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706: Minimizing the Frustration and Resentment of Workplace Conflict with Jeremy Pollack

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Jeremy Pollack says: "Put care first."

Jeremy Pollack shares how to prevent conflict from ruining your relationships.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The six basic needs at the heart of conflict
  2. Three tactics for keeping your calm in a conflict
  3. How to handle a conflict that’s going nowhere 

About Jeremy

Jeremy Pollack is a leader in the field of workplace conflict resolution and peacebuilding. He is the Founder of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, the largest workplace conflict resolution consulting firm in North America, and a regular contributor on the topics of leadership and organizational conflict management to publications such as Forbes.com, Fast Company, Industry Week, and many more. Jeremy is also the author of the recently released book The Conflict Resolution Playbook: Practical Communication Skills for Preventing, Managing, and Resolving, Conflict. 

Resources Mentioned

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Jeremy Pollack Interview Transcript

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

Jeremy Pollack
Hey, Pete, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. You’ve got a wealth of experience when it comes to conflict resolution. And I’d love to hear, for starters, what’s one of the most surprising and counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about conflicts and resolving them?

Jeremy Pollack
That’s a good question. So, I’m not even sure that this is totally counterintuitive but it’s just something that has dawned on me through the work that I’ve done, is that someone’s sort of approach, attitude, etc. in a conflict really dictates the way that others are also going to interact with them.

So, if you’re in an escalated state, it will escalate other people. And if you aren’t, it’ll help deescalate. And so, one thing that I’ve worked on with people, for instance, is what I call being generous with your heart, essentially, which is making the first concession. And sometimes people feel like, “Well, why do I always have to be the bigger person?” or something like that.

But if you start to cross that line and be a little bit generous, be a little bit more open, maybe a little bit more vulnerable, it usually opens the door for someone else to do the same, because a lot of people are trying to save face, especially when they’re resolving conflict. They don’t want to admit they’re wrong and they don’t want to admit the other person is right or something like that.

So, if someone is willing to make that first concession, and say something like, “You know what, I think you’re right,” or, “You know what, you’re not wrong,” or just admit that there’s a sphere of possibility that someone is not necessarily wrong or right, and be a little bit vulnerable. It actually opens up the space. So, I don’t know if that’s counterintuitive but it was something that it seems almost intuitive but it kind of dawned on me through the work, I’m like, “This is really an important step in resolving conflict.”

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting about that concession, “Okay, you’re right,” it’s like they don’t have to be right about the core contentious piece, but it sounds like, if this is fair, you could give them some bit of concession, affirmation, validation, on anything, like, “Hey, it totally makes sense that you’re trying to look out for what’s best for your building,” or, “your tenants,” or, “your employees,” and they’re like, “Well, yeah, of course.” And so, it’s like that costs you nothing.

Jeremy Pollack
Absolutely. If you could just find one point of agreement, especially if it’s like a deeper-level agreement, an agreement on sort of a core value, or a core interest, or a core need, or something, if you just find one point of agreement, that opens up a sphere there of possibility to start collaborating so someone can see you not necessarily as an opponent but they start to see you as, “Okay, this is someone who’s essentially becoming a partner in this resolution process.”

So, it’s as simple as when you say the words, “You know what, I think you’re right about that,” or when you say the words, “I agree with you that that’s important,” or, “That concerns me too. You’re right.” Those kinds of things, it suddenly takes you out of the opponent mode and into a mode of, “We’re on the same team, potentially. We just come from different perspectives or different positions. We need to figure out how to get aligned in some way, but we do have some shared or common values there.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Cool. Well, hey, so we got one tip off the bat. So, maybe we can zoom out a bit and tell us your book the, Conflict Resolution Playbook, what’s sort of the core idea here?

Jeremy Pollack
The Playbook is really aimed at being a very practical step-by-step book for different types of conflict scenarios. So, for both personal and professional life, I think we’ve got several chapters, 15 chapters on just different types of conflicts and give a little bit of an example of what could happen and some techniques to help resolve, manage, or transform the conflict. So, it’s meant to be like a very sort of step-by-step playbook as it’s written in the title.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I understand the psychology of human needs is a big part of this. Can you unpack for us what are some of the core needs that we got to have in mind as we’re engaging in these conversations?

Jeremy Pollack
Yeah, there’s a wide research field in human needs theory, and it’s been done in different types of fields from economics to psychology to anthropology, and there’s sort of a consensus on certain needs. But essentially, I’ve done a lot of research in this field and it seems to me, I’ve focused on six core needs, essentially. But some of the really basic ones are safety. It’s not physical safety but psychological safety, a feeling that, “I have an expectation of feeling secure and stable and, also, I feel safe to be myself, be who I am without the fear of retaliation of some sort.” So, that’s psychological safety.

We have a basic need for autonomy, to feel that we have agency or some input in making decisions that affect us in our lives. We have a basic need for identity, and I might clarify that by saying it’s a need for a positive, coherent identity, so we try to structure our world in a way that makes sense for us and how we fit into it.

And when someone, for instance, does something, or seems to do something, or seems to say something that threatens, even unconsciously feels like a threat to one of those basic needs, we respond in fight/flight, we respond in acute stress response, and that’s typically where a lot of conflicts start is this perception of a threat to one’s basic needs, goals, or values.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You listed three of those needs. Can you share what are the other three?

Jeremy Pollack
Sure. Well, we have a basic need for care, or what we might call connection, so being part of groups and feeling like we’re cared about by other people. We have a basic need for stimulation, for feeling challenged, engaged, etc. And we have a basic need, at least in this culture, we have a basic need for growth and progress, a feeling that we’re making some progress in life. And it doesn’t mean financial progress, or it doesn’t mean progress in a certain domain. It means progress in some way, like, whether it’s on a health domain, or a self-care domain, or my home domain, or some feeling that I’m moving forward. So, most people have this basic need.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really interesting in terms of when you start to feel escalated, I think this is a really great framework in terms of, like, “Hey, what’s going on here? Oh, I feel that my autonomy is potentially being impeded here. That’s what’s going on and that’s why I’m getting a little bit, like, going.” So, maybe while we’re there, do you have any tips for, hey, when you’re in the moment and you’re starting to feel a little bit like you’re approaching the furious, how do you cool it off?

Jeremy Pollack
Yeah, good question. So, number one, I would say there’s a little bit of prep work sometimes. If you’re noticing that you’re getting triggered on a regular basis by certain things, certain situations, certain people, you might do a little analysis, like you said, and just determine, “What is it that this person or that rhetoric is triggering in me? What does it feel like it’s threatening?”

And you can go through those kinds of six basic needs or some basic goals that you have, or values that you have, and start to understand, like, “Is that a true threat? If it’s a true threat, how do I know that’s truly threatening me? What are the consequences?” kind of unpack it a little bit. And if you’ve noticed that you’re feeling threatened by something, you might have a framework for what would be called cognitive reframing or I sometimes call it soothing.

So, like for instance, if I’m in a situation at work and I’m feeling micromanaged, and it’s feeling like I’m not being trusted, that might be threatening my sense of identity as a worker there. It might also be threatening my sense of autonomy, to control my own sort of work style, etc.

And if I start to remind myself, “Wait a minute,” just mentally, “Wait a minute. I’m still in control of my work situation. I have power. No one’s taking away my power. I’m safe. I’m okay. I know who I am,” whatever the kind of thing is that you need to hear to soothe yourself, that’s a cognitive reframing technique that could be important, and it’s really unique to each person. They have to kind of figure out, “What is it that feels like it’s a threat? And how do I reframe it that?”

The other things that I talk a lot about are breathing, which is I think something that a lot of people talk about when they start feeling like they’re escalated. Focusing on your breath, you can do some basic breathing techniques like counting down three, two, one, as you breathe, as you exhale, and counting up, one, two, three, as you inhale, and just focusing on that breath and just kind of staying calm.

Another one is mindful speech. So, being able to speak, you’re going to slow down your speech a little bit so that you actually hear yourself enunciate words, articulate very clearly. And that process, any mindfulness techniques, whether it’s breathing or speech mindfulness, helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, it gives the brain a signal that it’s okay to slow down, we’re not in a flight/fight, we don’t need to protect ourselves against the threat. So, slowing down your breath and your speech and even your movement sometimes can actually help you sort of signal the brain that it’s time to calm down a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool stuff. And I’m curious, could you share with us a cool story of some of these things really coming together for someone who used these principles to get through a tricky conflict situation?

Jeremy Pollack
Well, it’s hard for me to speak exactly on other people’s experience. I can speak on my own, I guess. I definitely had, for instance, a difficult conversation even yesterday with an employee who gave me some feedback about something that I did as a leader and put her in an awkward position, and it was tough for me to hear at first, and I was listening and, really, my inclination, just like most people’s inclination, is I really want to defend myself, I really want to sort of dismiss what she’s saying, almost reject it, let her know, “You’re incorrect. That’s not what I said. That’s not what I meant,” and sort of defend against. I’m sort of feeling my heart rate increase a little bit.

But I used these techniques. I slowed down my speech. I waited and listened. I didn’t defend. I very, cognitively, made a point not to defend myself and, instead, try to validate her. Slowed down my speech, focused on my breath, and just calm. And then when she was done talking, I just tried to kind of repeat back what I heard from her, made sure that I clearly understood it, and then validated her in some way. I actually ended up agreeing with her on some levels, I said, “You’re right. I did put you in an awkward position, and that wasn’t my intention. And I didn’t even realize I did it. It was definitely a blind spot. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I’m going to make sure that that doesn’t happen again.”

And I gave her a little bit of a plan that I thought would be a good plan, and she agreed and that kind of thing. Anytime, especially for a leader, I think, in my experience, it’s very hard to get feedback sometimes because we have an identity as being the leader or the boss or something like that, and if someone is challenging that, giving us feedback, it’s very easy to get triggered and to feel like, “Well, this person is kind of challenging me on some level as being her boss or his boss,” or something.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And so then, in order to have more of those positive conversations and outcomes, you outlined 10 essential communication skills for resolving conflict. And I’m curious, it might be tricky to go through all 10 in the time we have available. But what’s maybe a couple that you think are super easy to improve with a couple quick practices or tactics that make a big difference?

Jeremy Pollack
Okay. So, one skill that I think is really important that I include in pretty much every training and coaching program that I deliver is called validation, and there’s some great material on validation, but it’s really simple. Essentially, when someone gives you some piece of feedback and it’s hard for you to hear, first of all, calmly listen and some of those techniques we just talked about where you can start breathing and you can just calm yourself down, maybe cognitive reframe things. Just breathe for a second and just listen.

And when they’re done, the validation part is, number one, “Can you repeat back what you heard?” So, this is a form of reflective listening. So, repeating back what you heard in some concise way so that they know you heard them and you also know that you heard them correctly because then they have the opportunity to say, “No, that’s not what I meant,” or, “That’s not what I said.” Or they could say, “Yeah, that is what I said,” and so they feel heard. So, that’s really important to calm someone, deescalate someone in a moment, especially if they’re feeling a little emotionally triggered.

And then if I could find some piece, as we said in the beginning, if I could find something that I could find agreement with or some merit in what they’re saying, and let them know, “You know what, that’s important,” “You know what, I’m concerned about that too,” “Yeah, you know what, I think you’re right. That was a misstep on my part,” or anything that you can find agreement on. Again, that lowers the defenses and it opens up a space for being collaborative.

And then the next part, I always say that there’s two main parts to conflict resolution. One part is the care part. It always starts with care, and that means listening, validating, trying to find alignment. So, it’s showing that I’m here, I’m caring about what you’re saying. And then the next part is solution, which is a collaborative process. It shouldn’t just be a sort of unilateral where I say, “Well, here’s what I’m going to do.” It should be, “Well, here’s what I’m thinking about doing. What do you think about that? Or, do you have any suggestions?” and opening up that space for collaboration and creating a solution that seems to work for everyone.

So, those two pieces – validation, alignment in all that care bucket – and then the next piece is sort of working towards a solution of collaborating on a solution, being creative, maybe sometimes thinking outside the box. Those are two pieces that are really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally, I think those really do make a world of difference and often is a lot of fun to see what you can come up with together there. Now, you also mentioned six classic conflict scenarios: criticism, passive-aggression, gaslighters, insubordination, conflict with the supervisor, and confronting a bully. First, just definitionally, I’ve heard different definitions for gaslighting and gaslighters. Lay it on us, Jeremy, how do you define gaslighting?

