What conflict and courage have in common

What conflict and courage have in common

leverage conflict


Just like spring breezes and pollen, conflict is in the air.

Contentious attitudes are everywhere. We find them in the media, in workplaces, in our social media feeds, in the streets, between friends, and at the dinner table. Civility and respect for other’s rights to have their opinions are beginning to feel as outdated as a wall calendar.

A number of people have shared how they’re struggling to stay calm and deal with the friction and discord swirling around them.

I’m struggling with that, too. You?

I’m also struggling with discovering I didn’t know people I thought I knew. It’s been hurtful to be on the receiving end of their unpleasant attacks. Their darkness tugs at some dark spot in me that cries out to respond in kind.

Lessons from a wise man


That feeling isn’t new. I experienced it back when I worked in labor relations and contentious was the flavor of the day, every day.

Joe had been a labor relations attorney longer than I was old and was willing to help me learn the ropes. The first lesson he taught me was how to disagree without being disagreeable; the second was not to make things personal by attacking others.

He believed conflict wasn’t logical or rational but rather emotional and relational. What we think shapes how we feel and act. For many, feelings become facts.

The same issues that lead to protracted conflict (e.g. values, status, and identify), are also the triggers of strong emotions. People who feel ‘unfairly attacked, misunderstood, wronged, or righteously indignant’ are typically overcome with emotion and respond with hostility and aggression. ~Michelle Maiese, Emotions, Beyond Intractability

Joe said only a silly person believed they could solve a conflict based in differences of opinion or perspective. He said people needed to accept that, in those situations, conflict is a fact of life.

Here’s his wise counsel for dealing clashes of interests:

  • See conflict as something ongoing that needs to be managed; not exterminated like termites.
  • Aim for a constructive, goal-oriented solution that gives everyone a small win.
  • Strive for outcomes that improve performance.
  • Look to advance the greater good; there’s something bigger than all of us out there.
  • Accept that differences of thought, opinion, and perspective are both healthy and uncomfortable.
  • Handled without skill, patience, or compassion, conflict can easily become ugly, leaving people frustrated and angry. Don’t go there. Find a way to let respect over-rule self-righteous anger.
  • Take the high road and be productive, not the low, unproductive one.

That last point about making conflict either productive or unproductive is crucial. Conflict, handled constructively, can be an instrument of growth. Handled unproductively, well, too many of us have experienced unpleasant attacks—that sometime get so bad that relationships and friendships are lost.

Wondering which side of that productive/not productive line you sit on? Imagine you’re a party to a conflict that’s flared up because of differing principles and values. Think about what you would normally do when you feel your needs, interests, or concerns are threatened. Then take a look at the table below.

If more of your actions fall on the left side of the table, take a step back and reflect. It’s likely you’re not letting people feel heard, respected, or free to voice a dissenting opinion. Aren’t those things you’d want people to do for you?

How conflict makes us productive…or not

Unproductive Productive
Refuses to see other’s position Open to exploring another point of view
Respond with anger or accusations Respond calmly and respectfully
Becomes defensive Acknowledges thoughts or feelings and doesn’t try to justify
Reasons or argues others out of their invalid thoughts and feelings Approaches issues with facts, not emotions, saying when you do xx in this situation, I feel yy
Withdraws love and compassion Continues to care and be compassionate
Nonverbal communications (facial expressions; posture; gestures; pace, tone, and intensity of voice) are hostile Nonverbals are agreeable, pleasant, nonthreatening, and friendly
Focuses on winning and losing Understands that success is more than a score or coming out on top
Passionately defends individual power and rights Seeks mutual interests
Dredges up the past Focuses on the here-and-now and the future
Refuses to let go of any contrary issue Knows when to pick a battle
Makes it personal Doesn’t let things become personal
Always goes with the gut; doesn’t see the need to research or seek to understand Gets the facts from checking multiple sources
Denies being wrong Shows courage and openness to being wrong
Co-mingles and conflates people and problems Respects people, attacks the problem
Jumps to conclusions Gathers additional information before deciding
Intolerant of differences Welcomes differences
Refuses to negotiate or compromise Aims for inclusive consensus
Is eager to escalate, exaggerate, or embellish Stays level-headed and keeps to the facts
Demands my-way-or-the-highway allegiance Commits to working together to work it out
Presumes that others will live up to and/or accept their expectations Gives others room to have their own expectations


Thanks to Joe all those years ago, today, whenever I’m facing a vocal someone who passionately sees things differently than I do and who’s starting to get under my skin because all they can say is that I’m wrong, wrong, wrong, I take a step back and think about their right to think differently.

