Posts Tagged ‘attitude’

How to Deal with Difficult (Even Impossible) People

Friday, November 10th, 2017

She thinks you’re having a conversation, but you don’t get to speak a word. Something doesn’t go according to plan and you’re the one he blames. Whether it’s a family member, a co-worker or (worse) your boss, highly aggressive and challenging people can turn a perfectly good day into a dramatic experience without any reason. When walking away is not an option, what do you do?

We have all met people who are so prickly and difficult that no one wants to handle them. In most situations, walking away is an option, and you escape with no more than ruffled feathers. But some situations are inescapable. You can wait until the thorny personality is gone and moan “She’s just impossible” to a friend. Far better, though, to begin to develop skills in practical psychology.

First, take responsibility for your part of the interaction. Animosity is created in your own heart. Even the most impossible person had a mother. He was loved by somebody. If you can deal with your own reaction and take responsibility for it, no step is more productive. Detachment is always the best response, because if you can interact without having a reaction, you will be clear-headed enough to make progress in relating to this difficult person. Next, try to name what specifically causes the difficulty. Is the person clinging, controlling, competitive? We all tend to use descriptive words loosely, but it helps to know exactly what is going on.

Photo: Sam Edwards/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Clingers

Clinging types want to be taken care of and loved. They feel weak and are attracted to stronger people. If desperate, they will cling to anyone.

What doesn’t work: Clinging types cannot be handled with avoidance. They are like Velcro and will stick to you every time you get close. They ignore a polite no, but you can’t use direct rejection without making an enemy. Neutrality hurts their feelings and makes them feel insecure.

What works: Clinging types can be handled by showing them how to deal with situations on their own. Give them responsibility. Instead of doing what they want, show them how to do it. This works with children, and clinging types are children who have never grown up (which is why they often seem so infantile). If they try the gambit of saying that you do the job so much better, reply that you don’t. The stronger and more capable you act, the more they will cling. Finally, find situations where you can honestly say, “I need your help.” They will either come through or walk away. You will probably be happy either way.

Photo: John Wildgoose/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Controllers

Controlling types have to be right. There is always an excuse for their behavior (however brutal) and always a reason to blame others. Controlling people are perfectionists and micro-managers. Their capacity to criticize others is endless.

What doesn’t work: Controlling types won’t back down if you show them concrete evidence that you are right and they are wrong. They don’t care about facts, only about being right. If they are perfectionists, you can’t handle them simply by doing a better job. There’s always going to be something to criticize.

What works: Controlling types can be handled by acting unintimidated. At heart, controlling types fear they are inadequate, and they defend against their own insecurity by making other people feel insecure and not good enough. Show you are good enough. When you do a good job, say so and don’t fall for their insistence on constant changes. Be strong and stand up for yourself. Above all, don’t turn an encounter into a contest of who’s right and who’s wrong—you’ll never outplay a controlling type at his or her own game.

Photo: Image Source RF/Cadalpe/Getty Images

Competitors

Competitive types have to win. They see all encounters, no matter how trivial, as a contest. Until they win, they won’t let go.

What doesn’t work: Competitive types can’t be pacified by pleading. Any sign of emotion is like a red flag to a bull. They take your tears as a sign of weakness and charge even harder. They want to go in for the kill, even when you beg them not to. If you stand your ground and try to win, they will most likely jump ship and abandon you.

What works: Competitive types are handled by letting them win. Until they win, they won’t have a chance to show generosity. Most competitive types want to be generous; it improves their self-image, and competitive types never lose sight of their self-image. If you have a strong disagreement, never show emotion or ask for mercy. Instead, make a reasonable argument. If the discussion is based on facts, competitive types have a way to back down without losing. (For example, instead of saying “I’m too tired to do this. It’s late, and you’re being unfair,” say “I need more research time on this, and I will get it to you faster if I am fresh in the morning.”)

Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

Self-Important People

These people have their say. You can’t shut them up. Mostly you can ignore their contribution, however. They tend to forget what they said very quickly.

What works: If they domineer to the point of suffocating you, stay away. The best strategy—the one used by those who actually love such types and marry them—is to sit back and enjoy the show.

Photo: Henglein and Steets/Cultura/Getty Images

Chronic Complainers

These people are bitter and angry but haven’t dealt with the reality that the source of their anger is internal.

What works: Your only option is generally to put up with them and stay away when you can. Don’t agree with their complaints or try to placate them. They have endless fuel for their bitterness and simmering rage.

Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

Victims

These people are passive-aggressive. They get away with doing wrong to you by hurting themselves in the bargain. If they arrive half an hour late at a restaurant, for example, they had something bad happen to hold them up. The fact that you are the target of the inconvenience is never acknowledged.

What works: The best tactic is to get as angry as you normally would, if called for. Don’t take their victimization as an excuse. If the victim is a “poor me” type without the passive-aggressive side, offer realistic, practical help, rather than sympathy. (For example, if they announce that they might lose their job, say “I can loan you money and give you some job leads,” instead of “That’s awful. You must feel terrible.”)

In the short run, most of the everyday difficult types want somebody to listen and not judge. If you can do that without getting involved, lending your ear for a while is also the decent thing to do. Being a good listener means not arguing, criticizing, offering your own opinion or interrupting. If the other person has a genuine interest in you—most difficult people don’t—he or she will invite you to talk, not simply listen. Yet being a good listener has its limits. As soon as you feel taken advantage of, start exiting. The bottom line with practical psychology is that you know what to fix, what to put up with and what to walk away from.

Article By,
Deepak Chopra, As appeared on oprah.com

How To Manage Conflict At Work

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Effectively managing conflict is arguably the hardest thing a manager has to do.  I was recently reminded of this by a comment from a reader in response to a post (10 Things Successful Business People Aren’t Daunted By). Her observation? “I’ll be printing this off and putting it where I can read it every morning,” she wrote.  “Dealing well with conflict (instead of running and hiding) has been one of my biggest challenges as a relatively new manager, so thank you for reminding me that conquering that fear of conflict is worth it!”

Actually she shouldn’t feel bad – she has lots of company.  While now and then you’ll come across a manager who enjoys conflict, really relishes confrontation and dispute, the vast majority of people would much prefer not to deal with it, if given a choice.

Unfortunately, as a manager, if you’re going to do your job, you have no choice.

Angry face
Looking back now over my own career I can recall conflicts with the many people I managed over just about everything: salaries, promotions, recognition, evaluations, other team members, being managed too much, not being managed enough, projects that were too tough, projects that were too boring… and once in a while someone who was just for no discernible reason downright insubordinate.  I never liked conflict.  But I realized early on that if I expected to be paid a reasonable amount of money for management, trying my best to deal with conflict fairly and directly was a crucial part of the job.

In that spirit, following are a few things I learned about it:

Accept the inevitability of conflict in management – As mentioned above, just recognize that addressing it is part of the job.  Don’t waste energy ruminating about it, and don’t feel bad you feel bad about it.   Just accept it for what it is: It comes with the managerial territory.

Don’t be a conflict-avoider.   Difficult interpersonal workplace problems won’t disappear by ignoring them; they’ll only get worse.   Chronic conflict-avoiders will end up losing the respect of their employees – and their own management.

Stay calm – Even when provoked, keep a close hold on your temper; stay as calm as you possibly can.   There are some memorable lines from the famous Rudyard Kipling poem IfIf you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you/If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you/But make allowance for their doubting too…  And after several verses the poem concludes: Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it/And – which is more – you’ll be a man, my son.  (Or a woman… Kipling wrote this in 1895.)   Though it wasn’t written for business, I always felt there was management relevance in the message.

Maintain the moral high ground – A close cousin to the point directly above.  You’re management.  You’re the voice of reason.  Don’t lose control or pull rank or cede the moral high ground – calm control is a much more advantageous position to manage and negotiate from.

Partner with HR –  Though Human Resources operatives have become joking stereotypes on TV and in movies… I’ll state this in bold letters:  When I was in management, my colleagues in Human Resources were of inestimable valuable to me on many occasions.   I never hesitated to call on them when I faced difficult employee conflicts.  They were unfailingly an objective third party, a sounding board, a valuable source of reasonable counsel.  My philosophy was always, In delicate situations, get all the help you can.

Document meticulously – When serious conflict occurs, as a manager you’ll need accurate records of it.  During employee performance appraisals, you’ll need clear documentation to avoid discussions dissolving into “he said/she said” disputes.  And when it’s necessary to terminate someone, you of course need detailed documentation (again, a time to work closely with HR) or you may well have legal exposure.

Don’t’ think in terms of “winning,” so much as constructively resolving – No point winning the battle but losing the war.  Management’s role is not to “defeat the enemy” (even though that may feel cathartic at times!), but to elicit optimal performance from the area you’re managing.  Accordingly, best not to leave bodies in your wake but to get conflicts resolved fairly, expeditiously, and move forward as constructively as you can.   Get closure and move ahead… the sooner, the better.

I don’t want to give the illusion any of this is easy.

It isn’t.  It never is.

But if you can develop a consistent, rational approach to managing conflict, it can make your difficult job a lot less stressful than it would be without it.

Article by, Victor Lipman , an executive coach and author of The Type B Manager.

 

 

 

As appeared on forbes.com

The Secret to Dealing With Difficult People: It’s About You

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Do you have someone at work who consistently triggers you? Doesn’t listen? Takes credit for work you’ve done? Wastes your time with trivial issues? Acts like a know-it-all? Can only talk about himself? Constantly criticizes?

Our core emotional need is to feel valued and valuable. When we don’t, it’s deeply unsettling, a challenge to our sense of equilibrium, security, and well-being. At the most primal level, it can feel like a threat to our very survival.