Jeremy Pollack
Gaslighting, essentially, is a way of trying to call into question someone’s reality. So, if someone brings to you, “Hey, this is how I’m feeling,” or, “This is what I experienced,” or they’re confronting you or giving you some feedback, essentially, and you say something like, “Well, that’s crazy,” or, “Well, that’s just ridiculous. That didn’t happen. Stop being so sensitive.” Those types of things where you’re basically calling into question the validity of someone’s reality, that’s gaslighting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when you find yourself in these scenarios, I’m curious, to what extent are there some universal prescriptions versus specific prescriptions in terms of, “With criticism do this, versus gaslighting do that”?

Jeremy Pollack
I have some formulas that I tend to use so if I’m feeling like I’m getting criticism instead of gaslighting someone, I have a different, like a sequence that I might use. And one thing that I tend to focus on is trying to separate behavior from interpretation. And what that means is when I’m hearing someone giving me feedback on something that I’ve done, like this is what happened yesterday, they might have a story or an interpretation or a judgment on the behavior that I did or what I said, what I did.

And my job is not to internalize their story and their judgment, and start making me feel a certain way about myself, and then I get triggered. My job instead, if I can, is to separate out, “What’s the behavior that they’re talking about, what I actually said, what I actually did, and the interpretation or the judgment that they placed on it?”

The first part, I can own. And if I can own that, if I can go, “You know what, you’re right. I did do that. I did say that.”

That helps a lot in deescalating the situation because it helps people feel like I’m not gaslighting them and, actually, I’m owning up to the thing that I did. The next part, the interpretation part, I don’t have to own because that’s their interpretation, that was how they perceived it.

What I can do with that part is I can reinterpret for them, “Here’s why I actually did it,” and I can also reassure them, “Let me just tell you that I didn’t intend for that. I actually really do value you, and I apologize if I was not clear and I came across like I didn’t value you or I don’t value your time. I really do value your time. I appreciate your time and that wasn’t my intention. And the reason that happened was…” and then you can give your real explanation.

So, reassurance and reinterpretation are what you can do for the judgment part. Ownership is what you can do for the behavior part, and that requires you separating those two things out – behavior and interpretation. That’s a way to respond to someone’s criticism. To respond to someone’s criticism with gaslighting where you just kind of immediately dismiss or reject them, and you say, “Well, that’s ridiculous. That’s untrue. I didn’t do that. I didn’t mean to do that. It’s crazy that you think I did that.” Those kinds of things are very, very frustrating because it makes the person feel completely unheard, completely unvalued, and will usually escalate the situation or create a lot of resentment.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you are, I guess, I don’t know, the victim or the recipient of gaslighting or bullying behavior, or passive-aggression, what are some of your top tips in terms of how do you address that well?

Jeremy Pollack
Yeah, this is an important topic. I’ve coached a lot of folks that are recipients of sort of chronic gaslighting and sometimes chronic bullying. If you’re in a situation with someone who you generally trust and you have a good rapport with and you just feel gaslighted in that moment, certainly, you can give them some feedback and say, “You know what, I understand that this is feeling a little bit intense for you, or it’s triggering you in some way, but it feels like you’re not listening to what I’m saying. You’re not hearing me. How can I get this across in a way that we can communicate better about it?”

You kind of call it out in the moment, because if you have the rapport and the trust with that person, you have a relationship with that person, it helps to highlight that and maybe they can calm down. And if they can’t, then maybe it’s time, “Let’s pick this conversation up tomorrow. I think it’s probably better if we pause for a second,” or something like that.

But if you’re dealing with someone who’s a chronic gaslighter, who you really never feel heard by, they’re never willing to own up to their behaviors, admit that they’ve done anything wrong at all, it’s always someone else’s fault, or etc., that’s a tough one to correct in terms of the relationship. And what I usually work on with people is they need to set boundaries for themselves as a form of self-care, as a form of self-esteem because self-esteem can be very much hurt in relationships where there’s constant gaslighting or even constant bullying going on. So, really making sure that you take care of yourself by setting some clear boundaries.

And sometimes with gaslighting, a lot of what I hear with gaslighting is someone will make an agreement with someone, and then two weeks later it’s out the window because the gaslighter basically says, “Oh, it never happened. We never talked about that. You’re crazy.” And it’s really important for someone who’s dealing with a gaslighter to start writing things down a lot, unfortunately, taking notes, making sure that they can check with themselves, not that they’re going to convince the gaslighter that they’re wrong or something, but they can check with themselves and go, “You know what, I am right. We did say this. I wrote it down here so that I know I’m not crazy, so that I don’t internalize this person’s story that I’m crazy or my memory is going or something like that. I need to set boundaries for myself so I can take care of myself.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s perfect. Thank you. And maybe if we back it up a little bit in terms of, before we even get to a conflict scenario, you’ve got a whole section in terms of strategies to prevent conflicts. And I was most intrigued by letting go of resentment and setting clear expectations. What are your top best practices for these two conflict-preventers?

Jeremy Pollack
Well, resentment is a tough one to let go of because when I talk about letting go of resentment, people often push back and say, “But if I stop resenting them, then they won,” or, “If I stop resenting them, it means either I’m saying they’re right or I’m not holding them accountable anymore,” or something like that.

And, really, resentment is like serving yourself poison. It’s not doing anything to the other person. It’s just hurting yourself. It’s just sort of a ball of energy that you’re holding onto. So, if you want to confront someone that you have rapport with, I think that’s important if you’re feeling resentful and you could do some reconciliation.

One exercise that I have people do sometimes is I do a writing exercise, especially if it’s not someone that they can actually do any kind of conflict process with, especially if it’s someone who maybe passed away, like they’re resentful of their father or their mother who’s not with us anymore, something like that. They’ll do a writing exercise where they actually write to the person, they actually write a letter to the person saying everything that’s in their heart, on their chest, everything that they really felt hurt about, etc., and they don’t send it, they just put it in their drawer. And then they write another letter from that person to themselves in a way that they think that they would like to hear from the other person.

So, whatever they would like to hear, “What would it sound like if they really heard you and they really wanted to resolve this, they really wanted to get back in a place of trust and care with you? What would that sound like? What would that letter response sound like?” And I have them write that letter. And it opens up the heart a little bit and then I have them write one final letter back to the person in response to that and, again, opening up their heart this time, being caring and potentially vulnerable. And so, doing some sort of writing exercise sometimes can help if that person is not available for it.

Setting expectations is really important to prevent resentment because, a lot of times, people have expectations that they never set with anyone, that they just assumed were there, so they hold someone else to their standards without getting an agreement on it, and then they create resentment in that way. So, I think it’s really important when you’re noticing you’re having conflicts with someone to sit down with them and to start kind of looking at, “What do you feel like are the standards or expectations here in our relationship, or in our organization, or in this workplace, or something?”

Let’s make sure we’re really clear and we’re aligned on that because, a lot of times, that process of setting expectations with someone will bring out how misaligned some of the things are, “I never knew you expected that of me,” or, “I think that’s unreasonable,” or, “Oh, you expect that. Okay, I can do that. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know you wanted me to do that.” And so, that process of transparency and clarity is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you’re working with someone and you’re trying to follow all these best practices and you’re just not making much headway, like someone else just does not want to cooperate or play ball, how do you think about tough cases and when you want to kind of walk away and find an alternative?

Jeremy Pollack
Yeah, I think a lot of conflict resolution has to do with motivation. Every relationship, whether it’s a relationship with a company, with a boss, with a partner, with a spouse, every relationship has some cost benefit analysis. And the benefits, the value you get from the relationship has to outweigh, I think, by some measure, the cost of managing the relationship. In other words, the stress that you get from it.

So, if you have a really low stress relationship, you get a lot of value from it, your motivation to stay in that relationship is going to be high, and vice versa it’s going to be low. So, I sometimes work with folks and companies that, for instance, say, “I don’t want to resolve this conflict with this person because I don’t need to work with them, I don’t need to talk to them, there’s no downside of me just not having any conversation with them,” and yet the company goes, “No, they need to work together.”

So, this individual has very low motivation to resolve. And with low motivation, it’s going to be very tough for them to do some of the uncomfortable stuff that conflict resolution processes tend to bring people into. So, there’s a level of discomfort that you have to look at motivation. So, if someone says, “I’m just not motivated to resolve,” then sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll work with them and kind of understand, “Well, what are you motivated to do? Like, how do we reframe motivation? What do you want here? What kind of work life do you want, for instance? Or, what kind of life at home do you want? Paint a vision for me. Tell me how it would look.”

And we create a vision and we go, “What steps can we take to get there? Or, if those steps aren’t possible, then is this the right place for you? So, I ask them, “Is this the right place for you? Is this the right relationship? Is this the right organization for you to be in?” Sometimes, a lot of times, when they get to the point where there’s just no motivation to resolve, they can admit, “I’m not sure that this is the right thing.” And sometimes I’ve coached people out of relationships, out of their work situations, where they just didn’t feel confident in doing it but they really wanted to leave. And so, sometimes that’s where it’ll lead, they just need some help.

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

Jeremy Pollack
I would just say I’ll reiterate these two main buckets of conflict resolution when people are resolving conflicts – care and then solution. I just want to reiterate don’t skip the care part and jump straight to problem solving. Whenever possible, do the care part first, meaning listening to someone, validate them, let them know that you care, that you agree with some part, you can find merit in what they’re saying, and then open up the space for collaborative solution-building.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jeremy Pollack
Well, I think the Robber’s Cave experiment by Sherif back in the 1950s was a seminal work in intergroup contact theory. I think that’s a really important work. And the whole field of intergroup contact has emerged from that. Basically, a seminal work.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Jeremy Pollack
Getting to Yes, right behind me. Getting to Yes is a really foundational book on negotiation and conflict resolution. I think that’s a really important one.

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

Jeremy Pollack
When I do coaching work, I just use Google Spreadsheet. I track all our progress for my coaching clients in there. I’m sure there are other platforms that are more robust but I love to use something like a spreadsheet to track progress with every coaching client I have so I know exactly what we’re doing, what action items we’re using, and what commitments they’re making.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jeremy Pollack
Meditation. Morning meditation.

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

Jeremy Pollack
I have just a tendency to consistently kind of remind people to put care first, and that seems to resonate. Put care first.

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

Jeremy Pollack
You can go to our website PollackPeaceBuilding.com. I’m also at CoachJeremyPollack.com.

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

Jeremy Pollack
Final challenge to be awesome at your job, stay open-minded with people’s perspectives. Don’t think that your perspective is the only right one. There might be multiple right perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jeremy, this has been fun. I wish you much luck in all of your conflict resolving.

Jeremy Pollack
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate it.

685: How to Manage Conflict and Work Peacefully in Virtual Teams with John Riordan

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John Riordan shares practical strategies for overcoming the unique challenges of conflict among virtual teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three best practices for preventing conflict 
  2. How to face conflict head on with the SBID model
  3. The three options you have when working with a jerk 

 

About John

For over 30 years, John Riordan has been committed to challenging people and organizations to reach their full capacity – first as a leadership program founder and director in East Africa, and now as an organization and leadership development consultant. He has consulted with a broad range of federal, private sector and non-profit organizations conducting hundreds of planning, team building and training workshops ranging from large conferences (200+) to small intact teams. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

John Riordan Interview Transcript

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

John Riordan
Absolutely. My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, I want to hear about the Marine Corps marathon that you did. How is that different than a normal marathon and what’s the backstory there?

John Riordan
Well, yeah, so that’s a good question and the backstory is interesting too. So, first of all, I’ll say a former friend, I don’t like this guy anymore. I went out for a jog one day and I’ve never ran more than three miles in my life, and he says, “Have you ever thought about running a marathon?” I laughed out loud, like, “Are you kidding me? Five miles would be a stretch and I have no interest in running a marathon whatsoever.”

