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Why Worry About Conflict?

According to industry research:

* On average, employees spend 2.1 hours per week dealing with conflict. That’s 385 million working days in the U.S. alone.

* Workplace conflicts cost the employer 10% of the salary of the employees involved.

* Unresolved conflict can escalate to personal attack, absenteeism, inter-departmental conflict, resignation, termination, and project failure.

* Fortune 500 senior executives spend 20% of their time on litigation.

What’s on Our Minds

  • Grading on a Curve Undermines Performance Microsoft offers a lesson on how not to conduct performance reviews. Its evaluation process, called “stack ranking” — essentially grading on a curve — has had a disastrous effect on morale, performance, and innovation, reports Kurt Eichenwald in “How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo.” His article in the August Vanity Fair describes a system in which ...
  • Men Don’t Have It All, Either Anne-Marie Slaughter’s heavily Tweeted cover story in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” publicly and very personally acknowledges what most women in the corporate trenches already know: it is incredibly difficult to climb the professional ladder and be a hands-on mother.  I agree. What I take issue ...
  • Networking is Not a Dirty Word Many of my career coaching clients cringe at the word “networking.” But I think networking gets a bad rap. When undertaken in the right spirit, building relationships can be fun as well as helpful. And you don’t have to be Keith Ferrazi to do it.
  • No More Mister Nice Guy? Nice guys earn significantly lower salaries than less agreeable men (though still more than women, regardless of their agreeableness) reports a new study by Timothy A. Judge, Beth A. Livingston, and Charlice Hurst in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Whether you are surprised or unsurprised, dismayed or vindicated, you may be wondering whether ...

Feedback – 8 Tips to Get People to Tell You What You Need to Hear

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures YouTube

Many leaders report that when they ask for feedback, they get very little in response. It’s not because they’re perfect. More than likely, people are afraid that they won’t react well to the truth. What to do about that? You need to make it a safe and positive experience for the other person. Here’s how:

From the Culture Desk: When Startups Get Political

“It was great in the early days. Then things got political.” This is a common lament from my startup clients. When pressed to define “political,” the answers can get a bit fuzzy. Most find it hard to pinpoint, but, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of obscenity, they “know it when [they] see it.”

Full Stop — What a Traffic Ticket Taught Me About Being at Rest

A while back I got a ticket in the mail for failing to stop at a red light. This New England girl had been caught on camera doing a “California rolling stop.” I was mortified, and upset at the steep fine. My husband was remarkably cool. Apparently he had noticed my tendency to roll through intersections and had been worried about it. “I’m just glad nobody got hurt,” he said.  That made me feel even worse. You’d think I would learn my lesson, but I continued to tap-and-roll through intersections more often than not. So this week I recruited my children to help me “brake” my habit. They were delighted at the invitation to correct my behavior, ready to catch me being bad. But I’ve been good, and to my surprise, it feels good to stop. This second or two of stillness at the intersection gives me a moment to look around, breathe, and be at rest, before driving on.

An Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions: Year-End Lessons

Many of us fall into one camp or the other: the optimistic resolution-makers — who begin the year with energy and hope for positive change — and the cynical non-resolvers who sit on the sidelines and dismiss resolutions as delusional and doomed to be broken. But for those who see a value in year-end reflection and intention setting but don’t embrace the resolution model, I’d like to invite a slightly different approach — one that is both grounded in experience and constructively future-oriented. It has three steps: we celebrate our successes; we acknowledge our failures and disappointments; and we draw from both specific lessons that we want to take forward and apply in the new year.

Celebrate success! Often life is moving so fast that we fail to recognize and celebrate along the way. Look back over the last year at the different areas of your life — career, relationships with family and friends, personal growth, health, finances. What are you most proud of? What did you build, create, or achieve? Where did you find joy or wonder? With whom did you connect? Take note of how your behaviors and attitudes made these successes possible. Remember also to recognize the accomplishment of facing challenges and enduring hardship — simply coming through a hard time is a reason for celebration and can be a source of great learning. Some ways to celebrate: light a candle, turn up the music and dance, tell a friend, write a letter of congratulations to yourself, throw confetti …

Acknowledge failure and disappointment. Okay, this one is less fun than the celebration part, but equally valuable, as it offers an opportunity for learning and for healing. Where did your outcomes not match your intentions? Consider whether the results were within your control or not, question your assumptions, ask whether the goals you set were the right ones for the circumstances. What relationships did you let slip that you would like to repair? What needs went unmet? If you need to mourn a loss or disappointment, you might want to write about it. If you feel angry or disappointed perhaps you need to acknowledge and forgive yourself or someone else. And here’s the crucial step: move on. Don’t wallow or get stuck. Which takes us to ….

Learn Your Lessons and Apply Them. After you have reviewed your year, make a list of five to seven lessons that you have learned — both from your successes and your failures. It is important that your write them down, as writing them down requires you to be clear about what you learned. (Note: your lessons needn’t be profound. There are some lessons I have to learn over and over again, and most of them are as obvious as they are difficult to integrate — put ’em on the list!) Then look toward the coming year and identify specifically how you will apply those lessons. Write this down, too. And finally, schedule some follow-up. Make a date with yourself sometime in March to check in on how you are doing at integrating and applying your lessons. Chances are you will need a refresher. Review, revise, and re-commit, as necessary.