This is especially true when the person you’re struggling with is your boss. The problem is that being in charge of other people rarely brings out the best in us.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Acton said way back in 1887. “There is no worse heresy than the office that sanctifies the holder of it.”

The easy default when we feel devalued is to the role of victim, and it’s a seductive pull. Blaming others for how we’re feeling is a form of self-protection. Whatever is going wrong isn’t our fault. By off loading responsibility, we feel better in the short-term.

The problem with being a victim is that you cede the power to influence your circumstances. The painful truth when it comes to the people who trigger you is this: You’re not going to change them. The only person you have the possibility of changing is yourself.

Each of us has a default lens through which we see the world. We call it reality, but in fact it’s a selective filter. We have the power, to view the world through other lenses. There are three worth trying on when you find yourself defaulting to negative emotions.

The Lens of Realistic Optimism. Using this lens requires asking yourself two simple questions when you feel you’re being treated badly or unfairly. The first one is “What are the facts in this situation?” The second is, “What’s the story I’m telling myself about those facts?”

Making this distinction allows you to stand outside your experience, rather than simply reacting to it. It also opens the possibility that whatever story you’re currently telling yourself isn’t necessarily the only way to look at your situation.

Realistic optimism, a term coined by the psychologist Sandra Schneider, means telling yourself the most hopeful and empowering story about a given circumstance without subverting the facts. It’s about moving beyond your default reaction to feeling under attack, and exploring whether there is an alternative way of viewing the situation that would ultimately serve you better. Another way of discovering an alternative is to ask yourself “How would I act here at my best?”

The Reverse Lens. This lens requires viewing the world through the lens of the person who triggered you. It doesn’t mean sacrificing your own point of view but rather widening your perspective.

It’s nearly certain that the person you perceive as difficult views the situation differently than you do. With the reverse lens, you ask yourself, “What is this person feeling, and in what ways does that make sense?” Or put more starkly: “Where’s my responsibility in all this?”

Counterintuitively, one of the most powerful ways to reclaim your value, when it feels threatened, is to find a way to appreciate the perspective of the person you feel devalued by. It’s called empathy.

Just as you do, others tend to behave better when they feel seen and valued — especially since insecurity is what usually prompts them to act badly in the first place.

The Long Lens. Sometimes your worst fears about another person turn out to be true. He is someone who bullies you unreasonably and seeing it from his perspective doesn’t help. She does invariably take credit for your work.

When your current circumstances are incontrovertibly bad, the long lens provides a way of looking beyond the present to imagine a better future. Begin with this question: “Regardless of how I feel about what’s happening right now, how can I grow and learn from this experience?”

How many times has something that felt terrible to you in the moment turned out to be trivial several months later, or actually led you to an important opportunity or a positive new direction?

My last boss fired me. It felt awful at the time, but it also pushed me way out of my comfort zone, which is where it turned out I needed to go.

Looking back, the story I tell myself is that for all his deficiencies, I learned a lot from that boss, and it all serves me well today. I can understand, from his point of view, why he found me difficult as an employee, without feeling devalued. Most important, getting fired prompted me to make a decision — founding the company I now run — that has brought me more happiness than any other work I’ve ever done.

Article by,
Tony Schwartz


Tony Schwartz
 is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything. Become a fan of The Energy Project on Facebookand connect with Tony at Twitter.com/TonySchwartz and  Twitter.com/Energy_Project

10 More Tips for Effective Conflict Resolution

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

We all experience conflict; whether we choose to master it or let it master us determines our destiny. Due to the popularity of my blog “10 Tips for Effective Conflict Resolution,” I decided to make a YouTube video and also provide you with 10 MORE tips to work through conflict:

1) Don’t react. While this is not easy to do because we are biologically primed to fight or flee, sometimes not reacting is incredibly effective. It takes two to play tug-of-war, and if you refuse to engage, there is no game to be played. An intentional pause serves as a mirror for the antagonizer, as their aggressive words reverberate in the silence and seem to hang in the air, hopefully inspiring reflection and awareness. If you refuse to sink to the same level, you can be the bigger person and anchor the conflict in a more civil place before it spirals downward. This requires strength, patience, groundedness and detachment from ego (for it is the ego that gets hooked during conflict and feels compelled to fight until proven the victor). Pause, count to 10, breathe deeply and see what happens from there.

2) Respond from a place of sadness, rather than anger. When we are angry, it is to protect our feelings of sadness. When we speak from our anger, we can scare people, make them defensive, and can negatively impact our relationships. When we speak from our hurt, we are sharing from a deeper and more vulnerable place of truth, and are not as threatening to others. If we teach others how to care for our wounds, rather than biting them back, we can expedite the healing process.

3) Do not triangulate. Triangulation is when you don’t speak directly to the person with whom you are having a conflict and involve somebody else. For example, speaking to your mother-in-law about your agitation at your wife. Or, throwing your BFF under the bus when you are mad at your boyfriend by saying she thinks he is a selfish ass as well. While it is very tempting to vent to others or to use them as allies, none of this is useful. Triangulation is counterproductive as it causes additional relational strain with others and takes the focus away from the primary issue at hand. Furthermore, it simply isn’t cool.

4) Understand conflict is neither bad, wrong nor a sign of failure. We are human: We all regress and act like babies sometime. Cut yourself some slack, don’t be afraid of your mistakes, make amends and forgive yourself and others. Chalk it up to growth and learning and forge ahead.

5) Before speaking, ask yourself, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?”
Take some advice from Shirdi Sai Baba and ask yourself these three questions before tossing verbal (or written) grenades. If the answer to even one of these questions is no, bite your lip and choose words that meet all of these criteria. The conflict will diffuse and your relationship will deepen.

6) Be specific about what you need. Sometimes we want people to magically know what we need in order to feel better. This is normal, yet irrational. Speed things along by being direct and specific for what you need (i.e. “I need for you to say you are sorry for calling me that name” or “I need for you to give me the rest of the weekend alone to reflect” or “I need for you to hold me and stop trying to make it better with words.”).

7) Be willing to let go and “reboot.”
My colleague Ross Rosenberg recommends a mental rebooting when at the point of stalemate in conflict resolution. This involves letting go of any mental energy that is keeping you fixated on the conflict. In a moment of quiet reflection, imagine you are dropping your sword and hitting the “refresh” button on your psychological browser, and revisit your relationship with renewed perspective and energy.

8) Be grateful for the wisdom the conflict brought you. Conflict can be emotionally exhausting and it is easy to be annoyed that it even took place. Look at the good part by reflecting on any lessons that could be learned about yourself, the other party, the relationship, or life in general. Give thanks for this wisdom so that the universe knows you have sufficiently learned this lesson and it isn’t presented for you again!

9) Enjoy the intimacy in making up and reconnecting. Conflict is like fire: While it can be destructive if left untended, it can promote warmth and heat if managed effectively. Resolving conflict promotes intimacy (the term, “make-up sex” didn’t come from nowhere…) Also, there is great reassurance knowing that loved ones can “stand a little shaky ground” and has “got the guts to stick around” (thank you, Bonnie Raitt).

10) Understand nobody is perfect and learning effective conflict resolution is a life-long process. Working on conflict resolution is an indication of maturity, integrity and character. We are all works in progress. Commit to these conflict resolution strategies in order to improve your relationships and become your best self.


Article by,


Joyce Marter
Psychotherapist
Follow Joyce Marter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Joyce_Marter

Human Interaction: The Skill Nobody Ever Teaches You

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

What’s more important: knowledge, work habits or the way we interact with others?

Recently, one of my clients was creating a project team. Several people volunteered, yet when they found out that Ms. So and So was going to be part of it, they quickly retracted their offers. The project hadn’t even started, yet they were already jumping ship at the mere thought of having to work with Ms. So and So.

Here’s the weird part: The person nobody wanted to work with was highly regarded for her knowledge of the subject, and she was generally known as a hard worker. What’s more, most of the team believed she probably wanted the best for the organization as a whole.

She was smart, she wanted to help and she had a good work ethic. So why didn’t anyone want to work with her?

Because her personality was so negative that she sucked the life out of people. With everyone already overworked to the max, they quickly decided that they weren’t willing to muster up the extra emotional energy needed to deal with her.

What’s sad is that I doubt she has any idea how she’s coming across. She probably thought all her criticisms and negative commentary were actually helpful.

Negative people rarely recognize just how challenging they make it for everyone else. However, seasoned managers quickly learn that the extra effort you have to expend managing a complainer just isn’t worth it.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Fortune 500 or the PTA. A negative attitude will overshadow a high IQ, a strong desire to serve and even a great work ethic.

Ironic, isn’t it? We place so much emphasis on knowledge and work habits, yet the thing that often derails people is their interpersonal skills.

What’s even more ironic is that unless you’re a speech, drama or broadcast major, you can go all the way through college without ever getting any meaningful feedback on how you’re being perceived by others.

The challenge with over-the-top negativity is two-fold. First, the offender is usually so interpersonally unskilled he or she doesn’t recognize the problem. Numerous studies reveal that competent people tend to rate themselves much more harshly than incompetent people because a person’s incompetence literally blinds them to their own incompetence. (You’re entitled to a self-satisfied chortle here.)

But the second challenge is that no one calls them on it because we often assume that they’re doing it on purpose and that they like being a project killer.

So the smart, on-time-with-their-work-yet-emotionally-clueless person continues to over-complain (or needle people about inconsequential issues, or whine, or make negative assumptions, etc.), oblivious to the fact that the rest of the team is deflating by the moment.

The solution is simple: Get some training. We don’t expect people to learn chemistry without a teacher; why should we expect people to instinctively know how to create positive interactions?

Don’t get me wrong: You don’t have to ooze charisma or become a Pollyanna. People are just fine working with shy, quiet people, and nobody expects a non-stop cheerleader.

