“Well, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!” said Tom, another project manager. “Raven [Tom’s project] is with our current biggest customer. Bluebird [Dave’s project] can wait.”
His lips a thin line and his jaw hard set, Dave glared at Tom across the conference table. Tom’s eyes narrowed and returned a cold, steely stare. Neither project manager was going to budge. They had locked horns over the issue of shared resources, specifically the test engineers who supported both of their projects. The company didn’t have the budget to hire more test engineers, so Tom and Dave were gridlocked in what was essentially a battle for dominance.
Their boss, who didn’t believe in micromanaging his project managers, could have been like Solomon and split the 2 test engineers, but that would have left both project managers feeling resentful, so he told them to “figure it out.”
Have you ever felt like this?
What are some ways that you can unlock the horns, stop butting heads and move from gridlock to dialogue when you face an impasse?
When people argue, or are at a frustrating gridlock, emotions can be high and cause an automatic physical stress response, the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response keeps us from danger by making us want to fight or run away. Sometimes, the threat can be so overwhelming that a “freeze response” (“deer-in-the-headlights) is triggered.
Fight, flight or freeze, you may experience increased heart rate and respiration, red or pale face, tense muscles, rapid speech, sweating, tunnel vision and more. What you won’t experience is your best quality thinking. Stress can alter and disrupt the executive function of the brain, which affects memory, problem solving and decision-making.
Stop, take a break from looking at the issue the same way, and give yourself a chance to calm down, reflect and better examine the problem.
Here are some ways to “Stop”:
Take a break. “I think we need a little break.” Depending on the circumstances, you could suggest anything from a short “bio” break (15 minutes) to a few hours, or to another day. For longer breaks, suggest that all parties do some “homework” to examine the true needs, which may involve getting more information, and considering possible alternatives.
Move on to something else. “We seem to be stuck on this issue. Let’s move on to another issue and come back to this one later.” Ideally, the issue you choose will be one that you can have more conversation. Elimination of conflict isn’t the goal, as long as the conversation is moving forward!
Reframe: Stop the trajectory. “Let’s take a look at this from a completely different angle.” Shift the direction of the gridlocked discussion. In the example of the two project engineers gridlocked over which of their projects more deserved the test engineers, Dave, might have reframed the discussion. “Let’s take a look at this from a completely different angle. How would a delay impact each of our customers?”
New Eyes. Stop trying to resolve it yourself. Get another perspective: “I think getting X’s perspective might give us some insights.” You could have a mutually agreed upon person give his or her perspective, or you could each pick someone to give a perspective. Ideally the person giving a perspective would be one the other party respects.
Listen fully, without interrupting, except to reflect back or clarify. Resist debate until you have fully understood. Most gridlock occurs because both parties feel they have needs and expectations that aren’t likely to be met if they “give in.” Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes as you listen to try to understand those needs and expectations. Realize that you don’t know everything—there may be hidden issues.
In the example above, perhaps Dave had a poor performance review and knows that effectively managing this project is critical to his career. Tom may not know this, and Dave is unlikely to tell him. However, Tom might notice from Dave’s body language, voice inflection and choice of words (“My project . . .”, “I need . . .”) that Dave is personally very invested.
Here are some ways to “Listen”:
Focus. This is not the time to be checking your email, or texting. Nor is it the time to be mentally formulating your response. Listening isn’t simply waiting for your turn to talk. Listen with your ears and eyes. Your ears hear more than words. Ears pick up tone of voice and pauses. Your eyes read facial expressions and body language, which will enhance meaning greatly (think about those times that someone has misinterpreted your email, because they couldn’t see your face or hear your tone of voice).
Limit talk. Limit interruptions to those which enhance understanding, such as reflecting back or asking clarifying questions. Don’t jump in to make a point before you have fully understood the other person’s point.
Reflect back. If you want to make sure that you understand a particular point, reflect it back (using the same words or paraphrasing), and check that this is really what was meant. Visually reflect back by nodding. Nod when you agree, but also when you understand what someone is saying. Nodding will encourage people to talk more. You can even give verbal nods of encouragement with sounds like “ahhh . . .” and “umhmm.”