He says, “Why not?” “Well, I couldn’t think of a thousand reasons why not. I don’t want to get injured as well.” “You don’t have to get injured. If something hurts, you stop.” I’m like, “Okay. It’s boring. Running for hours is boring.” “Well, could you do something about that?” Well, long story short, you could listen to things and learn things, and you’d be amazed how much you can learn while you’re running for two or three hours at a time.

Long story short, he coached me simply by saying, by asking the ultimate coaching question is, “What could you do about that?” And, ultimately, he’s sort of helped me dismantle all my own defenses to the point where I kind of had to do it. And so, I like to say I completed the Marine Corps, meaning I walked-run, not run the whole way. I had all this mental models. I thought everyone who ran any marathon would be super athlete fit runner. Nope, not the case whatsoever.

You look at any marathon, but the Marine Corps especially, I mean any size, shape that you would be shocked at who is capable of completing a marathon. I thought you had to die at the end, because as the first marathoner, I thought that was the requirement. You had to run with all your strength and then collapse and die. Nope. Apparently, that is not a requirement so I couldn’t stick to that one.

And so, just dismantling all these barriers that I had in my mind, some of which were simply like, I guess you’d say excuses, but many of which were just misunderstandings, misinterpretations, or assumptions I was making. And it was such a powerful metaphor for my own experience because I do this kind of coaching with folks all the time, and so to experience it for myself and realize how many assumptions I’m making, how many misunderstandings, how many barriers, artificial barriers I’ve put in my way. And when you remove those, it’s like, “Oh, shoot. Now I guess I have to do it because I have no more excuses.”

And the Marine Corps is, they call it America’s Marathon. It’s the beginner’s marathon. It’s a very flat course. They promote first-time marathoners so you get kind of bumped up if it’s your first one. And there’s thousands of people cheering you the entire way, and so it’s just a high the whole way that you’re being cheered on and encouraged and all that stuff, and so it’s a great experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, yeah, there’s lessons right there and metaphors and excuses.

John Riordan
Well, I tell you, so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, “What could you do about that?” is a fine question.

John Riordan
Yeah, it’s a great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so you’ve got a boatload of experience when it comes to leadership development and you’ve got many courses. And we had several conversations with folks about virtual teams and virtual leadership and virtual meetings and overcoming distractions when you’re working from home, etc. What intrigued me about you is you’ve specifically got courses on dealing with conflict in virtual environments and facilitating in virtual environments.

And I think those are probably two of the toughest things to do with folks who are in different places. So, let’s dig in and talk about conflict resolution stuff in a virtual context. And, maybe, could you kick us off with a juicy story? Like, what’s a good, good, meaty, reality TV-grade drama or conflict that you’ve seen or heard about from your clients resolved through virtual media?

John Riordan
Yeah. Right. So, as I say, conflict is typically challenging for most of us regardless even when we are in person, and it’s uncomfortable and awkward and all that other sort of stuff.

Well, you layer on the virtual context and it just changes the parameters, and there are some upsides. There are some upsides to the virtual context. We might not annoy each other as much, my personality might not grate on you because we’re not across the hallway from each other, whatever. But clearly, the downside is, the big challenge is, that the little misunderstanding in that email goes unaddressed and we have to be intentional, very intentional, about bringing it up because, otherwise, when we’re in person, we’ll bumped into each other in the hallway, I’ll see you as we walk, we’re walking out, I’ll see at lunch, whatever, at the next meeting, “Hey, Pete, about that thing, about that project, about that whatever…” and we have these, otherwise, even unnoticed interactions.

The volume of interaction that happens in person, that is in the Ethisphere, really, it has been very interesting to watch the literature emerging in the past 18 months because, prior to COVID, you had intentionally virtual organizations, people who chose to work virtually, their organization wanted them to work virtually, their job was structured for virtual work. Well, the past 18 months, for most of us, has been suddenly virtual without choice, without option, without structure, and, basically, chaos.

And so, all that Ethisphere interaction just vaporized and, all of a sudden, you and I are exchanging emails, we have that misunderstanding, but we don’t see each other, at best on a video conference, if that, once a week, and so I’m not going to setup a meeting to address this minor thing with you, and so it grows, and so that distance grows. And pretty soon, you start to have the wedge that develops.

So, turn to the juicy stories, geez, I don’t even know where to begin. The one that pops to mind is we’re sitting there on a meeting convened by a full-bird colonel, and one of the participants is on video, and he’s clearly distracted. And as the colonel is presenting, this guy is talking to other people, he’s looking all over, he’s like obviously not paying attention. Well, this doesn’t go over well with the colonel who finally stops and says, “Hey,” I’ll call him Joe, “Joe,” awkward sound, “Joe.” This guy is talking, he doesn’t even hear himself, he’s probably muted the whole thing.

I mean, it’s a good couple of minutes before Joe finally looks down and awkward, and, “Oh, I’m sorry…” And he’s like, “So, are you with us, Joe?” “Oh, oh, sorry, sorry.” Well, there’s too many people on the call, the colonel is not going to address Joe right there and then, which is good. So, what’s the colonel going to do? Is he going to make an appointment with Joe? Is he going to setup another call to have this discussion, what happened? I mean, this whole thing was like it just snowballs. The whole team is involved because everybody watched it.

If you were in a conference room and someone was distracted and that happened, it would essentially get resolved real-time, probably, optimistically, just by virtue of the interaction. In the virtual world, that meeting is over. Boop! Everyone disappears. So, we all witnessed it and then it’s over. There’s no hallway discussion, there’s no post-chat discussion, and so you have this awkward thing. And the only way to resolve it is reconvene and have a discussion, both the colonel and the individual, and then bringing it back to the group.

I mean, the processing of that conflict in the virtual context too so much more effort than it would have real-time, optimistically. Real-time, you just interact, resolve, address, move on. And so, in the virtual world, it is challenging to be intentional, to lean into it, for those of us who it’s not a natural strength. There’s a few people where conflict they’re just good at it, and then there’s the rest of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, we have to know how things conclude. So, what happened with the colonel and Joe here today?

John Riordan
Well, let’s just say Joe kind of wrapped it up with this, which is, in his mind, his perspective was that this was urgent, this was…I don’t know if he used the word crisis but, in his mind, this was urgent and he needed to address it right away. Well, I don’t know how familiar you are with the military, but with a full-birded colonel, like you could pretty much use rank, unless it’s a general, you pay attention to the colonel first or you interrupt to say, “I’m sorry, sir. The building is on fire. I’m going to have to step away for a few…” and so, his lack of awareness of the protocol and how to handle his situation on his end.

Now, the colonel is very reasonably gracious but it definitely clarified that this guy, and so he was two steps down from the colonel, he’s a civilian so he reports to his boss, his boss reports to the colonel. Well, let’s just say it was clear he has a lot to learn, so now he’s kind of – what’s the right word – not demoted positionally but he didn’t show up well. He showed up really badly so now he’s going to have to overcome that. It’s going to take time for him to demonstrate that he has learned and sort of overcome that experience with folks.

And, again, in the virtual world, he only has very limited opportunities to do that. In person, you’d have more meetings, you’d have more interactions, you’d have the hallway. Now, he’s like he has to lean into it and really reestablish his reputation in a lot of ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

John Riordan
So, he’s still there, as far I know. It wasn’t that bad but it was not good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that does kind of paint a picture in terms of things that can occur and the extra challenges that ensue. So, lay it on us, what are some of the best practices you’ve discovered when it comes to managing conflict when folks are remote?

John Riordan
First and foremost, intentionality. Paying attention. It’s so much easier when we’re virtual to just dismiss it and let it go and it’s no big deal, and it might not be a big deal. It’s just that clumsy email, or maybe they didn’t really mean it, or maybe I’m misinterpreting what Pete said in his text, and just let it go. Okay. But, however, it’s so tempting to do that because when we switch off the call, I’m back in my own world and I’m not going to see you in the hallway, I’m not going to bump into you in the coffee break, and so it’s easier to just dismiss it.

So, paying attention, intentionality, “Is this worth addressing? Should I address it?” And even before that, I like to say, “What’s my bias with regard to conflict in the first place?” I am conflict-avoidant, so I know that my bias is to let it go. And, therefore, given that bias, I may need to lean into this and step into this more than I feel comfortable with. That’s probably true.

There are some people in the world who are conflict-seeking who don’t mind. My father-in law was this way. He loved a good knockdown drill. Like, to him, everything was an opportunity for a very energetic debate. Anyone else would’ve said, “Gosh, why are you arguing?” And he’d tell them, “I’m not arguing. We’re just having a healthy debate.” So, he didn’t mind and he would lean into everything. Most of us, percentage-wise, I think most people are on that conflict-reluctant.

And so, how to assess yourself with regard to your style around conflict, and then in the virtual realm being attentive and intentional, being more open to it. And then third, I’d say, is talk about it. Talk about it. Like, for goodness’ sake, bring this up as a team with your colleagues, “So, Pete, you and I are going to work together for the next 12 months. Hey, can we talk about some operating agreements? How are we going to handle differences of opinion? How are we going to handle conflict? How are we going to handle our working practices? What’s our communication style? What can we do to help each other and find a good way through the middle?”

And so, having a conversation about how we will handle conflict, before we’re in the middle of a big conflict, is so, so critical for teams. It’s so helpful to get it out on the table so it’s not some awkward taboo subject that nobody wants to broach.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s just so huge when it comes to aligning expectations in many contexts in terms of, one, upfront we kind of know, hey, what we’re dealing with and what the standards are. And, two, it just sort of prevents a lot of that stuff. It’s like someone is mad because someone else has not fulfilled their unspoken expectations, and it’s like, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize I broke a rule that was never mentioned as being a rule. Oops!” So, that’s just a great practice to do in many contexts.

And so, when it comes to, “How are we going to address conflict?” have you seen any particular best practices that have been in a lot of operating agreements and been really helpful for folks?

John Riordan
Yeah. Well, that would be the first one, is to establish a set of operating agreements. Now, I would offer, prior to that, a really good practice is to do that, have that conversation and do an assessment. I don’t necessarily mean formally, just as a team, just discuss, “Pete, what’s your style? Are you more conflict-avoidant or are you more conflict-seeking, somewhere in the middle? Help me understand your style. I’ll explain to you that I do tend to be conflict-avoidant. I get uncomfortable but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it. It’s just I get all sort of uneasy, so bear with me to the extent that you can encourage me and keep me going in the conflict. That’ll be helpful to me. So, let’s have that discussion. Where are we as a team?”

And there are some really simple models that will help folks have a conversation. There’s from Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He has this conflict continuum, and one end is artificial harmony where we’re all avoiding it, “Oh, it’s great. Everything is great. Yup, we’re all good. Yeah, no, no, no, there’s no problem here.” “Like, really? Because it sure sounded like there was.” So, artificial harmony on one end.

And on the other is destructive conflicts, mean-spirited attacks and backbiting and all that sort of stuff. And so, the ideal is healthy and constructive conflict is somewhere in that middle ground where we’re able to have the hard conversations and we’re open to that. So, assessing, with a small A, you don’t have to take a big instrument or anything, just, “Where do you think we are? And let’s talk about it. And what would it look like for us to maintain a healthy and constructive conflict culture?” And then that can lead you into, “Okay, so how do we do that?”

And I would say that that becomes a matter of operating agreements where we can talk about it, like, “What does that look like?” “Well, we should respect each other.” “Okay, what does that really mean? What does that really look like for you?” “Well, it means we don’t interrupt each other.” “Well, I’m a strong extrovert. I don’t care about interruptions, but if you do then I’ll try to pay attention to that. If I interrupt you, don’t take it personally. I’m not trying to dismiss your point. I’m very extroverted.” “Okay, good.” We can learn about each other, come to some agreements, and then try to put them into practice.

And so, when it comes to what those agreements are, I would say there are clearly some general ones, like respect, taking responsibility, addressing things early, not letting it fester, criticism in private, constructive critique in private, affirmation in public, those types of pretty general stuff. And then you get into specifics for a given team based on their situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And so then, let’s say we’re in the thick of things and someone did something that maybe we didn’t have the good fortune to have listened to you earlier and then, thusly, those operating agreements were not formally established. Someone did something. I am miffed. What do you recommend are some of the best ways to go about cleaning that up and addressing the matter? Any go-to scripts, words, phrases, principles?

