things. I’m looking at a tool right now so I’m a little bit advertising it here. I’m in the process of taking my first 90 days program at IMD fully virtual with coaching and a bunch of other stuff. And so, figuring out how to make virtual sessions really interactive and not just the standard one more Zoom call. There’s a tool called MURAL.

It’s a really interesting way to kind of do visualization in real time with different kind of sub-tools associated with it, and I’m going to be experimenting with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool.

Michael Watkins
I just think it’s a really cool thing. I don’t know about you but I get so tired of Zoom. Like, please, not one more Zoom call. I think there’s real challenges in how you continue to motivate teams when you’re operating in an environment like this. We’re way past finding it interesting to do this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like, “Oh, this is interesting. It’s like I can see you. Wow!” We’re over that.

Michael Watkins
Exactly. Like, we’re so past that. And so, how do you continue to sustain energy in situations like that? How do you build teams? It’s not easy to build teams and sustain teams and sustain culture through this. And so, tools like MURAL, I think, are really valuable because they introduce a little bit of a creative dimension as well into what can be a fairly sterile set of interactions.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Michael Watkins
So, the easiest way to get to me always is LinkedIn just on my profile Michael Watkins. I manage my own messaging and it’s a great way to do that. Otherwise, I’m a professor at IMD. So, if you go to the IMD Business School website, IMD.org, I’m there. And then Genesis is my consulting company. But, really, if people want to connect with me, LinkedIn is probably the best way to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Michael Watkins
Yeah, I think, to me, this is so much about what are learning about ourselves through the process of living through these times. What is it that we’re really truly learning about ourselves? What actually are we going to do differently when we come out the other side? I’m not, as you know, a pessimist exactly, Pete, but people talk a lot about the new normal at the end of this. I think it’s possible there won’t be a new normal at the end of this, that the world could be a much more challenging place for a long period of time as we continue beyond this. And so, to me, developing the resiliency to manage what is to come is maybe the biggest challenge we’re going to face.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Michael…

Michael Watkins
Sorry to end with this note. Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate your candor.

Michael Watkins
Like, “Oh, right, Michael. A real downer for the end.” But I actually think it’s exciting. I think it’s exciting to think about how we adapt, how we truly adapt, and what we truly learn from all this.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Michael, it’s been fascinating hearing your latest insights. Please keep up the great work.

Michael Watkins
All right. Thanks. Great to see you again, Pete. Thanks for having me back.

550: How to Free Yourself from Conflict with Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler shares what to do when your attempts to resolve conflict fail.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The simplest way to stop conflict from overwhelming you
  2. How to untangle the complex web of recurring conflict
  3. The smartest thing to do when a conflict goes nowhere

About Jennifer:

Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler is founder and CEO of Alignment Strategies Group, the New York-based consulting firm that counsels CEOs and their executive teams on how to optimize organizational health and growth. Author of OPTIMAL OUTCOMES: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life (HarperBusiness, Feb. 25, 2020), she is a keynote speaker at Fortune 500 companies, public institutions and innovative, fast-growing startups, where she inspires audiences of all kinds, including those at Google, Harvard and TEDx, and in her popular course at Columbia. A former counterterrorism research fellow with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, she is a graduate of Tufts University and holds a Ph.D. in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Learn more, faster with book summaries you can read or listen to in 15 minutes at blinkist.com/awesome

Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jen, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Pete, thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig in. First, I understand that you hiked the Appalachian Trail. And did you do the whole thing or what’s the story here?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
I did not do the whole thing, although that’s a nice goal. I’ve been on many parts of it but the part that I write about in the book is four days in the New Hampshire White Mountains part of the Appalachian Trail.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Cool. And so, can you tell us any key lessons learned or what inspired you to get out there?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, what inspired me to get out there is two things. One, on the personal level, I just love being outdoors. I find connecting to nature to be just spiritually grounding and nurturing and fun, so that’s one piece of what inspired me. And then the other piece is what I write about in the book, is I was in the middle of writing the chapter on emotions when I decided to go on the trip. And I decided that what I would do was experiment with feeling each of my emotions as they arose and just noticing them and naming them, identifying them, and then seeing if I could just be with them and let them go.