Take Notes. Taking brief notes will aid your concentration, give you some points ask clarification on and make the other person feel like you are taking them seriously.
Clarification, at the most basic level, involves asking questions to gain a clear understanding.
Some ways to “Clarify:
5 W’s and One H: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. The 5 W’s and One H give you a framework for question categories. For example: Who is responsible? What are the goals? When is it due? Where does it go? Why is this important? How is it used?
Clarify Scope of Issue. What’s the problem? How big is it? What does it affect? What are the likely limitations in solving the problem (time, money, resources, technology)? Is there a process?
Clarify method of Issue analysis. Are you just going to talk about the issue or will a formal format or method be used? Will you drill down by asking “Why?” repeatedly? Will you use a SWOT analysis (Strenghts, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)? Lists? Mind maps? Cause and effect diagrams? Problem tree?
Clarify Criteria. What are the critical criteria for making decisions? Are there specifications to meet? A deadline? How will solution alternatives be evaluated? What is the set of required or mutually acceptable criteria?
Clarify facts vs. opinions. Facts can be checked. Opinions can be supported by facts. Do you have enough relevant facts to form well-supported opinions?
Find a point of agreement.
In gridlocked conversation, people can become so entrenched in their opposing viewpoints that they fail to see the many areas of agreement. A small point of agreement can lead to an avalanche of agreement.
Zoom off. If you can get other people saying “yes” on other issues (“move on to something else),” you not only get a break from the issue at hand, you also build positive lean-forward momentum.
Zoom out. You can zoom out of the situation and look at it more globally, finding agreement on the “big picture” or the company’s mission and values and then zoom it back in to the issue at hand.
Zoom in. If you can you can get them saying “yes” on minor points (or even points that are not in contention), you change the nature of the discussion and make it easier to come to an agreement.
You can even have a series of easy questions, that all have the answer “yes,” in order to move from gridlock to dialogue.
In the example of the 2 project managers:
Dave: “Tom, we’ve been butting heads on this issue all week” (Tom nods “yes”)
Dave: “Going ’round and ’round is getting us nowhere, right?”
Tom: “You’re right on that!” (a second “yes”)
Dave: “It seems the problem boils down to us both wanting the same resources at the same time.” (Dave goes for agreement on what the problem is)
Tom: “That about sums it up.” (a third “yes”)
Dave: “So, if we could find a way to use different resources or the same resources, but at different times, then our problem would be solved, right?” (Dave sets up for another way of thinking about the problem).
Tom: “Yeah, but I don’t see how that would happen.” (a fourth “yes,” qualified with skepticism)
At this point, Tom is opening to hear some of Dave’s ideas, which might wisely include bringing in a 3rd party perspective. Gridlock has turned to dialogue.
5. Focus on Solutions
In a gridlocked conversation, the problem often seems to be the other person. You end up in a “You vs. Me” battle.
Win or lose, you lose.
If you win, it is a hollow victory if the other person feels resentful and vindictive towards you.
Another approach is “We vs. the Problem.” It’s not You vs. Me, it’s We vs. the Problem. This has the advantage of encouraging cooperation and is a useful mindshift. An even more productive mindshift is “We Find a Solution.”
It’s not that understanding problems isn’t important. But as humans, we have a tendency to get mired in the problems. The reason we tend to focus on problems rather than solutions is that our brains are prediction machines, continually trying to predict outcomes of actions while at the same time trying to minimize risk and maximize reward. Problems are often based on past experience, so it is easier to focus on them. Solutions lie in the uncertain future.
Here are a few ways to get started on focusing on solutions:
Simplify the situation by stating the major clear goals (don’t start with a comprehensive, detailed list).
Big Picture. Think whole to parts. Consider the big picture first and then the relevant details.
Small Steps. Act parts to whole. Solve small parts, in small steps. Consider trial solutions to gather data as to feasibility.