John Riordan
So, there’s a feedback model that is a nice…I like that word script. I like the model of a recipe. So, I use this metaphor a lot. You have a recipe, how to make something, once you’ve done it a number of times, you can play with it. You don’t have to follow the recipe exactly and you can add something or try something different and see how it goes. But the basic recipe, at least, is a guide.

And so, this model is from the Center for Creative Leadership, SBID – situation, behavior, impact, desired outcome, SBID. And so, what’s the situation? So, I don’t call you and leave a voicemail, and say, “Pete, we need to talk. I’m just not happy with how you attacked me at the meeting the other day.” “Whoa, what on earth?” That’s like you’re already going to be on the defensive. You don’t even know where I’m coming from.

So, give a little context to this. What’s the situation? “So, Pete, we’re in that meeting, we’re on that call, we’re having that discussion. Do you remember that? And I was presenting, do you remember? Do you remember how you asked that question to me? I don’t know if you knew. So, that situation.” “Okay, yeah, I’m with you. We’ve got it. I understand the context.”

Now, the behavior, the B, that’s critical because it’s not an accusation. It’s simply a statement of behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re a jerk.” Not that.

John Riordan
Exactly, “Pete, you keep criticizing me in public. You keep dismantling my argument.” “What? I’m not trying to…I don’t even know what you’re…I’m not dismantling you.” “Well, you asked that question.” “Ah, yeah. That’s all I did was ask a question.” “Well, you’re trying to undermine me.” “Whoa, I’m not trying to undermine you. I just had a question about your data. Like, really, I’m not…”

Okay, impact. The impact was, “It felt to me that you were trying to undermine my credibility. It felt like you were questioning my presentation, questioning my data.” “I was asking a question about your data I wasn’t trying to embarrass you in public.” So, that impact helps you understand how your behavior impacted me, but it also is important for me to own that, assuming good intent, unless I have enough record to believe that you actually are out to get me.

And the other possibility is that you didn’t do it intentionally but this is how it impacted me, and can we have a conversation about that. And that is a huge, huge – what would you call that – a sea change, a really big distinction. And here’s the question you can write down, “Did you do this on purpose?” Did the person, whoever they are, did they do this to you intentionally? Did they do it to you on purpose?

Pete Mockaitis
Now, is that a question you ask yourself internally or a question you ask of the other party?

John Riordan
Well, kind of both ends. That’s a good point. It starts with me asking it of myself. So, my example is somebody cuts me off in traffic, “Aargh, can you believe that? What an idiot.” And then my wife says, “Well, maybe their wife is having a baby. Maybe their house is on fire. Maybe they have all kinds of reasons.” Well, the person didn’t roll down the window and say, “Hey, are you John Riordan?” “Yes.” “Oh, okay, I’m going to cut you off because I can’t stand you and I want to ruin your day.” That’s not what they’re thinking. They are just being self-centered, they’re just going about their day, they’re not paying attention to me, and they cut me off. It doesn’t mean it’s okay but it wasn’t about me. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah.

John Riordan
You’re asking a question in the middle of a presentation, your mindset might be, “I don’t really like those numbers. I wonder where he got those.” There’s all kinds of reasons why you might be asking that question other than, “Watch this. I’m going to ask this question and dismantle John’s argument. It’s going to be great. He’s going to fall apart,” because that would be intentional and then we’re adversaries.

But there’s a lot of other possibilities as to why people do what they do. And so, having that discussion, disarming – I love that metaphor – disarming the conflict so that it becomes instead of a capital C, we’re having a full-blown argument, it’s a small C, “Can we talk about this?” “Well, I didn’t like your numbers.” “Well, I appreciate that and, of course, you have the right to ask about my numbers. I would ask you to respect the fact that this is a presentation in front of senior managers, and could you have followed up with me later, or I ask you to review the material ahead of time. I don’t know if you did, but I would’ve appreciated you asking me that question before the meeting, etc.” So, there’s all kinds of ways we might address it to resolve the distinction without it getting to a capital C, conflict.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, as I step into this scenario that you’ve created, John, I just sort of wonder, like, what do you do when the other party…? I won’t say that they’re like malicious evil jerks trying to get you, but they just think your concern is dumb, they’re like, “Look, John, this is a data-driven organization. We try to make the best decisions. If I’ve got a question about your data, I’m going to ask the question about your data, I don’t care where we are, who you’re talking to. It’s just how we get to the truth and optimal business results. So, pull up your big boy pants and get a thick skin and stop whining to me about this inane bull crap so we can go make insane value for shareholders.”

Let’s say you get a pretty rude but not like maliciously, “That’s right, buddy. I’m out to take you down, so watch your back.” So, a pretty brute and dismissive response. How do you think about those?

John Riordan
Yeah. So, let me emphasize the distinction that you just made because, again, one is, “I have reason to believe that this person is an active adversary. They are literally out to take me down.” And those do exist. I’m not talking about being naïve and pretending that everybody is your best friend. There are a few, and hopefully a few, adversaries that you should watch out for. If you have a lot of adversaries, then you got to decide whether you can sustain that lifestyle and that career, and some people can, but for many of us, that might be a signal for a job change. If I’m surrounded by people who want to take me out, you either sign up for that or you don’t. So, that’s the first distinction.

The second, the way you’re describing it, is, “Look, it’s not about you, John. I really don’t care. I’m going to keep asking those questions. You just have to get over it.” So, they’re not out to take me down but they’re not also going to handle me with kid gloves. Then it becomes a question of power – power and influence in the organization. Because if that voice is coming from a full-bird colonel, and I’m the low person on the totem pole, then, guess what, I have to either live with that and go about my business, or I have to decide I’m in the wrong organization.

If that person is a peer, and we’re on equal footing, so to speak, then that’s a whole different scenario, “What influence do I have? Do I continue the discussion? Do I counter with, ‘Hey, I’d just be down. I think that’s a great way for us to work, because if I did that to you, you wouldn’t be happy. Can we not find a better way of working together?’” That’s the D in the SBID, the desired outcome is, “Can we learn to work together well?”

Now, option three, if that voice was coming from a subordinate, somebody who reports to me, I’d say, “Okay, have a seat. We need to talk. You need to decide whether you want to stay here or not because this is not how we’re going to operate in my sphere of influence.” So, it depends on who that individual is and what power and authority relationship we have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy. Thank you. Well, tell me, John, any other key things you want to make sure to mention about conflict resolution and in virtual settings, maybe any sort of tools or favorite apps, software, or things that you find handy?

John Riordan
That’s interesting. For me, the resources, they’re now showing up online. Apps-wise, it doesn’t come to mind but in terms of models. So, one is by an author named Peter Block. And Peter Block’s partnership model lays out this distinction between trust and agreement. And so, you ask yourself, “Okay,” and I go through this exercise, a great exercise for everybody. You’re mapping out, especially in the work context, but of course it bleeds over to the rest of our lives as well. How much trust is there in the relationship? And how much agreement, in terms of the content of the discussion?

So, we disagree about the numbers and the data, but I don’t distrust you. I trust that you’re just asking a question about the numbers. That’s okay. Versus, if there’s no trust, then we have a serious problem. Trust is obviously far more critical than agreement. If I trust you, we can disagree about anything but I still trust you. We trust each other. And that distinction is huge.

So, Peter Block has a great article. I’ve got summary worksheets on this on my website but it’s the kind of thing that really helps you lay out, “Okay, who are my allies that I trust, we agree, we’re working in the same direction. I can really rely on these folks. There’s other categories and there are some unknowns, and then there’s this adversaries. We disagree on the direction and, guess what, we don’t trust each other so watch out.” Okay, let’s not be naïve. Let’s map this out. So, that’s a really helpful, sort of getting the lay of the land.

Let’s see, Patrick Lencioni’s material around conflict is fantastic. That’s all available on his site. Good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

John Riordan
First and foremost, in practical terms, from two authors, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. And there’s a lot of different ways to say this but the bumper sticker for their material is, “Be yourself with more skill.” Be yourself with more skill. And I tell you, if I gave them a nickel for every time I’ve shared that thought, I owe them.

And what I love about that is five words. It’s amazing, five words. But, boy, you talk about a life journey, and this applies so powerfully to the work, in your career, and what I’d like to say your calling, but it also applies equally to your personal relationships, family, friends, community, you name it. Be yourself, be who you are made to be, figure out who you are, bring yourself to the table, your values, your strengths, your personality, but do it with more skill.

I spent years trying to be something else, be more of this, be less of that, as opposed to, “Okay, who am I? And then how do I show up skillfully? How do I bring my strengths to bear in a skillful way?” If that makes sense, it’s such an interesting but very powerful nuance.

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

John Riordan
I really appreciate the stuff that they did around this piece around authentic leadership, so Goffee and Jones. And, essentially, one of those harbingers, there’s been plenty of research around this, but the culture of leadership, and the shift from command and control. So, my dad was a marine, World War II, Korean War marine, and let me tell you, you did what the boss told you to do – command and control. “Why should I do what you tell me?” “Because I’m your boss. Because I’m above you. I outrank you. You name it. You do what you’re told.”

Well, clearly, we take it for granted, but leadership culture has evolved tremendously. Their article was called “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?” It kind of flips it on its head.

And so, leadership now is about respect and response, and people choosing to follow you, choosing to allow you to influence them. And that’s what leadership is about now and it’s really evolved tremendously. And so, that piece of research, that kind of encapsulated that and demonstrated that, amongst men, but, to me, it’s a real – what would you call that – a milestone, a marker, that we have really shifted as a culture.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite book?

John Riordan
Currently, the one that is making the biggest difference in my life is called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin.

She calls them tendencies, these ideas of, “How I operate? What makes me tick? What moves me from ideas into action? And how different that can be for different people?” And that has been super insightful for me and in sharing that with clients and helping people understand and, of course, it overlaps with personalities and all those other things, but, essentially, focusing in on moving from thought into action.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

John Riordan
Yeah, I would repeat that one, The Four Tendencies. So, for me on that, the huge lightbulb for me is that I am motivated by external factors, and I spent years trying to be more self-disciplined, trying to develop kind of just put my nose to the grindstone and get it done. Not bad to have self-discipline. That’s great. But she distinguishes that some people are internally motivated, and they will, when they decide to do something, they’ll go do it.

Other people are externally motivated. So, I can have a great idea, and something I’d even like to do, but if nobody else is involved, if I’m not accountable to anybody, if I don’t have to answer to anyone, if no one else is there, then the likelihood I’ll be doing it is much lower. As soon as somebody else is involved, I’ll do it.

So, I’ve harnessed that, I got myself an executive assistant who is my professional bulldog, and I say, “Jorie, make sure this happens.” I’m on this podcast because of her. I love doing these things but I’m not going to do it. She says, “You’re going to do it. Make sure it happens,” and then I do it.

And so, harnessing that tendency, for me, of external motivation, I mean, I can’t even tell you everything I’ve been able to accomplish simply because it’s gone from ideas, the long list of good ideas in my head, and actually turning them into action.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

John Riordan
I would say two. Exercising has been huge.
I can’t say enough about it just in terms of de-stress, in terms of getting all that energy out in the negative sense, and then coming back and being ready to go. But, also, what I love about going to the gym, one of the big upsides, is little incremental small victories. So, I keep track of my workouts. I’m only there for half an hour, 40 minutes tops, but I try to just keep incrementally improving.

And it’s very cool to start the day by adding a few more reps, or adding a few more pounds, or adding a few more whatever to that weight or to that exercise, and to feel like, “Okay. All right. This is something I can win at.” And so, now I can go back into the day and bring that same sense of energy and motivation into the rest of what I got to do. So, that’s number one.

And then number two, what I listen to. I can’t say enough. The same thing, through the 18 months, like God bless you if you grew up with lots of positive encouragement and I had a very affirming upbringing. But my dad worked for IBM, very neutral, not an entrepreneur, just went to work and came home, so I never had somebody, a voice in my ears saying, “Hey, you got this. You can do it. Get in there. You’re great at this. You can…” whatever, all that sort of coaching and positive affirmations. And so, it’s been huge to tap into just little YouTube clips, different motivational stuff that suits my style, and to really have that voice in my ear, literally, cheering me on, coaching me on. It’s been fantastic. Very, very much a game changer, especially over this stressful time.

