Office worker in conflict, frustrated

(Re)Defining Conflict

When it comes to relationships, conflict is inevitable. It’s going to happen from time to time, and how we handle ourselves when it happens greatly affects how fast we resolve it (or push ourselves further into the abyss of uncomfortableness).

Learning how you experience conflict — and understanding that most people you interact with experience it differently — is critical. I teach those tools in several of my workshops, and the self- and -situational awareness they bring to teams makes it easier for everyone to help each other recognize and resolve conflict quickly.

Now, you may think the key word there is resolve. Sure, we all want to resolve conflict — how many people do you know who like feeling conflicted?

I argue that recognizing it is even more important. Because we often get it wrong. 

When we mistake healthy debate, or what I’ll call healthy opposition, for conflict it causes us to avoid it. And avoiding healthy opposition is an innovation assassin. It kills creativity. It causes communication breakdowns. 

Bottom line — teams that can’t challenge each other without it getting personal are doomed to a future of mediocrity and apathy.

You may be saying, “But life is personal.” Or, “I take my work personally, and when it’s challenged I can’t help but feel attacked.” I’m not saying that work isn’t personal — it is. But I challenge you to redefine conflict for your team, and make sure everyone understands the difference between it, and healthy opposition.

  • Healthy opposition allows for debate, disagreement, and collaboration while maintaining positive regard. Leaders who create a culture of respectful and healthy opposition inspire teams to challenge each other to do better. Positive intent stays intact, and people respect each other’s contributions and opinions even if they don’t agree with them. Sure, sometimes it turns into conflict, but it doesn’t have to.
  • Conflict happens when healthy opposition turns personal. People may see their value system as challenged, or they may simply feel attacked. There’s usually a triggering moment and recognizing it in yourself and others is a great way to stop it in its tracks. You have a much better chance of helping each other get back to feeling good if you can notice when things are getting personal. The problem is that some people are easier to read than others, and you may not know someone is conflicted. Assessment tools can help there, but so can listening, and a good dose of self- and situational awareness.

Imagine an environment where healthy opposition thrives, and conflict gets stopped dead in its tracks. It takes work, but it’s possible. 

Start today by clearly defining the difference between conflict and healthy opposition at your organization. 

Then walk the walk.

Help your people engage in healthy dialogue that may challenge each other or the status quo. Make it safe to do so. At the same time, help them recognize when opposition has turned into conflict so they can name it, and keep it from spiraling.  

I’m here to help.

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People, Planes, and Being In Person

Since March of 2022, I’ve met more new people than I likely have in the past 10 years. Remote work, virtual meetings, and online networking have expanded my network immensely. It’s one of the silver linings from living through a global pandemic.

As thankful as I am for this broadened network of friends and colleagues, I learned something about myself and my comfort zone when meeting new people. 

I’m better at it when I’m in person.

As a self-professed introvert (who’s comfortable being an extrovert when it’s going to help others), I’ll admit I enjoyed virtual networking at first. It’s easier to go to an event, you can hide if you’re feeling awkward, and you can duck out anytime with a simple chat note, “Sorry, have to run for another meeting….” 

But something was missing. After numerous group networking calls and countless one-on-ones, I was not really connecting with people like I do when I’m with them in person. Even after giving remote workshops, I was leaving the virtual room feeling like I might never see any of these great people again. That was odd. I almost always make a new friend or deepen a work colleague relationship during in-person workshops.

This post was inspired by several in-person interactions I had with strangers during some recent work-related travel. First, while waiting to see if my plane to the west coast would be delayed or cancelled, I started a conversation with a young professional on her way home. Actually, I can’t recall who started the conversation, but we talked about our jobs, where we lived, what we liked and disliked about both, and other little things. We connected. It was nice. No expectations, no sell, no obligations. Just connection.

On my flight, I sat next to someone who was traveling home after several weeks in the Philadelphia area. We said hello as we took our seats and started talking about where we were both from and where we live now. She confessed to me that she had packed a suitcase full of Italian sausage and kielbasa from her favorite Philly-area store to take home. (If you’re from this area and you move away, you get it. You can’t get sausage like this anywhere else, and you prepare to turn a suitcase into a cooler in a pinch.) We had such a fun conversation, and while we didn’t talk for the entire flight, we both enjoyed each other’s company for the short time we sat next to each other. Connection that we would have never had over Zoom.

While away, I was dying for coffee at 4:45 am Pacific Time (my body was still on Eastern Time) so I went down to the lobby of my hotel to find out when some coffee would be ready — or if a local coffee shop might open on the early side. The person at the front desk of the hotel and I had such a nice conversation about coffee, commuting, and other stuff that my coffee mission quickly took a back seat. Another connection with a super kind person (who did help me get my coffee fix).