But if every comment you make is negative or critical, you’re probably detracting from the group more than you’re adding to it. Your knowledge may be valuable, but if you consistently serve it up with a scowl, nobody is going to want to hear it.

Bottom line: Learning how to evoke positive feelings in others isn’t cutesy; it’s critical.

How To Deal With Difficult People

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

Article by, Darylen Cote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Whiners, Know-It-Alls, and Steamrollers: Strategies to cope with even the most hard-to-take personalities.

We’ve all been there. There are just some people we can’t stand! Perhaps it’s the Whiner whose complaining drives you to distraction. Or it may be the Steamroller who makes you crazy—the person who pushes her ideas and never lets others get a word. People like this can make your PTO leadership experience seem endless and stressful, even blocking achievement of some of your most critical goals.

Every person has his own triggers when it comes to dealing with difficult people. Those triggers stem from your background, perspectives, and from your goals in the situation at hand. But there is good news. There are ways to deal with even the most difficult people that can bring out both their best and your best.

The first step, described by Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner in their book Dealing With People You Can’t Stand, is to get to know your difficult person—to know what needs that person may be trying to fulfill that cause the problematic behavior. Successful leaders listen carefully to figure out the underlying motives.

Generally, people in any given situation are task oriented or people oriented. Their concerns center on one of four goals: getting the task done, getting the task done right, getting along with people, or being appreciated by people. When they perceive that their concern is threatened—the task is not getting done, it is being done incorrectly, people are becoming angry in the process, or they feel unappreciated for their contributions—difficult people resort to certain knee-jerk responses. Responses range from the passive, such as withdrawal, to aggressive, such as steamrolling or exploding. The difficult person often does not recognize that his behavior contributes to the very problems that he is attempting to address.

Brinkman and Kirschner identify 10 different behavior patterns often exhibited by people under pressure.

  • The Steamroller (or Tank): Aggressive and angry. Victims can feel paralyzed, as though they’ve been flattened.
  • The Sniper: The Sniper’s forte is sarcasm, rude remarks, and eye rolls. Victims look and feel foolish.
  • The Know-It-All: Wielding great authority and knowledge, Know-It-Alls do have lots to offer, are generally competent, and can’t stand to be contradicted or corrected. But they will go out of their way to correct you.
  • The Grenade: Grenades tend to explode into uncontrolled ranting that has little, if anything, to do with what has actually happened.
  • The Think They Know It All: A cocksure attitude often fools people into believing their phony “facts.”
  • The Yes Person: Someone who wants to please others so much that she never says no.
  • The Maybe Person: Procrastinating, hoping to steer clear of choices that will hurt feelings, he avoids decisions, causing plenty of frustration along the way.
  • The Blank Wall (or Nothing Person): This person offers only a blank stare, no verbal or nonverbal signals.
  • The No Person: He spreads gloom, doom, and despair whenever any new ideas arise, or even when old ones are recycled. The No Person saps energy from a group in an amazingly short time.
  • The Whiner: Whiners feel helpless most of the time and become overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. They want things to be perfect, but nothing seems to go right. Whiners want to share their misery.

Just Get It Done!

Chances are you have had to deal with at least a few of these characters. These are not odd or weird people. They may even be you upon occasion. Everyone has the potential to be difficult given the right, or wrong, circumstances. To understand why, return to the concept of a basic orientation toward people or task. Couple that with the typical ways people respond under pressure, on a continuum from aggressive to assertive to passive. Then add in the goals people have under different circumstances.

According to Brinkman and Kirschner, when the goal is to “get it done,” people with a task orientation and aggressive temperament tend to dig in and become more controlling. They are the Snipers, the Steamrollers, and the Know-It-Alls. From their point of view, the rest of us are goofing off, obtuse, or just plain taking too long. The Steamroller can run over you if you get in the way. The Sniper often uses sarcasm to embarrass and humiliate at strategic moments. The Know-It-All dominates with erudite, lengthy arguments that discredit others and wear down opponents.

When the goal is to “get it right,” people under pressure who still have a task orientation but a more passive personality become helpless, hopeless, and/or perfectionistic. They become the Whiners, No People, and Blank Walls. When Whiners are thwarted, they begin to feel helpless and generalize to the entire world. Instead of looking for solutions, they complain endlessly that nothing is right, exacerbating the situation by annoying everyone around them.

No People feel more hopeless than helpless. Like A.A. Milne’s Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, their sense of gloom carries its own cloud. Their certainty that things can never be right can pull down morale for an entire group. Blank Walls simply withdraw. They will bear no responsibility when things aren’t exactly right.

Drive To Survive

People who want to “get along” tend to focus more on the people in a situation. When they are innately passive, they become approval-seeking Yes People, Maybe People, and sometimes Blank Walls. Yes People overcommit and underdeliver in an effort to please everyone. Their lack of follow-through can have disastrous consequences for which they do not feel responsible, because they are just trying to be helpful. When, instead, the people they want to get along with become furious, they may offer to do even more, building their lives on what other people want and also building a deep well of resentment.

Maybe People avoid conflict by avoiding any choice at all. Making a choice may upset someone, and then blame will be heaped on the person who decided. Maybe People delay choosing until the choice is made for them by someone else or by the circumstances. When Blank Walls have a people orientation, they want to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. The old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all” gets carried to the ultimate extreme in this case. But Blank Walls also avoid sharing anything genuine or honest about themselves and therefore never really achieve the “getting along” goal.

Like To Be Liked

To “get appreciated” is the ultimate goal of people-focused, more aggressive folks. They include the Grenade, the Think They Know It All, and sometimes the Sniper. They share attention-seeking behaviors that never accomplish what they intend. The Grenades are aggressive Rodney Dangerfields; they think they get no respect or appreciation. When that feeling builds to a certain point, they have an adult temper tantrum. It’s not pretty and it certainly gets attention, but blowing up never gets them to the ultimate goal of appreciation.

The Think They Know It All person knows a little bit about a lot. He is so charismatic and enthusiastic that his half-facts and exaggerations can sound plausible and persuasive. When people discover that these people really don’t know what they are talking about, the attention they seek becomes negative.

The Sniper in this case is attempting to gain attention by being playful. Many people engage in playful sniping, but we all need to be careful about how it is being received. Whether it is funny or painful is truly in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes this kind of sniping is passed off as teasing, which can leave scars even when it’s friendly.

Looking in the Mirror

So what can you do to change the course of your interactions with these difficult people? There are some simple strategies that work well with practice and patience.

In general, when your difficult person speaks, make your goal habit number five in Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand.” Often, unless you’re dealing with the Grenade or other overt hostility, it helps to mirror some of the nonverbal cues the person displays. Don’t overdo, as it can look like mocking if you copy every gesture. Your aim, according to Brinkman and Kirschner, is “blending.” If you adopt some of the same traits as your person, such as a facial expression or posture, you send the message that you are “with” them, on the same wave length. Blending begins to facilitate trust. Often we do this kind of thing without even noticing that it’s happening. You also need to blend vocally with the person you’re trying to understand. Volume and pace are two examples of how to blend with another person. Blending is how you begin to build rapport with people and signal that you are really listening. The only exception is yelling.

Also, some of what the person says needs to be repeated in a technique that counselors call “reflection.” This is a way of feeding back what you’ve heard, on both feeling and content levels, so that a person is sure that you’ve heard him. With no interpretation and without parroting exactly, use some of his actual words to demonstrate your understanding. How much to do it depends on the person you’re dealing with. With Steamrollers, keep reflection to a minimum. With Know-It-Alls, Yes People, and Maybe People, a great deal of reflection may be useful. This is especially true on the feeling level with Yes and Maybe People.

Get to the Real Issues

Next, ask clarifying questions to help your difficult person open up and to ensure that you fully understand all she has to say. The kinds of questions you want are open-ended, those to which there is more than a yes or no answer. They begin with what, how, where, who, when, and sometimes why—without an accusatory tone. A simple “Tell me more about…” can also serve the same purpose.

The importance of this information-gathering stage cannot be overstated. It keeps you out of a reactionary mode and helps you bring all of the issues to the surface. At the same time, it shows that you really care about what the person has to say. It can also begin to defuse emotions and help the person think more logically.

Finally, still in a “seek to understand” mode, summarize what you have heard and confirm your understanding. Do not assume you “got it.” Ask, “Did I get it right?” If not, keep listening until the person is satisfied that you understand.

The next step in the process has to do with attitude. Search for and acknowledge that the other person’s intentions are positive. This means giving the person you are dealing with the benefit of the doubt. Brinkman and Kirschner advise, “Ask yourself what positive purpose might be behind a person’s communication or behavior and acknowledge it. If you are not sure about the positive intent, just make something up. Even if the intent you try to blend with isn’t true, you can still get a good response and create rapport.”

Some Specific Responses

Consider this example.

“One of the duties of the vice president is to choose which six members go to the PTO Show this year,” Jerry reminded Jennifer again. “You have only two weeks before the deadline. Do you have any idea whom you want to go?”

“Not yet,” said Jennifer. “I want to be sure I make the right decision.”

“People need to make their plans, and we need to commit the money. The sooner you make a decision, the better for everyone,” prodded Jerry.

“OK. I’ll get to it,” promised Jennifer.

The next week, when Jerry inquired again, Jennifer said, “I’m still thinking about it!”

Jennifer is a Maybe Person. She will delay her decision until there is almost no decision to make because the deadline has passed or people can no longer rearrange their schedules with the short notice. Jerry might say to Jennifer, “I appreciate the care you are taking with this decision, Jennifer. I know you don’t want to leave out anyone who would like to go or who deserves this special reward. Who have you considered?” Simply stating understanding of Jennifer’s positive intention may unlock her indecision enough to move forward.

