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The Cost of 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

  • Scaling Up – How Our Hidden Immune System Makes It Hard to Change Old Habits “What got you here, won’t get you there.” Many a new leader or manager has heard this truism coined by Marshall Goldsmith and have understood it to mean that they will need to up their game and change their approach if they want to succeed as leaders. They are advised to “be more strategic and less ...
  • Feedback – 8 Tips to Get People to Tell You What You Need to Hear 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:Be ...
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How To Take Charge And Navigate An Unexpected Change

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

Sometimes you need a push. You may not know you need it—you may even resent it—but a push helps (sometimes forces) you to change and can ultimately take you in a good direction. We coaches love to talk about inspiration and lofty goals, but the truth is that many people don’t take action until the status quo gets uncomfortable.

There are two forces that bring about action and change: pull and push.

  • Pull is what draws you forward and positively motivates you. It is a vision, a shiny object, a yearning, goal or aspiration. You reach for it because you want it. Pull is a bright future that excites us, sparks us and calls us to action.
  • Push is what drives you and necessitates action. It can be an external event or an internal discomfort, dissatisfaction or frustration. Push is a force that makes the here and now untenable and requires action.

A push led me to the most positive career move of my life. When my husband and I got married, we started a family right away and we agreed to a division of labor in which he earned the money (and provided health insurance), and I produced and was the primary caregiver for our three kids. Initially, we were both happy with this arrangement. I was burnt out on my law career and thrilled to be with our little ones, and he was super excited about his new job in San Francisco. But about four years into our arrangement, he was feeling frustrated in his work and trapped by his role as sole provider. The deal needed to change and I was pushed into the professional world. Thanks to this push (which I resisted at first), I found my way to becoming a coach. Eleven years later, I am thriving professionally and helping support my family doing work that I love. And I might never have done it without the push.

There are many similar stories from people who got laid off from jobs where they had been stuck and unhappy or who re-entered the workforce when a spouse was laid off or whose marriage ended. Or who find out they are pre-diabetic and change their diet and exercise habits. In many cases, though the precipitating event is hard, or even traumatic, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off and embrace the necessity to change. Frequently, down the road, they look back at these events as positive turning points.

We tend to idealize the pull and think of push as a bad thing. But let’s be real. Often times it is not enough to be positively motivated. Evolutionary biologists and social scientists tell us that we have a negativity bias, that we are wired to avoid being eaten by bears and not to smell flowers. It often takes both push and pull to spur us into action. Maybe you had an idea or a dream (pull) that you hadn’t acted on, and then things got bad enough at work (push) and you quit and start your own business. Or you were complaining about your boss (push), and a friend mentioned a job opening that sounded cool (pull).

So a push can be beneficial—but that doesn’t give you license to be passive or drift. In order to navigate the push well, you need to take ownership. Here are some ways to find the pull in the push:

  • Align the push with your values. Connecting to your values helps you tap into the positive future you are seeking to create. For example, I could have said, “My husband is making me get a job,” but that would have put me in the role of the victim—bad for me and for our marriage. Instead, I aligned with my values of partnership, balance, love and fulfillment (for him as well as me) and allowed these values to guide my search.
  • Find the pull: turn your complaint into an aspiration. If you are feeling miserable because of a toxic boss or a crushing workload, convert those dissatisfactions into a vision of what you are seeking: a great mentor, a supportive culture, balance. Pursue that positive vision. Tip: when you are asked in a job interview why you are leaving a job, it is always best to look forward to what you are seeking rather than backward to what you are escaping.
  • Act before a nudge becomes a shove. It is true that sometimes things need to get pretty uncomfortable before you are willing to risk making a change. However, don’t let things get so bad that you are desperate. Acting before the wheels have come off the bus allows you to be proactive instead of reactive.
  • Get into action, even if you don’t feel ready. An unwelcome push can damage your confidence and leave you uncertain of what to do. The best way to figure out is to try stuff. Start by updating your resume, researching places you might like to work and having exploratory conversations with people you know. When a baby bird is pushed out of the nest, the successful ones start flapping.
  • Be prepared. You never know when a push may come. Keep your resume up-to-date and maintain your network so that you have resources and support to help you if the push comes along.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you jumped or were pushed—as long as you take wing and fly.