Minimize problems with the possible solution, at first. Give the solution a chance to grow in the imaginations before you allow people to snipe at it (“let’s focus on how this can work before we pick it apart”)
In the example with the project engineers, Dave might have proposed the following trial solution:
Dave: “Tom, would you be willing to try an idea for 3 days? Asha and Jake are willing to work overtime–up to 12 hours a day each, 6 hours for each of our projects. Actually, they both would like the extra money and are OK with working hard for a few weeks. I got the OK from John to try it for a few days, if you are agreeable. He said there would be enough money in the budget to do it for a month, if it works out. Are you willing to try it for 3 days?”
Tom: “Well, I guess we could try it. It will probably push out the schedule. But for 3 days . . . let’s do it.”
Move your conversations from gridlock to dialogue: Stop. Listen. Clarify. Agree. Focus on Solutions.
I’d love to hear what works for you!
“In solving a problem, think whole to parts, but act parts to whole.” –Diane Windingland
This post is 6th in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.
This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus: How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect
Aside from sleep, work takes up most of our time. And, the most challenging aspects of work are often the clashes with coworkers, clients, management or employees.
Learning how to cope with work relationship problems strategically will reduce your stress and make your job easier.
Psychologists say you can cope by solving a problem (problem-focused coping), or you can cope by avoiding a problem (emotion-focused coping). Ideally, solving a problem would permanently remove the stress, but as some problems are not easily solved, avoiding the problem also will result in stress reduction. Often, you can engage in problem avoidance strategies while simultaneously working on solutions.
The steps are outlined below:
1. Understand the problem and determine the desired outcome. Maybe this is obvious, but don’t make assumptions about the problem and don’t try to solve a problem without knowing what you want as an outcome. Let’s take the problem of an employee who habitually comes in late as an example. You could assume that the employee is late because of poor planning or a lackadaisical attitude, and deal with the problem punitively, or you could find out why the employee is late (maybe their childcare provider is habitually late) and help them explore solutions, while setting clear expectations.
2. Plan. Consider solution approaches.
- Adapt a solution from a similar situation—consider using solutions that have worked in similar situations. Have you had other employees come in late? What have you done? If you don’t have a highly similar situation, consider a similar situation, maybe even from your personal life. If your teenager is late for school, how do you cope with that?
- Use a Process. Some relationship problems occur regularly. Have a proven process in place, and maybe even a script. Once you have had a problem, take notes! When it happens again, review the notes and develop a process. If you work for a large company, your HR department may already have processes in place. Having a process in place encourages consistency and fairness, and saves you the time you might agonize over what to do.
- Model the problem with role-playing. Practice your solution. At the very least, do a dry-run in your head. Better yet, practice with someone else.
- Divide and conquer. Break down a big, complex problem into smaller, more easily solvable problems. Perhaps there are multiple problems that contribute to the problem of being late. Consider addressing the smaller problems first.
- Use Trial-and-Error. Trial-and-Error can be preferable to doing nothing, if the steps are small and without grave consequences. In the case of the late employee, you can start with simply asking the employee to come in on time and telling the employee why it’s important (to both the company and the employee). If that does not yield the desired results, you can try having a problem-solving discussion, perhaps using a “divide and conquer” approach. Then, if lateness is still an issue, you can try something else, like a written agreement, spelling out expectations and consequences for not meeting the expectations.
- Brainstorm: You can do this alone, but you can also do it with another person, or in a group, if the issue is not confidential. Brainstorming a large number of solutions (let the Post-It Notes fly!) and then reduce the number of solutions by using the above methods.
3. Do. Carry out your solution plan.
4. Check. Check your results.
5. Adjust. If the outcome is not achieved, consider adjusting your understanding, your desired outcome and your solution approach.
6. Consider problem avoidance strategies. A few avoidance strategies:
- Ignore. Some problems, especially if they are minor and not likely to recur aren’t worth the energy to solve, or to even avoid. (e.g. someone is late to work because they were in a car accident).
- Separate. Physically separate the problem or conflict-inducing entities. Move seats. Adjust schedules.
- Redirect. Change the subject to one on which there is agreement.
