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Pooper scoopers and conflict

Pooper scoopers and conflict


A former boss was well-known for his flamboyant language and turns of speech. One of his favorite analogies was to compare a leader’s job in dealing with conflict with being the pooper scooper at the circus.

He’d tell us it was our job to clean up the messes people on our team made.

Even though we frequently rolled our eyes when the boss was on one of his circus rants, his point was a good one. Why? Because usually what we had to smooth over was some sort of conflict. Something that could have been avoided had the situation initially been handled more thoughtfully.

Conflict is challenging, so some people avoid it.

Others see conflict as a life-or-death scourge to be stamped out.

Some see differences of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience as deficiencies because they generate conflict.

Avoiding differences when looking to solve a problem is a glass half-empty approach.

Conflict, while often messy, actually presents opportunity to devise better solutions.

Bernie Mayer, Professor of Dispute Resolution at Creighton University, is a leader in the field of conflict resolution. In his book, The Conflict Paradox, Mayer examines seven polarities we encounter as we try to make sense of conflict.

The seven polarities are:

  • Competition and Cooperation
  • Optimism and Realism
  • Avoidance and Engagement
  • Principle and Compromise
  • Emotions and Logic
  • Impartiality and Advocacy
  • Autonomy and Community

As with all polarities, the elements in each pair are but one side of the same coin. While the elements may sound contradictory, both of them are necessary for success and survival over the long-term.

As a team leader, one must realize the paradox that surrounds conflict. The team needs to embrace conflict as a means of generating and evaluating ideas. While at the same time, it must shy away from it to prevent frustration or alienation. The biggest challenge for the team leader is figuring out how to balance these two factors. ~Erich Brockmann, professor

It’s natural to prefer one element over the other. When we encounter a person who prefers the other element, there’s the possibility for conflict since we’re now dealing with a clash of interests. I like competition; you like cooperation. You prefer principle; I prefer compromise

As leaders, it’s our job to help those on our team transcend finger-pointing and right versus wrong arguments. Everyone is right!

So that conflict helps us grow and find the best solution, our job is to:

  • Steer conflict from dysfunctional to functional, from destructive to constructive, from disregard to respect—all in pursuit of healthy conflict that facilitates innovation and openness.
  • Assist people in dealing with issues as well as helping them remember the lessons learned in childhood about sharing and handling disappointment because rarely do we get 100 percent of what we want.
  • Acknowledge inequity and injustice, frame solutions that draw from both poles contributing to the conflict, and assist people to recognize there’s always a greater good that transcends individual wants and wishes.
  • Weave connection and humanize the difference. “The other” has a name, a face, and feelings, too.
  • Build an environment where it’s OK to disagree, but it’s not OK to fail to listen and learn, or label “the other” as being wrong.

All legislation, all government, all society is formed upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy; upon these, everything is based. ~Henry Clay, 19th century lawyer and stateman

Sometimes the contents of the pooper scooper get heavy and smelly. However, that’s when we—if we want to call ourselves leaders—do our best, and most meaningful, work.


Image source before quote added: Pixabay


4 ways to be a better thinker

4 ways to be a better thinker

better thinker

If you knew a replacement part would add an extra 90 cents in costs and yield only ten cents in warranty savings, would you authorize use of the more expensive part?

Probably not. Managers would crunch the numbers and find the spending increase unjustified since only a correlation exists between the increased costs and accident prevention.

If you ran Starbucks, would you have made the decision to close 8,000 stores, put 175,000 employees through racial bias training, and forego an estimated $16.7 million in lost sales?


Both/and or either/or?


The leadership team at GM focused on costs in making their decisions.

Those at Starbucks measured both costs and benefit (which has yet to be determined)—they practiced the business of business as BOTH watching the bottom line AND doing the right thing.

Some are passionate that the sole responsibility of business is making money. Others say business should measure a triple bottom line, focusing on environmental and social dimensions as well as financial ones.

Friedman’s focus on economics is measured by profit and loss, which is fairly clear-cut and unambiguous. Elkington’s push for the triple bottom line is more complicated. As he says, “success or failure on sustainability goals cannot be measured only in terms of profit and loss. It must also be measured in terms of the wellbeing of billions of people and the health of our planet.”

Friedman’s approach can work with mostly an either/or style of thinking; Elkington’s requires the use of both/and paradoxical thinking. Either/or thinking is less complicated and more explicit. Both/and paradoxical thinking is more involved and requires deeper analysis.

Managing a paradox requires managing conflicting yet complementary forces, dynamics like cost and benefit, results and relationship, competition and collaboration, and so on.

Today’s successful business leaders will be those who are most flexible of mind. An ability to embrace new ideas, routinely challenge old ones, and live with paradox will be the effective leader’s premier trait. Further, the challenge is for a lifetime. New truths will not emerge easily. Leaders will have to guide the ship while simultaneously putting everything up for grabs, which is in itself a fundamental paradox. ~Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos

4 ways to be a better thinker


In “Learning to Thrive on Paradox,” Peter Stroh and Wynne Miller outline four ways to manage a paradox, all of which require moving beyond the simplicity of either/or thinking. Here’s how they describe the four methods:

  • Both/and thinking

“Managers must continuously brainstorm the question: “How can two incompatible values be true?” For example, increasing quality in the long run requires a short-term investment; therefore, improving quality costs money while it saves money.”

