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Monday, September 29, 2014

The Communication That God Hates

     The book of Proverbs describes six things that are detestable to God.  Right off the bat it lists "haughty eyes" (arrogance) and a lying tongue.  Farther down lying is mentioned again in the list so that it looks like there are seven things.  But actually, it is reiterated that God hates lying.  Verse 19 says, "a false witness who pours out lies..."  Apparently, God abhors lying so much it has to be mentioned twice.
     Well, I'm willing to bet that you don't have to be a Christian to detest lying also.  If you've ever been the target of someone's lies or witnessed someone intentionally deceiving someone, you know how hurtful it can be.  I remember when elders used to say if you lie, you steal; if you steal, you kill.  Meaning, one bad action leads to a worse action.  Since I blog about communications, this is one pitfall in our conversations that should not be overlooked.  Is it common sense to say don't lie because it's wrong?  It would seem so, but unfortunately, people do it anyway.  It is estimated that we are lied to as many as 200 times a day.  Several surveys have been conducted asking people how often they lie.  But the numbers often come back low enough that researchers think the participants were lying about lying.
     Of course, people have all sorts of reasons for lying.  Some feel they are justified because they are trying to protect someone else in some way.  Others feel the small ones they tell are insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  Still some feel it's okay because they're telling a partial truth.  Regardless of the reasons why people lie, the fact remains that they do.  We have to find a better way to communicate so that we maintain our integrity.  I'm willing to bet that most of the lies we tell are for selfish reasons.  Unless you don't care if your credibility is busted, you should be trying to protect your reputation as a reliable and trustworthy person.  To be thought otherwise compromises your ability to lead and serve.  Who wants to follow a liar?  Who would trust a liar to deliver on his promises?  Who would believe a gossip or busybody?  Who would trust their heart to a deceiver in a romantic relationship?
     Lying hurts feelings and futures.  Lying destroys reputations and lives.  Lying fuels hate and more lies.  Whether a victim of falsehoods or a perpetrator of them, there is no good thing in lying.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sharing Is Not Just for Social Media

I recently sent a proposal to a client and awaited her response on a tight deadline.  I didn't impose the deadline; she did.  Her situation was at crisis level, and she needed my help with some staff issues.  She also said she needed me there in a matter of days.  My proposal included a longer-term fix to the acute situation and would require more than a day in the office with her team.  After about a week, I contacted her back by email to follow-up on whether she had approved the proposal.  She replied promptly stating she was still working on getting signatures from other persons in the office.  Another week went by and still no word.  At this point was the time at which she'd requested I be there.  I sent her another email checking on the status of the approval.  She did not respond.  I let two days lapse, and I sent another email.  No response.  Finally two days more, and I placed a phone call.  I got her voicemail and left a message.  Days passed and no response.
     At this point, I assumed she'd changed her mind about using my services and had chosen to go with another training and coaching company.  I decided not to make a nuisance of myself (after five attempts at getting an answer you become a pest) so I abandoned pursuit and left the matter alone.  Then abruptly about a week later she has her assistant call me to work out the dates for my impending arrival the following week.  I was confused.  I wasn't planning on coming out there.  What was she talking about?  The assistant went on about modifying some of the dates in the proposal and asked if I could extend my stay on the first trip and if I could meet them at their downtown office rather than the satellite office and so on and so on.  She spoke as if we'd been talking about this all along, and we were just tidying up the details.  I informed her that I had no idea what she was talking about because this was the first I'd heard that I was going to be working with them.
     This isn't the first time the company has operated in this manner with me.  I presume they tend to operate this way with most of the business they do.  Much is last minute, and there is a scarcity of communications going on in the course of planning.  My schedule did not permit me to show up at the time I had originally proposed because they were past the deadline, and there was too little follow-up on their part to have me reserve the time.  We eventually worked it out, and I was able to accommodate them.  But limited or no communication poses a challenge for everyone involved, especially those who have responsibilities in the situation.  Like too much communication can be overkill, not enough can create craters in productivity and progress.  People have to know what's going on.  It is important to keep every pertinent person in the loop on what's important to them and the entire department and/or organization.  Neglecting to respond to emails, requests, deadlines, and other correspondence is not only rude and unprofessional, but it keeps others in the dark when they need to be included.  Ask yourself:  are you communicating enough?  If you're not sure, keep these three things in mind:
     1.  Always ask:  Who needs to know?  Who needs to be in on this?
     2.  Prioritize what you need to respond to so that you're responsive to the most important issues first.  But remember this doesn't give you a pass to ignore all other contacts made to you.
     3.  Then ask:  What needs to be conveyed?  What's important enough that it has to be shared?
     These aren't the only steps, but they're a good start.  Begin here and watch how much more informed you will be as well.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Put a Speed Limit on Your Rate of Speech

