Making Conflict Productive

Based on the feedback I’ve had from my previous articles on conflict in the workplace and dealing with difficult people, I’ve learned that this is one of the biggest challenges we face in our daily lives.  And that means that figuring out how to turn conflict from a negative to a positive force can be very beneficial for business leaders.

  1. Recognize that conflict is inevitable. It’s universal.  It can’t always be “resolved,” but it can be productive, constructive and a positive force in your business.
  2. Understand how you typically deal with conflict. Most of us have a pattern that includes at least some destructive behavior.  Examples include:  arguing with a need to win at all costs, withdrawing or caving in to avoid unpleasantness, seeking revenge and plotting sabotage and my personal favorite—passive aggression.
  3. Identify your triggers. What sets you off?  What makes you feel threatened?  What draws you in to a conflict? Reflecting on past conflicts might help to determine patterns.
  4. Reframe the situation. Is there another way to look at it?  How else could you respond? Can you see it from another person’s perspective?  Ask yourself:  what if what I think I see is invalid or untrue?  What might I be missing?
  5. Seek a more productive response. Pause and consider how “your best self” would handle the situation.  What behaviors have you observed in others that you appreciate and that you can emulate? Reflect on a past situation that could have been handled differently.

Following these steps consistently will help you improve the way you handle conflict.  And, as a leader, it’s critical for you to model the behavior you want to see in the rest of your team.

Next time, we will explore some of the team dynamics around conflict, how to identify unhealthy conflict on your team, and what to do about it.  Teams that engage in constructive conflict are more productive and they make better decisions.

In the meantime, let me know your experience with these steps and how they apply in your situation.


Dealing With Conflict: Effective Leadership Practices

Based on all the comments on my recent article Dealing With Difficult People, I realized that dealing with conflict is not only a fact of everyday life, but also takes many varied forms.

Here are the top 10 suggestions and reminders I received that were particularly insightful and helpful:

  1. Realizing we are all “difficult” at times and we never know what else is going on in someone’s life at any given time.
  2. Recognizing and owning your own role in a difficult situation gets you further faster.
  3. Sharing ownership for finding a solution may avoid difficulty.
  4. Helping people feel safe when they may be vulnerable.
  5. Remembering to keep challenging interactions in a private space.
  6. Acknowledging there are people who enjoy creating drama, chaos and disruption; there are people who choose to be miserable; establishing boundaries to limit your exposure whenever possible.
  7. Demonstrating patience and non-judgment in difficult situations.
  8. Distinguishing whether the person is being deliberately difficult or having a difficult time herself? What are the motives or reasons behind the behavior?
  9. Dealing with difficulties as soon as possible and in a straightforward, yet respectful, manner. Keep it professional, not personal.
  10. Asking yourself “do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?” How can you work with others to get to the best result?

Dealing with conflict is clearly a challenge for many of us in our work and in our lives. And our responses run the gamut from dealing with it quickly to avoiding it at all costs.

For business leaders, unless you are working with your team on a regular basis to use conflict to your advantage, it can end up eating up much of your time while you play mediator among the warring factions.

In my next article, I will provide some guidelines for turning conflict from a negative force to a positive one in your organization.  Stay tuned.

#conflict #dealingwithconflict #dealingwithdifficultpeople #leadership #deliberateleadership


Dealing With Difficult People

When I ask people what their biggest challenges at work are, “dealing with difficult people” is usually in the top 5. And when I ask for further explanation or examples, I hear things like “unreasonable,” “always has to be right,” “won’t listen.”

What is the best way to handle these situations?  With deliberate intention.  That means you have to avoid reacting or over-reacting, and be thoughtful about your interaction.  Here are some steps to think through as you prepare yourself that will make the process more productive:

  1. Determine what you want. What is the ideal outcome or result you are trying to achieve?  In other words, begin with the end in mind.  The more clarity you can bring to this, the better.
  2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What does she want?  Why is she unreasonable?  What are her frustrations? And what is at stake?  Sometimes, when we look at the situation from the other person’s point of view, we realize they may be equally unhappy with the status quo.  Try to be empathetic.
  3. Decide to seek a win / win. How can you resolve the issue in such a way that you both get what you want or something better?  Think creatively about possible solutions or options.  Do a little research or brainstorming to think through alternate routes to your ideal outcome.
  4. Approach the person and the situation with an open mind and an open heart. Even as you have your ideal outcome in focus, realize that there may be other solutions that you cannot see from where you sit.  There may also be more to the situation than you can see.
  5. Know that it may take more than one try. If this person is important to your ability to progress or to be successful, don’t give up on your efforts to get through to her just because she’s difficult. If there is someone who has a more effective relationship, ask for help.  That person may have some insight that will bring you more understanding.  Plus, if you keep following this pattern consistently—and learn from it each time—you will eventually break through.
  6. Manage your tone and body language. When you do have a conversation, be aware of not only the words you use, but also the tone of your voice and what your facial expression is conveying.  If you have cultivated an open mind and an open heart, this is easier.
  7. State your intention up front. When you begin what may be a difficult interaction, take a minute to “position” the conversation up front by stating your intent, what you want to achieve and any concerns you have about keeping the conversation positive, productive and respectful of the other person’s needs and wants. Once you do this, you can always refer back to your statement of intent if the conversation gets off track.

Dealing with difficult people can certainly be a challenge that makes the workplace less productive and less enjoyable; learning to be more effective in your interactions can make a big difference to you and the people around you.

As I always say, “if you’re paying attention, each and every experience you have contributes to who you become as a leader.”  Even if you fail at building the relationship with that difficult person, making the effort means you are taking the high road.  Learning what works – and what doesn’t work – makes you a better leader in the long run.