- Distract. Distract yourself or the other person with something more engaging, preferably something that is fun, relaxing or mentally stimulating in a way that is very different than the problem at hand. Give yourself a “time-out” from the problem by going to the employee lounge, listening to music, or switching to a task that you are excited about.
- Reframe. Look at the problem another way. Consider the significance to the “big picture” or to a longer timeline. Ask yourself, “will this matter in 5 years?” Consider how the problem might look from another individuals point of view. Or, better yet, ask yourself, “what is the opportunity in this problem?” An employee’s poor communication skills become an opportunity for learning. Loss of a major client becomes an opportunity to grow existing clients and find new, possibly better clients.
- Delay. Put it off until “later.” Agree to address the problem at a later time, if putting it off won’t have dire consequences.
- Avoid Triggers. With experience, you will learn that certain things may trigger or escalate a problem. It’s often easy to see what triggers other people, but you have your own triggers, too. For example, when people are late for an appointment with me, I find that somewhat irritating. I used to find it extremely irritating. I have avoided triggering my anger response by modifying my own behavior. I have a plan in place. First, I almost always confirm appointments the day before with an email. Second, if someone is more than 10 minutes late, I call them and ask if they are on their way (which means that I have taken the time to make sure I have their cell phone number). Third, if I end up waiting, I always have something to do, rather than fume (with a smart phone, this is easy—email, Facebook, Kindle Reader and more are available). Finally, if necessary, I will reschedule.
Do you have any additional coping strategies for solving, or temporarily avoiding problems?
This post is 5th in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.
It was a lesson I learned playing tug-of-war in gym class: None of us is as powerful as all of us.
Even the weakest of us had power that could make a difference. Nobody had to “empower” us.
Empowerment is a concept that on the surface sounds good, until you really think about what it means. The prefix “em” means to “put into.” To empower people is to put power into them, to enable them to do something. Well, that’s better than complete domination, but it is still top-down control.
What if companies went beyond mere empowerment and instead maximized everyone’s power?
Not power to dominate. Power to liberate. Power to create. Power to share.
Shared power leads to shared knowledge. Shared knowledge leads to better performance. Better performance leads to better results.
Here are 4 ways to get started with power sharing:
- Ask. Ask people, “What do you need to provide your best value to this organization?” or, “What needs to change for you to provide your best value?”
- Share information and resources. Provide information and resources (including training) that others may not even realize can help them provide their best value.
- Share roles and responsibilities. Consider co-facilitation of meetings, for example. Some roles and responsibilities could even be rotated, which will also deepen empathy and understanding among team members. Or, you could let someone who reports to you at work attend a meeting in your place.
- Share reasons. Better yet, develop the reasons “why” together. People buy in to what they help create.
How have you shared power?
“In the past a leader was a boss. Today’s leaders must be partners with their people . . . they no longer can lead solely based on positional power.” –Ken Blanchard
This post is 4th in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.
This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus: How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect
Study after study shows that greater engagement leads to greater retention, better satisfaction, better health and higher profits.
If engagement is so good, what are you doing personally, every day, to increase engagement at work or in your business?
Engagement can be not only part of an overall organizational engagement strategy, but it also can be part of your personal engagement strategy. Your engaging personally, connecting with people one-on-one, creating moments of connection, builds up an emotional bank account, which can grow your business or your career. It also can create a cushion of loyalty when times get tough.
Isn’t that worth 2 minutes a day?
Here are some simple, 2-minute actions you can take every day to build up that emotional bank account with others:
1. Chit Chat. Really. You can start talking about the weather, even. Start with something you both have in common.
Things in common = similarity –>increased connection.
Try this simple, yet effective small talk technique:
a. Observe. Make a comment on something that you and the other person can both observe or that you have in common (event, situation, something you see). It doesn’t need to be witty.
b. Transition. (optional) Make a transition comment that relates #a (your observation) to #c (the question) by revealing a tidbit of information about yourself. You can often skip the transition, but by revealing a tidbit of information about yourself, you foster a sense of connection.
c. Ask. Ask a question.
d. Comment. Follow up with a comment relevant to their response.
e. Ask another question and continue a little back and forth chit chat.