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

John Riordan
Oh, that first one, “Be yourself with more skill.” That’s number one, absolutely.

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

John Riordan
JR@JohnRiordan.com is the email address and JohnRiordan.com is the website.

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

John Riordan
That journey of self-discovery is absolutely, I can’t say enough about what a starting point that is. And it’s a journey, it’s not like you take two weeks off and learn about yourself, and then that’s it. But to delve into that, “What are your core values?” and contemplate on that. Really define it, writing it down. Everybody, almost any American is going to say, “Oh, I have core values.” “Okay, what are they?” “Ahh, I don’t really know.”

So, what are your core values? Write them down. Think about them. Define them. There’s different ways to go about that. What are your strengths that you bring to the world, to your work, to your family, to your…What are those? Do you know what they are or you just kind of know? And what’s your personality traits? What makes you tick? What motivates you? And sort of capturing that, collecting that awareness.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, John, this has been a treat. Thank you for sharing the goods. And keep on rocking.

John Riordan
Thank you. My pleasure. My pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity. I hope this is encouraging and challenging and useful for folks.

651: How to Defuse Verbal Conflict and Prevent Toxicity from Ruining Your Day with Sam Horn

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Sam Horn says: "No one can make us angry without our consent."

Sam Horn explains how to deal with difficult people more effectively by shifting the language we use.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Words to lose and words to use in a conflict
  2. The mindset shift that makes us feel like less like a victim
  3. Two strategies for dealing with workplace bullies 

About Sam

Sam Horn, is the CEO of the Intrigue Agency and the Tongue Fu! Training Institute. Her 3 TEDx talks and 9 books – including Tongue Fu!POP!Got Your Attention? and SOMEDAY is Not a Day in the Week – have been featured in NY Times, on NPR, and presented to hundreds of organizations worldwide including Intel, Cisco, Boeing, U.S. Navy, Nationwide, and Fidelity.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Sam Horn Interview Transcript

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

Sam Horn
You’re welcome, Pete. I’m looking forward to sharing some ideas with your listeners.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. You’ve written a couple books which are helping resolve an issue that our listeners have been asking with regard to difficult bosses and coworkers, how to deal with them well. And you’ve got a wealth of expertise. Maybe you can start us off by telling any particularly noteworthy stories about a bad boss or bad collaborators that might make our jaws drop and captivate us? No pressure, Sam.

Sam Horn
Aha. Well, you know what, the origin story for Tongue Fu, actually does that, is that Dr. Ray Oshiro out of University of Hawaii had asked me to do a program on dealing with difficult people without becoming one ourselves. And in our first break, there was a gentleman, he didn’t even get up to get a cup of coffee, some fresh air. He just sat there gazing off into space.

And I was curious, I went over, I said, “What are you thinking?” And he said, “Sam, I’m a realtor.” He said, “I would deal with some really demanding people, and they seem to think they can treat me any way they want to. I’m tired of it.” He said, “I thought you were going to teach us some zingers to fire back at people and put them in their place.” I said, “That’s not what this is about.”

And he was the one who said, “I’m a student of martial arts.” He said, “I’ve studied karate, taekwondo, judo.” He said, “What you’re talking about is not about putting people in their place, right? It’s about putting ourselves in their place so we can respond with compassion instead of contempt.” And he said, “It’s kind of like a verbal form of kung fu, isn’t it?” Eureka! The perfect title, that’s what it is – Tongue Fu; martial arts for the mind and mouth.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a great summary right there. Like, it’s not about zingers, it’s not about sticking it to them, but you put yourself in their place and are able to respond with compassion. Can you give us an example of how that could play out conversationally?

Sam Horn
Oh, boy, can I give you an example. Now, Pete, unless people are driving and listening to this, I hope they grab a paper, and I hope they put a vertical line right down the center, and put words to lose on the left and words to use on the right because we’re going to go right into what we face every day on the job.

So, on the left, put complain, because we hear complaints. Customers complain, coworkers complain, so put complain over on the left. Guess what we don’t do when people complain? Explain. Put explain on the left because explanations come across as excuses. If someone says, “Hey, the Zoom call was supposed to start at 9:00 o’clock,” “Oh, I know, it’s just some people are late.” Nope, explanations make people angry because they feel we’re not being accountable.

Over on the right, put A train. When people complain, don’t explain, take the A train. A for agree, “You’re right, the Zoom call was supposed to start at 9:00 o’clock.” Apologize, “And I’m sorry we’re running a few minutes late.” Act, “And I’ve got that information you requested. Let’s jump right into it. Rock and roll.” Do you see how the A train expedites complaints and explanations aggravate them?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. And, Sam, it is just a joy to hear the way you explain things, that your keynote background is just shining through, words to lose, words to use, the A train, and it’s memorable so I appreciate it. Keep it coming. So, agree, apologize, and act, and not to get too into the weeds here, but when something is late, you suggest the act there is just “And we’re going to just get started now.” Any alternatives coming to mind?

Sam Horn
Absolutely. Here’s another one. Say, people are arguing, right? Say, something has gone wrong, and people are finger pointing, blaming, shaming. Over on the left, put find fault, “Well, hey, it wasn’t my fault. So-and-so was in charge of it. Well, I never saw that memo.” Back and forth we go. Finding fault serves no good purpose. Over on the right, put find solutions.

And when people are arguing and it is this blaming, shaming, interrupt them and then say these magic words, “Hey, we could argue for the rest of the day, and that’s not, again, get this done. Instead, let’s figure how we’re going to prevent this from happening again. Or, instead, let’s put a system in place.” And you see how when we switch the attention to finding solutions instead of fault, now that conversation is serving a good purpose instead of a waste of everyone’s time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. Do we have some more?

Sam Horn
Do you want more?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. I do.

Sam Horn
Oh, do I have more.

Pete Mockaitis
Lose some words, words to use. Let’s hear them.

Sam Horn
All right. Now, over on the left, put negative accusation. Say, somebody says, “You women are so emotional.” If we deny a negative accusation, if we say, “We’re not emotional,” uh-oh, we just proved their point. If someone says, “You don’t care about your customers,” and we say, “We do, too, care about our customers.” Now, we’re proving their point, right? So, on the left, instead of denying an accusation, over on the right, redirect an accusation. I’ll give you two quick examples.

I was speaking at a conference, and a woman put her hand up in the Q&A, and she said, “Sam, why are women so catty to each other?” I decided to Don Draper that, Pete. Don Draper, in Mad Men, said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” So, I said, “Ladies, let’s agree to never ask or answer that question again because every time we do, we perpetuate that stereotype. Instead, don’t repeat a negative accusation because it reinforces it. Instead, redirect it, say, ‘You know what I found, women are real champions of each other. In fact, I wouldn’t have this job if someone hadn’t stepped up and recommended me.’”

Or, here’s another thing you can do on the right, instead of repeating it, which reinforces it, say, “What do you mean?” or, “Why do you say that?” Because if someone says, “You don’t care about your customers,” and we say, “We do, too,” we’re in a debate. If you say, “Well, why do you say that?” they may say, “Well, I left three messages and no one’s called back.” “Oh.” “What do you mean?” or “Why do you say that?” gets to the root of the accusation, and we can solve that instead of reacting to the attack.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Okay. Well, so, hey, if you’ve got some more, I’ll take them.

Sam Horn
I do. Okay, let’s talk about when something goes wrong, shall we?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Sam Horn
Okay. Someone has made a mistake, someone has dropped the ball, right? Isn’t it true that that word should is right there on the tip of our tongue, “You should’ve been more careful,” “You should’ve brought that up in the staff meeting,” “You should’ve asked George; he’s handled that before,” and yet the word should comes across as a critique. People will resent us even if what we’re saying is right. So, over on the left, put mistake. The word should punishes the past. No one can undo the past. They will resent us even if what we’re saying is right.

Over on the right, we’re going to shape behavior instead of should it. And with these words, “Next time…” “From now on…” “In the future…” Because if we say “From now on, if you have questions, please bring them up in the staff meeting because other people are probably wondering the same thing.” “In the future, if that happens, if you could…” Do you see how we’re being a coach instead of a critic? We’re shaping behavior instead of shaming it, and people are learning from their mistakes instead of losing face over their mistakes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. Okay.

Sam Horn
Want more? Want more?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Well, so I guess I’m thinking about, so these are great best practices in terms of when you’re just engaging, you’re collaborating, you’re talking to folks, and you’ve got your communication flowing, so great choices in terms of words to lose and words to use. I’m thinking now, let’s say the listener finds themselves in the victim seat, or they are the ones being blamed, they are the ones people are finding fault with, they’re getting some criticism that might even seem undue bully-esque, just some meanies. How do you recommend we deal with the emotional stuff there and just sort of find our way forward effectively?

Sam Horn
Well, a lot of people find themselves in this situation these days, Pete, with COVID, there’s a lot of things happening. We have to enforce policies we don’t agree with, or we need to tell someone there’s nothing we can do, or we’re thinking, “Hey, it’s not my fault.” Guess what? Over on the left, put the words “There’s nothing…” or “It’s not my fault.” Because if something goes wrong, and people are blaming us and we’re saying, “Hey, not my fault. Nothing I can do. No way I can change it,” do you feel that people are concluding we don’t care?

So, over on the right, put “There’s something…” instead of “There’s nothing…” and I’m really going to give you one of my favorite examples of this. My Aunt Kaye is 80 years old and she still volunteers five days a week to go to our local hospital and to work from the 4:00 to 8:00 shift. So, I’ve said, “What has it been like these last few months with COVID?” And she said, “Sam, it’s so stressful because we have a policy with only one visitor per patient, and you can imagine these people, I’m the point of contact, they’re taking all their anger out on me.” And I said, “Well, what’s a specific example?” And she said, “Last week, a woman came rushing in. She held up her phone and she said, ‘My daughter just texted. She’s in ER. I need to see her.’”

And so, Aunt Kaye called the ER and the nurse said somebody’s already with the daughter. The mom could not get in to see her. So, the mother, understandably, goes ballistic and is taking all that anger out at Aunt Kaye. Now, she could’ve said, “Hey, I’m not the one who did the policy. Don’t blame me.” Instead, she said, “Let me see if there’s something…” instead of “There’s nothing…” “…that we can do.” She called and she asked the ER nurse, “Who is with the daughter?” It was the Uber driver who had brought her in from the accident. Well, they explained the situation to the Uber driver, thanked him, he left, the mom got in to see the daughter, and that is a shift in mentality.

You use that word victim, and if we’re being blamed for something that’s not our fault, the more we think, “Hey, this isn’t fair. Don’t blame me,” the angrier we get at them and we perpetuate that. Instead, if we say, “This won’t help. Let’s focus on what we can do. There’s something we can figure out,” it shifts the whole situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And that’s a great point in terms of like even if it is you are absolutely the victim, no joke, an injustice has occurred, you are suffering unjustly due to the hostile aggression of another, like a full-blown victim-work situation in which someone has said something wildly inappropriate at you, it’s true that if you continue to reflect on the fact that you have suffered an injustice, it’s going to make you angrier.

And by shifting your attention elsewhere, you can make some things happen. And, I guess, of course, there’s traumas and there’s crimes and there’s gradations here that kind of require some different responses but, yeah, that’s a good thought in terms of I felt that as well. If I fixate on the fact that I am experiencing injustice, I just get really mad and it usually doesn’t propel me into a helpful place, in my own experience.

Sam Horn
You know, Pete, what you’re referring to is “Why should we? Why should we take responsibility to try and be the one to solve this, or to try and make this better?” And let’s use another real-life example. I was interviewing a principal recently who…and you can imagine, a principal these days, faculties are upset, students are upset, parents are upset, the school board is on them, right? It’s a really hard job these days.

And I asked her a situation where she was able, when someone was piling on her unfairly, how she had the presence of mind, in pressure like that, to be resourceful instead of resentful? And so, she has a situation where there is a young man with a spinal injury, and his grandmother is taking care of him, and yet they had a classroom on the third floor for third grade, and this young man, and she had to tell the grandmother that he could not come to school because the elevator wasn’t working and there wasn’t an escape plan for him.