Feedback Is Not A Waste Of Time: What “The Feedback Fallacy” Got Wrong

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

Is giving feedback a waste of time? You might think so if you read Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s Harvard Business Review article “The Feedback Fallacy,” which purports to debunk much of our thinking about feedback. Buckingham (of the Strengths Finder fame) and Goodall argue that giving negative or “improvement” feedback is misguided, egotistical and counterproductive. But don’t despair: A careful reading of their article reveals that sensible, targeted feedback conversations are still essential to helping people improve and learn to work together better.

The authors argue that feedback doesn’t work. Period. They claim, “Telling people what we think of their performance doesn’t help them thrive and excel, and telling people how we think they should improve actually hinders learning.” This claim rests on three premises: Other people don’t have any claim to objective truth, talking about shortcomings hinders learning and there is no universal standard of excellence. I’ll address each in turn:

1. Truth: Buckingham and Goodall assert that the guidance of others is worse than useless because it is not objective. They are right that feedback is subject to bias, but it doesn’t follow that we have nothing to offer our co-workers in sharing our observations and guidance. In fact, it is often very useful to have subjective feedback about how we are being perceived, so long as it doesn’t claim to be universal or objective. A skillful feedback intervention is a two-way conversation that focuses on specific behavior and its results or impact. For example, instead of saying, “Your presentation needs to be more high level,” say, “I got lost in the details and had a hard time understanding your objectives or the context.” For my clients, it is often hearing about the impact of their behavior on their co-workers that really helps them understand their blind spots and motivates them to change.

2. Learning: The authors hop on the neuroscience-lite bandwagon and claim that criticism shuts down the brain’s ability to learn, while positive reinforcement makes the brain receptive to learning. Based on very narrow research, they recommend that we should limit our feedback to only positive reinforcement of good behavior (which lines up nicely with Buckingham’s career-long commitment to a strengths-based approach to leadership). Here, I just plain disagree. Immediate correction of negative behavior is often a great way to learn. Moreover, even if pointing out a shortcoming may trigger a fight-or-flight response that temporarily makes it hard to absorb input, later reflection often results in learning or awareness. Personal experience has taught me that the initial sting of improvement feedback dissipates and we learn over time. Again, a well-managed feedback conversation involves balancing appreciation with guidance and is sensitive to when the recipient becomes emotionally flooded or triggered. In addition, as one of my colleagues cleverly pointed out, isn’t positive feedback just as subject to bias and distortion as negative? It seems like if we buy the author’s premise about objectivity, we should refrain from all comment, positive and negative.

3. Excellence: Finally, stating the obvious, the authors note that there is no universal, gold standard of excellence. This is, of course, true. Excellence looks different on different people and in different contexts. Skillful feedback is careful to speak in specifics rather than generalizations and is sensitive to context. Especially with feedback about “soft skills,” it is always important to empower the receiver to take in and adapt feedback to their style and personality.

While I am not addressing every detail of Buckingham and Goodall’s article, I encourage you to check it out and to read the Washington Post’s interview with Buckingham. The authors make some salient points about flaws in the current trend toward a no-holds-barred approach to feedback, but they way over-reach with their conclusions. They rightly call attention to the fact that many companies are embracing radical candor uncritically and unskillfully, and that brutal honesty run amok may cause harm. However, there is good evidence that a high feedback culture promotes high performance. The real correction for biased, destructive feedback is a humility, curiosity and a good model for skillful feedback that focuses on specific behavior and its results. So go ahead and give the gift of feedback. Here’s a reminder of the key elements:

  • Start with a growth mindset and think of feedback as a two-way conversation, n

The Confidence Gap Is A Myth But A Double Standard Does Exist: How Women Can Navigate

This post first appeared on Forbes.com.