I have to understand and respect that I’m never going to change someone else. Only they can do that.

I know I can’t control the other person’s response, but I’m in total control of mine.

I have endeavored to remember that the object of life is to do good. ~Peter Cooper, industrialist and philanthropist 


Image source before quote added: Pixabay




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Ready to create a chain reaction of goodness?

Ready to create a chain reaction of goodness?

leadership goodness


“You’re a total idiot! No one in their right mind thinks that way.”

Those words were from a conversation happening at the far end of the coffee shop. A conversatiion that kept getting louder and louder. Everyone in the shop knew the people back there were talking about immigration.

The “idiot” fellow had shared that immigrants deserved compassion. From the ugly debate and name-calling his words produced, it was obvious he was in the minority.

I was recently involved in a similar but less passionate discussion about regarding leadership. My conversation partner believed the best leaders were the ones who kicked butt and took names. I believe the best leaders practice tough empathy because effective leaders are both tough and tender.

My conversation partner was one of many in a long string of people who got worked up about leaders being tender and humane. That’s for wussies was their thinking.

Why are caring and connection so threatening?

Time for research.

I looked into emotion, fear, love, neuroscience, psychology, leadership, and change management.

Not defaulting to fear


Machiavelli’s words about fear—that it was more reliable because it can be “maintained by dread of punishment, which never fails” and that “it was safer to be feared than loved” popped up several places.

Safer. What a fascinating word choice. Machiavelli didn’t say fear was better than love, just safer.

Funny how a single word can unlock a whole new line of pondering—what’s so unsafe about a leader who cares?

A couple of answers popped into mind:

Expressing love does makes us vulnerable. We have to get close; fear can be elicited from a distance.

Detachment doesn’t ask for an emotional investment, empathy does.

Reaching out is harder and riskier than walking away. We put ourselves on the line.

My pushback to these thoughts? Fear and love aren’t forever either/or choices. People need them both.

Context matters.

Sometimes we need a warm heart; others times a cool head. Sometimes we need a boot in our bottom; other times it’s the comforting hug. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but not be disagreeable towards those who see things differently.

How can we learn to replace defaulting to fear with seeking to understand and doing what’s right for the situation?

I found these words from Umair Haque, author, economist, and Director of the London-based Havas Media Lab that helped me answer that question:

Those who truly wish to be leaders in an age of discontent—not merely its demagogues, bullies, hecklers, and tyrants—will have to turn reject and refuse ruling through fear, and toward leading with love.


Leading through love means overcoming the ever-present temptation to abuse and belittle people, to guilt and shame them, to mock and taunt them — to force them into line.


It means creating the conditions for them to grow into following the principles that you espouse. It means not just arguing tendentiously with nor patronizingly explaining to people things that they are not ready to, equipped to, nor prepared to understand, but putting faith in people — even those who damn you — first, always, everywhere.

Wow. Those are some powerful thoughts on getting right with fear and love.

After reading Umair’s words, I thought about the fellas in the coffee shop as well as my colleague and I.

In those situations, no one was getting through to anyone. No heads or hearts were being changed. All anyone was doing was making noise. Rattling our sabers of fear, certainly not extending compassion or empathy or promoting goodness.

Create a chain reaction of goodness


To find the sweet spot of respect without defaulting to fear, it’s necessary to:

  • Honor and respect other’s right to think, feel, and act differently.
  • Accept that we’re not always right.
  • Not allow evil and hatred to make us numb to what’s good, paraphrasing Henry Adam’s remark that evil is done by those who think they are doing good.
  • Be mindful when words and phrases like either/or, should, or need to be control our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • Assure we’re practicing both logic and emotion as we chart our lives.