The next step to take when conflict emerges is to go beyond people’s stated positions to identify underlying interests or objectives. Brinkman and Kirschner call these “highly valued criteria.” They are the “reasons why” people desire specific outcomes.

Here’s another example:

Susan had agreed to chair the annual PTO carnival. The second planning meeting was underway when Marge, the vice president of the group and also the immediate past chairperson, barged into the room and started to berate Susan. “I heard that you’re eliminating the dunking booth! What a dumb decision. Don’t you have any brains at all? I thought you’d do a good job and now you’re making decisions that will ruin our carnival! Now here’s what you have to do…” And with that she barked orders while everyone else on the committee stared in disbelief. As quickly as she had come, she turned around and left.

Marge typifies the aggressive, angry style of the Tank or Steamroller. Once Susan gets her calmed down, it would be important to ask, “Why the dunking booth?” If she replies that the day invariably is hot and people enjoy the splashing and cooling effect of the water, then you have her underlying interest on the table. Another water game might satisfy that interest just as well, but you do need to slow the Steamroller down before you can get to the whys.

Say What You Mean

Stephen Covey’s habit number five also has a second part. Part one, “Seek first to understand …,” is followed by part two, “…then to be understood.” Once you have put in the time and hard work of deep listening, the goal is to speak so that you may in turn be understood. But watch your tone of voice. The old saying applies: It’s not just what you say but also how you say it.

The next step is to state your positive intentions: “I care that people at the carnival have a chance to cool off, too. I want to make it a fun and safe day.” When the Steamroller starts to interrupt again, tactfully intervene. Repeating someone’s name over and over until she stops to listen can accomplish that end. So Susan might say, “Marge. Marge. Excuse me, Marge.” Once the person has paused, you can insert your positive intent or a clarifying question, for instance. Then speak about the situation as you honestly see it. Use “I” statements, be as specific as possible, point out the impact of the behavior, and suggest a new behavior or option.

So Susan might say, “Marge, I appreciate your input. I know you want the carnival to go well, the same as I do. We replaced the dunking booth with another feature for a good reason. When you try to override our decisions without asking why, it sure makes the rest of us feel like our work isn’t worth much. Would you sit down and discuss our plans with us?” Marge may try to raise the volume and continue to steamroll, at which point Susan would need to start repeating her name again until she stops. Once Susan gets her piece said, she will need to be ready to stop and listen again.

When you have a Blank Wall, the person who chooses the ultimate passive response instead of an aggressive response, your tactics need to be a little different. First, even though you may not feel particularly relaxed, calm yourself. It will not help to push, so plan plenty of time. Ask the open-ended questions with an expectant tone and body language. Try to lighten things up with absurd guesses as to the cause of the silence. Be careful with humor, but if you can get at least a smile, it’s a beginning.

Make It a Habit

Difficult people are really all of us. Depending on the circumstances and our own perspectives, our behaviors can slip-slide into the childish, rude, or even churlish realms. The key is to think first instead of simply reacting when we feel pressured by time or by the competing interests and needs of others.

Thoughtful responses can help people identify their real needs and break negative behavior patterns that don’t serve anyone well. If you make a habit of listening deeply, assuming best intentions, looking for common ground, reinforcing and expecting people’s best behavior along the way, then the difficult people in your life may come to view you as a respected friend—as opposed to one of their most difficult people.

5 Conflict Management Strategies

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Don't let conflicts get out of control.In any situation involving more than one person, conflict can arise. The causes of conflict range from philosophical differences and divergent goals to power imbalances. Unmanaged or poorly managed conflicts generate a breakdown in trust and lost productivity. For small businesses, where success often hinges on the cohesion of a few people, loss of trust and productivity can signal the death of the business. With a basic understanding of the five conflict management strategies, small business owners can better deal with conflicts before they escalate beyond repair.

Accommodating

The accommodating strategy essentially entails giving the opposing side what it wants. The use of accommodation often occurs when one of the parties wishes to keep the peace or perceives the issue as minor. For example, a business that requires formal dress may institute a “casual Friday” policy as a low-stakes means of keeping the peace with the rank and file. Employees who use accommodation as a primary conflict management strategy, however, may keep track and develop resentment.

Avoiding

The avoidance strategy seeks to put off conflict indefinitely. By delaying or ignoring the conflict, the avoider hopes the problem resolves itself without a confrontation. Those who actively avoid conflict frequently have low esteem or hold a position of low power. In some circumstances, avoiding can serve as a profitable conflict management strategy, such as after the dismissal of a popular but unproductive employee. The hiring of a more productive replacement for the position soothes much of the conflict.

Collaborating

Collaboration works by integrating ideas set out by multiple people. The object is to find a creative solution acceptable to everyone. Collaboration, though useful, calls for a significant time commitment not appropriate to all conflicts. For example, a business owner should work collaboratively with the manager to establish policies, but collaborative decision-making regarding office supplies wastes time better spent on other activities..

Compromising

The compromising strategy typically calls for both sides of a conflict to give up elements of their position in order to establish an acceptable, if not agreeable, solution. This strategy prevails most often in conflicts where the parties hold approximately equivalent power. Business owners frequently employ compromise during contract negotiations with other businesses when each party stands to lose something valuable, such as a customer or necessary service.

Competing

Competition operates as a zero-sum game, in which one side wins and other loses. Highly assertive personalities often fall back on competition as a conflict management strategy. The competitive strategy works best in a limited number of conflicts, such as emergency situations. In general, business owners benefit from holding the competitive strategy in reserve for crisis situations and decisions that generate ill-will, such as pay cuts or layoffs.

Article By,
Eric Dontigney as Appeared on www.smallbusiness.chron.com

Avoiding Confrontation Is Not The Answer

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

REFUSING FLOWERS

I’m dealing with an avoider. I find it very frustrating.

Every once in a while you will encounter a situation where you want to deal with it in a calm, professional manner, and the person with whom you want to deal with, does not want to deal with it at all!

An avoider is someone who truly hates confrontation. They would rather the situation sit and fester than to sit down and handle the issue with you directly.

In fairness, many of us prefer to avoid than to have a confrontation. I mean, who really likes confrontation? Not I that’s for sure. However, it is important to deal with some issues instead of avoiding them and having them potentially blow completely out of proportion.

When an “issue” occurs, you have 24 hours to start to deal with it. It might mean that you say to the other person that you want to talk about it, you might arrange a meeting, but you must do something within the first 24 hours to show that you are willing to deal with the issue and not avoid it.

I called Mary and outlined the situation. I was careful that I used “I” language instead of “you” language (to avoid making her defensive), I was very aware of my tone of voice and I was well prepared for what I wanted to say.

When I called Mary, I got her voice mail. My message outlined quickly what the situation was. I avoided placing blame. I told her I was wanting to speak to her directly so that we could reach a mutually acceptable solution. I was professional, clear and upbeat. I asked her to call me back at her convenience.

She sent an email to our office manager, Caroline (and thereby avoided me all together) asking to be removed from our distribution list and wanted to avoid further contact from our office.

Not exactly the nice friendly approach that I way I was hoping we could deal with this misunderstanding.

I called her again and left another voice mail asking if we could talk about this, as I wanted to avoid any hard feelings whatsoever. In my voice mail I did mention that I would follow up my call with an email with my proposed solution.

I hate dealing with these types of issues on email. Be sure to use email as a confirmation tool, instead of a confrontation tool.

Long story short, I have had no direct contact whatsoever with Mary. She has only responded to Caroline via email, refusing to discuss anything with her or me.

I did everything I could do to deal with the situation professionally, but she was unwilling.

Sometimes we will meet others who are not nearly as professional or courteous as we are. Sometimes we will have to deal with the situation in a manner that makes us uncomfortable.

Remember to always take the high road. I regret nothing that I did in the encounter with Mary. I do regret that her need to avoid discussing the situation meant that there would be hard feelings.

When dealing with confrontation follow a few simple rules:
– use “I” language, instead of “you” language
– avoid blame, and focus more on solving the situation
– be prepared so you are not reacting to the situation, and are responding to the situation
– take the professional path (the high road), even in your personal confrontations
– know when to walk away

I’m sorry a simple misunderstanding has become a major issue. I have learned that even the “right” approach doesn’t always work, and that you need to be flexible when dealing with confrontation. I wonder what Mary learned from our encounter.

Article by,
Rhonda Scharf Headshot

As appeared in the Huffington Post on December 13, 2016

The Secret to Dealing With Difficult People: It’s About You

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Do you have someone at work who consistently triggers you? Doesn’t listen? Takes credit for work you’ve done? Wastes your time with trivial issues? Acts like a know-it-all? Can only talk about himself? Constantly criticizes?

Our core emotional need is to feel valued and valuable. When we don’t, it’s deeply unsettling, a challenge to our sense of equilibrium, security, and well-being. At the most primal level, it can feel like a threat to our very survival.

This is especially true when the person you’re struggling with is your boss. The problem is that being in charge of other people rarely brings out the best in us.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Acton said way back in 1887. “There is no worse heresy than the office that sanctifies the holder of it.”

The easy default when we feel devalued is to the role of victim, and it’s a seductive pull. Blaming others for how we’re feeling is a form of self-protection. Whatever is going wrong isn’t our fault. By off loading responsibility, we feel better in the short-term.

The problem with being a victim is that you cede the power to influence your circumstances. The painful truth when it comes to the people who trigger you is this: You’re not going to change them. The only person you have the possibility of changing is yourself.

Each of us has a default lens through which we see the world. We call it reality, but in fact it’s a selective filter. We have the power, to view the world through other lenses. There are three worth trying on when you find yourself defaulting to negative emotions.