Often when I’m conducting 360 feedback interviews for women in leadership, well-meaning colleagues say, “She should be more confident.” Most times, they are just speculating and don’t really know how the subject feels, so I ask them to describe the behavior that they interpret as lack of confidence. This often leads to some verbal hand-waving around “executive presence.” Definitions of executive presence are a lot like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s assertion about obscenity that “I know it when I see it,” and therefore not terribly helpful. That said, executive presence relates to authority and trustworthiness, which includes projecting confidence. Specific behaviors include: speaking up in meetings, taking up space physically, projecting one’s voice, directness and clarity of speech, asserting oneself and promoting one’s own ideas or work. We read these behaviors as indicators of confidence, and colleagues often infer a lack of confidence when they are absent. Because many of these “executive” behaviors show up more in men, we perceive a “confidence gap.”

However, recent research suggests that women are not actually less confident than men. Several studies found that the reason so many women do not assert themselves in the workplace is not that they lack confidence in their skills, competence or ideas, but instead that they are trying to avoid the “backlash effect”—the social consequence of asserting or promoting themselves. According to Laura Guillen, “While self-confidence is gender-neutral, the consequences of appearing self-confident are not.” Women who project self-confidence are often seen as less likable and are penalized if they “do not temper their agency with niceness.” Women are expected to be both confident and “prosocial”—demonstrating care and concern for others—while men can promote themselves without showing care for others and not be perceived negatively.

Given this reality, simply advising women to demonstrate more confidence is not just bad advice (as it may well backfire); it effectively and unfairly places the burden of correcting the gender imbalance on women. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office catalogs some 133 mistakes women make!  Many female clients struggle with calibrating their level of assertiveness and relatability. They get pretty discouraged and cynical about their ability to properly thread this needle and become influential within a predominantly male leadership culture. Some even start to doubt themselves.

The longer-term solution is for workplaces to challenge the double standard, support women’s ability to talk about their achievements without backlash and hold men to a higher standard of prosocial behavior. But in the meanwhile, what’s a working gal to do? Here are five strategies for the real world:

  • Understand how you come across. Cultivate awareness of your own physical and verbal mannerisms. Video yourself (cringe!) or ask a friend for help. Cara Hale Alter’s book, “The Credibility Code,” has a great checklist of behaviors (for men and women), to project both authority and approachability. Only if you are self-aware can you make choices about whether your presence matches your best self.
  • Seek out sponsors and role models. Develop relationships with potential sponsors and champions who can promote you and your accomplishments, and look for role models (preferably but not necessarily women) who project both confidence and care. If your manager is not a good candidate for these roles, you may need to look outside of your team or function. Engage in development conversations in which you share your aspirations as well as your accomplishments.
  • Help create opportunity. Psychology professor Jessi L. Smith suggests starting each meeting by inviting everyone around a table to talk about an accomplishment. This way, everyone gets a chance to “blow their own horn.” Be a champion and amplifier for others.
  • Know you are not crazy. There is a double standard and it’s not fair. It is up to you to decide whether and how much to adapt your behavior to try to conform to your workplace’s gender norms. Remember that to thrive professionally, you need to have a sense of self-efficacy and psychological safety. Focus on what is in your control and don’t let circumstances erode your confidence.
  • Build your network. Relationships are key to influencing, and friendships are key to happiness. Even when you are not actively looking for a job, continue to build your external network so you have career mobility if you choose to move on.

Choosing Delight

Ross Gay’s Book of Delights is an invitation. Starting and ending on his birthday, the poet wrote an essay a day about the things, people and events that struck his delight – a smile from the person selling him a bus ticket, a song on the radio, his garden, a turn of phrase, fresh lychees on sale, a high-five from a stranger. With each essay, his poetic riffing sweeps you up and carries you away on an infectious tide of delight.

