I’ve emphasized in previous blogs the benefit and value of constructive disagreement in organizations. Last week I outlined some basic skills for being able to conduct what some people describe as crucial conversations. But what happens when people or departments go to “war” with each other? We would like to think that this doesn’t happen but it does. So how should we react?
William Ury, the renowned mediator has some powerful insight for us. Lately he has been emphasizing the concept of the “third side.”
The following is Ury’s brief explanation to the third side idea. In any conflict there are two sides. But Ury emphasizes that there is also a third side. The third side is the rest of us who have a stake in the conflict, you and me.
“The third side has respect for both sides and respect for the whole. The third side is a container for contention — for creative contention. The third side is a container within which the conflict, the real issues… can be actively engaged and transformed. In other words, the form can be transformed from the destructive behavior into dialogue, negotiation, and democracy. The aim of the third side isn’t so much resolution, as the transformation of the conflict. Let’s stand for a peaceful transformation of this conflict.”
ACTION: In practical terms in our daily work life, the first thing we can do is recognize that the third side, of which we are part, has a serious say and stake in the resolution. We can facilitate a resolution. Part of this is getting both sides to respect and understand each other and help define a better state beyond the conflict.
The tools introduced in the crucial conversation blog would be useful to facilitate the dialogue. The other thing is to do what Ury describes metaphorically and literally as “taking a walk.” This simply is getting out of our chairs to make the effort and get know other people and departments. That gesture, if we made a serious effort to do so, builds a lot bridges. People who walk together tend to see each other side by side and in concert.
We are the third side. We can and have an obligation to make the first and second sides better and more peaceful. Watching passively is not acceptable.
Live in the triangle and take a walk,
PS. When you can, please take 20 minutes to watch Ury’s video.
“A colostomy reroutes the colon so that waste products leave the body through a hole in the abdomen, and it isn’t anyone’s idea of a picnic. A University of Michigan-led research team studied patients whose colostomies were permanent and patients who had a chance of someday having their colostomies reversed. Six months after their operations, patients who knew they would be permanently disabled were happier than those who thought they might someday be returned to normal.”
“Why would we prefer to know the worst than to suspect it? Because when we get bad news we weep for a while, and then get busy making the best of it. We change our behavior, we change our attitudes. We raise our consciousness and lower our standards. We find our bootstraps and tug. But we can’t come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don’t yet know. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait.”
In the current work environment for most of us, regardless of position or tenure, there is very little certainty. In fact I believe uncertainty is the new normal so although Gilbert’s point is valid, we have to accept uncertainty as certainty or we will struggle to find a reasonable level of happiness at work. The antidote is acceptance and understanding that whatever you and I have at work is temporary. We need to savor the moment and continuously prepare for the inevitable change that is around the corner. Connecting back to Gilbert’s earlier point, this means always being in a bootstrap mode regarding our personal development. A backup plan by its existence then gives each of us a little more certainty.
When people come to me in my role as CEO looking for assurance, the only real certainty I can give them is to confirm their belief in the likelihood of material future change is warranted, and to prepare as best as they can. So rather than getting nervous and becoming mesmerized by inevitable change, we all need to get going on our personal development plans to become more sought after and skilled contributors.
Being able to successfully navigate a crucial conversation is a vital skill for each of us to develop. Do we have a defined process and tools to do so?
A respected friend and leader introduced me to Crucial Conversations, written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. The authors and I have learned the importance of being able to conduct a conversation when the stakes are high. As a CEO I can honestly state that the skillful ability of individuals and groups to conduct tough minded, constructive dialogue is one of the distinguishing differences between failure and success. I believe when we have the right growth mindset, foundation values (The Character Triangle), and tools, we can literally talk about any issue with anyone and come to a better state of being. However we need the recipe and practice. As an example, the authors introduce the concept of CRIB to get past cross purposes. The C (commit to a mutual purpose) ; R (recognize the purpose behind the strategy) ; I (invent a mutual purpose); B (brainstorm new strategies).