For example, let’s say you are walking by someone’s desk and you notice a family picture.
Observe: What a good-looking family!
Transition: That reminds me of when my kids were little.
Ask: How old are your kids? (response: 1, 3 and 7)
Comment: I bet they keep you busy!
Ask another question: Are you doing anything fun with them this summer?
To extend the moment of connection, take note of some details of the conversation to bring up at a later time. I know I feel more connected with people who remember some details about me or what we talked about. For my business clients, I record details of conversations on a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool and add scheduled tasks to remind me to touch base.
For example, I was working with a client on a presentation and I knew that the presentation was going to be in a week, on Friday. I put a task in my CRM tool to send her an email on Thursday wishing her well on her presentation. She told me twice, once in email and once in person how much she appreciated my brief words of encouragement.
2. Invite them to something you are already going to.
- Meals. You have to eat. Why not use that time to build relationships?
- Events/Activities. Do you share an interest? Why not invite them to join you?
- Volunteer effort for a charitable cause that both you and they care about.
- Meetings, if appropriate.
3. Show sincere appreciation.
Don’t just say thank you. Make your thanks be sincere, timely and show significance.
Sincere = from the heart, not just a perfunctory “thank you.”
Timely = as soon as reasonably possible
Show significance = to illuminate the significant impact their action had
When possible, make your appreciation public. Public appreciation, at a meeting for example, not only lets you express your gratitude, but you also elevate the person in the eyes of others.
4. Use multiple modes of communication.
In-person is great, but not always practical. What other ways does the person communicate? Phone. Text. Email. Skype. Google Hangouts. Chat. Direct messages on Twitter. Facebook or LinkedIn messages. A quick video. Or, go old-school and send something snail mail. Just make sure that you aren’t forcing the other person to communicate in ways they don’t want to.
You never know where attempting moments of connection will lead you! A few years ago, I did an assignment for a class which required doing an exercise on someone’s website. I was so impressed with the exercise that I blogged about it and then sent a link to that blog post to the creator of the exercise. She was pleased that I saw value in the exercise and that I promoted its use. From there, we connected on social media sites, email, phone and Skype. We eventually co-authored a book together. Several months after the book was published, we met in person for the first time.
What can you communicate to increase connection?
- Provide information or resources you think they would appreciate (but don’t sell)
- Offer congratulations
- Offer appreciation (see #3)
- Provide an introduction to someone they would like to meet
- Respond timely to their communications with you
That last one, responding timely, is a deal-breaker for me. When someone doesn’t respond to my emails, it makes me feel like I’m not very important to them. Of course, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, realizing that my email might have gotten trapped in their spam filter or that their response time is just slower (personally, I try to get back to people within 24 hours in most cases). Even if your complete response will take a while, at least get back with people to let them know you received the email and will get back with them by a certain date.
Do you have quick ways to create moments of connection with employees, co-workers, or clients?
This post is 3rd in the series 7 Principles of Making Relationships Work at Work.
This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus: How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect
Respect costs little, but the benefits to productivity, a positive work culture and bottom line profits are priceless!
(second in the series based on the blog post 7 Principles for Making Relationships Work at Work).
Try these simple tips!
1. Be considerate (the Platinum Plus Rule)
Being considerate is more than just mere politeness. It means taking the focus off yourself and considering others’ perspectives and treating them as they would wish to be treated (the Platinum Rule, which I slightly modified to be the Platinum Plus Rule: treat other people the way their best self would want your best self to treat them).
The challenge here is to get outside of your own head. Try to zoom out of your own perspective and look at situations from the perspective of the other person, or even that of an impartial observer to get the big picture. Play an imaginary game of perspective chairs.
Of course, to truly be considerate, to treat other people as they would want to be treated, you have to know people both generally and specifically. Learning about people and how to get along with them generally is a critical part of a professional development plan. Books, classes, websites and assessments abound to help you better understand people.