During this year, Gay found that, the more he he practiced this discipline – this constant alert for delights – the more delight he found. His life still held sorrow, fear, pain and loss, but his delight grew. The world around him started to call out to him “Write about me!” Delights abounded, and his ability to see them expanded. His delight muscle strengthened.

Exercising this muscle is always available to us. The aroma of baking cookies, droplets of water on a blade of grass, a joke shared with a stranger. All are there for the savoring if only we turn our attention to them. We just need to make the crucial choice of where we put our attention. And as Mary Pipher’s new book, Women Rowing North, reminds all of us, regardless of age, this choice – this guiding our attention – is essential to constructing our own happiness.

The Book of Delights invites us to choose delight. Instead of rushing ahead, brow furrowed with worry and eyes downcast or narrowed in judgment, we are invited to open our eyes and ears wide to the delights that surround us. Big and small, profound and silly, we take note – similar to a gratitude practice but lighter, less ponderous. A tuning of our internal radio dial to the delight channel (KDLT?) so we notice these wonders. It’s fantastic! Friday morning I was dragged from bed too early by our new puppy (who is delightful but not at 5:25 a.m., as I had been up ’til midnight), and when I staggered outside clutching my hot tea with milk (delightfully warm, steam curling), I saw the crescent moon still rising with the dark side visible, perfectly lined up with one tiny, almost invisible star and one big, bright star. Or maybe a planet. Almost definitely a planet. And though I know the moon is much closer and the stars or planets or whatever are millions of miles away, it looked to me in that moment like they formed a celestial path. Delightful.

I accept the invitation. Each day this month I will seek delight, take note and share. Join me. Let’s get in shape together.

Tell Your Story as a Novel from Different Points of View

Stories have power.

We humans are narrative creatures. Our stories anchor us to our identities and help us understand ourselves. When we are in a new relationship, we dole out our stories as a way of inviting someone to know us, and if you’ve been with someone for a long time, you know his or her stories by heart. We tell children stories to teach them values, like persistence in the Little Engine That Could or generosity in The Giving Tree. History, we know, is written by the victors, who all too often erase inconvenient or unflattering chapters. And leaders and influencers know the power of a compelling story to move people to action — whether to get buy-in on a new strategy, to motivate a team to execute on a plan, or to spur the electorate to vote. 

And yet, great leaders know that as powerful as stories are, they can also get us into trouble, especially when we get too attached to them.

Overwhelm: Top 5 Excuses for Not Asking for Help – Debunked

Overwhelm. We’ve all seen it and many of us have been there. That feeling that the demands are coming at you like a tidal wave and and you’ve got to use every ounce of energy to keep afloat. When it gets really bad, you are paddling so hard to keep from drowning that you don’t think you can afford to reach out for a life raft. Here are some of the most common excuses for not seeking help (and why they are misguided):

 

Excuse number 5: “I don’t want to look weak.”

True leadership strength is not about doing it all yourself or being perfect. It involves building and motivating a strong bench. Delegation is an essential part of this. So is acknowledging your weaknesses. Don’t kid yourself that others are unaware of your limitations. Better to acknowledge and embrace the contributions of others. In addition, modeling collaboration and mutual reliance helps to prevent burnout and covering up mistakes.

Excuse number 4: “I’d love to work with a coach, but I just don’t have time.”

Prioritizing your own development is both a long-term investment that will likely start to pay dividends right away. Besides, working with a coach does not typically involve much of a time commitment beyond your normal work week, because most of the learning and change happens on the job – first through developing self-awareness and then by trying new approaches and behaviors. You can find 60-90 minutes for a coaching session every other week.

Excuse number 3: “Everybody else is working hard; I don’t want to burden them.”

This excuse sounds noble, and may even feed some vision of yourself as hero or martyr. However it’s healthier to cultivate a we’re-all-in-it-together attitude on your team and share the burden. But what if everyone really is maxed out? In that case, you need to take a hard look at prioritization and resources. Do you have multiple #1 priorities? Decide which really matters most and allocate resources accordingly. Ruthlessly prioritize and invest in hiring if needed.

