Category Archives: communication

argument

Doug and Jenny were at it again.

Another staff meeting where Jenny and Doug were on the opposite sides of the same coin: Jenny, advocating for an engineering schedule that was realistic and didn’t compromise the health or safety of her crew and Doug, fiercely arguing for a faster delivery to their clients.

It went like this every week in the project management meeting.

Morgan, the project manager, had spoken to each of them privately just before the meeting.  They each shared a genuine desire to be more amicable and see the situation from the other person’s point of view before reacting.

Publicly in the meeting, their behavior was nowhere near amicable. It was the same pattern repeating itself. Again. Their pattern was not one of sharing respectful differences.  Rather, their behavior was unprofessional and ego bruising, their words like daggers.

Frustrated, Morgan spoke to each of them privately after the meeting. She had to get to the bottom of this disagreement before it put the project in jeopardy.  How could they have earnestly promised to comport themselves more professionally and then act like small children throwing sand in the sandbox?

Doug and Jenny were caught in an unwanted repetitive pattern or (URP), a sequential and recurring episode of conflict that is considered unwanted by those in the conflict (not to mention those around them!).

URPs develop because two people have fallen into a pattern or script that demands each of them to behave in a conflicting manner. Often, the pattern one person is following serves to fuel the negativity of the other and the other person follows a pattern of responding in a negative manner.

Doug and Jenny, separately, both told Morgan “I couldn’t help it, I had no choice but to stick up for [the customer/the engineering team].”

Doug and Jenny will continue to enact their URP until the script gets interrupted. Either one of them could deliberately choose to behave differently or Morgan could choose to structure the meeting and the conversation such that the URP doesn’t get a chance to take hold.

URPs are difficult to stop and change. The first step is to identify that they are occurring in the first place. Where do you experience an unwanted repetitive pattern and how might you interrupt the script?

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    communication-problem

    When people talk to one another, three outcomes are possible:

    • they completely miss each other’s point (zero shared meaning),
    • they understand a portion of each other’s intended meaning (partial shared meaning) or
    • they completely understand each other (complete shared meaning).

    When you miss the other person entirely, you feel like a zero.

    When you completely understand the other person, you look like a hero.

    Let’s look at each of them and turn you into a hero more often.

    1. Zero shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda.  The next day, Shelly comes to work to find that Amanda has shared an internal scheduling document that lists the roll-out dates for all new features with all the company’s clients.

    Shelly’s intention was to start the discussion or about being more transparent. Amanda understood this as an idea to act upon immediately.  As you might suppose, Shelly was upset that Amanda had shared an internal document with clients.

    2. Partial shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda. “It’s not going to be a simple process and I’m not sure how much we can share,” Amanda replies. “Some of our customers will be upset to see how low on the priority list the features they are waiting for are.”

    Amanda and Shelly agree in general on the premise, although there is some negotiation and compromise on how much detail to share.

    3. Complete shared meaning. “We need to be more transparent with our clients about our development schedule for new features,” Shelly says to her colleague Amanda. “I couldn’t agree more,” Amanda replies. “I will set up a time on the calendar for us to draft a message to our clients and we can decide how much information to share and when.”  Shelly nods in agreement, “Perfect.”

    Amanda and Shelly are in lock step on both the need to share more information and on the route they will take to begin the new process.  Although they are entering the conversation with their own experiences, they agree on the premise and the next steps.

    This happens at work in conversation: we nail shared meaning, miss each other completely, or find some middle ground.

    When you get partial or no shared meaning, ask yourself “Why?”  What makes the difference for you in creating more shared meaning? A history of working well together? Similar demographics?  Length of time in the organization?

    Once you understand the “Why,” the “How” (as in, how you communicate with the person) will get easier to figure out. Next time you have a miscommunication (full or partial) ask yourself “Why?” and adjust how you communicate with them accordingly.

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    How do you explain someone’s irrational behavior or failure to deal with reality? Watch this week’s (video) blog to find out.

    Your choice: Watch the video or read the transcript below.

    VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

    Have you ever been in a situation where you’re attempting to make a decision with someone else – maybe in a group or just between the two of you – and the other person is clinging to outdated information, or worse yet, refusing to acknowledge the veracity or relevance of new information – information that would make a significant difference in the decision you are working toward?
    Maybe it is a new sales lead management system that’s going to replace a series of spreadsheets. And a colleague is adamant that the current system works just fine, the new system is an unnecessary expense and so forth.
    When people ignore or deny information that conflicts with their existing beliefs, they are experiencing cognitive dissonance.

    Their brain is grappling with the difference between the new information and what they believe to be true. When there is a gap, especially a sizable gap, between new evidence and what someone deeply believes, it is uncomfortable . . . and the brain seeks to make that difference go away. This can produce counter-productive behavior, and sometimes even irrational and bizarre behavior. Denial, excuse making, failure to see the obvious.

    So what do you do when someone is exhibiting these behaviors? How do you get them to see the new information as valid, and integrate it with their existing knowledge base?