This little tool set is just one of a number introduced in the book. The point is to recognize that having a successful crucial conversation is a learned process that requires understanding and purposeful practice. What process and tools do you use?
In order to fully embrace the value of RESPECT, I believe we have to be crucial conversation “certified.” Becoming skillful at doing this will improve your contribution and relations in and out of work.
Buy yourself a holiday present. Invest in being able to conduct a crucial conversation. (Note: there are other solid processes and tools in addition to those offered by Vitalsmarts. I have no commercial arrangement with them but they come highly endorsed.)
$@#& happens at work. Labeling it as “bad” may be a waste of time.
Many who rise triumphantly never label what they go through as bad and lament over it. They simply take it as a given as if they were a civil engineer surveying the landscape through which a road is being built. In this view, a swamp is not a bad thing. It is merely something that has to be addressed in the construction plan. This is quote from Srikumar S. Rao, Ph.D and the author of Are You Ready to Succeed and Happiness at Work. His class, taught to MBA students, on Creativity and Personal Mastery is literally world renowned.
Here is what I know as a leader of organizations and observing people who thrive at work. When adversity hits them, they do not focus on bad. They quickly realize that it is a waste of their energy. In fact they seem to understand that they really are often not in a position to know if it is good or bad (although it feels bad). As an example, how many people have been demoted or worse, only to realize that it was the classic “blessing in disguise”? They also see these situations as great opportunities for personal growth and development.
This may sound like “mushy happy” talk to skeptics but I’ve observed the benefits of people applying positive resilience over and over again. At the same time I’ve seen people wallow in the world of bad. They mentally give up or shrink and often mope around for extended periods of time looking like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh.
Abundant thinking is a mind set and belief that we have the right and ability to choose happiness. When we’re in the swamp, that means accepting the situation and finding an alternative to move forward. Our best choice is to find the good. It is there if we look hard enough.
Look in the mirror and have a self coaching session: outline expectations, give recognition and engage in constructive dialogue. Establish a development plan.
Seth Godin, in his recent blog “The World’s Worst Boss”, is right on when he emphasizes that you and I are our own bosses even if we’re not self employed. I’m not sure that I agree with him that we are the world’s worst bosses to ourselves but here are few points worth reflecting on:
How do we talk to ourselves? Do we self coach? Self recognize? Self celebrate small wins?
What is our personal development plan? Who are we getting mentored by? What feedback are we using to help us move forward? What are two or three thing we’re purposefully practicing? Is it written down?
What are things we’re doing that add value to ourselves and others? How do we know?
If we have a great boss that really cares and coaches us, we are darn lucky. In the meantime do not wait for someone to have that 1 on 1 coaching session with us. Have a 1 on 1 with the person in the mirror today. Encourage the wonderful person looking back at you to have a growth and positive mind set. Develop a growth plan by being self accountable, self respectful, and self abundant.
How much are we in control of our agenda at work? Some experts, including Edward Hallowell (Harvard Business Review regular author) suggest that 30 to 40% of our day involves unplanned interruptions. Some of those come from others and some from our own propensity to distract ourselves from doing work.
This is such a waste. The consequence to the organization we work for is a loss of productive time. However at a personal level there is research to reinforce that people are happier and more productive when we’re focused. At a personal level we are likely the biggest losers for a lack of focus.
Before I start my day, I determine specific objectives that I want to meet. I know I will have interruptions that are unplanned for but I try very hard not cause my own distractions. As a rule, I will not let my email or any technology disrupt me. Typically, I will not answer an unscheduled call. When I feel like I have my agenda under control I will review emails and check voice mail. Personal stuff like my personal email, Facebook, and Twitter is not on my schedule unless work related.
As a CEO I have the advantage of being the “boss,” having an executive assistant and other support. But I can assure you that I still have to have more discipline than ever to keep focused. I’m human too and some days are not as productive as others but the most precious resource is my focused time.
Part of self accountability is being honest about how focused we are. I challenge you to measure unplanned interruptions. Stop the ones you have control of. You’ll not only get more accomplished but be happier doing it.