She spent three months dealing with the fire department, trying to figure out how to hack this. The grandmother is calling her almost on a daily basis, saying, “I’m exhausted. I can’t take care of this young man 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” Now, her heart is going out to this grandmother. Her heart is going out to this young man. She’s trying everything she can to resolve this and, finally, she had this epiphany. Do you know what she did, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me.

Sam Horn
She moved the third-grade classroom on the third floor down to the bottom floor, and fixed the whole situation. Now, by the way, I’m not being a Pollyanna because I’m not saying, “Everything was perfect. Everything went well.” The teacher of that third-grade class said, “Now, I’m not going to be with my peers,” and that is true. It was not a perfect solution. And she asked the teacher, “Who do we serve? We serve the students, right?”

And it served the students to be able to have their third-grade classroom on the first floor so that this young man could attend, so that they also served the parent, and it was something that was, in the circumstances, the best decision. And, once again, it came from this mentality of “If I put my mind to it, if I keep being proactive instead of reactive, I will come up with a rising-tide solution, and it doesn’t just serve me. It’s going to serve the people I’m serving. And it may not be perfect, it’s better than what we’ve got.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And those sorts of creative ideas, I’ve discovered and I think there’s some good neuroscience behind this as well, don’t tend to come when you’re angry and riled up and ready to fight. They more so tend to come when I feel kind of relaxed, I’ve got some space to chew on things, to let my brain kind of dance and play around and land somewhere because it’s natural to say, “Well, hey, the third-grade classroom, this is just where it is. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how the school is set up,” and then it does take a little bit of a shift to say, “Oh, but I suppose we could swap it because why not?” I think that’s a great example right there.

Sam Horn
So, let’s go to something you’re talking about, this anger we have. And, by the way, Pete, this is why I juxtapose things, that’s why we put a column on the left of something has gone wrong, and Elvis Presly, of all people, has a great quote about this. Do you know what he said?

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m all shook up.”

Sam Horn
He said that, too. He said, “When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sam Horn
Just see, on the left, when things go wrong, we can find fault, we can tell them it’s not our fault, and it will not help. So, we shift over to the right, to these responses instead of reactions. Here’s one of my favorite examples. You were talking about angry. I often close my Tongue Fu programs with this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. She said, “No one can make us feel inferior without our consent.” And I’ve adapted that, with credit to her, to say no one can make us angry without our consent.

And there was a gruff construction boss, and he stood up, and he said, “Sam, you’re pulling a Pollyanna with this one.” He said, “You have no idea of the kind of people I deal with.” He said, “Do you mean if someone’s yelling in my face, that’s not supposed to make me mad?” And there was a woman who stood up and she said, “I’m a surgical nurse.” She said, “I agree with this because I’ve lived through it.” She said, “I deal with a neurosurgeon who’s the most abrasive individual I have ever met.” She said, “He is a brilliant physician, he has zip people skills.” She said, “Last year, I was a fraction of a second late handing him an instrument in surgery, he berated me in front of my peers. He humiliated me in front of that team.” She said, “It took all my professionalism just to continue with the operation and not walk out.”

She said, “When I was driving home, I got so mad at him. I sat down at the dinner table, I told my husband what happened, I said, ‘Oh, that doctor makes me mad.’” She said, “My husband had heard this before. He said, ‘Judy, what time is it?’” She said, “It’s 7:00 o’clock.” He said, “What time did this happen?” And she said, “9:00 o’clock this morning.” He said, “Judy, is it the doctor who’s making you mad?” And he got up and left the table. And she said, “I sat there and I thought about it, and I realized it wasn’t the doctor who was making me mad. The doctor wasn’t even in the room.”

She said, “I was the one who had given him a ride home in my car.” She said, “I was the one who set him a place at my dinner table.” She said, “I decided right there and then that never again was that doctor welcome in my home or in my head. And when I left the hospital, I was leaving him there, and never again was I giving him the power to poison my personal life.”

And so, I’m asking all our listeners, Pete, who do we take home with us? Who do we give a ride to in our car? Who do set a place for at our dinner table? And can we promise ourselves that we will leave that person at work? We will no longer give them the power to poison that precious personal time with our loved ones at home.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Sam, that is inspiring and wise, and you’re really like, “Well, heck, yeah, I should not allow that person to co-op my brain for that length of time. That’s just silliness.” So, I think that that really installs some conviction in our hearts, like, “Yeah, I’m not going to let that happen anymore.” That being said, when the rubber meets the road and you’re in the heat of battle, it can be sometimes easier said than done when ruminations start to crop up. How do you recommend we put the kibosh on them?

Sam Horn
Oh, Pete, I love that question. That’s the perfect follow-up question, as I agree with you in theory, “How do I do it in practice?” I wrote a book called ConZentrate. Stephen Covey said it was the best book he ever saw on focus. And what you just brought up, we cannot not think about something, right? If we tell our kids, “Don’t run around the pool,” what are they going to do? If I say I’m not going to get mad, what are we going to do? If we’re an athlete, and we say don’t double-fault or don’t drop the ball, what are we going to do?

You are right. Instead of saying, “I’m not going to let that person make me mad. I’m not going to take that person home with me.” Over on the left is what we don’t want. Over on the right is what we do want, so it’s called catch and correct. As soon as we become aware, whether we are telling ourselves what we don’t want, “You better not be late again,” “Don’t forget,” “Stop hitting your sister,” “Don’t get angry,” that’s over on the left.

No, switch over to the right. What do you want? Well, you want to stay calm. You want to focus on what’s right in your world. You want to look at this person across the table as if, for the first or last time, so that you see them and you are present to them instead of preoccupied with what happened ten years before.

We want to tell our kids, “Give your sister space, a hula hoop of space,” which is something to do instead of stop hitting your sister. We want to say, “Be five minutes early,” instead of, “Don’t be late.” It’s, “Remember to tell your boss this when you walk in in the morning,” instead of, “Don’t forget.” So, you are right, is that we fill our mind with words and language and images of what we do want instead of telling ourselves what we don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s handy. And so then, I imagine in the nasty surgeon example, you have an intentionality associated with, “This is how I’m going to be, do, feel, conduct myself.”

And by visualizing that and prepping it in advance, you’re more likely to remember, “Oh, that jerk, I want to kill him. Oh, wait a sec, okay, okay. I’m going to be like calm or joyful or curious,” fill in the blank, and that’s how we’re going to roll as opposed to fixating on, “Oh, don’t imagine stabbing him with a scalpel. Don’t imagine cutting his finger off,” whatever. Getting really violent here in the surgery room.

Sam Horn
And, Pete, see, I’m a pragmatist as well. So, if people are thinking, “Oh, this is just woo-woo Pollyanna stuff. What if this person is really egregious? What if what they’re doing, I’m just supposed to ignore it?” So, here is the bottom-line action we can take as well. There’s the mindset and there’s also then the mechanics of a pragmatic action.

When we’re not happy with a situation, there’s three things we can do. We change the other person, we can change the situation, we can change ourselves. So, we jump to number three – changing ourselves. Let’s look at the first two.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, how do you do that?

Sam Horn
Okay. Here is the good news. There is strength in numbers. And so, changing the other person, in many industries these days, it used to be that if this neurosurgeon was a rainmaker, even if the nurses were complaining, administrators didn’t care because this neurosurgeon was famous and a rainmaker. Now, there’s strength in numbers. And if you document the behavior, if you have witnesses to the behavior, if you report objectively with the Ws: what was said, when was this said, what was the impact of what was said; and is reported to HR, they are required to act on documented reports of egregious behavior that is not subjective, “I didn’t like what this person said.”

Pete Mockaitis
“He was rude. I was bullied.” That’s a little bit subject to interpretation as oppose to, “He said, ‘You are a moron and I hate you.’” Okay, that’s a direct quote.

Sam Horn
Remember action is it. And that’s why what you just said, Pete, about it needs to be the dialogue. Not like, “He was really offensive.” HR can’t do anything with that or a business owner can’t do anything with that. When you quote what someone has said, when you put the time that it happened, not yesterday, “No, it happened at 9:17 right in the middle of this,” the more objective evidence of this unacceptable behavior, the more actionable it is.

So, we can maybe change the other person, we can change a situation. Now, you maybe think, “Well, I don’t want to switch to another department,” or, “I’ve got three more years in this government job. I’m not going to retire or something like that.” So, sometimes though we can change the situation and the good news is, even if we can’t change the person or can’t change a situation, even if you decide, “That person is a jerk. I’ve done everything I can. No one’s taking responsibility and I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to leave. I need this,” then that third act is always an option and we change ourselves.

We could almost put like a plastic bubble around this. And whatever that person says just bounces harmlessly off us. It just bounces off it. It never gets under our skin. It never invades us so that we’re still thinking about it a day or a week or a month later.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And we talked about changing the other person, and one pathway is the, okay, documentation, building a case, HR, a business owner, senior executive, kind of direct challenge in that way. Do you have any suggestions in terms of how one might do this delicate, diplomatic dance associated with, “Hey, boss, you know, when you did this, I didn’t like that”? Any thoughts for how to have that conversation like when and how and if?

Sam Horn
Okay. See, now, we’re going to move into bully territory here because I believe 95% of people care what’s fair. I believe 95% of people have a conscience. They actually want to cooperate. They want a win-win. Guess what? Five percenters, they don’t want a win-win; they want to win. They don’t want to cooperate; they want to control. They don’t follow the rules; they break the rules because they know that it’s going to get them what they want.

So, if we are dealing with someone at work and this person is a five percenter, and that means they have a pattern of violating people’s rights, of not playing by the rules, it’s not a one-time they’re now having a bad day. It’s like they do it all the time on purpose. I’m going to say something that flies in the face of everything you’ve heard. Ready?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m ready.

Sam Horn
Do not use the word “I” because haven’t we been taught, Pete, that we’re supposed to say, “I don’t think that’s fair,” “I don’t like to be spoken to in that tone of voice”? Guess what? Bullies don’t care what’s fair. They don’t have a conscience. They’re actually going to think, “Good. I’m glad it’s bothering you. It was supposed to bother you.”

I am going to suggest we use the word “you,” “You back off,” “You! Enough!” “You, speak to me with respect.” So, here are just a variety of ways to do that. Say, there’s somebody that’s handsy on the job, and this person is in your space. And now, Pete, this isn’t an abstract concept. We have a hula hoop of space. Right now, people, put your hand out, stretch out in front of you, stretch out the side of you, stretch out behind you. That’s three feet.

We have our physical space, and animals know, “You don’t get in my space,” right? It’s like you get in my face or in my space, we have the right to back someone off, which is why if someone has a habit of getting in your face or in your space, number one, stand up. Because, often, they do that when we’re sitting down because they’re in the dominant position, we’re in the submissive position, right?

When we stand up, what we are letting them know is not only are we leveling the playing ground, we are saying, “I won’t take this sitting down. I will stand up for myself.” We haven’t said a word. We’ve changed the power dynamic of, “I am dominating you. I am towering over you. You are sitting and cowering and submissive.”

So, you stand up, number one. Like, someone puts their hand on you or something like that. You look at their hand, you look at them. You look at your hand, you look at them. Often you don’t have to say a word. Do you see how though you are calling them on their behavior? You are keeping the attention where it deserves, which is what they’re doing that is out of line. They have crossed the line and you are drawing the line.

And another part of that, once again, is the word “you.” It’s just to say, “You. Keep that to yourself,” “You. That’s enough. That’s the last time you say that to me.” And when we say it standing tall with our shoulders up and back, instead of our shoulders crunched up like this, which is the weak submissive position, then essentially what we’re saying is that we are letting that person know, “That doesn’t work here anymore.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, intriguing. So, if we diagnose that we’ve got a 5% straight up bully without a conscience, and I guess we’d assessed that, as you mentioned, by seeing a track record of violating people’s rights and just not giving a hoot about it repeatedly, then we completely flip the script and change the rulebook that we’re following instead of that sharing how it made you feel and your concerns and why that’s important because they don’t care about any of that, but rather, just straight up, establishing, “This is the boundary.”