My promise to myself? To replace my wagging finger with grace and aim for creating a chain reaction of goodness.

Image credit before quote added: Pixabay




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Embrace Being #2: Six Ways to Handle Rejection

Embrace Being #2: Six Ways to Handle Rejection

dealing with rejection

Ten years ago, in the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps won the Gold Medal in the Men’s 100M butterfly beating out Milorad Cavic by a mere .01 second. Literally, in the 1/30th time it takes to blink, Phelps’s dreams were realized, and Cavic’s were dashed.

Over the course of your lifetime, it’s inevitable that you’ll face this same struggle.

You’ll be told no. You’ll be rebuffed. You’ll even be harshly rejected because of differences between you and your competitor that may seem minor or even trivial.

The good news for Cavic was that he won an Olympic silver medal, something to place on his mantle for future generations of the Cavic family to view, awe, and admire.

When you earn second place, you get nothing…nada…the big goose egg.

So, how do you avoid this harsh reality and always finish first?

The truth is you can’t.

That reality means you need to build what our colleague, Kendall Colman, calls your “rejection muscle” because you’re going to be told “no” way more often than not.

Since you’re going to be told “no” 70-80 percent of the time, you’re going to need to know how to handle rejection.


6 ways to handle rejection


We offer six ways to handle rejection:

1) Understand that “NO” is not negative, it’s only feedback. Life is neutral. The only one who is placing a label on this event is you.

2) Remember that labels are sticky. Once a rejection occurs, it’s easy to move the label from the event to ourselves. Ever hear yourself saying these things? “I suck.” “I’m a terrible person. “I’m such a loser.” Breathe and stop with the labels. Interrupt your “label” thinking with “It’s just experience.”

3) Reflection is not just a three-syllable word. Most people make the same mistakes over and over because they never ask themselves or their colleagues, customers, etc., what they could have done differently. People will often be incredibly open with you about the reasons they said “no” if you ask them.

4) Embrace being #2. We once visited a coffee roaster who said, “Our Company likes being #2. We know that our competitor’s best clients are just one mistake away from calling us.” Never burn a bridge. Stay in contact. Catch up at networking events. Never stop being a resource for them.

5) Be a resource broker. What’s the fastest way to become someone’s #1 choice?  Send your prospect “a trickle” of contacts that they need to know either personally or professionally.

6) Realize you are not the Godfather. In the movie, The Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone famously mumbles, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Remember, the workplace is not the mafia. Make friends with those you see as your competitors—give them reasons to like and trust you. This advice may go against every dog-eat-dog, business-world, spidey-sense you have; but remember, your competitors are just like you. At times, they’re overwhelmed or need the help of outside expertise.

So, here’s our point, the possibilities to be rejected are limitless, but so are your ways to graciously respond to them.


Today’s guest contributors, Tim Brown and Dan Streeter, are the co-authors of Old School with New Tools: The Extra 5% That Takes You to the Top of Your Sales Game and Keeps You There.

Image credit before quote added: Pixabay




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My holiday dish? Humble pie

My holiday dish? Humble pie

avoid being dogmatic


A colleague and I were at a publishing conference. We were attending a session on how to be a more effective writer.

“Schedule time every week for serendipity,” advised one of the session panelists. “If you schedule time for serendipity, you’ll make it happen. If you don’t, it won’t; and your skills won’t improve.”

“Did she say to schedule serendipity?” I whispered to my colleague.

“Sure did.”

How ridiculous, I thought even though I’ve been the beneficiary of accidently tripping into discoveries. Despite my past good fortune, the speaker’s counsel troubled me. From my perspective, there was absolutely no way to schedule a fortunate accidental discovery—serendipity just happened. Right?

Curious about maybe having missed a nuance in the definition of serendipity, I did some research. I hadn’t missed anything.

Author Horace Walpole invented the word serendipity in 1754. A Persian fairy tale, The Princes of Serendip, had been his inspiration. In the fairy tale, three princes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.”

That confirmed my belief the speaker had it all wrong. Sadly, I mocked her advice on several occasions.

Shame on me.

And for that, I got my comeuppance.