Excuse number 2:  “It’s easier to do it myself than to explain it to someone else.”

This excuse is like your wedding tuxedo – you can bring it out only for very special events, like when you’re on on a super tight timeline, or if it won’t take you more than 30 minutes. Otherwise, this pseudo-efficiency rationale often masks perfectionism or control-freak-ism. The only way to build other people’s ability is to give them work they don’t already know how to do.

And the number 1 excuse: “I can handle it.”

Guess what? You’re not really handling it. The cracks are showing. You’re not doing your best work or making your best decisions, you are taking your stress out on others, and your colleagues are getting worried and/or pissed. Even if you are managing to keep afloat, your approach doesn’t scale. Better to admit it sooner before you do some real damage.

Climb aboard the life raft and set your course for calmer seas.

7 ways to increase positivity in your more challenging work relationships

Relationships are one of the defining elements of our work life. When we have great colleagues whom we enjoy working with, it’s easier to get things done, and work is a happier experience. However, when we have a colleague with whom we have difficulty, collaboration becomes harder and work is less fun. Sometimes it gets so bad that we quit. But does it need to be that way?

Much like in a romantic relationship, you can’t change other people. But you can change your own behaviors and mindset and thereby change how you relate to the other person and to the relationship. Taking a cue from John Gottman, if we want to improve a relationship, we need to increase the number of positive interactions and shift the ratio of positive to negative interactions (his ideal is 5:1). There is a kind of basic math at work. A relationship consists of shared experiences and communications, some positive and some negative. Each positive interaction adds to the well of positivity and resilience and each negative depletes. And the one thing that we control is making our own positive contributions.

Here’s how: Think of a person – we’ll call him Ned – that you find it challenging to work with. Maybe it’s so bad that you have begun avoiding him. Try the following ways of making deposits in the “good will bank.”

  1. Find something to appreciate. When we have a negative feeling about someone, our confirmation bias makes us filter the data to seek out further evidence of this negative impression. Instead, actively try to notice Ned doing something right. As my dear old dad says, everybody has something to praise. Note: this can be a private act of appreciation but even better if you voice it.
  2. Do something nice. Studies show that acting generously increases the giver’s happiness. Bring Ned a latte to your next meeting, offer to pick up lunch for him when you go to get your own,  or just offer him a piece of gum. Even something small like a smile or a joke or a thank you increases the positivity and resiliency in a relationship. What are the things you would do naturally if you had a good relationship with Ned? Do those things. Here are some more examples:
    • Ask Ned about his weekend or his pet gecko and listen; ask a follow-up question.
    • Thank him for something he did.
    • Share something about yourself.
    • Say something nice about him to someone else.
    • Say “please” and “thank you” in your emails to him.
    • Acknowledge his hard work or contribution.
    • Acknowledge his need, want or point of view, even if – no, especially if – you have to say no.
    • Invite him to coffee.
  3. Seek alignment. Find something you have in common and it will increase your sense of connection. What do you and Ned agree on? Maybe you’re both committed to hitting your OKRs. Or you both want to get the deal done. Or you’re both Giants’ fans. Find something you agree on and connect to him.
  4. Find compassion. Often a person’s unpleasant behavior is the result of something hidden from us – pain, insecurity, suffering. Next time Ned says something that triggers you, and you feel tempted  to say, “What a d**k,” instead try softening and saying, “I wonder what is bugging Ned.”
  5. Refrain from negativity. Don’t complain or gossip about Ned. It may feel good in the moment, but it multiplies and reinforces the negativity.
  6. Be proactive.Though your instinct may be to avoid Ned, the result is that you are often reactive or behind the curve, which only exacerbates the friction. Instead of waiting for him to ask you for something, anticipate and offer to help before he is in need.
  7. Adopt a growth mindset. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from Ned?’ You can always learn something.