The Lens of Realistic Optimism. Using this lens requires asking yourself two simple questions when you feel you’re being treated badly or unfairly. The first one is “What are the facts in this situation?” The second is, “What’s the story I’m telling myself about those facts?”

Making this distinction allows you to stand outside your experience, rather than simply reacting to it. It also opens the possibility that whatever story you’re currently telling yourself isn’t necessarily the only way to look at your situation.

Realistic optimism, a term coined by the psychologist Sandra Schneider, means telling yourself the most hopeful and empowering story about a given circumstance without subverting the facts. It’s about moving beyond your default reaction to feeling under attack, and exploring whether there is an alternative way of viewing the situation that would ultimately serve you better. Another way of discovering an alternative is to ask yourself “How would I act here at my best?”

The Reverse Lens. This lens requires viewing the world through the lens of the person who triggered you. It doesn’t mean sacrificing your own point of view but rather widening your perspective.

It’s nearly certain that the person you perceive as difficult views the situation differently than you do. With the reverse lens, you ask yourself, “What is this person feeling, and in what ways does that make sense?” Or put more starkly: “Where’s my responsibility in all this?”

Counterintuitively, one of the most powerful ways to reclaim your value, when it feels threatened, is to find a way to appreciate the perspective of the person you feel devalued by. It’s called empathy.

The Long Lens. Sometimes your worst fears about another person turn out to be true. He is someone who bullies you unreasonably and seeing it from his perspective doesn’t help. She does invariably take credit for your work.

When your current circumstances are incontrovertibly bad, the long lens provides a way of looking beyond the present to imagine a better future. Begin with this question: “Regardless of how I feel about what’s happening right now, how can I grow and learn from this experience?”

How many times has something that felt terrible to you in the moment turned out to be trivial several months later, or actually led you to an important opportunity or a positive new direction?

My last boss fired me. It felt awful at the time, but it also pushed me way out of my comfort zone, which is where it turned out I needed to go.

Looking back, the story I tell myself is that for all his deficiencies, I learned a lot from that boss, and it all serves me well today. I can understand, from his point of view, why he found me difficult as an employee, without feeling devalued. Most important, getting fired prompted me to make a decision — founding the company I now run — that has brought me more happiness than any other work I’ve ever done.

Article by, Tony Schwartz



Tony Schwartz
is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything. Become a fan of The Energy Project on Facebook and connect with Tony at Twitter.com/TonySchwartz and Twitter.com/Energy_Project.


We Need To Build Bridges, Not Walls

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
 bridge

The U.S. election has unleashed a style of aggression, anger and hatred created like no other. There have been friendships lost, families torn apart, and relationships that will take a very long time to repair. If they even can repair.

Sadly this type of situation happens all the time in the workplace. It could start from union strikes, a bully in the office, or a leader that inspires internal competition and fear.

Unfortunately when things get that bad at work, we usually decide that all the stress and frustration aren’t worth it, and we leave. Perhaps we burn the bridge with the boss, the bully, or the company; and realize that we could never go back. And we are OK with that because we made that choice.

However, in some situations, that choice isn’t an option. A union strike is an example, a divorce is an example, and a divisive election is an example.

Sometimes you can’t run away by building a wall and hiding behind it.

We need to build bridges, not walls.

The question is how do you build that bridge so that you can detach yourself from the emotions the situations causes?

Here are three things you can do to build a bridge instead of a wall:

Don’t Interrupt. When someone is saying something you don’t agree with, or making a statement that makes your skin crawl; don’t interrupt them. By interrupting, you are being the wall, refusing to hear what they have to say. Interruptions are seen as aggressive and rude. Let them finish their statement and then follow the next two steps.

Stay calm. Whatever the disagreement or difference in opinions; it is not personal. Don’t take it personally, and don’t make it personal.

Sadly the fact that many people seem to be taking the election personally is what is causing so much strife. Someone has an opinion that you don’t understand. Their point of view is different than yours. It is not your job to convince them they are wrong and don’t take it personally if they try to convince you that you are wrong.

In a perfect world, we would not launch insults or hate because someone has a different perspective. Unfortunately, it is the way it is. Be the voice of reason, stay calm, don’t take it personally and hopefully others will follow your suit.

Set Boundaries. There are some subjects that will just be off the table for discussion. I’m seeing that on social media today with the U.S. election. People are giving themselves a “free zone” where there is permission NOT to speak about anything election related. The boundary says no political comments allowed. That is a pretty safe and smart thing to do when emotions are high.

In my family there is a topic that we have all agreed will not be brought up in conversation. We realize that not everyone agrees, that no one is happy about, so we just don’t go there. Do not enter into that area of discussion.

If you have decided to build your bridge instead of a wall and the dangerous subject is brought up, it is not unreasonable to say “I am uncomfortable with this line of discussion and I’m requesting we discuss something else.” If the other person continues to have the discussion, give yourself permission to disengage and if necessary leave the room. By engaging in the discussion you are now arguing and this is not the goal. Change the subject, but don’t go there.

Building a bridge doesn’t mean we’ve repaired the divide. It means that we can move past whatever the contentious subject is and continue.

Walls create borders, sides, and promote incivility. Bridges create solutions.

Build a bridge, and get over it.

Article by,

Rhonda Scharf HeadshotRhonda Scharf
Consultant, Speaker, Trainer and Author who works with organizations to save time, money and sanity.

As appeared in the Huffington Post November 9, 2016

How to Deal With Difficult People by Mastering Yourself

Friday, November 11th, 2016

We all have some people in our lives who can be considered “difficult.” They can make life really unpleasant. That is, if we let them! We can deal with difficult people in a number of ways. The amazing thing is, when we combine these elements, we may actually help them become happier and more easy-going as well. Sound too good to be true? Read on!

Dealing with difficult people can be a drain!

The first element in dealing with difficult people is self-control. You have no control over their behaviors or attitudes, but you can always control your own response. For example, what happens when you come across an unpleasant customer service rep, or a surly sales clerk? Or if it’s the flip side of the coin and you are the customer service rep being screamed at by a hostile customer? Do you automatically become tense or do you deliberately maintain your composure? Do you try to become even more cheerful and compassionate or do you automatically become hostile too, in defense of yourself? It’s worth becoming aware of how you normally react when you’re confronted with someone who is being less than pleasant. Remember, you can always choose your response.

Don't get caught up in the negativity!No matter what the situation, you can choose to not get caught up in their negativity. You can choose to not allow them to ruin your day. Instead of letting the situation escalate, you can calm yourself by entering the slower alpha brainwave state, and prevent the automatic fight-or-flight response – in most cases, this automatic negative reaction will not benefit you. All it does is create stress and makes you less in control of your emotions and actions. The fight or flight response has undergone an evolutionary change. It is a survival mechanism based on a physical response to danger – fighting, or running away. But in modern man, that response has evolved into anger and fear, since most of us are too civilized to react with physical violence, and the situations we’re in don’t usually warrant running away. The result is stress. The adrenaline rush is still based on the physical reaction to perceived danger but today, we usually don’t need to fight or run away. Instead, we react emotionally, in the heat of the moment, with anger and fear. You can derail your automatic fight-or-flight response to difficult people by deliberately relaxing yourself immediately before the negativity escalates. The Silva Method teaches several techniques for maintaining your composure in a difficult situation. You can focus on your breath, enter the alpha state and use the Three Fingers Technique for instant self-control and relaxation.

The second element of dealing with difficult people is perception. Again – we can’t control the behaviors and attitudes of others, but we can choose to see them in a different, more compassionate light. It’s not always easy! Slowing your brain’s activity to the alpha level is essential for this to work. In alpha, you can view the person with more understanding and compassion. Maybe they really hate their job but they feel stuck and resentful because they wish they could have a better life but don’t know how to go about it. Maybe they’re having difficulties at home. Maybe they are struggling with a huge stress load. Maybe they don’t realize they are being difficult! Most of us can’t see ourselves the way others see us. We may believe we’re projecting confidence, for example, only to have someone tell us we’re being arrogant. So try to put yourself in the person’s shoes and empathize with them.

The third element is self-awareness. Are YOU coming across as difficult? For example, if you walk into a store to return a defective product, you’re already unhappy and you may unconsciously project negative energy even if you put on a pleasant face. And if you’re feeling stressed and resentful, you may be projecting it more than you think. People pick up on each other’s energetic vibrations. So become more aware of how you approach a situation. Consciously become more approachable, friendly and reasonable before you enter the situation – sometimes, walking in with a smile, makes all the difference – !  Your attitude is all-important. Self-awareness is something that comes easily when you’re in the alpha state.

Emotional mastery helps you deal with difficult peopleThe fourth element is emotional mastery. If you have a difficult family member, you are probably conditioned to automatically respond with some emotion or behavior – irritability, shutting down, anger, weepiness, etc. – so you have to master your emotions. When you feel emotional response, allow it to course through your system without becoming attached to the thoughts that generated the emotion. Let it pass. Think about the situation as you would like it to be. Friendly, cordial… not tense and hurtful. Again, people pick up on each other’s vibes. When you’re conscious of the vibes that someone is projecting, you can choose to either take that energy on, or deflect it with love and compassion. Rephrase the way you think and talk about a person. This will affect the way you deal with them, and may eventually change the way they deal with you as well.

You can choose your response to any situation!The Silva Method teaches that a part of any problem-solving or goal-setting process is to first identify the problem. In this case, you use self-awareness to identify your automatic response, your unconscious pre-conceived attitude, and the emotions that determine your reaction.

Some people aren’t going to change their attitudes no matter what you do. That can’t be helped. They may not have the self-control you do and they may not be aware they can choose their response, too. But you can choose. You can use the Three Fingers Technique to program yourself to be more compassionate, loving and understanding while at the same time programming yourself to be less prone to anger, hostility and fear. They may continue to behave the same way, but your perception of them will change for the better.