I was doing online research about dogmatism for my book. I’d just read the definition of dogmatism, a viewpoint or system of ideas based on insufficiently examined premises, when the aha zap happened.

My reaction to the speaker’s words about scheduling serendipity leapt into mind.

Ewww. It hurt to see it and to say it, but I’d been dogmatic. I’d been that person; the narrow-minded one I criticize when I see people acting the same way I had.

I’d blindly accepted as fact that my belief that it was impossible to schedule serendipity without examining her meaning. I had heard her words, interpreted them with my dogmatic filters, and outright rejected her position.

Shame on me again. Her advice wasn’t wrong, it was flat out brilliant.

In a time-starved world where there’s a plan and time slot for everything, it’s pure genius to leave time open for spontaneity. Time to think, daydream, be. Time for accidental discoveries to happen.

Of course, you can’t will the eureka moment to happen in those moments.  However, making time to reflect increases the odds of creativity, inspiration, and innovation happening.

That’s what the speaker had meant. She was telling us to avoid the tunnel vision that comes from having an over-packed schedule and too much to do. She was telling us to make room for unpredictability and possibility.

*big sigh* How could I have been so dogmatic, so obtuse, so blind?

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has an answer for us.

He says it’s incredibly difficult for us to see our own biases. We can easily point to them in other people, but not so much for ourselves.

Fortunately for me, a research aha moment rescued me from my blindness.

I both love and abhor my personal teachable moments. Love them because new paths are revealed, abhor them because I need them in the first place.

Perhaps I’d better start scheduling them in my calendar.


Image credit before quote added: Pixabay




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Finding the perfect attitude is easier than finding the perfect job

Finding the perfect attitude is easier than finding the perfect job

leadership passion attitude


What’s your passion? Family? Gardening? Rock climbing?

Now think about where your work-for-money job falls in your list of passions. For many, a job is just a means to an end. Something that provides money for an education, an SUV, a house, and more.

However, finding passion in your job—whether it’s a clerical or professional position—is the key to your career success.

Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures. ~Joseph Campbell, writer and lecturer

Everyone can have a great career, especially those who are focused, have a can-do orientation, and are willing to overcome workplace obstacles.

When people are enthusiastic about what they do, the stress, challenges, and bumps in the road are easier to overcome. Passion serves as a driver, the thing that sustains them when things get tough.

I know the value of enthusiasm and dedication. Both served me well in rising from a receptionist position to becoming the co-owner of a staffing agency. Finding my passion and tapping into my strengths ultimately paid off.

They can do the same for you.

I committed to be the best receptionist I could be. By committing to being the best and channeling the positive, I created my own destiny. So, can you.

5 ways to find passion in your job


I have five suggestions to help you find the passion in your job and start you on the path of your employment destiny.

1. See everything as a learning experience.

  • Be observant, ask questions, listen to the answers, take notes, and read a lot. Become a sponge. Absorb as much information as you can.
  • Don’t be afraid to let hard work trump a traditional education. That doesn’t mean you should forego college, but you shouldn’t limit your career options just because of schooling. If you want something, fight for it.

2. Know your strengths.

  • Figure out what you’re good at. Are you creative, competitive, outgoing, or all of the above? Figure out how your strengths translate to doing your job.
  • Be prepared for your strengths to change over the course of your work career. You may also find strengths you didn’t know you had.

3. Stay focused.

  • Being disciplined and making sacrifices to achieve your goals is important.
  • Learning to say “no” is a one-word secret for staying on track.

4. Surround yourself with great people.

  • Find a mentor who readily offers help, guidance and support. If you want greatness in your life, then you have to surround yourself with great people.

5. Let your engagement at work and happiness show.

  • Find little things about your job that you really enjoy, and do them very, very well.
  • Make sure you bring all of your skills to your work. You’ll find you enjoy work because you’re good at it.

Never work just for money or for power. They won’t save your soul or help you sleep at night. ~Marian Wright Edelman, activist for children’s rights

People often become frustrated with their job. Instead of focusing on trying to make the situation better, they look for another job because they think a new job will be the answer to their problems or frustrations.

That’s not always the case. Control what’s within your ability to control.

