We Stink at Conflict!

Accountability Organizational culture Productivity


Key Point: If you stink at conflict, you will shortchange your ability to flourish as an individual, contributor and leader. Dr. Liane Davey has a great book, You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done. It is an insightful and useful book that outlines very practical ways of working together. Davey’s view is that building great teams starts with you. Those of you familiar with the self-accountability element of The Character Triangle will resonate with this “You First” philosophy. The author goes on to highlight and elaborate on five key areas for building great teams: Starting with a positive assumption, adding your full value, amplifying other voices, knowing when to say “no” and “yes”, and embracing productive conflict. Each area is important but I want to focus on conflict.

Over my 40 plus working years, conflict avoidance and/or dysfunctional behavior can be toxic to individuals, teams and organization culture. On the other hand, constructive and productive conflict is vital. We need to embrace each other’s views and that means embracing valuable productive and necessary disagreement.

Learning how to have fierce, crucial, and rich conversations is a key part of the productive conflict ethos. Davey describes four pillars to help us get better at making conflict a highly valued process: 1. Mind-set for constructive conflict. 2. Forum for conflict. 3. The right words. 4. Embracing Feedback.

Character Moves:

  1. Assess whether you have a mind-set that is open to and seeks out productive conflict. Be honest. Do you avoid conflict? When you do get into it, to what extent do things deteriorate and conclude with a disappointing outcome?
  2. Determine whether you openly model and provide real, safe room for constructive conflict. How do you do it? What framework guides you?
  3. Do you know what words or phrases open up constructive dialogue or tend to discourage it? If you can’t write down at least five words/phrases and the implications, you have a learning opportunity. Do you know how to ask “what if” questions?
  4. Determine whether you are a feedback master. If you haven’t practiced in front of a video camera, with side-by-side coaching, it’s hard to get there.

P.S. check out Davey’s Productive Conflict Health Check (pg. 212 of her book)

Productive conflict in The Triangle,



Diversity is Not Inclusion

Accountability Collaboration Teamwork


DiversityKey Point: Diversity in organizations is vital, but by itself it doesn’t mean inclusion. Enlightened organizations have been consciously pursuing proactive diversity strategies for at least the last 30 years. In many places, organizations have made great strides in acknowledging and celebrating diverse groups. In annual reports and elsewhere, institutions often proudly point to gender, racial and orientation statistics to demonstrate that the concept is alive and well. In fact, highly diverse workplaces can get complacent in moving to a whole new level by missing out on the ultimate value of diverse thinking. The key part of optimizing the full richness and broadest definition of diversity is INCLUSION. Google describes their inclusion tenant this way: “We strive to cultivate a wholly inclusive workplace everywhere we operate in the world. We want all Googlers to love coming to work every day, not just for their projects and the great perks, but for the inclusive culture where they can feel free to be themselves and thrive.”

Diversity is the mix. But INCLUSION is putting that mix to work. That is a powerful notion and takes individual and collective intention. At one level we have a long way to go. We can still get trapped staring at what’s ON someone’s head versus focusing on what’s IN someone’s head. And ALL of us (even those highly practiced in teaching diversity) have biases, often unconscious and deeply rooted. And furthermore, these biases exist as insidious, nuanced, nearly invisible micro-inequities like the joke about (you pick the group) that we know is really not funny. This is way beyond the defensive howl of, “oh that’s just ‘political correctness’.”

Embracing the incredible angles of diverse thinking in our organizations requires a much deeper understanding AND practice of what being inclusive means. This involves ridding the organization of fear. Organization safety must extend way beyond the steel-toed work boots and the defibrillator. It includes psychological safety so people, like Google says, “can feel free to be themselves and thrive.” On the other hand, being oneself and thriving means embracing a self-accountable responsibility to team members, the organization and others. It is not a ticket to act in hurtful ways under the guise of diversity and inclusivity.

You may think you are way beyond this blog, that you’re enlightened, and ultra hip with identity theory, diversity/inclusiveness. You may think this reflection is for other generations and not yours (especially if you’re a gen Y). HA! That’s what I thought too.

Character Moves:

  1. Recognize that being inclusive means accepting your imperfection and being humble. At the same time, if you continuously play the “political correctness excuse” in your head, be aware of where you really are on the inclusive journey. Find out. Take a self-diagnostic tool like the Intercultural Development Inventory. You will likely be surprised and challenged by the results to more consciously develop your inclusive skills. (PS… I have, and found it very useful )
  2. Appreciate that leadership and inclusiveness are not intuitive. It takes deep self-awareness and practice. Attending or recognizing the customs or celebrations of cultural groups is cool and necessary but NOT sufficient to lead with genuine inclusiveness.
  3. Recognize that all practices to improve inclusion will add to your leadership skills. Investment in your ability to be inclusive needs to be intentional while becoming an internalized part of your ethos.