And that is exactly what I did. And it was a very rainy few days on the trail, and I began to notice that the emotions were really, like the Buddha say, like the weather. They came and they went just like the rain came down heavier and then came down lighter, and then sometimes went away, and the sun came out. And so, it was great learning about what it was like to really feel the emotions as they come because there were so few distractions on the trail like there are in the big city.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, so that’s intriguing right there. So, what is the implication for professionals or folks dealing with conflict that that is how it works with emotions, they come and go like the weather? What does that mean for us?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, first of all, it means we do not all need to go hiking on a trail for four days.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, fast forward, it’s just you.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Or even hours, right. What it means is it can be important to just pause. That might mean 30 seconds of pausing while you’re on the commuter train, and you look up from your phone and look out the window at the view, or that might mean in the middle of switching computer applications, taking a deep breath and standing up and then sitting back down and keep on going. But any practice that you can do. Frequency is, I think, much more important than duration. So, doing something like that once a day, or twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, is very helpful.

For all those people out there wondering, the question I get so often is, “What do I do when I’m stuck in conflict and it’s like the heat of the moment, and I’m just so triggered and I’m so angry?” One of the best practices that I know of is to, on a regular basis, pause and notice, “What am I feeling right now?” That’s all there is to do. And it can be very uncomfortable, of course, but we gotta do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Jen, we’re on a great start.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then I want to hear, so you got this book Optimal Outcomes and I love things being optimal. Fun fact, the name of my company is Optimality LLC. So, tell us, what made you conclude that the world needed you to write this book Optimal Outcomes? What’s sort of like the main issue we’re addressing here?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. Well, first of all, I’ll say I love that we both like things being optimal. I think there are strengths and limitations to that, which I can talk about. But the reason why I think the world needs this book is because all of the conflict books that I know of that I’ve been sharing with people for years that are great, all help people resolve conflict. And the problem is sometimes conflict is not resolvable. I want to say that again.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m hearing Gottman echoing in my ear.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Continue, yeah. It’s not resolvable.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, not all conflict is resolvable. And I think that that can come as a surprise to many, many people because many of us have been inculcated in this idea that we must be able to collaboratively resolve conflict when it arises. And what we know from now, the last 40 years of conflict literature, is that conflict naturally begets conflict. That is the nature of the beast. So, if that’s true, sometimes we may be able to use collaborative win-win principle negotiation methods in order to resolve it, but sometimes we won’t be able to. Sometimes that conflict will turn out to be what I called resolution resistant.

So, this book is all about what to do when you find yourself in recurring conflict, that is conflict that doesn’t go away no matter how many times you’ve tried to resolve it, and that’s what Optimal Outcomes is all about. It’s about how to free yourself in those kinds of situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that sounds very helpful and important. And, yes, I’m thinking about Dr. John Gottman, I think that’s one of the main points he puts forth. This is the legendary, for listeners, relationship therapist who can predict divorce rates based on observing them. At first, it seems like a depressing thought, like, “Oh, many conflicts. You’re going to have the same argument until the day you die with your spouse.” Like, “Oh, wow, that’s a huge bummer.” But, in a way, it really kind of frees you, it’s like, my wife is always going to be super into safety as the top, top, top priority, maybe more than the average person, has a Master’s of Public Health.

And I want to be more into efficiency, optimality, productivity than the average person. And sometimes these things coincide beautifully with our vacuum robot, safety and efficiency, and sometimes they are not at all in accord, and that’s kind of just what we’re going to deal with until we die. But, knowing that, we’re able to sort of deal with these matters more healthfully and productively. So, tell us, what do we do when we find ourselves in that situation?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. Well, Pete, what you were just talking about reminds me of how I define an optimal outcome. The definition of an optimal outcome is one that both takes into account the greatest ideal future we can imagine in that situation and it also takes into account the reality of the situation that we’re facing. And I think, again, one of the places where we tend to get stuck is that we’ve been taught that the way to reach an optimal outcome, or the way to resolve conflict rather, is to imagine what we want and then offer other people options, and that we’re taking into account what they want. And the problem is sometimes they don’t know exactly what they want, and we don’t know exactly what we want because we’ve buried some of our interests and needs and desires inside of ourselves.