    Start by stating what they do believe – at least to the best of your ability. Something like this: “If I understand you correctly, the sales process we’re using now works just fine.” Starting from their baseline makes them feel understood, it validates their position.

    Next, point out a problem with the current state, one that directly impacts them. “With our current system, senior leaders have to rely on self-reported data when determining who has exceeded their sales quotas.”

    Get agreement to the problem and then point out how that specifically impacts them. “You and I both know that others have received bonuses when they shouldn’t have.”

    And then, make a clear link to how the new information, or system in this case, can solve the problem. Finally, if at all possible, give them some time to think about it. Suggest you meet again in a few days and regroup.

    When cognitive dissonance runs deep, it will take a bit of time and patience to integrate the new information into their reality.

    So the next time you run into erratic, unreasonable or bizarre behavior from someone, take a moment to consider whether there is a significant difference between new information and their existing belief structure. If so, you’re dealing with cognitive dissonance. Use the tips presented in this video, and a dose of patience, to reduce the gap between their beliefs and the new information, so you can make a decision that’s in the best interests of all, and that everyone can buy into.

    That’s today’s video blog.  I’m Janel Anderson with Working Conversations.

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    You will never amount to anything.

    Self-talk, or the thoughts you think to yourself all day long, can do more damage than good. In fact, that self-talk can outright crush your dreams, especially if you are not listening closely to it and identifying whether it is fact or fiction.

    Here are six ways that self-talk, or how you communicate with yourself, can crush your dreams.

    1.  You deny what you want. You got close to that ideal relationship/career move/new car/dream home once.  And it fell through. So you convinced yourself you really didn’t want it anyway.

    2.  You compare yourself to others. Don’t try to fulfill on someone else’s dream. It won’t make you happy. Wanting the car your neighbor has, or the new job your former coworker just landed, isn’t going to make your dreams come true.

    3.  You listen to the (2%) negative feedback. If you weight the one or two pieces of constructive – or even outright negative – feedback more heavily than 98% of the feedback that said you did a great job,

    4.  You put other people’s need in front of your own. You had an intense day at the office and you are looking forward to relaxing in the evening. Except your spouse needs you to proof-read a work report that is due the next morning. Do you honor your need to relax (and your boundaries), or do you compromise your self-care and help?

    5.  You listen to voices from the past. What your parents thought you should be, where your brother thinks you should live or when your college professor said, “You’ll never be a writer.” Those are other people’s voices that need not have any bearing on who you are or what you want to be or do or have. Leave them in the past where they belong.

    6.  You sell yourself short. Excessive humility, when it comes to your skills and talents, is a major impediment to your success. If you are the smartest person in the room on the subject, let people know. If you read six books on the subject last month or follow all the top industry experts, don’t be shy. Confidently state your expertise and show your stuff.

    What will you do to get out of your own way and stop crushing your own dreams?

    Use the Comments below to proudly declare how you will get out of your own way and let your dreams come true.

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    20160118_113103

    Before I reached the point of being okay with my son and I hiking The Pass Mountain Trail on Usery Mountain in Arizona at our own very distinct paces, I was angry. Very angry.

    Angry that I couldn’t keep up with him.

    Angry that he wasn’t waiting for me.

    Angry that we weren’t having a mother-son bonding moment on the mountain.

    Angry that his flight back to Minneapolis was leaving in just a few hours.

    Angry that we technically didn’t have time to do the full 7.1 mile hike.

    And most of all, angry that we hadn’t made a plan before we set out.

    How many times has it happened that you assumed the other person was of like mind about a situation when, in fact, you had very different ideas about how things would go?

    I assumed there was no need to make a plan because we would be together. And, based on our speed and the time of day, we would together decide when to turn back.

    If I was with my best friend or my mom, that would have been the case indeed. But there are very few others who can read my mind.

    And so, we set off without an agenda.

    Without a plan, my assumptions took hold and ran the dialogue that played in my head: “I’m the parent here, I should be in charge. I am the responsible one and I need to make sure we get to the airport on time.  He’s flying Spirit so I’ll need to feed him before he gets on the flight. How can I be in charge if he’s a half-mile ahead of me?”

    A simple plan – before we set out – would have alleviated a great deal of angst for me (and eventually for him after he summited and reached the bottom, wondering where I was and whether he’d catch his flight).

    A simple plan would have taken just under a minute to hash out in the form of a few simple if/then statements.

    If we get separated, then A.

    If it is noon and we aren’t at the summit, then B.

    This simple, straightforward plan would have saved me 30 minutes of agony. Fortunately, it was only 30 minutes of agony. Given that he is my son, I’m predisposed toward forgiveness. Given that I quickly realized I didn’t want to waste the day being upset (30 minutes is pretty fast, at least for me), I found peace with our varying paces. And in my shift away from anger and toward the mountain experience, I assumed positive intent: he was just enjoying himself and the climb.

    It is easy to waste an entire day to frustration with our colleagues and clients over assumptions we are making in the absence of a well-communicated plan.