Inclusive in the Triangle,



The Leadership Paradox

Accountability Organizational leadership Personal leadership


Key Point: The demands and expectations regarding leadership mirror the incredible pressures and turbulence facing organizations today. Are leaders equipped to thrive in this rapidly changing and increasingly demanding work environment? According to the CEB, a member based advisory company with 10,000 organizations representing 85 percent of both the Fortune 500 and FTSE 100, a recent survey concluded that almost one third would change their leadership teams if given the chance. Wow! In 2003, the same survey stated that 12 percent would want to replace their teams. In parallel, a 2013 survey involving 23,000 senior leaders noted the following increased expectations: 80 percent have been given more responsibility, 76 percent have broader objectives, and 65 percent understand they have to deliver business results faster.

With this incredible speed-based performance pressure, I believe several key paradoxical elements are emerging as powerful considerations in redefining leadership.

1. Be caring and tough.

On an attribute or value-based level, leaders must be capable of being both caring and tough without feeling compromised or conflicted. These paradoxical attributes best exist in parallel based on a foundation of deep respect for people. Leaders today need both (see my previous blog on this).

2. Be individual and networked.

Leaders have to be able to motivate, inspire and optimize individual performance, while being able to connect with a network of people to achieve desired results; many who may not be in his/her direct organizational control. Individual performance is optimized only if it flows through the entire organization, people, and process network, concluding with real value for a stakeholder.

3. Be vertical and horizontal.

Business process effectiveness and transformation will continue to be important, but the ability to influence and drive multi-directional performance will be more important than ever. Leadership will be as much or more about networked flow instead of top down alignment. Yet alignment to a meaningful purpose and strategic intent will continue to inspire and promote commitment.

4. Be diverse and inclusive.

Diversity of experience, background and thought will take on greater importance, and the ability to embrace it will be powerful. At the same time, having an inclusive mind and skill set will be vital. Differences need to be treated as an important resource, and the path to tapping into diversity depends on being more inclusive.

Character Moves:

  1. Recognize that leadership is individual leverage AND influencing the collective, networked flow of optimizing people, technology and capital towards a sustainably valued state of organization being. Continue to develop leadership assets as an individual with the ability to execute and transform. Find out what additional skills you need to develop in order to be a network leader, collaborator and influencer.
  2. Invest in being both diverse and inclusive. Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is about making the mix work. Be inclusive with deep personal intent.
  3. Care enough to make the tough decisions and make these with care. The ability to make choices about how to deploy people, technology and capital is a privilege, and requires a foundation of respect. Embrace respect as a core leadership value.

Paradox leadership in the Triangle




Feeling Attacked in Conversation

Empathy Growth mindset Respect


Key Point: Early in my career and marriage I was a defensive expert whenever I felt challenged in a conversation. I still need to be wary of falling into this trap. I wasn’t fully aware of this behavior except retrospectively, when I tried to figure out what went wrong and why the conversation became an argument. I hadn’t really learned tools to both observe and control slipping into defensiveness. However, learning how to be non-defensive during conversations is a great life skill. And most of us learn how to effectively navigate through this feeling of being attacked or challenged through a long period of trial and error. Hopefully this blog will give you some insight and tools to deftly move conversations forward without being sidetracked by being defensive.

First of all, we need to be aware why and when we become defensive and the relationship damage it causes. When we are defensive, we usually stop listening and spend more energy defending and perhaps even retaliating. It slows us down from attending to the issue we are addressing through dialogue. And when we realize we are behaving defensively we can even get defensive about being defensive. This usually triggers the same response in the other person.

I recently read “Don’t Get Defensive: Communication Tips for the Vigilant” by Dr. Mark Goulston, and I wanted to share it with all my readers. It is excellent advice and ideally you will add the techniques cited below into your effective conversation tool-kit. I’ve added exerts into my Character Moves below.

Character Moves:

  1. Learn the “three strikes and you’re in” technique. After someone has said something that causes you to arch your back and want to become defensive: Strike One – Think of the first thing you want to say or do and don’t do that. Instead, take a deep breath. That is because the first thing you want to do is defend yourself against what you perceive as an attack, slight, or offense. Strike Two – Think of the second thing you want to say or do and don’t do that, either. Take a second breath. That is because the second thing you want to do after being attacked is to retaliate. That is only going to escalate matters. Strike Three – Think of the third thing you want to say or do and then do that. That is because once you get past defending yourself and retaliating, you have a better chance of seeking a solution.
  2. Learn how to become a “Plusser.” A plusser is someone who listens to what the other person says and then builds on it. One way of plussing is to use the phrase, “Say more about ______.” Think of the words they used that had the most emphasis and invite them to say more about that topic. You will buy yourself time to think and calm down, let your counterpart feel heard, and disarm a counterpart who has bad intentions. Another way to do it is to say, “If we do that, what would be the next step to keep it going?” or “If we do this, what would be the way to get the most out of it?”
  3. Learn to replace “yes but” with ” yes and.” As you probably know, when you say, “yes, but” they hear, “everything up to now was just being polite and should be disregarded; now I’m going to tell you what the real deal is and you better pay attention.” (Isn’t it amazing how “yes, but” can mean so much more?). “Yes, and” validates what has been said — and adds to it. For example, “Yes, that’s a good point and to make it work even better…” or “Yes, I heard everything you said and help me figure out the way to make sure it gets incorporated…” If you often find yourself in defensive conversations where you can’t figure out why you’re arguing — if you find yourself frequently saying, “Hey, I think we actually agree here…” — you might be guilty of saying “yes, but” when you actually mean “yes, and.”

Non-defensive in The Triangle



Are You Growing Your Personal Equity?

Accountability Contribution Organizational culture


Key Point: What is your net worth? What is your overall net value in the market place? The most common definition of individual net worth of course is financial: Your total assets minus total liabilities. For most people the largest single material asset earned in a lifetime is a house with no mortgage. That “paid for” house, a pension savings plan, other assets earned, along with little or no debt defines one’s ability to retire… Whatever that means these days.

But what if we approached work and life with a more comprehensive definition of net worth? What if we thought way beyond material assets versus liabilities and considered all that made us richer in a more complete way. When we conclude working in a job, company or lifetime career, my view is that we could be much better off if we think about building our overall personal equity, rather than the narrower (although very important) definition of financial net worth. When we add more skill, we are worth more. When we learn how to navigate tough issues, solve problems, innovate, build meaningful relationships, become healthier physically, emotionally and spiritually, our total personal equity increases. When we learn how to give and share knowledge, have an impact, and inspire others we also become more treasured. And when that happens, if we choose, our ability to monetize our net value or personal equity improves too.

Organizations are under such severe market pressure that a genuine offer of long-term employment is unreasonable, if not impossible. A job that was important last year may be expendable this year at any position or level. North America currently has more of a skill and competence shortage than unemployment challenge. You and I honestly don’t really know if we will still be employed at the same job a year from now. But we do know that we have to continuously develop our TOTAL selves to be sustainably marketable.

Character Moves:

  1. Find an organization that commits to the total you versus just giving you a job. They will be committed, assuming you do your part also, to invest in your total personal equity growth.
  2. Commit to finding leaders who think like this. They exist. Then pledge to take full advantage of investment opportunities in yourself. Like I noted in my previous blog, “you’re worth it!”

Personal equity in the Triangle,



Would They Fight for You?

Accountability Contribution Management


Key Point: Let’s say you resigned from your current job and organization. You walk into your boss’s office and give your notice. How would he/she react? Would they be sincerely disappointed about losing your contribution? Even if they could replace your competence and skills, would they miss your attributes? Would they fight to keep you? When they asked why you were leaving, what would you say? Then let’s say you went for a coffee with your most trusted friend at work. If they asked you why you were leaving, how much would the answer to the question change? What would you say to that person you might not state publicly because you want to leave on a high note?

Now let’s say you’re the boss and one of your most valuable people came into your office and resigned? What would you say to them? Would you fight to keep them? What if you were capable of turning the clock back six months? What would you do differently or better to keep that person?

Respond to the following as an employee, and if appropriate, as a boss:

(On a scale of 1-10):

1. How really engaged are you at work?

2. How fair and competitive do you think pay, benefits and other rewards are?

3. How would you rate the match between your personal values and the organization’s values?

4. How seriously and effectively does your boss/company seek out your feedback and suggestions?

5. How much are you learning? Getting better as a person? Getting better as a leader?

6. How much does your boss really care about YOU and your development?

7. How much do you learn from teammates?


1. Is your learning and advancement path clear to you?

2. Do you have all the tools you need to be successful in your job?

3. Does your role have real value, purpose and feel like more than just a job?

4. Do you feel you’re in control of your career path and progression?

5. Are you recognized for your contributions?

6. Is it fun? Do you laugh every day?

7. Are you balanced between what you like to do? Are good at? And providing real value to others?

8. Are you helpful and in meaningful service to others?

Character Moves:

  1.  Answering positively or not to these questions will tell you how much things are on the right track. What are you going to do about your answers? When? How?
  2. Regardless of what your boss or company might say or do, fight for yourself. You’re worth it.
  3. If you are privileged to be a boss, fight to be the best at helping your direct reports answer positively to these questions. You and they are worth it!

Best fighting in The Triangle,