So, because of that, it can be very difficult sometimes to do that classic collaborative problem-solving. And we need to take into account the reality of who it is that we’re facing, the reality of the constraints of the situation, even the reality of who we ourselves are, just like you were starting to talk about. You sound like you have some self-awareness about you like things to be optimal and your wife is all about safety. But, for many of us, when we don’t have that self-awareness or we’re not willing to admit certain things about ourselves, it can be very difficult to take those realities into account. So, that is part of the definition of an optimal outcome, so it does take those realities into account.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, yeah, that’s really connecting. And I don’t know why you got me thinking about contractors right now in terms of, because sometimes I wonder, “Why is it hard to get them on the phone or to show up when they say they will?” And part of me wonders, like, “Maybe this is somehow optimal for them in a way that I’m not even aware of.” And so, what you’re surfacing here is that maybe they’re not even aware of it, and so awareness is a key foundational step. How do you recommend we get some more of that?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, I’ll give a name to what it is that you just mentioned. That is distinguishing between our ideal values and our shadow values. So, our ideal values are those things that we care about in life that we’re proud to say we care about, things like adventure, spirituality, customer first, collaboration. These are things that people tend to be proud of. That’s in contrast to things that we really care about in life that we’re not proud to admit that we care about. Tend to be things like everyone’s different, and I can talk about it more about how some people’s ideal values are actually other people’s shadow values, and vice versa.

But some classic shadow values, in my experience working with thousands of students and clients, is that things like status, recognition, power, financial security, competition. These are things, ease, right? So, in the case of, in the example that you just gave about a contractor who doesn’t call you back, they may open up a business because they want to be helpful to people and do great work and get paid for their work. And yet there may be things that they care about, like quality of life, ease of not having to keep track of phone numbers, or I don’t know, I’m not a contractor so I don’t know what those things are. But it can help us just to imagine what might be driving someone to do or not do what it is that we hope or want them to do.

And it’s just in guessing even what someone else’s shadow values might be, even if we’re wrong, just the act of wondering what their shadow values might be can help raise our empathy for them. And so, even if we’re wrong, it’s a very helpful exercise to do. The rewards are worth the risk of getting it wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that gets you thinking in terms of like, “Oh, maybe this poor roofer has just been nonstop and needs a break.” And I like that list of shadow values. This reminds me of, I don’t know, St. Augustine or someone who laid out sort of money, power, honor, fame, comfort, pleasure was kind of the framework, and it seems like there’s some rich overlap to what you’re describing, so this is really timeless stuff in the human condition. So, okay, that’s a great step is we become aware and think and maybe guess about some of the shadow values that others are having. And so, where do we go from there?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
So, this is only one of eight practices that are part of the optimal-outcomes method. A nice place to begin, so I dove into this idea of looking at your values and other people’s values, and I should say looking at shadow values is not only about looking at other people or guessing at other people’s shadow values but, obviously, a really great thing to ask yourself is, “What might my own shadow values be that might be driving my behavior in this situation that I might not be proud of that I’ve pushed down?”

But doing that can really, really help free you from conflict, because once you realize what’s been driving your behavior, you have the power to either own up to it and stop doing it, or own up to it and say, “You know what, this is something I’m going to own, and I’m going to do it right out. So, if authority is important to me, and I wish it wasn’t, well, maybe I need to start being more direct, and that would help in this situation where I’m confusing people because I’m trying to be so collaborative but they don’t understand what it is that I want them to do.” So, that’s values.

But a great place to begin is about mapping out the conflict. So, so often, when we’re stuck in conflict, it can seem, on the face of it, like it’s just a very simple situation, “It’s between me and you, and you’re wrong, and I‘m right.” Right? And so, the thing is when we’re stuck in recurring conflict, it’s usually not that simple. If it were, we probably would’ve figured out how to get out of the situation a long time ago, or had resolved it a long time ago.

So, a great tool is to map it out. And, in fact, people can go, if they’re interested in an online, a very cool online mapping software, or even paper and pencil, you can go to OptimalOutcomesBook.com and download the paper and pencil template and also find this very cool online software conflict mapping tool. So, what you do is put down on your map as many, first of all, the people that are obviously involved in the situation. And then your job is to add as many people to your map as you can, people who are related in the situation that you hadn’t thought of before.

And I not only want you to put people on your map, but also any other events, timelines, background, history, anything that has impacted the situation, and also anything that might be impacted by the situation, so people that are impacted or could be impacted by. And, all of a sudden, your map starts to have some texture to it. And it’s amazing to me, it can sometimes take people less than five minutes to sketch out a map like this and, all of a sudden, the lightbulbs are going off and people realize levers for change on that map that they had never thought about before. It also really can help raise empathy for other people, and also compassion for yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that sounds very exciting. So, could you maybe give us an example of someone, they got a conflict, and they hunker down and they make the map, and what sort of results for them?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. So, I have a client who is named Bob, I write about him in the book, and he was in a very long standing conflict with the head of sales of his organization. He’s the CEO of a startup tech company. And they had been growing by leaps and bounds, and the salary that he had been paying to his head of sales was completely out of whack, way above market rates, and he knew that he needed to lower it, but every time he tried to bring it up with Sally, the same thing happened. She would get very angry, they would start screaming at each other, and they would walk away and shut down for weeks, sometimes months. By the time he and I started working together, they had not talked to each other for a number of months, and that was a big problem because they needed to run the business together.