 

As appeared on Silva Life System

 

Dealing with Difficult Customers

Monday, November 7th, 2016

It is easy to work with people you like, and it is even easier to work with people who like you. But that’s not always the case. Sooner or later, you’ll have to deal with a difficult customer.

Difficult customers come in a wide variety. There are those whose personality rubs you the wrong way. They may not be difficult for someone else, but they are for you. And then there are those who are difficult for everyone: Picky people, know-it-alls, egocentrics, fault-finders, constant complainers, etc. Every salesperson can list a number of the types.

But perhaps the most difficult for everyone is the angry customer. This is someone who feels that he or she has been wronged, and is upset and emotional about it. These customers complain, and they are angry about something you or your company did.

There are some sound business reasons to become adept in handling an angry customer. Research indicates that customers who complain are likely to continue doing business with your company if they feel that they were treated properly. It’s estimated that as many as 90% of customers who perceive themselves as having been wronged never complain, they just take their business elsewhere. So, angry, complaining customers care enough to talk to you, and have not yet decided to take their business to the competition. They are customers worth saving.

Not only are there benefits to your company, but you personally gain as well. Become adept at handling angry customers, and you’ll feel much more confident in your own abilities. If you can handle this, you can handle anything. While any one can work with the easy people, it takes a real professional to be successful with the difficult customers. Your confidence will grow, your poise will increase, and your self-esteem will intensify.

On the other hand, if you mishandle it, and you’ll watch the situation dissolve into lost business and upset people. You may find yourself upset for days.

So, how do you handle an angry, complaining customer? Let’s begin with a couple tools you can use in these situations.

1. RESPECT. It can be difficult to respect a person who may be yelling, swearing or behaving like a two-year-old. I’m not suggesting you respect the behavior, only that you respect the person. Keep in mind that 99 times out of 100 you are not the object of the customer’s anger. You are like a small tree in the path of a swirling tornado. But unlike the small tree, you have the power to withstand the wind.

What is the source of your power? Unlike the customer, you are not angry, you are in control, and your only problem at the moment is helping him with his problem. If you step out of this positioning, and start reacting to the customer in an emotional way, you’ll lose control, you’ll lose your power, and the situation will be likely to escalate into a lose-lose for everyone. So, begin with a mindset that says, “No matter what, I will respect the customer.”

2. EMPATHY. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and try to see the situation from his/her perspective. Don’t try and cut him off, don’t urge him to calm down. Instead, listen carefully. If someone is angry or upset, it is because that person feels injured in some way. Your job is to let the customer vent and to listen attentively in order to understand the source of that frustration. When you do that, you send a powerful unspoken message that you care about him and his situation.

Often, as the customer comes to realize that you really do care and that you are going to attempt to help him resolve the problem, the customer will calm down on his own, and begin to interact with you in a positive way.

Here’s how you can use these two tools in an easily-remembered process for dealing with angry customers.

CRACK THE EGG

Imagine that you have a hard-boiled egg. The rich yellow yolk at the center of the egg represents the solution to the customer’s problem, the hardened white which surrounds the yolk represents the details of the customer’s situation, and the hard shell represents his/her anger.

In order to get to the yolk, and resolve the situation, you must first crack the shell. In other words, you have got to penetrate the customer’s anger. Then you’ve got to cut through the congealed egg white. That means that you understand the details of the customer’s situation. Finally, you’re at the heart of the situation, where you can offer a solution to the customer’s problem.

So, handling an angry customer is like cutting through a hard-boiled egg. Here’s a four-step process to help you do so.

1. LISTEN.

Let’s say you stop to see one of your regular customers. He doesn’t even give you time to finish your greeting before he launches into a tirade.

At this point, about all you can do is LISTEN. And that’s what you do. You don’t try and cut him off, you don’t urge him to calm down. Not just yet. Instead, you listen carefully. And as you listen, you begin to piece together his story. He ordered a piece of equipment three weeks ago. You quoted him X price and delivery by last Friday for a project that’s starting this week. Not only is the equipment not there, but he received an invoice for it at a different price than was quoted.

What kind of shoddy operation is this?” he wants to know. Do you understand how important his project is? Do you know how much time and money is at stake? If he doesn’t get his equipment and something happens to this project, you’re going to pay for it. He knew, he just knew he should have ordered the equipment from your competitor. What are you going do about it?

Now you have the basic story. Hopefully, after this gush of frustration, there will be a pause while he comes up for air.

More often than not, once the customer has had an initial chance to vent his rage, it’s going to die down a little, and that’s your opportunity to take step in.

Even if he has started calming down on his own, there comes a moment – and I can almost guarantee you’ll sense it – to help calm him down. Try something along the lines of: “It sounds like something has gone wrong, and I can understand your frustration. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this problem. Let’s take a look at the next step.”

Try to calm yourself first, and then to acknowledge his feelings. Say, “I can tell you’re upset…” or, “It sounds like you’re angry…” then connect to the customer by apologizing, or empathizing. When you say something like “I’m sorry that happened. If I were you, I’d be frustrated, too.” It’s amazing how much of a calming effect that can have.

Remember, anger is a natural, self-defensive reaction to a perceived wrong. If there is a problem with your company’s product or service, some frustration and disappointment is justified.

This is so important, let me repeat it. First you listen carefully and completely to the customer. Then you empathize with what the customer is feeling, and let him or her know that you understand. This will almost always calm the customer down. You’ve cracked the shell of the egg. Now, you can proceed to deal with the problem.

2. IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM.

Sometimes while the angry customer is venting, you’ll be able to latch right on to the problem because it’s clear-cut. Something is broken. Or late. Or he thinks a promise has been broken.

But sometimes in the middle of all that rage, it’s tough to comprehend the bottom-line issue. This is a good place for some specific questions. Ask the customer to give you some details. “What day did he order it, when exactly was it promised. What is his situation at the moment?” These kind of questions force the customer to think about facts instead of his/her feelings about those facts. So, you interject a more rational kind of conversation. Think of this step of the process as cutting through the white of the egg to get to the yolk at the center.

It’s important, when you think you understand the details, to restate the problem. You can say, “Let me see if I have this right. You were promised delivery last Friday, because you need it for an important project this coming week. But you haven’t received our product yet. Is that correct?”

He will probably acknowledge that you’ve sized up the situation correctly. Or, he may say, “No, that’s not right” and then proceed to explain further. In either case the outcome is good, because you will eventually understand his situation correctly, and have him tell you that “Yes, that’s right.”

And at that point you can apologize. Some people believe that an apology is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. But you can appreciate and apologize for the customer’s inconvenience without pointing fingers. Just say, “Mr. Brady, I’m sorry this has happened.” Or “Mr. Brady. I understand this must be very frustrating. Let’s just see what we can do fix it, OK?”

3. AVOID BLAME.

You don’t want to blame the customer by saying something like “Are you sure you understood the price and delivery date correctly?” This will just ignite his anger all over again because you are questioning his credibility and truth-telling.

And you don’t want to blame your company or your suppliers Never say, “I’m not surprised your invoice was wrong. It’s been happening a lot.” Or, “Yes, our backorders are way behind.”

In general, you AVOID BLAME. Which is different than acknowledging responsibility. For example, if you know, for a fact, a mistake has been made, you can acknowledge it and apologize for it. “Mr. Brady, clearly there’s a problem here with our performance. I can’t change that, but let me see what I can do to help you out because I understand how important your project is.”

4. RESOLVE THE PROBLEM.

Now you’re at the heart of the egg. You won’t always be able to fix the problem perfectly. And you may need more time than a single phone call. But it’s critical to leave the irate customer with the understanding that your goal is to resolve the problem. You may need to say, “I’m going to need to make some phone calls.” If you do, give the customer an idea of when you’ll get back to him: “Later this afternoon.” Or “First thing in the morning.”

Then do it. Make the phone calls. Get the information. Find out what you can do for this customer and do it. Then follow up with the customer when you said you would. Even if you don’t have all the information you need, call when you said you would and at least let him know what you’ve done, what you’re working on and what your next step will be. Let the customer know that he and his business are important to you, that you understand his frustration, and that you’re working hard to get things fixed.

Use the tools of respect and empathy, and the “crack the egg” process, and you’ll move your professionalism up a notch.

Article By, Dave Kahle

Ten Keys to Handling Unreasonable & Difficult People

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives. We may be “stuck” with a difficult individual at work or at home. It’s easy to let a challenging person affect us and ruin our day. What are some of the keys to empowering yourself in such situations? Below are ten keys to handling unreasonable and difficult people, with references to my book (click on title): “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People”. Keep in mind that these are general rules of thumb, and not all of the tips may apply to your particular situation. Simply utilize what works and leave the rest.

1.    Keep Your Cool

Benefits: Maintain self-control. Avoid escalation of problem.

How: The first rule in the face of an unreasonable person is to maintain your composure; the less reactive you are, the more you can use your better judgment to handle the situation.

When you feel angry or upset with someone, before you say something you might later regret, take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In most circumstances, by the time you reach ten, you would have figured out a better way of communicating the issue, so that you can reduce, instead of escalate the problem. If you’re still upset after counting to ten, take a time out if possible, and revisit the issue after you calm down.

2.    “Fly Like an Eagle”

Benefits: More peace of mind. Reduce risk of friction.

How: Some people in our lives are simply not worth tussling with. Your time is valuable, so unless there’s something important at stake, don’t waste it by trying to change or convince a person who’s negatively entrenched. As the saying goes: “You can’t fly like an eagle if you hang out with turkeys!” Whether you’re dealing with a difficult colleague or an annoying relative, be diplomatic and apply the tips from this article when you need to interact with them. The rest of the time, keep a healthy distance. 