I think it’s easier to find the perfect attitude than it is to find the perfect job.


Today’s guest author is Nicole Smartt, author and co-owner/ vice president of Star Staffing in Petaluma, CA.

Image credit before quote: Pixabay





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5 tips for giving helpful feedback

5 tips for giving helpful feedback

helpful feedback

Have you ever given someone what you thought was helpful feedback only to be surprised by a less-than-positive reaction?

We’ve all been taught that feedback—both the giving and the receiving—is the breakfast of champions. Right? So, when we share that breakfast with someone and the sharing falls flat, it’s not uncommon to blame the recipient for being unwilling to hear the truth.

That very well may be true. Experts tell us that “people avoid feedback because they hate being criticized.” Psychologists say that negative news triggers the inbred flight or fight reaction.

However, how many of us have honestly examined our motives and methods to discover if we contributed to the poor reception that our feedback received?

Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist at Stanford University, observes that “we’re remarkably incompetent at understanding how we affect other people.” To assess if our methods and motives played a role in blunting the effectiveness of our feedback, here’s five questions we can ask ourselves.

5 questions to ask to deliver helpful feedback


1) Did I make the feedback all about me?

Icky feedback: Your incessant whining about how bad things are around here annoys me.

Not icky feedback: I share your concerns about the quality of our workplace. I hope you’re aware of how people here look to you as an informal leader. If you could use that ability and work with people to make change, I’m betting you could make a positive difference around here.

Feedback really isn’t feedback if the message is all about us. Feedback is meant to help or praise the other person, so keeping the focus on them is an important element to keep in mind.

2) Did I do my homework before offering feedback?

I was in a personal development mastermind group. One of the ground rules was to write out our issue, identify the assistance we wanted, and share this information ahead of time. When my time to receive feedback rolled around, one participant said she hadn’t read my materials but still had some thoughts she wanted to share with me. Her input wasn’t helpful because it wasn’t applicable to my situation.

Feedback is a gift. We have to take the time to make ours the best possible gift by being grounded in the facts before we offer advice.

3) Did I expect the recipient to be grateful because I shared my expertise with them?

My off-point feedback provider was a tad miffed by my “thank you for sharing, but your input isn’t going to work for me” response. She doubled down and pointed out all the success she had had in doing what she was telling me to do.

We can’t expect our feedback to be well-received if we haven’t taken the time to gain familiarity with what the other person is experiencing.

Additionally, if our feedback is negative and/or unsolicited, it requires someone with high self-awareness and a degree of humility to respond with grace and openness. We have to remember that not everyone is at that level of personal development and must be willing to meet them where they are.

4) Did I provide enough information in my feedback?

Icky feedback: You were really rude to Jonelle in that meeting.

Not icky feedback: In yesterday’s staff meeting, I saw you roll your eyes several times when Jonelle was speaking. You also interrupted her three times. Because she’s the only woman on our team, wrong messages are being sent about her value to the team.

To minimize defensiveness and define specific performance to change, we have to make feedback meaningful and concrete. We do that by using facts and observable actions to explain the situation, the behaviors involved, and their impacts.

5) In sharing my feedback, might I have come across as dogmatic or self-righteous?

We live in polarizing times in which social norms about declaring the rightness of our position and the wrongness of another’s are wobbling. Feedback delivered without respect and civility does more harm than good.

Icky feedback: Stop talking so much about change. Tradition is a big deal around here, and you have to get onboard with that.

Not icky feedback: As I listened to what you just said about your proposed project being turned down, I sensed your frustration with how slow things are to change. Stability and consistency are important to the owners. They want to preserve their father’s legacy. That being said, change is necessary. If you could just show them how a little innovation can make that legacy better, I bet they’ll be more open to listen to your ideas.

True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. ~Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and winner, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

There’s a balance of responsibility that exists in both giving and receiving feedback. If we’re genuinely interested in helping the recipient of our feedback, we take the time to be thoughtful about both what we say and how we say it. We have to take ourselves, our motivations, and our wants out of the way if we’re going to be an effective messenger in delivering that breakfast of champions.

Image credit before quote: Pixabay




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