So, when I asked him to map out the situation, at first it was just very obvious to him, well, it’s him and Sally. But a few minutes later, when I asked him to put more people on the map, what he realized is, well, the executive team is involved and, particularly the CFO, who had been pressuring him to lower Sally’s compensation. And then he realized he had to put his own family and his background on the map because his ideas about his father and his brother, who were these entrepreneurs, who had taught him that entrepreneurial risk-taking was important. And, also, the way he grew up as an adult in the software field, that touted collaboration as the highest virtue, had made it very difficult for him to be authoritative with Sally and be direct about what he needed and wanted from her.

He also puts Sally’s family and background on the map, and noticed that he knew this from stories she had told him, but he realized she came from a poor family. Even though she made so much money now, she still might have fears about not having enough because of how she grew up. He also put their VC, venture capital investors on the map because they were also pressuring him to lower Sally’s compensation, and that influenced the situation.

So, all of a sudden, a situation that began with him thinking it was just him and Sally yelling at each other on a street corner, it turned out to be a little more complex, and that helped him see these levers for change of people that could potentially be helpful and ways he could have more helpful behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then tell us, what’s the end to this story?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. Well, the ending to the story, I will let you find out in the book, but I will say that he was really able to see because he had been pointing his finger at her, saying, “Why is she so greedy? She’s so greedy. Why can’t she just understand that for the sake of the business she should take a cut? Her salary is just completely out of whack.” And noticing that she was just driven by fear from how she grew up helped him not forgive and forget the behavior that he didn’t like. He didn’t like that she had yelled at him and walked away from him, that was not appropriate behavior in his opinion, or mine. It didn’t make that go away, but it did help him calm down, and it did help him stop yelling back, and it did enable him to actually decide to have a conversation with her.

And the mapping also helped him realize he had beenpressured by the CFO and the VC investors to have this conversation with Sally, but he had gotten no guidance from them, he hadn’t asked them for help on how to have the conversation. So, mapping helped him do that, helped him go to them and ask for advice and help about how to do this. So, those are just a couple of examples of how his map helped him.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Thank you. So, then you’ve got a term, a distinction between conflict freedom versus conflict resolution. Can you kind of help us get our arms around this distinction?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah. Well, conflict resolution is what I’ve talked about before, which is thinking that a collaborative win-win style of negotiation is going to help you resolve a particular conflict. But so often it doesn’t work or it’s about safety, right? We could go back to the example you gave about you and your wife. You’re talking about things that are values that are near and dear to your heart. If someone cares deeply about safety, or someone, I’ve worked with plenty of executives who complain about their CEO who cares so much about financial security that that CEO can’t be innovative or can’t put resources in the places that the person thinks they need to in order to allow the organization to grow and innovate because they’re so worried about quarterly financial reports.

And so, whenever we care about things that are deeply ingrained in us from a values perspective, we’re not always going to be able to resolve that conflict and tie it up neatly in a bow. Instead, our job is to free ourselves from that conflict loop. I call it a conflict loop instead. So, the way the conflict loop works, the way we get stuck in it, is that we have conflict habits. There are actually four conflict habits that I’ve identified in the book. And our conflict habits get locked in patterns, in a pattern, with someone else’s conflict habit, or another group’s conflict habit, and those conflict habits make it very difficult to break free from that cycle. So, it’s just a conflict cycle that goes around and around and around.

And so, the goal there is not to resolve anything, sometimes there’s not even anything necessarily really to resolve when we look at that. A classic conflict pattern is blame-blame. So, we blame someone, right? So, that’s what Bob and Sally were stuck in, they were blaming each other. He would tell her he needed to lower her compensation, she would yell back that that wasn’t going to be possible, and then they would just call each other names and how horrible they each were to each other, and they were blaming each other.