Sam Horn
And if you would like, Pete, I’ve got a quiz, it’s a bully quiz, and there are ten behaviors. And many people, they don’t even use the word bully, and they don’t understand that an 8-year old can be a bully, an 80-year old can be a bully. And the lights that go on when you say, “Yes, this person, I talk on eggshells around this person because they’re so volatile, I never know what he’s going to say,” “Yes, they’re Jekyll and Hyde. They’re charming one moment, they’re cruel the next,” “Yes, they have to control every decision and anyone who dares to say something else, they’re going to railroad that person.”

So, if you would like, I’ll send that to you, you can make it available to your listeners, and if you take that quiz, and this person you’re dealing with does many of these behaviors most of the time, then it requires a whole different set of skills because, once again, appealing to their sense of fair play, appealing to their good nature or their conscience, they will never think, “Oh, that wasn’t fair. That wasn’t right. I am so sorry.” They will never self-reflect or self-correct. It will always be someone else’s fault, and that’s how we need to set up and keep the attention on what they’re doing instead of our reaction to it.

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

Sam Horn
How about ask another question? I love your get-real, “If I’m in this situation, say something that I actually can do. It’s just not sounding good.” So, one more question from you and I’ll give you a response.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Is there ever a time in which we should consider just exiting that situation entirely? Like, the bubble isn’t going to cut it. How do we know that that’s just where we are in terms of the hopeless situation?

Sam Horn
I’m just so glad you brought that up. Tennessee Williams said, “Sometimes it is time to leave even when there is no particular place to go.” And in the bully book, toward the end, after all of these pragmatic things that you can do to improve the situation, to stand up and speak up for yourself, etc., if none of that works, then it’s time for us to remove ourselves from the situation and to make sure to not see it as a failure.

One of the reasons I wrote the bully book is because, here I was, the queen of Tongue Fu, which, of course, is based on what Gandhi said about, “Be the change you wish to see,” it doesn’t work with bullies, Pete, because, once again, they’re not trying to act in good conscience. They’re trying to control. So, a good friend said, “You know, Sam, William Blake said that we are all born innocent, and at some point, we will encounter evil. And at that point, we either become embittered and we see the world as a dark place, and it defines and it defeats us, or we become…” Are you ready for two really fantastic words, Pete? “…informed innocence.”

And informed innocence are no longer naïve or idealistic. We understand that evil exists. We understand that there are people out there who will wreak havoc and they will not be responsible for the consequences. And that removing ourselves from the sphere of that individual is not defeat; it is us stepping up on behalf of what we believe, and that is that people treat each other with respect, people act with integrity. And if we have tried everything and this person is not going to change, and the situation isn’t going to change, then I’m going to remove myself from it, and align myself with people who do act in integrity and do behave responsibly because that’s how I believe life is supposed to be.

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

Sam Horn
One is from Arthur Rubinstein, he said, “I have found, if you love life, life will love you back.” Ain’t that wonderful though? And the other is from Katharine Graham of The Washington Post, and she said, “To do what you love and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?”

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

Sam Horn
I love podcasts. I believe angels whisper to a woman when she walks, and so I walk and I listen to podcasts, and that’s my favorite research. And a quick example of that is…do you ever listen to Jonathan Fields, Good Life Project, by any chance?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I have, yeah.

Sam Horn
Sure. He had Adam Grant on yesterday, a Wharton organization development guy, just came out with a brand-new book called Think Again. And he said something counterintuitive and contrarian which is one of the reasons I try to listen to podcasts, to challenge my thinking. And he said, “We all talk about impostor syndrome and how doubts take us down.” And he said that he believes that impostor syndrome can actually serve us by instead of assuming that we know what is best or that this is the right action, that that questioning process of looking at it again and getting different input actually produces a better result. And I love the contrarian nature of taking something that we all think is bad and twisting and turning it and seeing that it actually can add value.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Sam Horn
I grew up in a small town in southern California, more horses than people, so I read The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. And I will always be grateful to Walter Farley because he gave me a window on the world, and we had a thousand people on our entire mountain valley, and reading about these international adventures and these exciting horse races, and this young boy who was adventurous and independent really helped me see beyond where I was. And so, The Black Stallion was really pivotal in my life.

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

Sam Horn
I juxtapose everything. People say, “Sam, how does your brain work?” And I believe the quickest way to make a complex idea crystal clear is to put a vertical line down the center of a piece of paper, and on the left is what doesn’t work, and on the right is what does. It’s what sabotages our success, what supports it, what compromises our effectiveness, what contributes, what hurts, what helps.

And if we want support for an idea, if we juxtapose problem and solution, issue and answer, and we make those words alliterative, then we are going to be able to get people on the same page because we will be able to show the shift with this crystal clear, clean, compelling language. And by the time people get to the end of the page, you’re going to say yes.

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

Sam Horn
You know, I gave a TEDx Talk, and I understood that if we want to make a difference over time, it’s got to rhyme. And so, I said if you want to succeed, you must intrigue. And I really believe that our career success depends on our communication skills, and it depends on saying something that is so memorable that people can repeat it and act on it, weeks or months even years after they first heard it.

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

Sam Horn
Well, they’re welcome to go to our website which is real easy to remember, it’s SamHorn.com. And we’ve got three TEDx Talks there. We really try and make it so that if you go there, it’s not just about my products and services, it’s about, “Boy, here’s a post on how I can be repeatable and re-tweetable. Here’s a post on that quiz on how I can deal with bullies. Boy, here’s those words to lose, words to use so that I can think on my feet and handle challenging people in the moment instead of thinking of the perfect response on the way home.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this has been a hoot. Sam, thank you for bringing the goods and best of luck in your continued communication adventures.

Sam Horn
Thanks so much. I enjoyed it. I hope people found this inspiring and insightful and useful, Pete.

630: How to Work with a Boss You Don’t Like with Katherine Crowley

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Katherine Crowley says: "If you're feeling hysterical, it's usually historical."

Katherine Crowley discusses what to do when your boss is holding you back.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when your boss gets under your skin 
  2. The 20 bad boss behaviors that drive employees nuts 
  3. The most important thing you can do when managing up 

About Katherine

Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist and career consultant. She helps individuals identify and tackle psychological and interpersonal obstacles to success. She assists with career assessment, developing a personal vision, improving interpersonal skills, and creating work/life balance. 

Katherine is also the co-founder of K Squared Enterprises, a Management Consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and companies accomplish their business objectives while navigating the psychological challenges of working with others. She is the co-host of the podcast, My Crazy Office, which is a weekly workplace podcast dedicated to helping listeners navigate their careers. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Katherine Crowley Interview Transcript

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

Katherine Crowley
Hi, it’s so fun to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And you also got your own podcast called My Crazy Office. Could you tell us perhaps one of the craziest office stories you ever heard.

Katherine Crowley
Oh, my gosh. Well, actually interesting, one of my most strange experiences was when I was working for a business owner, and she was running two businesses at the same time. And so, my entire workday consisted of finding notes passed under the door of the office that I work in, in her home, and fulfilling whatever the task was that was required, having no idea what the output was, you know, what the outcome of my work was actually creating, and rarely seeing her except once or twice every couple of weeks. So, that was a strange, that’s what we call an absentee boss situation but it was just so strange because I was living in this world where I don’t fully understand what went on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you have logged a whole host of such boss behaviors, and you’ve got a great title in your book Working for You Isn’t Working for Me: How to Get Ahead When Your Boss Holds You Back. So, tell us, what’s the big idea behind the book?

Katherine Crowley
Well, actually, what’s interesting is that book, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me, came out of the first book we wrote Working for You is Killing Me, which was actually more about peer-to-peer managing up, managing down. And when that book came out, it was a national/international bestseller because it spoke to the pain of so many people. But the one thing that everyone told us, because Kathi Elster and I traveled all over the country giving talks and workshops about how to handle difficult people at work, and every lecture someone would come up and say, “You don’t understand. It’s my boss. That’s different. This person can fire me or demote me.”

And so, we realized that we needed to write a book specifically about dealing with the boss because what we learned was that people don’t quit jobs, they actually quit bosses. So, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me was about coming to terms with, “If you have a difficult boss, how do you manage them rather than waiting for them to manage you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, there’s much to dig into here. So, let’s start with your four-step program for dealing with difficult bosses. Can you lay out those four steps and give us some examples of them in action?

Katherine Crowley
Absolutely. And the interesting thing is from the Working for You is Killing Me there’s a four-step of unhooking, and we apply the similar thing to the Working for You Isn’t Working for Me. So, I want to talk about the unhooking process because I think it’s very effective if you can do it. So, the four steps are that you unhook physically, you unhook mentally, you unhook verbally, and you unhook with a business tool. And that means nothing except that the first thing you have to realize is that you’re hooked. So, you know that a boss is getting under your skin if you find that you’re having physical, emotional, mental reactions every time you interact with this person.

And so, if you notice that you get a headache, that your stomach feels tight, that your shoulders hurt, that you have a hard time breathing, that you feel exacerbated after every meeting, you then can establish that you are hooked. Once you established that, then you can start to unhook. And the unhooking physically part, so let’s imagine the favorite tough boss, which is the micromanager, the super controlling, oversees everything you do, and doesn’t let you make any decisions on your own. If you had that kind of a boss, what you could do to unhook physically would be that you might, at the day’s end, work out, or go for a run, or go for a walk. You could splash water on your face, you could go for a drive, you could do something physically that helps you release the toxic energy that you may generate by having to deal with this person day in and day out. So, that’s unhooking physically.

Then, unhooking mentally has to do with kind of talking yourself off the ledge. So, let’s say your – this is very common – micromanaging boss insists that you report on every single thing that you do and everything your team does, and you find that to be just offensive. Unhooking mentally, after you’ve cooled your system down by physically unhooking, would be to ask yourself some important questions, like, “What’s happening here? What are the facts of the situation? What’s their part? What’s my part? And what are my options?”

So, going back to the micromanager, what’s happening? “This person is insisting that I give reports on a daily basis about what everyone is doing and it’s ridiculous.” What are the facts? “My boss is requiring this of me and it’s part of my job.” What’s their part? “So, maybe they’re super controlling. They don’t trust anything we do. It drives me crazy.” That’s the fun question to answer. But then what’s my part? And in this case, it could be that, “My part is that I’m taking their behavior personally, that I’m assuming that this person only doesn’t trust me, and that it’s all about not respecting my work ethic.”

So, then your options are, with a micromanaging boss, you could continue to resent them. That’s always…you’re allowed to do that. You could quit. You could badmouth this person and tell everyone how horrible they are and hope that they quit. Or you could say, “Okay, I’m working with someone who needs control. And so, what would happen if I just followed their requests and see if I can establish trust with this person?” So, that’s where you could get to by mentally unhooking.

Next, unhooking verbally is saying something to move the situation forward. So, with this boss, there’s a high-road and low-road verbal communication. Low-road would be, “I can’t believe we have to write these stupid reports. Don’t you think we can do our jobs?” High-road could be, “I understand that you’re concerned that we’re all on the same page, so let’s try this out and meet in a month and see if it really works as a system.”

And then, unhooking with a business tool is to pick from some kind of thing, whether it’s a procedure, a policy, a document, to complete the transaction. And so, in this case, you could say, you could send a follow-up email and say, “I understand that we’re going to be doing this reporting system for a period of time. I look forward to tracking it and seeing if it really works for you and open to feedback along the way.”

And so, now you’re taking yourself from the hooked part where you’re furious, you can’t stand the person, and you are in a powerful struggle with them, which is usually what happens with bosses that we don’t like, we get in power struggles, to calming your system down, finding viable solutions, and moving the situation forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the business tool piece there, that was just sort of an email or are there different business tools? Tell us what you mean by that.

Katherine Crowley
It in this case it’s an email. So, business tools, what we’d say about those is those are…they’re actually, they’re always with you. They take the emotion out of a situation, because, so often, what happens with bosses and coworkers who drive us crazy is we take them personally, right? So, business tools, anything that clarifies the parameters of your work situation. It could be a job description. It could be company policies. It could be documentation. If someone does something over and over that drives you nuts, usually we just store the instance in our mind and feed a big ball of resentment. What you could do instead is document. That’s a business tool, to write down what happened, to describe the effects that it’s having on your job, to be clear about the costs that may come, that it may cause the company.