I’d love to hear about your experience with difficult people and what you have found works best.  Please leave a comment!

#difficultpeople #dealingwithdifficultpeople #leadership #deliberateleadership

The True Power of Gratitude

express your gratitude - advice on a sticky note against burlap canvas

A few years back, after attending a personal development workshop, I experienced the true power of gratitude.  At this session, we were asked to think about someone who made a big impact in our lives and to write a letter to that person, expressing how we felt.

As a serial over-achiever, I wrote two letters:  one was based on a professional impact, the other, more personal.

The first letter was written to someone I went to work for at a significant turning point in my life.  The job opportunity involved both a relocation and a change in professional direction.  In retrospect, I realize this man took a big risk hiring me; I also took a giant risk going to work for him.

Many of my friends in the organization advised me against the move.  The man is a tyrant, they said.  The last two people in this role lasted one week and one day, respectively.  Wow! I thought; how could I turn down a challenge like that one?

As it turned out, this was the single best career decision I ever made. The organization was going through a period of tremendous growth and rapid change and I learned a lot in a very short time.  Because I worked to gain his trust, he gave me lots of responsibility and lots of latitude. What an opportunity!

I learned so many valuable lessons working for him, including how to get my point across quickly, concisely and with impact.  I learned the value of taking immediate and full responsibility of mistakes and problems and I learned to respect and appreciate progress rather than waiting for perfect.

When I wrote, and told him these things, he was clearly blown away. People don’t do things like this, especially in the world of big business.  But who among us doesn’t long to be appreciated and valued for the difference we make?

The reality is that it sometimes takes years to truly appreciate the difference someone made in your life.  While I was working hard and dealing with the day to day frustrations and challenges, I did not stop to think of what I was gaining from the experience.  It was only in retrospect that I could clearly see it.

The second letter was more personal, written to a former family member.  She, too, had a big impact on me in my formative 20’s.  This woman was always a class act, treating people with respect and kindness. From her, I learned the beauty and value of a true loving, supportive partnership between two people, which led me to important changes in my personal relationships.

Also, though she was one of the best and brightest business people I ever knew, she was humbly content to operate in the background while others got the credit for her leadership and her ideas. At the same time, she did not allow people to steamroll her or take advantage; she had incredible inner strength and fortitude.  In fact, she gained the respect of many business people at a time when women did not get much credit for their contributions.  She had a very impressive way of balancing all the competing needs to do the right thing.

She was clearly moved by my letter.  She wrote and told me how much it meant to her to receive such acknowledgement; she had no idea I learned all these lessons by watching her.  After she passed, one of her family members told me she still had it nearby and read it often.  We all crave acknowledgement and appreciation.

I am forever grateful for having done this exercise and letting these people know how much I appreciated them and what I gained from having them as part of my life.

So, what about you?  To whom do you owe a debt of gratitude?  Who made a lasting impact on you that you have never fully acknowledged and thanked?  To whom can you extend the true power of gratitude?

I’m challenging you – in this season for thanksgiving – though, any time is a good time – to write such a letter to someone who made a difference.  I promise, you will make someone’s day – and more.  And you will feel the true power of gratitude in your heart and soul.

And, of course, I’d love to hear back from you about your experience with this exercise.  Thank you for being with me, for reading my letters, for your kind comments and challenges and questions.  I truly appreciate hearing from you!

Wishing you all good things.



5 Steps to Greater Resilience: Recovering from Election Day

6_img1Yesterday was a difficult and emotional day for many Americans.  Regardless of whether you got your way or not, the anger and frustration that has marked this very, very long campaign continued.  Added to it was a fair degree of shock and disbelief.

I admit, I woke up yesterday more depressed than I’ve ever been.  But one thing I have always prided myself on is my resilience.  I feel a lot better today.  A lot more hopeful, a lot more optimistic, back in balance.  How does that happen?

I believe that resilience – that capacity to bounce back – is about the ability to put things in perspective, the sooner the better.  Here are some steps that will help:

  1. Step back. See the situation as an observer instead of a participant.  What do you notice about your own behavior and that of others?   What is it that you like and dislike about it?
  2. Take the high road. Force yourself, if necessary, to behave in accordance with the person you most admire – or you when you are your very best self.  How would that person respond to the situation?
  3. Look at the big picture. Ask yourself how the situation will impact you in the long run.  How will you feel about it three weeks from now, three months from now, three years from now?  If you have trouble with this, try to remember something that troubled you three years ago.
  4. Find the lesson you need to learn. I believe that “if you’re paying attention, each and every experience you have can contribute to who you become as a person.” * What will this experience contribute to your growth and development?
  5. See the humor in the situation. There is always humor – look at how much fun the late night pundits had over the past 18 months. Find something that amuses you, makes you smile or laugh out loud.  Humor is the best medicine.

When you step back, take the high road, see the big picture, you realize there are lessons to be learned and humor to find in almost any situation, no matter how serious.

Practicing resilience is a great preparation for dealing with all the challenges that life presents to you along the way.  We all have them; some of us just bounce back faster than others.  Like anything else, the more you practice it, the easier it gets and the better you get.

“Remember that when you improve, everything around you improves.”  * Your attitude improves, your results improve, your relationships improve.

*  These are quotes from my book, Becoming Deliberate:  Changing the Game of Leadership from the Inside Out.  Do you have your copy yet?  If not, click here to take advantage of free gifts when you purchase.  And, by the way, it makes a great gift too for your favorite leader, aspiring leader or anyone just looking to improve their life.