So, when you’re stuck in a blame-blame conflict pattern, it can be very difficult to resolve, but you can take what I call pattern-breaking action to free yourself from that situation. And the beauty of freeing yourself from a locked pattern is that it doesn’t take anyone else’s cooperation. You don’t need anyone else’s help or cooperation in order to free yourself from that conflict loop. All you need are your own resources which is the practices in the optimal outcomes method, looking at what your own shadow values are, looking at what other people’s shadow values are, mapping out the situation, using your emotions in your favor, not taking other people’s emotions on as if they’re your own, but keeping those separate from you. And there’s a whole bunch of work you can do around that.

Designing a pattern-breaking path, so not just taking one pattern-breaking action but actually having your actions build on one another over time, because it probably wasn’t one action that got you stuck in this. It’s been going on for a while so it’s not only one action that’s going to get you out. It’s going to be a whole series of simple but surprisingly different pattern-breaking actions that will get you out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you please give us an example? So, some pattern-breaking actions that come together in a pattern-breaking path. What are some examples for how that comes to life?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, the beauty of a pattern-breaking action is that it’s basically anything that’s not what you’ve already been doing. So, typically, when we get stuck in conflict is because we’re doing the same habitual conflict habit over and over and over again, and expecting a different result. So, in the case of Bob and Sally, they’ve been blaming each other. In other cases, you might be blaming someone, and they’re running away and hiding from you. They’re not engaging. They’re shutting down. Or you may be relentlessly trying to collaborate with somebody and they are shut down, they are not cooperating with you, and you’re just offering them option after option, spinning your wheels, wasting your time, wasting energy, focus, money.

So, a pattern-breaking action is anything that’s different from what you’ve been doing. And, obviously, that’s different in any situation, in all different kinds of situation depending on what you’ve been doing. But the beauty of it is that there’s like a bazillion different possibilities, right? So, I also like to say you want your pattern-breaking action to be, ideally, something constructive, so I would not advise, if you’ve been blaming someone else, then like go blame yourself instead. No, that’s not what I’m talking about. But what I am talking about is it could be that if you’ve been blaming, blaming, blaming, and you take a pause, notice the pattern that you’re stuck in, and decide that you want to do something that’s pattern-breaking, something different, it could be you decide to kind of hang back for a little while and not do anything at all.

Sometimes just pausing is a pattern-breaking intervention, in fact. And if people want to find out what their conflict habit is, you can also go online at OptimalOutcomesBook.com/assessment and you can find the conflict habit assessment. It takes like seven minutes. It’s totally free. And so then, you could also ask your friends and colleagues to take the assessment as well. And once you know your conflict habit, and other people know theirs, you can figure out what is the pattern we’ve gotten stuck in, and then you have each some ideas about other things you could do instead.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you could take the assessment to learn what specifically is yours in the habit. Can you give us sort of the menu, the rundown of options, in terms of, “These are the conflict habits.” So, one of them is blaming. And what are the others?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
One of them is blame others, one of them is blame yourself, blame and shame yourself. So, some of us gets stuck in that negative self-talk cycle. One of them is shutdown, so we avoid to the point of letting the conflict brew until it boils over and then we have a crisis on our hands. And then the final one is relentlessly collaborate, so we will collaborate even when other people refuse to cooperate with us. So, we’re offering option after option, and people are not working with us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, and that’s the whole menu right there?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
That’s just four, yeah. So, there’s 16 different patterns that can emerge out of those four.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, intriguing. Okay. And so then, when you say just a pattern-breaking, it’s just a matter of doing anything other than that, so it could be one of the other three. Or is there something completely different beyond those?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Definitely, things different beyond those, but it’s very idiosyncratic so I can’t say to you, “Here’s the thing that you must do to break the pattern,” because we need to know what it is that you’re dealing with. So, in Bob and Sally’s case where they had been blaming each other, Bob had to take a step back and take a break. And then pattern-breaking action for him was that, instead of surprising Sally as they walked out of the client lunch with telling her that he needed to talk to her about her compensation package, which is what he had done previously, he realized that he could do better by giving her some advanced notice and asking her when was good for her to talk.