    Here are three steps for turning it around:

    1. Assume positive intent.
    2. Lean toward forgiveness.
    3. Vow never to spend an entire day (or even an hour) upset about something.

     

    Catch the full series of blog posts of my Lessons on Leadership from the Side of a Mountain.

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    Interruptions

    Interruptions

    You know the guy (or maybe it’s a gal): the one who steamrolls the meeting with their own agenda item.

    You can see it coming: his eyes light up, he leans in a little bit, he’s even salivating, isn’t he?

    The next agenda item is remotely related to his pet topic.

    He’s getting ready to pounce.

    He gets his chance and then . . . BAM! He’s on a roll and there’s no stopping him.

    You send all the right non-verbal messages to get him to stop. You try to interrupt. You glance around the table and see that everyone else is resigned to the next 15 minutes (or more!) of his recapitulation. You give up and settle in, feeling defeated.

    “How do I stop that guy?” a participant in a workshop recently asked me.

    Here’s how you stop “that guy” from derailing the meeting:

    Step 1: Be Ready.

    You can’t effectively stop him if you’re not ready. Watch for signals that he’s about to jump in, uninvited. You might need to observe him in action a few times before you are fully ready.

    Think of yourself as a cultural anthropologist: your objective is to learn the characteristics and habits of the interloper. What actions does he take in the moments and micro-moments before he interrupts?

    Get to know those characteristics until they are second nature.  You’ll be better able to head him off – and you’ll be more confident.

    Step 2: Jump In, Just Before He Starts.

    You’ve studied him. You know his demeanor. You know the specific gesture he makes just before he interrupts. You’ve strategically seated yourself across the table from him so you have an unimpeded view. He leans in and adjusts his glasses, just like he always does.

    And then, BAM! You’re there. And you jump in and take control of managing the turns in the conversation. You have two choices:

    1. You take a turn yourself. That is, if you’ve got something to say.

    2. You give the turn to someone else. It sounds like this: “Let’s hear from Jeanne about how we are doing on the budget before we take the discussion any further.”

    Step 3: Redirect.  Respectfully, Of Course.

    If he persists — and he will — repeat the steps and redirect the conversation.

    It sounds like this: “Steve, I know you have a lot of interest/passion/history with this project. In order for us to address all the things we need to cover in this meeting, we need to stick to a tight timeframe to make sure we get it all in. We still need to hear from Sherry on the budget and Rick on the overall timetable first.  Sherry?”

    You need to say that with complete confidence and authority. If you waver in the slightest, he will jump right in and you’ll be back to square one.

    You might also seek the support of a confederate on this. Let someone else in the meeting, ideally one of the people you’d like to take a turn instead, in on what you are doing.  They can back you up – and be ready to take the next turn when you pass it to them.

    Your turn: Next time you are in this situation, jump on it.

    Be aggressive.

    Everyone will thank you.

    Well, okay, one person won’t.

    But everyone else will.

     

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    shoe

     

    shoe

    My daughter had a major meltdown on the second day of school.  Over shoes. She’s six. (Yikes!)

    We arrived at school without her “high-heels” pictured above. They’d made their debut appearance on the first day of school. She reported back that her teacher said high heels were not allowed in first grade. Based on that information, I removed said shoes from her backpack before we left the house on Day 2.

    Upon arriving at school and learning that the coveted shoes were not in her backpack, my beloved daughter responded with great drama. Now, drama is drama. Whether it is at home or office (or school), it really takes something to not get immediately sucked in as a full-fledged participant, being equally dramatic.

    In the shoe debacle, it was hard to keep from being unduly influenced by the unfolding drama of a first grader in tears. Not tears of sadness (that would have been much, much easier to empathize with and comfort), but rather hot, angry, raging tears. Much as I tried to remain calm, I admit it, I got sucked into the drama a few times.

    Emotions are contagious. I’ve written elsewhere about that recently.

    When I felt my exasperation overtaking my empathy and my attempts at being rational, I took a few steps back (literally, I needed the distance) and breathed deeply. This is a skill I’ve been working with my daughter to develop, too.  Whether we are six, the mother of a six-year-old, or working with those who are 26, 36, 46, 56, or 66, things don’t always go our way. We suffer set-backs, road blocks and rules that we balk at.  And so do the people around us.

    The more we can keep our head on around others who may, for the moment, seem as if they’ve completely lost theirs, the faster they will come around.  For every moment that I expressed my exasperation, it took twice that time to calm my daughter down.  The more I could be calm and rational, the more it created a space for her to be calm and rational. My emotions are contagious on her, too.  And that’s important to remember when emotions are running high and hot.

    Resolution came in the form of recognizing each other’s needs. I acknowledged that she had a “need” to have her high-heels with her at school that day, despite not being able to wear them. She “needed” them in her backpack.  I needed to get to the office, a need she had little care or concern about. But in order to get my need met, it was critical that I acknowledge her perspective, validate her concern and commit to future action (she could take the shoes to school tomorrow).

    If you’ll excuse me, I need to go check that her shoes are in her backpack!

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