This exercise can be a solitary reflection and a chance to get in touch with your inner self or it can be a fun and mutually supportive exercise to do with a friend or with your partner. But however you choose to do it, I hope you find it helpful and rewarding. And if you feel inspired to share any of the lessons that you are taking forward into 2013, I would love to hear them. Happy New Year!


I love my children, but….. (confessions from a mom’s business trip)

I really loved my trip to New York. A lot.

My vacation … er, …. I mean,  business trip, I mean, began the moment I arrived at the airport and got a copy of the New York Times. On the plane, my economy-plus seat might have been a poolside chaise-lounge for all the enjoyment I took of the five-hour flight — a golden opportunity to read, doze, and work without interruption. Bliss. From my arrival in The City, my schedule was busy and full. I had meetings with clients and potential clients throughout the days and social engagements shoehorned in between times and in the evenings. Every day was non-stop. My work was engaging and challenging, and I opened some new and intriguing doors. I reconnected with beloved friends. I even went clothes shopping — which I never do at home — and had a blast. And as a special bonus, I got to be with my sister on her birthday.

Details, Details…..Confession of a Former Associate

It’s really hard to excel at something that you don’t like.

At my first law job after my clerkship, I was one of forty lawyers to join a prestigious 450-lawyer firm. As our training ground, we newbies were distributed throughout the firm and assigned to help more senior associates on big cases and deals. My first rotation was Securities, where we most often represented the underwriters of huge equity or debt offerings. I tagged along with the senior associate, listened on conference calls, and helped with the massive papering of a deal. There were underwriting agreements and SEC  filings choc full of legalese and “risk factors,” and I was to help mark them up — making changes to boiler plate language, proofreading, making conforming changes from one document to another. It was heavy on the details, and at the beginning I didn’t understand much of it, which made it even harder. The later at night it got, the more the words swam on the page and lost their meaning.

It’s Not All About You

California may very well be the cradle of the “spiritual but not religious” movement, if you can call it a movement. Many of us are are more inclined to spend our weekends hiking or mountain-biking than in a church, synagogue or mosque. And we are not alone. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently reported that the fastest growing group among Americans  — a whopping one in five adults and one third of those under age 30 — is those who report no religious affiliation. “I attend the church of the blue dome,” said a friend of a friend recently. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But I had an experience this weekend that reminded me of the value of good, old-fashioned organized religion, and it had a lesson for all of us about community.

My New Hero

This post first appeared on the Perspectives series on KQED.  You can listen here.

Rushing to change into my street clothes after a morning swim, I heard “can I help you with that?” I looked up to see a young woman reaching out to help an older lady  pull her shirt over her shoulders. As she gently tugged it down, the older woman adjusted it and nodded an awkward “Thank you,”.  Ashamed that I hadn’t even noticed her difficulty, I watched her closely in case she needed more help. And what I saw astonished me.

Slowly, so slowly, she sat, lifted a foot with great effort, and worked her sock up over her foot. Her movements were exquisitely deliberate, as if under water. I wondered how she would manage her shoes as I bent easily to tie my own.  I took my time packing up my gym bag so I could help if needed, and because her project was mesmerizing. After maneuvering her second sock on, she dropped her shoes on the floor near her feet, stuck her toes in one opening, then pulled out a long shoe horn and worked it in behind her heel until her foot was in. Then she did the other shoe.  No hint of struggle or frustration in this Herculean effort, just slow and patient. She didn’t need my help.

I have occasionally felt impatient with slower lap-swimmers in the pool. And I have been known to congratulate myself for getting up early and going to the gym. But it is easy for me: I am forty-six and fit, my body moves well and responds quickly when it needs to. But this woman – I imagined the determination it took to dress in the morning, to get herself there, and the effort and persistence it took to exercise.

So now I have a new role model at the gym. It is not the sweat-glistened, washboard abbed queens of the spin class. Instead it is a round, wrinkled, quiet old woman who hasn’t surrendered to her infirmities but instead has met them with dignity and purpose. I hope one day when physical limitations come, I can do the same.


Life on the Other Side of the Finish Line

Last weekend I completed the Bike MS Waves to Wine ride — the longest cycling event of my life — and I raised nearly $4000 for the MS Society. I feel strong and happy and proud. (I hesitate to admit that I feel proud, because my good New England upbringing taught me not to get “too big for my britches,”  but I do. Yay, me!) But what comes next, now that I have reached my goal? As I’ve been thinking, talking, and writing about effective goal setting, I haven’t addressed the crucial followup question: what’s next? When you are working toward a goal, you focus on its achievement as an endpoint. But once you cross the literal or metaphorical finish line, you wake up the next morning — and then ….. ?

From The Obvious Files: Get More Sleep (+ Some Tips)

This morning, I watched my beloved and bleary-eyed husband pour orange juice into his empty bowl. When the kids and I started howling with laughter, he realized what he was doing, grinned, and spooned his oatmeal into his glass and sat down to eat, slurping juice from the bowl and eating oatmeal with a fork from the glass (I love this man). Not usually absent-minded, he was in a fog this morning because he had been up with our wakeful daughter from about 2:30-4:00 a.m. last night (yet another reason for parenthetical above). He’s also been pulling late nights and then getting up early, so like many working parents, he is already chronically under-slept. Me too. But mostly we continue to function, chugging along and hoping to catch up on our sleep …. when? Sound familiar? We all know we should sleep more, but most of us persist with our poor sleep habits. So in the hope of helping others and myself, I am tackling this topic again and renewing my commitment to go to bed earlier.