  • Best of both thinking

“Managers must strive to create conditions that allow simultaneously for the emergence of contradictions through creative tension. Examples are loosely coupled structures, controlled entrepreneurship, and conservative innovation. The idea is to make personal values explicit by inquiring into both the positive and negative qualities of two seemingly contradictory paradigms and to develop a synergistic solution or a synthesis.”

  • Expanding the construct space and time of a paradox

“When profits are down, managers tighten controls, and when sales are up and profits are soaring, managers increase responsiveness to customers. Thus, current market conditions require that managers simultaneously use belt-tightening and creative responses. Similarly, expanding the time frame should help managers optimize the management of paradoxes by concentrating on aligning short term with long term goals.”

  • Neither/nor thinking or choosing a third option.

“Paradoxically, this way of thinking replaces “both/and” by focusing on the outcome instead of the choice. Should management base its product development decisions on existing organizational technologies or on customer needs? Sometimes companies understand what will best serve customers before the customers know it themselves. In these cases, technology pushes the company. The paradoxical forces of both “technology push” and “market pull” help drive the company along the road.”

Either/or thinking will always have a place in our management practices. However, it shouldn’t be the default method for critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving.

The art of managing and leading organizations today lies in embracing incompatible forces, rather than choosing between them. Organizational leaders must learn to deal with ambiguity and paradoxes through a new mindset; one that combines and optimizes rather than splits apart and differentiates. ~Alan T. Belasen, management professor SUNY


Businesses fail when they over-invest in what is at the expense of what could be. ~Gary Hamel, Professor, consultant, and Director of the Innovation Lab

Ready to expand your styles of thinking repertoire and make better decisions?


Image credit before quote added: Pixabay






3 dueling paradoxes for leaders to embrace

3 dueling paradoxes for leaders to embrace


dueling paradoxesIf you knew a replacement part would add an extra 90¢ in costs and yield only a dime in warranty savings, would you authorize use of the more expensive part?

Probably not.

Managers would crunch the business case and find the spending increase unjustified.

But suppose you knew the additional cost would prevent costly accidents and even save lives. Would your decision be different? (more…)

5 questions to better manage differences

5 questions to better manage differences


questionsAt the time I thought it was the coolest thing, ever. Mostly because I wanted my Mom to treat me the same way.

Our next door neighbor let her son, Grant, choose between different options. 

Would you like macaroni and cheese or a hot dog for lunch?  Will we read a book today or go to the movies?  Do you want to sign up for riding camp or take piano lessons this summer?

There was no picking lunch food or activities at our house. (more…)

How the “Power of And” Changed My Life

How the “Power of And” Changed My Life


Margaret Seidler the power of and

Margaret Seidler



After a 360° assessment that was, shall we say, less than stellar, I looked for a magic bullet to improve my leadership abilities.

What made a pivotal difference and accelerated my own abilities was discovering Polarity Thinking—a set of principles and a mapping tool introduced by Dr. Barry Johnson in 1975. 

I found polarity thinking a straightforward way to both document my wisdom and to shine a light on my blind spots.

What is a polarity?


Ambiguity is sometimes the right answer

Ambiguity is sometimes the right answer


dealing with ambiguityThe meeting exchange was fascinating. 

Belle resisting giving Max the absolute answer he so clearly wanted; Max’s rising frustration with what he perceived as Belle’s wishy-washiness; and Belle’s explanation of how ambiguity is sometimes the right leadership answer.

Some business problems do have a black-and-white answer, like Is Sally ready to be promoted now?  Yet with experience comes the realization that there isn’t a clearcut answer to many of the issues leaders face. 

Selecting only one remedy is selecting wrong! Why? Because both answers are right.

Sometimes our business needs speed and efficiency; other times achieving effectiveness takes a little longer. Leaders have to balance creating change while also maintaining stability. 

We have to figure out how to prioritize both work and life demands.

On the receiving end of ambiguity

When you’re hoping for a black-and-white answer and get a shade-of-gray response, it’s likely you’re facing one of those both/and leadership scenarios. If so:

Reframe your impatience and/or disdain into inquiry.

Look for the bigger picture. Ask clarifying questions to understand why you received that response. Own digging in to understand the reasons behind the both/and answer.

Be willing to explore alternatives and contingencies.

Possibilities that may have never occurred to you can be top of mind for someone else — and could be a critical, overlooked factor which impacts your decision-making.

Challenge yourself.

Why is it that you always want a black-and-white answer. Are you seeking a quick fix? Are you reluctant to take a deeper look; and if so, why? Are you succumbing to quantity over quality? Are you putting the bottom line above principles and people?

On the giving end of ambiguity

If you’re giving a both/and response to someone who obviously isn’t satisfied:

Explain your ambiguous answer.

We all process information in our own way, so providing an explanation of how you reached your conclusions helps others understand your thought processes. Here’s your leadership opportunity to teach others how either/or isn’t always the appropriate solution.

Start a dialogue.

Step back from command-and-control and seize the opportunity to expand each other’s point of view.

Be compassionate.

The person who wants the definite answer isn’t wrong, so don’t treat them as if they are.  This isn’t the time for belittling remarks; it is the time for a teachable moment.

What both/and learnings do you have to share?

Image source:  morgueFile