Try taking a simple assessment to understand your own personality. Or, your entire group could take an assessment and you could map out the personalities. Just for fun, I took one of the many free DISC personality tests online (the DISC personality test measures 4 factors of personality: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance). Here are my results from 123test.com
Your scores, especially the highest and lowest scores, can give you some insight as to where you might have some perspective issues. As I scored very low on compliance, I might, for example, butt heads with someone on sticking to rules. What I might see as an efficient way to get something done (by circumventing rules), might seem risky to someone with a higher compliance score.
Getting to know people generally, however, does not take the place of getting to know them more specifically. That kind of knowledge can best be obtained by spending time with them. It can be as simple as stopping by someone’s desk (MBWA–Management By Walking Around) instead of emailing them or texting them. Or, get out of the office and have a “Walking Meeting.” A little change of scenery and some exercise are bonuses!
3. Listen to and encourage ideas
It’s hard to know people if you never listen to them. Listening, not just waiting for your turn to talk, is probably the number one way to show respect, and to find out what makes them tick. The magic combo is to listen and to encourage ideas, chiefly by asking questions and providing positive verbal encouragement (“tell me more about that . . . ” and body language (leaning forward, nodding, pleasant expression). Not only will you get some good ideas, but the other person will feel valued and respected. Some behaviors to avoid when listening:
- Don’t use negative non-verbals such as: eye-rolling, head-shaking, sighing
- Don’t use stop-sign statements. These are statements that are like a big red stop sign (Examples: “You’re wrong.” or “That’s stupid) . If the other person keeps talking after you have thrown up a stop-sign statement, they risk getting run over. If you feel the urge to say something like “you’re wrong,” ask a question instead (in a friendly “we’re-all-in-this-together” tone). “I don’t quite understand how that will work . . . can you show me how . . .?”
4. Make empathetic requests
Nobody likes to be told to do things, even if you say “please” at the start. The secret to having people feel respected when you make a request (and also one of the secrets to getting them to comply) is to couch the request in terms of their point of view, empathizing with their situation and then explaining the importance of your request.
So instead of saying: “Christine, can you please organize the prospective membership database?”
Try saying: “Christine, I can only imagine how busy you are having to deal with all the requests from the newly elected officers, but our recruitment kick-off is coming up soon and we need to get all the prospective members information organized. We need you to get that information together in the next month. Is that reasonable?”
5. Focus on facts, not assumptions
“The road to hell is paved with bad assumptions.” –Diane Windingland
A misunderstood person does not feel respected. Most misunderstandings stem from people making bad assumptions.
Here’s an example that happened to my husband, Kim, at work when he was a young engineer in his 20s:
Manager: How long have you lived in this country?
Kim: I grew up here.
Manager: Well, why don’t you learn English?
Ouch. The manager assumed that my husband had poor grammar because he didn’t “learn English.” The problem was that my husband was hearing impaired, due to an unfortunate encounter with a firecracker when he was six. He didn’t speak correctly because he didn’t hear correctly. It would have been more respectful for the manager to focus on the facts, such as saying (in a private conversation): “Communicating effectively is an important part of working with people. I notice when you speak that you sometimes leave the ends off words. Were you aware of this?”
6. Create an inclusive culture
Treat people fairly regardless of race, color, political views, gender, age, etc. Make diversity training a part of your work environment. Focus also on similarities–however people are different, they are more the same than different. People who can see similarities despite differences are more likely to like and respect each other. Team-building activities can encourage bonding and create shared experiences, which increase feelings of similarity.
Beyond diversity issues, freely share information and resources, where confidentiality is not an issue.
7. Offer sincere praise generously
Having a positive to negative ratio of at least 3 positives to every 1 negative will increase people’s productivity, according to researcher Barbara Fredrickson.
Effective praise is:
- sincere (not manipulative),
- timely (a once-a-year performance review is not enough)
- specific (as to what was observed and the positive impact)
Try keeping a praise log to record positive performance.
Encourage others to catch someone doing something well! Where my husband works, they have an informal program that allows anyone to recognize anyone else with a small reward (a gift card).
I’d love to hear specific ways you, your business or where you work shows respect!
This content is also featured in, The Respect Virus: How to Create a Contagious Culture of Respect