3.    Shift from Being Reactive to Proactive

Benefits: Minimize misinterpretation & misunderstanding. Concentrate energy on problem-solving.

How: When you feel offended by someone’s words or deeds, come up with multiple ways of viewing the situation before reacting. For example, I may be tempted to think that my co-worker is ignoring my messages, or I can consider the possibility that she’s been very busy. When we avoid personalizing other people’s behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective on the situation can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.

Another way to reduce personalization is to try to put ourselves in the difficult individual’s shoes, even for just a moment. For example, consider the person you’re dealing with, and complete the sentence: “It must not be easy….”

“My child is being so resistant. It must not be easy to deal with his school and social pressures…”

“My boss is really demanding. It must not be easy to have such high expectations placed on her performance by management…”

“My partner is so emotionally distant. It must not be easy to come from a family where people don’t express affection…”

To be sure, empathetic statements do not excuse unacceptable behavior. The point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as we’re being reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviors from others say a lot more about them than they do about us. By de-personalizing, we can view the situation more objectively, and come up with better ways of solving the problem.

4.    Pick Your Battles

Benefits: Save time, energy and grief. Avoid unnecessary problems and complications.

How: Not all difficult individuals we face require direct confrontation about their behavior. There are two scenarios under which you might decide not to get involved. The first is when someone has temporary, situational power over you. For example, if you’re on the phone with an unfriendly customer service representative, as soon as you hang up and call another agent, this representative will no longer have power over you.

Another situation where you might want to think twice about confrontation is when, by putting up with the difficult behavior, you derive a certain benefit. An example of this would be an annoying co-worker, for although you dislike her, she’s really good at providing analysis for your team, so she’s worth the patience. It’s helpful to remember that most difficult people have positive qualities as well, especially if you know how to elicit them (see keys #5 and 6).

In both scenarios, you have the power to decide if a situation is serious enough to confront. Think twice, and fight the battles that are truly worth fighting.

5.    Separate the Person From the Issue

Benefits: Establish yourself as a strong problem solver with excellent people skills. Win more rapport, cooperation and respect.

How: In every communication situation, there are two elements present: The relationship you have with this person, and the issue you are discussing. An effective communicator knows how to separate the person from the issue, and be soft on the person and firm on the issue. For example:

“I want to talk about what’s on your mind, but I can’t do it when you’re yelling. Let’s either sit down and talk more quietly, or take a time out and come back this afternoon.”

“I appreciate you putting a lot of time into this project. At the same time, I see that three of the ten requirements are still incomplete. Let’s talk about how to finish the job on schedule.”

“I really want you to come with us. Unfortunately, if you’re going to be late like the last few times, we’ll have to leave without you.”

When we’re soft on the person, people are more open to what we have to say. When we’re firm on the issue, we show ourselves as strong problem solvers.

6.     Put the Spotlight on Them

Benefits: Proactive. Equalize power in communication. Apply appropriate pressure to reduce difficult behavior.

How: A common pattern with difficult people (especially the aggressive types) is that they like to place attention on you to make you feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Typically, they’re quick to point out there’s something not right with you or the way you do things. The focus is consistently on “what’s wrong,” instead of “how to solve the problem.”

This type of communication is often intended to dominate and control, rather than to sincerely take care of issues. If you react by being on the defensive, you simply fall into the trap of being scrutinized, thereby giving the aggressor more power while she or he picks on you with impunity. A simple and powerful way to change this dynamic is to put the spotlight back on the difficult person, and the easiest way to do so is to ask questions. For example:

Aggressor: “Your proposal is not even close to what I need from you.”

Response: “Have you given clear thought to the implications of what you want to do?”

Aggressor: “You’re so stupid.”

Response: “If you treat me with disrespect I’m not going to talk with you anymore. Is that what you want? Let me know and I will decide if I want to stay or go.”

Keep your questions constructive and probing. By putting the difficult person in the spotlight, you can help neutralize her or his undue influence over you.

7.    Use Appropriate Humor

Benefits: Disarm unreasonable and difficult behavior when correctly used. Show your detachment. Avoid being reactive. Problem rolls off your back.

How: Humor is a powerful communication tool. Years ago I knew a co-worker who was quite stuck up. One day a colleague of mine said “Hello, how are you?” to him. When the egotistical co-worker ignored her greeting completely, my colleague didn’t feel offended. Instead, she smiled good-naturedly and quipped: “That good, huh?” This broke the ice and the two of them started a friendly conversation. Brilliant.

When appropriately used, humor can shine light on the truth, disarm difficult behavior, and show that you have superior composure. In my book (click on title): “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People,” I explain the psychology of humor in conflict resolution, and offer a variety of ways one can use humor to reduce or eliminate difficult behavior.

8.    Change from Following to Leading

Benefit: Leverage direction and flow of communication.

How: In general, whenever two people are communicating, one is usually doing more leading, while the other is doing more following. In healthy communication, two people would take turns leading and following. However, some difficult people like to take the lead, set a negative tone, and harp on “what’s wrong” over and over.

You can interrupt this behavior simply by changing the topic. As mentioned earlier, utilize questions to redirect the conversation. You can also say “By the way…” and initiate a new subject. When you do so, you’re taking the lead and setting a more constructive tone.

9.    Confront Bullies (Safely)

Benefits: Reduce or eliminate harmful behavior. Increase confidence and peace of mind.

How: The most important thing to keep in mind about bullies is that they pick on those whom they perceive as weaker, so as long as you remain passive and compliant, you make yourself a target. Many bullies are also cowards on the inside. When their victims begin to show backbone and stand up for their rights, the bully will often back down. This is true in schoolyards, as well as in domestic and office environments.

On an empathetic note, studies show that many bullies are victims of violence themselves. This in no way excuses bullying behavior, but may help you consider the bully in a more equanimous light.

“When people don’t like themselves very much, they have to make up for it. The classic bully was actually a victim first.” — Tom Hiddleston

“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.” — Paramhansa Yogananda

“I realized that bullying never has to do with you. It’s the bully who’s insecure.” — Shay Mitchell

When confronting bullies, be sure to place yourself in a position where you can safely protect yourself, whether it’s standing tall on your own, having other people present to witness and support, or keeping a paper trail of the bully’s inappropriate behavior. In cases of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, consult with counseling, legal, law enforcement, or administrative professionals on the matter. It’s very important to stand up to bullies, and you don’t have to do it alone.

10.     Set Consequence

Benefits: Proactive not reactive. Shift balance of power. Win respect and cooperation when appropriately applied.

How: The ability to identify and assert consequence(s) is one of the most important skills we can use to “stand down” a difficult person. Effectively articulated, consequence gives pause to the challenging individual, and compels her or him to shift from obstruction to cooperation. In “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People,” consequence is presented as seven different types of power you can utilize to affect positive change.

In conclusion, to know how to handle unreasonable and difficult people is to truly master the art of communication. As you utilize these skills, you may experience less grief, greater confidence, better relationships, and higher communication prowess. You are on your way to leadership success!

Article by,

Preston Ni M.S.B.A.

Preston Ni M.S.B.A.
Communication Success
For more information, write to commsuccess@nipreston.com (link sends e-mail), or visit www.nipreston.com

The 5 Most Difficult Employees in the Office (and How to Deal With Them)

Thursday, October 6th, 2016
Chances are you’ve dealt with your fair share of unsavory co-workers, employees, and bosses. And every time, you learn a little bit more about how to deal with the difficult scenarios they throw at you.

How to Extinguish a Disgruntled Leader

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

How to Extinguish a Disgruntled Leader

With winter in Ontario only a few short months away, I’m reminded of receiving my license. It was a blustery Saturday when the Young Drivers instructor was coaching me through skid maneuvering. We were in the parking lot of a local grocery store and trying (that’s right, on purpose) to get the car to skid out of control.  The maneuver wasn’t that difficult, just speed towards a snow bank and then turn sharply and hit the gas. BOOM – instant skid.

What was interesting about the training was how to get out of a skid. I can still remember when I made it into my first skid. I nervously grasped the wheel and shouted out to my instructor, “now what?!”

She replied, “Turn in the direction of the skid.”

 What??!

It would seem that by turning into the skid you gain control of the vehicle again. Counter-intuitive to what you might think.

This philosophy came to mind recently during the formulation of a strategy with a large board for a publicly traded company. We had one employee who had been around for years and who, despite everyone’s desire to walk on eggshells in his presence, was an obstacle.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but let me ask you, if the board members name someone during the swat analysis as being an “obstacle,” do you think it’s a recognized issue? Absolutely!

I’ve learned over the years that the most difficult obstacles in any organization are often the ones that are living and breathing. You know what I mean. There’s Bob in the corner office who is stuck in his ways, or Sally who has been with the organization since its inception and disagrees with everything you say.

Living, breathing obstacles are often the most difficult to overcome. If only we could tuck them away somewhere, like in the trunk of a car… (Kidding. Sort of.)

The interesting thing is that dealing with this type of obstacle is no different than dealing with a skid on icy roads.

You need to agree with them.

That’s right; agree with what they are suggesting, when they suggest it. Give them the floor, let them speak their mind, and agree with them.

Sound counter-intuitive? Well, it might be, but it’s the only way to diffuse them as an obstacle.

I’ve repeatedly found that when you let those who oppose ideas fully voice their opinion, they tend to lose their stamina. In fact, I often find that those who are most boisterous are often so as a result of having others dismiss their ideas for long periods of time. The longer they perceive they are ignored, the more of an “obstacle” they become.

If you allow them a stage to fully voice their opinion and explain it to others, there is an 80% chance they will feel listened to, validated, and be prepared in turn to fully listen to the ideas of other.

