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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 ...

Dealing With Difficult Clients: 7 Approaches To Transform Challenging Client Relationships

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If you’re in a client service business (lawyer, consultant or in-house services), you’ve met them: difficult clients. These clients are demanding. They may be anxious and need a lot of hand-holding. Or they habitually lob in urgent requests at the last minute. Some nit-pick your work. Some are rude or behave badly. Others try to micromanage you or are very hard to please. You see them as “difficult” because they demand special attention or effort and they often make your life harder. In extreme cases, they may seem like the enemy.

However, sometimes difficult clients also push you to do your very best work. They question your ideas and assumptions. They require you to explain what you’re doing and not operate on autopilot. They push you to meet tough deadlines. They require that you apply your skills and expertise and also your emotional intelligence. They can make you better.

How To Manage Workflow For Pressure-Prompted Procrastinators

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Confession: I don’t always practice what I preach.

As a coach, I work with my clients to build habits that will support them in achieving their goals. Our approach typically involves creating structures that promote steady effort and accountability. Clients practice mindfulness to learn how to self-manage their emotions; leaders schedule a weekly “meeting with myself” for planning and prioritization; some create spreadsheets for tracking networking targets and follow-up; others write in gratitude journals. All of these are effective in cultivating the new behaviors and awareness that will help them grow and develop.

Don’t Be So Sure: The Perils of Certainty

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I was certain that my flight to Chicago was at 10:30, so I aimed to leave for the airport by 9:00. But at 8:30 when I checked to verify the exact takeoff time, my chest seized up. My flight was leaving in less than an hour! I yelled for my husband to take me to the airport now. By the time I made it through security, the boarding gate had closed. I watched my flight take off without me.

Maybe something like this has happened to you. You felt so utterly sure of something that you did not consider the possibility that you were wrong, not bothering to check, but instead plowing ahead feeling right until the moment you realized you were wrong.

This experience is at the heart of Kathryn Schultz’s exploration of being wrong. As she points out, until you realize that you are wrong about something, it feels just like it does when you are right. You feel certain, confident, convinced of your rightness. We tend to think of certainty as the product of rational thought. But according to Robert A. Burton, certainty itself is actually a feeling—an involuntary mental sensation of the accuracy of one’s belief. It isn’t a thought but a feeling about a thought. You feel that you are right. And it turns out that we all tend to feel that we are right a lot, walking around in a bubble of certainty. As Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking Fast and Slow, we are prone to “excessive confidence in what we believe we know” and an “apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in.”

When Should You Take No For an Answer?

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The consequences of overwork are evident in my coaching practice. In startups, established companies and nonprofits I see teams in a constant state of fire-fighting and leaders who are unable to prioritize, where the quality of work is suffering, individuals are experiencing stress and anxiety, and valuable people are burning out. In a previous post, I wrote about building the “no” muscle—learning to say “no” to certain activities in service of being able to say “yes” to the right things.

But what if you say “no” and your colleagues won’t accept it? “I can say no ‘til the cows come home,” said Gayle, a member of the leadership team of a growing nonprofit organization, “but it’s not heard. I get push back. We have a culture of yes, and it’s killing our team.”

How to Prepare for Critical Feedback

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“I’m totally terrified,” said a colleague. Was she skydiving or going for a big job interview? Nope. She was preparing to receive feedback—in this case from an interdisciplinary group of experts who were reviewing a draft of her book—and she was afraid of being pummeled by their critique, even though she was also excited for the opportunity. It felt a little like facing a firing squad.

The fear of receiving criticism is not unique to her. Many of my clients enter their 360 feedback sessions with trepidation about what they will hear and how they will handle it. Like my friend, they may be bracing themselves for an attack on their performance or they may be concerned about how they will handle the criticism. Fear of your own reaction is especially acute when you are facing your reviewers in person, as my friend was. Preparation is key. Here are some suggestions to help you face your critics with equanimity and curiosity:

Want to Make a Difference? Focus on Contribution, Not Impact

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I nominate “impact” as one of the most annoying and potentially harmful buzzwords in business today.

Countless clients tell me they want to make an impact. Whether they are leaders in growing startups or tech giants, Millennials seeking meaning or mid-career professionals pursuing their next big job, they define success as having this thing they call “impact.” But what is it really about?

Impact is defined as the striking of one object into another, a collision. This kind of impact is violent, even shattering, like a hammer through plate glass. (Echoes of Facebook’s “move fast and break things” mantra?) When used in the term “Impact Investing,” it refers to the pursuit of a social benefit as well as profit. And because measuring social benefit is trickier than measuring profits, there is an ongoing debate about how and if to measure impact. It turns out it can be pretty hard to assess.

Overworked? A People Pleaser’s Guide to Saying No

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“I have more work than I can possibly do, my team is stretched to the breaking point, and the requests keep coming,” said an executive coaching client in a large tech company, her eyes welling with tears. She was not the only one to whom I gave a tissue this week.

Overwork is widespread in the U.S., and research indicates that it is bad for people’s health and productivity.  An excessive workload can be caused by many different factors—a demanding organizational culture, poor planning, failure to delegate or a lack of adequate staffing. But often times, it is exacerbated by an inability or unwillingness to say, “no.” People pleasers (you know who you are) hate to let down their colleagues and will sacrifice their own well-being to avoid causing disappointment. If they don’t develop their “no” muscle, they are likely to burn out or make themselves sick. Here are some strategies for people pleasers:  

What Can Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes Teach Us About Feminism?

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As Women’s History Month comes to a close, critics and feminists are reflecting on the story of the now infamous CEO of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes. The focus of the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood In Silicon Valley, Holmes captivated the imaginations and tapped into the greed and hubris of the (mostly male) investor class. She raised over $600 million and took her investors for a ride that ended in disgrace. Her failed product—a fast, cheap, comprehensive blood test using only a finger prick rather than a blood draw—would have been miraculous if it had worked. But it didn’t, and she knew it. She hid its flaws and is now facing federal fraud charges. Her very public rise and fall have some calling her a feminist anti-hero.

How To Take Charge And Navigate An Unexpected Change

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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.

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

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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