The key here is that you are not trying to change Ned, you are simply trying to change how you are in relation to him and to the relationship. You are testing if changing behavior and thoughts makes your experience more positive or tolerable. Maybe it will have an effect on Ned and maybe not. Try these over the course of a couple of weeks and see if your own attitude shifts. Even if the other person doesn’t respond in kind, chances are you will notice a change.

You can’t tell by looking at me …….

We all wear masks. They consist of the parts of ourselves that we gladly show to others – qualities, attributes, feelings, and experiences that we choose to reveal in a given setting. We also have parts of ourselves that we don’t talk about or show. Maybe because nobody asks. Or maybe because we don’t want others to see or know those parts – the parts of us that are vulnerable, sad, angry, broken, tender, imperfect, or just private. Maybe we don’t feel safe. Some of us are more comfortable showing vulnerability, some less. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a mask – in fact, it is entirely appropriate to filter differently for workplace colleagues than for family or close friends. However, our masking becomes a problem when our life fails to provide any space where it is psychologically safe to reveal more of ourselves and to seek connection, comfort, guidance or help.

My White Fragility and What I’m Going to Do About It

I am white. That is to say, the pale pinkish color of my skin that Crayola used to call “flesh” puts me in the socially constructed category of “whiteness.” But I don’t typically think of myself as having a race. If you ask me to describe myself, there are lots of adjectives that will pop to mind before my skin color. And when I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t think about (or even really see) my race. When I walk into a new setting, I seldom if ever think about the fact that my whiteness has set me up to be the beneficiary of positive assumptions and privileges. As a result of the fact that I take my race for granted as invisible or non-existent, I have been insulated from discussions of race.  When the subject of race comes up, I am likely to feel uncomfortable and incompetent. “What do I know about race?” I think. If someone points out my biases, I feel upset, embarrassed, and may become defensive or overly intellectual. My prejudice doesn’t match my cherished self-image as a progressive and as a good person, so I may try to deny my bias or to excuse it by the fact that it is unintentional. When I hear other white people make biased remarks, even if cringe inside, I am likely not to call them out it because I know or believe them to be basically good people and don’t want to make them (or myself) feel uncomfortable. I avoid the topic. I lack the resilience or strength to wrangle with racism. Diversity trainer and author Robin Diangelo, calls this phenomenon “White Fragility” in her insightful and provocative book from last year.

Approach your career like an artist

When you are feeling stuck, uncertain, and afraid of taking action, you would do well to remember Diebenkorn’s  “Notes to Myself on Beginning a Painting.” Number 7 is:

“Mistakes can’t be erased, but they move you from your present position.”

He was, of course, explicitly talking about paint on a canvas, but his words speak more universally to the need to shift perspective and to risk failure.  The tenet that getting into action–even “wrong” or misguided action–is productive and even necessary for change is at the heart of coaching.

  1. Taking action gives you data. The first line on a canvas or page, the initial prototype of a product, the informational interview–all get you out of your head and reveal new information that you cannot access when you are stuck in analysis paralysis.
  2. Once  you are in motion, it is easier to take other actions.  Compare turning a boat, car, or a bicycle from a stop as to when it is already in motion. Many people learn this when they take a new job after a long time in a job and find that their next move is easier.
  3. Acting without certainty about the results is essential to innovation. If the results are guaranteed, there is no learning or growth.
  4. Trying something new keeps you flexible. Just as a new yoga pose stretches different muscles, trying something new provides the opportunity to stretch  your thinking and your skills.
  5. Taking a new perspective allows you to see options. From a new vantage, you eliminate blind spots and identify new paths forward. Even a single spot of paint makes you see the canvas differently.
  6. Sometimes the unexpected is really cool. My mother-in law, a watercolorist, will tell you: watercolor is hard to control – it runs and blends. Sometimes the results are a blurry mess. But other times, something miraculous happens. The artist has to surrender some level of control for that to occur.

The rapid pace of change and the increasing complexity of the world demand that more of us stretch into new spaces where the outcome is uncertain. So when you find yourself facing your equivalent of a blank canvas in work or life, pick a color and make a mark. Creativity is not just for artists, y’all.