So the next time you have someone speaking out in rebellion towards the ideas of your board or leadership team, give them the floor and hear them out. You just might find that not only do they share some information that may have been missing from their earlier explanations, but they actually lose momentum and avoid skidding out of control.

Article by, Shawn Casemore

Dealing with Enemies

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Someone has been talking smack about you.

Someone will talk about you in the future, too, and they won’t always say nice things.

If you’re under the misguided belief that no one has ever said anything bad about you behind your back, you’re naïve. Sometimes it’s even the people you consider friends who will stab you in the back.

There are some things you can do to minimize the harmful effects a backstabber will have on you.

  1. Try not to take it personally. Even though it may feel like it, it’s actually not about you. When someone is talking smack about you, it’s because they either feel threatened by you, or they feel there is something to be gained. So stop taking it personally, because it’s about the other person — not you.

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

  1. Choose your battles. This is not your cue to fight back. It may be tempting to give your backstabber that stare that lasts a few seconds too long, or to walk right up to them and say, “Game on!” But while it’s tempting, it’s not smart; don’t do it.

Your backstabber is probably better at this than you are, so you’re bound to come out of the exchange worse off. Plus, what will it say about you when you stoop to their level? It will say a lot of negative things about you, so don’t do it.

“I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” ―George Bernard Shaw

There may be times when you need to confront your backstabber (as a last resort: See #5), so take the high road and don’t give anyone a reason to think that perhaps the backstabber is right, and you are an awful person, after all.

If you do need to confront your backstabber, check out my previous article here

  1. Be smarter than they are. That means you won’t be giving them a knife to stick in your back ever again. You need to pay attention to what you say, what comments you make, the opinions you share, and the fact they are probably looking to catch you doing or saying something you shouldn’t. Don’t give them the opportunity. Learn to be evasive, or learn to stop talking when they’re around. Choose your words and actions wisely. Be on the defensive, and stay at least one step ahead of your backstabber.
  2. Act your age. Don’t respond like a child. Don’t go running to all your friends at work and complain to them about what is happening. If you do, you are being a backstabber right back.

You need to document what is going on. It may start as a simple issue, but perhaps what you are dealing with is a bully in training. Make sure you have documentation about who, what, where, when, and how the backstabbing happened.

There will be times when you do need to go to your boss, or someone higher, and let them know what’s going on. Don’t be a tattletale; instead, be a prepared professional. Don’t focus on how it makes you feel, but focus on the negative consequences to the company and your department.

  1. Confront, if needed. I mentioned earlier that there are times when you should confront your backstabber.

If someone is talking smack about my spending habits, my car, my shoes, or my personal life, I don’t think twice about it. To me, that is clearly jealousy and if it makes the other person feel better to talk smack about me because of their jealousy, I can live with that.

If you struggle with it, go back to tip number one.

But if someone is talking smack about me professionally, about what I do and how I got where I am, then I’ll confront them. That type of backstabbing is potentially dangerous to my professional reputation and my career, and it needs to be stopped.

However, before I confront the person I will make sure that I’ve cooled down. I won’t confront anyone when I’m upset and angry. I’ll also speak to my boss or HR to be sure of the route they want me to take. And, I’ll make sure that I’ve documented what I want to say, and prepared for the confrontation to ensure that I do what I need to do. I need to respond to the person’s words and get them to stop, not react emotionally.

If you hear someone talking smack about me, please tell me. If you know that someone is talking smack about you, either because caught him or her at it or because someone told you, follow the advice above.

Dealing with enemies is never easy. Remember that they do have an agenda; they are trying to get ahead, at your expense. Deal with them professionally and consistently, and very quickly they will learn not to mess with you!

5 ways to diffuse political arguments at work

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016
5 ways to diffuse political arguments at work

We’re exactly two months from Election Day, and the closer we get to Nov. 8, the more prevalent election discussions will become in the office. Fortunately, Americans have the ability to openly discuss and debate candidates and the divisive issues they raise. However, not everyone is articulate or open to constructive discourse.

As such, political conversations at work can become heated or overly personal and can lead to unnecessary tension in the office. Here are five ways to diffuse awkward conversations before they become heated arguments.

1. Go along

Polite nods and active listening are the most common ways to avoid arguments. The risk is the person on his soap box springing off his feelings about gun control will think you agree with him. If that’s your boss, it might be OK. But if not and you truly disagree with what’s being said, just be aware of the possible implications of your silence.

2. Ask questions

A great way to handle any overly passionate person is to ask questions about her passion. It helps you control the situation while allowing her to continue talking about the topic. Think of it like an interview and ask open-ended questions. Once it goes on long enough, you can always interrupt her, tell her you’ll have to finish out later and get back to work.

3. Change the topic to talking about politics at work

A colleague of mine who is also a consultant uses this one all the time. As soon as the conversation turns to opinions and declarations about candidates, she says how excited she is that someone brought it up and asks everyone within earshot their opinion about talking politics at work.

This approach requires active participation in managing the conversation, but it usually results in a win for everyone by exposing how people feel about the discussions themselves. Normally, those in favor of it go off and debate to their hearts are content, leaving the uninterested parties to their work.

4. Excuse yourself, involve someone else

Sometimes it is your cubicle neighbor who insists on recapping every campaign trail tidbit first thing in the morning, making it difficult for you to avoid. In such cases, it may be helpful to involve HR to remind everyone of the workplace policy about political discussions.

No HR? No workplace policy? Then find the person in the office who everyone listens to and get his advice on how to handle it.

5. Look … it’s football!

Sometimes distraction is the easiest way to go — especially when you’re stuck in the break room listening to John and Sallie argue about America’s greatness for the hundredth time and they once again try to enlist you for support. Tell them you are tired of politics for now and ask them if they watched football over the weekend. This sports distraction may help you eat your leftovers in peace for today.

The bottom line is: November will be here soon, and no one will know how you voted. Find some patience and a way to embrace these exercises in democracy. Remember, this kind of thing only happens once every four years — try to enjoy it!

About the Author

Catherine Iste

Catherine Iste is CEO of Humint Advisors, Inc., an operations consultancy creating sustainable systems that inspire productivity and efficiency. Catherine’s specialties and interests include difficult HR and organizational dynamics issues, the pursuit of work/life balance, ethics and discussing and writing about them all. Feel free to contact her at: contactus@humintadvisors.com.

The Arguments Your Company Needs

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

Asked several years ago to describe the most important argument taking place at Walmart, then-CEO Lee Scott immediately replied, “The size of our stores.” The world’s largest retailer was debating just how small its footprints and formats could bewhile still serving customer needs and its own brand equity promise. That conversation, Scott said, provoked a lot of new thinking and analysis.

The most important argument at a fast-growing Web 2.0 services provider revolved around its “freemium” offer. Should the firm aggressively test multiple ways to hybridize its free and fee services? Or would prizing and positioning simplicity above all make the most sense? For a prestigious publisher, the essential — and vociferous — disagreement cut to its entrepreneurial core: Should its popular conferences reinforce the firm’s “countercultural” vibe? Or should they comfortably embrace the world’s biggest, richest, and most established firms, as well?

All firms have strategies and cultures. But sometimes the quickest and surest way to gain valuable insight into their fundamentals is by asking, “What’s the most important argument your organization is having right now?”

The more polite or politically correct might prefer “strategic conversation” over “argument.” But I’ve found the more aggressive framing most helpful in identifying the disagreements that matter most. Of course, there’s frequently more than one “most important argument.” And arguments about which arguments are most important are — sorry — important, as well. (If people insist there are no “most important arguments,” the organization clearly has even bigger unresolved issues.)

The real organizational and cultural insights — and payoffs — come not just from careful listening but recognizing that, as always, actions speak louder than words. What role is leadership playing here? How is the CEO listening to, leading, or facilitating the argument? Is disagreement viewed as dissent? Or is it treated as an opportunity to push for greater clarity and analytical rigor?

Sentiment is as important as situational awareness. Some arguments stir organizational emotions in ways others do not. Similarly, some disagreements energize the enterprise just as surely as others drain the life out of people. Having the same most important argument for years tends to be a very bad sign.

Responses to most important arguments typically fall into one of three rough interrelated categories: strategy, values, or people. Strategic arguments tend to be the most straightforward: Do we compete in this space or not? Are we going to be a leader or not? On the other hand, values arguments are understandably more complex: Does attempting to serve a new customer base compromise who we (think) we are? Do we want to make ourselves even more data-and-analytics-driven in our decision making? Does our intense customer focus risk violating their privacy? Values arguments, even more than strategic disagreements, tend to engage a greater portion of the firm. Healthy arguments around conflicting values demand smart facilitative leaders and leadership at all levels.

Intriguingly, the worst most important arguments I hear usually revolve around people. The CEO or a particularly intrapreneurial business unit leader exhibits behaviors or makes comments that polarize. What did the CEO mean by that? Can you believe the company lets that manager get away with that? What might be called gossip in some organizations mutates into strategic or values arguments. Values and strategic arguments are played out through people and personalities. Corporate characters are alternately heroes, knaves, wizards, and fools. There’s often a fine line between strong and powerful leaders and personality cults. If you think the most important arguments going on in your organization revolve around particular individuals and their unusual mix of style and substance, watch out.

But that affirms one of the great virtues of the question: Are you having the kind of most important argument you want your organization to have? Are you having the right kind of arguments in general? Are your arguments illuminating the path forward or providing the organizations with even better rationalizations and excuses for inaction?

And if you’re not having the right kind of important arguments, then just how much is consensus and alignment really worth?

By, Michael Schrage


Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of the books Serious Play (HBR Press), Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? (HBR Press) and The Innovator’s Hypothesis (MIT Press).


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