So, it’s taking whatever the situation is and looking, “What’s the business tool I can apply here?” whether it’s, let’s say, if someone’s a chronically late person, well, there may be time policies at your workplace that you could apply to the situation rather than feeling insulted by their tardiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so those are the four steps of unhooking there. And you’ve zeroed in on 20 of these behaviors that drive you bonkers. And so, I’d love to get a quick rundown of those if you can give us the cool 30-second version list of all 20. But I’d also, first, actually, I want to hear, you say that often these can even escape detection in the first place. So, can you tell us a little bit about the detect side of things?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, detecting, that’s a very good question. What usually happens is we start to feel irritated. We start to get angry if someone starts to really bother us, and then we get into a whole tailspin, emotional tailspin, about what’s happening. Detecting requires that I look up from my situation, try to figure out “What is going on here?”

So, for example, if there’s a kind of boss that we would call a calculating confidant. And this is a kind of boss that would pull you in and ask you a lot of personal questions and look like they want to get to know all about you, and then use that information against you later on down the road. Of course, when that happens, it feels horrible and like betrayal, and, “How could this person do that?”

But if you actually detect or figure out that, “I’m working with someone for whom this is their style, this is how they operate,” then it gives you just a little distance so that you aren’t just feeling manipulated and poorly treated by this individual. So, does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. So, detected, in so doing you would sort of give a label and some distance, and you say, “Okay, this is not personal. They’re not sticking it to me in particular. This is just sort of how they operate and I hate it.”

Katherine Crowley
Right. Exactly. And if it’s something, like there are bosses who are chronically late. So, if they’re chronically late, to detect and understand that this is, again, this is what they do. It’s probably what they’ve done with every employee that they’ve ever worked with. Then it just gives you a little modicum, I think, of control that, “This is what I’m dealing with, not I’m doing something wrong and it’s driving me crazy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you give us the listing of these 20 bad boss behaviors because I’m sure we could talk for hours about them? But I wanna hear just the quick rundown like, “Okay, we got this and this and this,” so folks can recognize it in your telling.

Katherine Crowley
All right. So, I’ll just give you the list and then you can see what you think. First of all, we have categories. So, the first category is called the game players, head game players. And the top of that list is what we call the chronic critic. Then we have the rule changer, the yeller, and the underminer. Next category are the bigshots and the mother superiors. Under that we have “I’m always right,” “You threaten me,” grandiose, and control freak.

Next category is called the line crossers. These are the people who have bad boundaries. So, the first of those is lovestruck, next is the calculating confidant that I mentioned before, the tell-all, the first person who tells you more than you ever wanted to know about their life, and then the liar-liar. Next category is ambivalent leaders, and this is always interesting, I think. The first is the sacred cow, which I’d be happy to describe at greater lengths; the checked-out boss also known as the absentee; the spineless; and the artful bosses, the person you can never find in your hour of need.

Then, finally, we have what we call delicate circumstances. And that is the junior boss, someone who is younger than you, significantly younger than you; the former colleague, a colleague who gets promoted above you; the unconscious discriminator which is, these days, a very hot topic; and the persecutor. That’s the cast of characters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. I think it’s handy just to have a sort of typology in terms of, “Okay. I recognize that.” So, we could talk about these 20 in depth. But, maybe, you could zero in on maybe one, two, or three of these that are both particularly demoralizing for people as well as super prevalent? So, there’s both a high frequency and a high intensity of damage, so let’s talk about those three in terms of how we deal with them.

Katherine Crowley
Yeah, I would be happy to. I actually want to start with the sacred cow, Pete, because this is one…what’s interesting is this is a boss who will feel so frustrating but they’re often like nice people. You know what I mean? So, a sacred cow is someone who’s been in their position for a long time, they’ve climbed up the ladder of the office, whatever it is, the company, whatever it is. They usually are…the people at the top are loyal to this person because they were loyal to them, and they’re now in a position where they probably don’t have the competence really to do anything significant. So, what they want to do is just toe the line, not make any ruffles, and just do a basic job but not cause any problems.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in this instance, the boss is the sacred cow that a lot of people say, “Ooh, maybe I don’t want to cross them because they’ve historically been really good to me and…”

Katherine Crowley
That’s right. The sacred cow has friends, usually, at the top. They’re protected in some way. And so, what could happen is, let’s say you’re a very inventive or creative person and you get hired by this person, and as you’re getting higher, they’re saying to you, “We really need innovation in this department,” which may be true. But then once you get into the position, you experience that you are blocked at every step of the way. Any new ideas, they’ll say, “We’ve done that already. It won’t work.” They’ll ignore your best thoughts about how to solve a problem. They will tell you that upper management doesn’t want that kind of thing. So, they’ll do whatever they need to do to sort of put a road stop onto anything you’re trying to accomplish.

And for people who are real performers and who like to achieve and contribute, this kind of boss is deadly. Yeah, and so the thing with the sacred cow is that, going back to detect, the four Ds: detect, detach, de-personalize, deal. With the sacred cow, the first is to detect, like, okay, if you find out that someone has been there for many years, and they’re not going anywhere, and you keep pushing up against this person, which is usually what happens when you’re working for a sacred cow, you get in power struggles of constantly trying to push your ideas forward. Then you detect, you’ve got, “I’m working for a sacred cow. They’re not going to become comfortable with change. They’re not going to want to do anything innovative.”

Then the detaching would be, “Okay, this is not about me. This is about them.” And de-personalizing would be to say, “All right. So, this person is afraid of change, but maybe they need to look good.” Sacred cows still want to look good in whatever position they’re in. And so then, the deal, what can you do, would be to find out, and this is very hard if you’ve already pushed hard and been rejected and feel resentment, but the deal part would be to find out if there are any projects that the sacred cow is interested in, like things that they would love to accomplish if they had the ability, and get behind those ideas or try to make your ideas their ideas. So, if you’re willing to make the sacred cow look good, you may actually be able to make progress.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. All right. So, that’s a handy one then. Can we hear another boss here and how we’d approach it?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, a commonly occurring and destructive, I would go to the very top of the list, which is the chronic critic. And it’s funny because we have another version of the chronic critic in Working With You is Killing Me called the pedestal smasher. And these are the bosses who have very high standards for everything, and often when they first bring you onboard, they tell you that you’re wonderful and that you’re finally going to solve their problems and that they really admire your work capacity.

Once you start working for this kind of boss, the chronic critic, they then begin to find fault with everything that you do. And so, they slowly start to erode your confidence because they can always find the wrong thing. One client we had who worked for a chronic critic used red highlighter, under-liner, even online with documents to show where the mistakes were. And, literally, it got to the point where the client was like, you know, they’d go to meetings with their neck in a brace because it was so hard to deal with this person.

So, they slowly can erode your confidence and, therefore, detecting as soon as possible becomes a really important thing when you find out, and you can always ask around to see, “Is this person, have they always been so critical of everyone or is it just me?” You detect but nothing. They don’t ever find things good enough because part of what they’re doing is trying to keep you below them so that you don’t threaten them, right? So, you detect that.

Then, again, detaching, realizing this is not about you. And chances are you’re never going to have the experience where they say, “You did an amazing job.” De-personalizing is, “Okay, so if that’s how this person operates, then my job is to continue along and try to create, try to do a good job but not take their statements personally.”

And then dealing would be to do your job, to go to other places to get recognition. So, you may want to join a taskforce, or go work with another department on a special project, or go outside and join a professional association. Nowadays, those are all happening in online and meetups and things. But you do something like that to pump up your confidence again so that you can figure out what your next best move will be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you tell us an inspiring story of someone who did just that, they figured out, “Okay, we got a troubling thing in this behavior,” what they did, and then the cool outcomes that unfolded from that?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, actually, I can tell you about someone who worked for a sacred cow and it was actually for a very prestigious institution, he was very excited about the job, got there, and then had pushback for every single thing that he did. He was able to befriend that sacred cow after much frustration, a lot of hitting walls. He was able to befriend that sacred cow and found out that that individual, the boss, had a very specific project that she’d always wanted done but had never had the resources to do. He made it happen and, as a result, their department won an award, and he went on to be offered another job at another institution.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Katherine Crowley
So, there’s a good story.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And I’d also love to zoom in and hear sort of navigating these tricky situations, are there any particularly powerful scripts, phrases, questions, that you recommend and see are helpful over and over again?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. Well, I think that’s such a good question. When we wrote, in both of our books, when we talk about talking to whoever the individual involved is, we always talk about how important it is to prepare yourself. Like, one thing that’s valuable, I think, actually in knowing, like, let’s say you know that you work for a boss who always has to be right, for example. And there are those bosses, so you don’t want to go into the conversation looking to convince them that you’re right. You would prepare for that kind of a conversation by thinking, “Okay, how can I join with this person and their approach?”

So, you could say to this individual, “I know your opinion is very important to me, and I know that you usually understand things in a way that I don’t, but here are my thoughts about doing X, Y, and Z.” So, you confirm the individual’s capabilities, you try to talk to them in a way that makes sense based on how they hear and reason with things, and then you make a concrete suggestion about how you can move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, now, can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Katherine Crowley
My favorite quote may seem odd but it is by Hoagy Carmichael, a jazz musician, and it is, “Slow motion gets you there faster.” And I like it especially because in the digital age we’re all constantly running – I certainly am, I’m sure you are as well – and constantly on the go, and wanting things to happen quickly. And so, I find that quote “Slow motion gets you there faster” really helpful because it helps me slow down, focus on what needs to happen in the moment, and have patience with the process. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges in any situation, and certainly in a difficult work situation is to be patient with the process.

Pete Mockaitis
And now could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, one of the studies that we did actually was for our third book, which was Mean Girls at Work. And there, we put out a request for any stories that women had about other women who they found difficult to work with. And what we were able to glean was that, I would say, 40% of the studies, or 40% of the stories rather, what was interesting was they were not about blatantly mean cruel individuals. They were what we call passively-mean situations where people were excluded, where they were taken out of an email link, where they were not asked to join an event, a work event, or even a social event, where they were contradicted at a meeting but in a nice way, it’s that sort of passive-aggressive looks like.

And so, we found that really interesting that 40% of the women who had difficult relationships with other women, it was more of a passive-aggressive experience, and it really informed a lot of what we wrote about in the book because women do a thing called tending and befriending. We believe we need to be nice to each other and yet what happens in the workplace, because we’re not that comfortable with direct confrontation, is that people end up tending, acting friendly, and then doing subversive things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Katherine Crowley
So, my favorite book is Eckhart Tolle, Towards a New Earth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Katherine Crowley
So, I practice what we preach, so I will say that I do, on a daily basis, every morning I exercise and I write a list of what are my top three priorities. And at the end of every day, I also exercise again, and I practice gratitude. And I know that those things don’t sound like business tools per se, but those set the tone for the rest of my day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect or resonate with folks, readers, listeners, they quote it back over and over again?

Katherine Crowley
Yes, there are two. And one is…

Pete Mockaitis
Nice job.

Katherine Crowley
So, I’m a psychotherapist by training, so one of the things that I will tell people is that, “If you’re feeling hysterical, it’s usually historical.” Now, I did not make that up but it is such a truism that whenever I say it, people are like, “Oh, my God, that’s so true,” because it’s not the person showing up late for a meeting. It’s probably the 35 times they showed up late, and the time they were late on a deadline, and the time, you know, whatever. And that’s a valuable statement just in the sense that, again, going back to the things we were talking about, unhooking, detaching, you have to calm yourself down so that you respond in a right-sized way to whatever the situation may be.

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

Katherine Crowley
I would point them to our website KSquaredEnterprises.com and also to our podcast which is My Crazy Office.

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

Katherine Crowley
Yes. My final challenge, actually my call to action is to whatever your situation, if there’s someone who is really bothering you, there are two things that you can do. One is that you need to stop and see whether you are in a power struggle with this person, because power struggles you will not win. The second thing is you need to consider whether you’re expecting this person to behave exactly the same way you do. So, it’s always important to examine your expectations. We often get furious of people who do things that you say, “I would never do that,” and yet the most important thing for figuring out how to work with people is to understand that each person is operating from a different set of expectations and behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Katherine, this has been a real treat. I wish you luck and success, and hope that working with people is working for you.

Katherine Crowley
Thank you, and talking with you has been lovely for me.

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

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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:

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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.