So, he did a bunch of different things that were pattern-breaking. Like I said, he kind of created this pattern-breaking path. So, one of the things he did was not surprise her at the last minute, asked her in advance to talk, emailed her, asked her if it would be helpful for him to send her in advance a proposal for what the package would look like. He also asked her if they could just talk about their relationship first. So, they ended up talking about their relationship, their working relationship, even before they then had the conversation about the compensation package itself, because he realized that their relationship had become so damaged that that actually itself needed to be talked about. So, once you start asking yourself, “What else could I do?” well, there’s lots and lots of ideas in the book about how to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And I guess I’m also thinking about. I found that a lot of times breakthroughs happen when you stop and really, I guess, empathize, walk in their shoes, proverbially, and get a sense of, “You know what, she’s probably feeling this because this, this, this, this, this.” And it’s amazing, like, occasionally, it’s sort of like I think maybe we just sort of assume we know and understand, “We all understand what everybody’s thinking.” But then when you actually sort of stop and articulate, it’s like, “Well, hey, let me make sure I understand where you’re coming from.” They say, “Hey, he’s really concerned about this because of these matters, and then it really feels like this under these circumstances.” That can often just be just so powerful for folks with just that empathy, it’s like, “Well, yes, that is exactly how I feel and it feels great that you understand me.” And it’s sort of like we’re already getting somewhere now.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yeah, and that can happen and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes no matter what you do, you could be the most empathetic person on the face of the earth, and the other person is not interested. And so, sometimes the key is to be able to cut your losses and notice for yourself. So, the last chapter in the book is all about helping people stop living in fantasyland. So, if you’re fantasizing about that kind of conversation happening, and no matter what you’ve done, no matter how much empathy you have for someone, they’re still like a blank wall and just not responding to it, it may be that that relationship is one that’s not going to happen the way that you thought it was. And that’s part of what it means to take into account the reality of who the other person is and what they need and want.

And so, there’s exercises in that last chapter that help you determine whether you should continue to go for that ideal future that you might’ve imagined, or whether walking away is going to be less costly to you and more beneficial to you than you had originally thought. So, it’s basically asking you to do a cost-benefit analysis of what it looks like to stay stuck in conflict, what it might look like to walk away from the relationship or the situation completely, and also what it might look like to go for, to pursue that ideal future that you’ve imagined.

And this can be very striking for many people. So, I’ve seen people who thought that they were just going to keep on trying to have empathy and trying to collaborate with someone else, and then they did that practice of choosing an optimal outcome, and realized that the cost that they thought they would have to pay for walking away from that relationship, whether it was a business relationship, or a personal relationship, or some combination of both, that the costs were actually not as high as they had originally thought. And I’ve seen the opposite happen too. People who thought that the costs of staying put were so high that it was going to make more sense for them to walk away, realized, “Oh, my gosh, the costs for me walking away from my mother, from my best friend, from my co-founder, are so high, that’s a fantasy.”

I’ve worked with many clients who loved to fantasize about walking away, but all that does is it kind of acts like a soothing mechanism, because it makes it that you don’t have to deal with what actually is going on in the moment for you, but all it does is just distract you from what it is that you do have to deal with. And if you are going to stay, let’s stop fantasizing about walking away and really focus on, “What are some pattern-breaking actions I can take in this situation today?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is nice. We’ve covered a nice little lineup of some of your eight groundbreaking practices.
Okay, sure thing. Well, now, could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yes, my mentor Dr. Morton Deutsch, who is the father of conflict resolution, always used to tell me, “Prevention is the best medicine,” and I believe he’s right. I’ve quoted him in the book as well. And there are so many parts of life that that quote is relevant to.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
I have many favorite experiments and research, one of them that I talk about in the book is about Dr. Wendy Wood’s research on habits. And what she basically says is, the best way to form new habits is to replace an old habit that you’re not happy with, with a new one. So, rather than trying to get rid of one that’s not working for you, just replace it with something new. And she has a new book out on that as well, and I encourage people to go study her work. She’s really a powerhouse and has done just amazing work in the habits area.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. So, that’s a great study and also a book. Any other favorite books?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yes. A friend of mine named Priya Parker wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Art of Gathering and it is just a wonderful book. It’s easy to read, full of great stories, and it’s all about how to gather people together from the informal wedding shower to the formal business meeting, and everything in between.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be more awesome at your job?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Pausing. Pausing. It’s a very low-tech tool. I know there are tons of apps out there, Calm and Insight Timer that people love, but I will say just being quiet. It doesn’t take much. I like to just sit quietly every once in a while, and just breathe. And I don’t do it as often as I might like or benefit from but when I do, it is just super helpful to just sit and be quiet.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote it back to you often?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Well, it’s something my father told me that I say to a lot of people, “Everything in moderation, and moderation in everything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
OptimalOutcomesBook.com is a great place to begin.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Yes. When you find yourself stuck in recurring conflict, do something different, something pattern-breaking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Jen, thank you for this. And best of luck with the book and all your adventures.

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler
Thank you so much, Pete. You as well. Great to talk with you.