Finally, on my next trip I sat next to an entrepreneur on the plane. We swapped a few success stories and sympathized together on a few challenges every entrepreneur experiences. Then we talked quickly about the work we both do. After that, he went to work on his laptop and I went on to playing games on my tablet. Next thing I know he’s introducing me by email to someone I might be able to help. Connection.

I didn’t expect any of these interactions to turn into business leads or deals. That was not the goal at all. They happened because two human beings decided to share things with each other in the moment with no expectation of a payoff. I believe these types of moments are less common when you’re on a screen as opposed to in another’s presence.

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t develop or deepen relationships remotely. You can. 

For me, it’s almost infinitely easier and more fulfilling in person.

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

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Check Out My New Podcast

Convey, A Podcast About Good Communication

I’m excited to announce the launch of my podcast, Convey: Conversations on the Power of Good Communication

On each episode, I’m going to talk to business leaders about how they use the power of good, clear, and ethical communication to influence, engage, and empower. Each guest brings their own unique perspective, experiences, and stories — and I hope you enjoy listening to these conversations as much as I enjoy having them with my guests.

I invited my colleague and friend Rod Hughes of Kimball Hughes Public Relations to help my kick things off with a conversation about communicating well during a crisis. 

Listen to it here on my website, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor.fm or anywhere you subscribe to podcasts.

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Don't Text and Listen

Don’t Text and Listen

Texting while driving is dangerous. We all know it. Yet many people still do it. It’s hard to resist the distraction of your phone buzzing or dinging. We know that phone notifications negatively affect productivity, even if we don’t check them right away. Just knowing there is a message waiting for our attention destroys our ability to concentrate.

In my listening workshop, I teach the importance of preparing yourself to listen. It’s not as easy as you think, and the many distractions that our digital world provides are a big part of the problem.

Here are some tips to help avoid distractions when it’s time to truly listen:

Prepare to listen

From hunger to tiredness, to thinking about the argument you had with your colleague Ricardo this morning, there are a variety of things that can keep you from focusing. Do your best to put yourself into a listening state of mind, and make sure you’re setting yourself up for success.

Avoid multitasking

If you’re checking email or social media during meetings or at the dinner table, you’re not listening. If a conversation you are in is important to you, focus on it and put other tasks aside until it’s finished.

Eliminate potential distractions

Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. Some are predictable and some are not. Make sure the ones you can control are avoided. Turn your phone and smartwatch off or put them in Do Not Disturb mode. 

Take notes

Taking notes helps you remember things. It can also help you stay in the moment. The bonus is that it also nonverbally communicates that you are listening to the speaker. How nice of you! However, be careful not to let your note taking become so extensive that you stop listening.

Postpone listening if you cannot concentrate

If you can’t fully invest yourself into the conversation at hand, sometimes it’s best to postpone it until later. Wouldn’t you rather hear this instead of sitting across from someone who is not listening to you: “I’m sorry, but we have an emergency going on and if I meet with you now, I won’t be able to concentrate. Our conversation is important to me. Can we move it to 4 p.m. today?” 

Listening well takes work, and there are a lot of barriers that will naturally get in the way. From your own biases or judgement of the speaker or topic to your physical and emotional state, there are many opportunities for inefficiencies. Don’t let distractions that you can control add to the mix.

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Invest in yourself. Do it today.

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot

I always tell people that it’s amazing what you can accomplish by devoting 15 to 20 minutes per day to something that matters to you. That’s how I started most of the things that have defined my career, including Imbue.

The title of this post is inspired by the musical Hamilton, which I recently saw in New York City. The music, the lyrics, the acting, and the visual experience of the show are so masterfully intertwined that you can’t help but be enthralled with it all. I kept thinking about the time and talent it took to create it. Yet, it had to start somewhere. 

Early in the show, Alexander Hamilton sings a rousing song called My Shot. The lyrics begin with Hamilton passionately repeating the phrase, “I am not throwing away my shot” and the song ends with the cast driving home the point that you need to rise up and take a shot, your shot — the one only you can take. It made me think of my own experience and the rewards that have come from taking risks, sharing my unique perspective openly and honestly, and generally taking responsibility for (and control of) my future. 

Don’t throw away your shot, and even more importantly, don’t limit yourself to just one. Start tomorrow and make time to invest in yourself, your ideas, and your passions. Do it every day. The payoff may not come quickly, but I assure you the time spent will be worth it. 

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