     Haveyoueverheardsomeonetalksoquicklythatitseemedeverythingtheysaidranalltogetherinonesentence?  Much like that statement, it was hard to listen to what was said.  You could barely follow the path of their conversation because much of what was spoken seemed jumbled and unclear.  For those of us who are fast talkers, having to slow down is as exciting as driving behind someone who's going slow in the fast lane.  We're a a bit annoyed that not everyone can appreciate the speed we do, and we feel that having to put on brakes frequently is like having to drive behind a postal truck.  We're doing a lot of starting and stopping, but we're not necessarily getting anywhere.  Nonetheless, fast talkers must be cognizant that our rate of speech can get in the way of our clarity of speech.  We have to remember that even though the thoughts are coming rapid-fire, we don't have to get them all out in 0-60 seconds.  We have to give the other person an opportunity to process what we just said.  Some people take longer than others so we have to take people's listening habits into consideration.
     Fast talkers falsely believe that we can "listen fast" too.  We need to think about that again.  Just like we tend to fumble over our words when we speak too quickly, we fumble when we listen too quickly.  We think we heard something one way, but it was actually meant another.  That's because the way it was presented was so rushed that we sped up our hearing to catch up with all that was being said.  But even though we were "hearing faster", that didn't mean our brains had caught up with our ears.  We heard words, but their meaning was lost on us.  We jumped to conclusions and judgment believing we knew what the other person was talking about even though they hadn't finished explaining.  Now...if you have a fast talker listening to a fast talker, there's so much speed flowing between the two that there's nobody slowing down enough to process any of this instant exchange.  Fast talkers sound breathless, rushed, frazzled, and a teeny bit out of control.  Almost as if they can't stop themselves.  Well, pump your brakes because here's some help for those of us who feel like we're on the Lowe's Motor Speedway of communication.
     I was a fast talker for a long time until I joined my local Toastmasters club.  If you're unfamiliar with Toastmasters International, it's a wonderful speaking organization that helps anyone who wants to be a better presenter.  I had been speaking publicly for years before I joined Toastmasters, but I hadn't realized all of the bad habits I'd picked up along the way.  Being a member of Toastmasters helped me to get the much needed feedback I desired so I could become a sharper presenter.  I was evaluated on numerous speeches throughout the years when I was a dedicated member, and I received constructive and valuable coaching from my fellow Toastmasters.  One of the most useful pieces of advice was "slow down when you speak".  I hadn't realized that I was a fast talker until it was brought to my attention.  Now that I'm aware, I make adjustments when I'm giving speeches, leading meetings, conducting small group coaching or in any situation where I have to share information that others need to hear.
     If you've been told you talk too fast, keep that information top of mind.  Then put a speed limit on your rapid pace.  Check out a local Toastmasters club to create new speaking habits.  And practice communicating with the same caution to speed that you use on the highway.  The slow listeners will thank you for it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Written Word

  Great writing isn't just for the profound thinker or creative author.  Great writing has as much to do with competence in writing and being able to express what you want to say in the written word as it does in how you verbalize your thoughts.  It doesn't require that you have an expansive vocabulary or that you have to be prolific in how many ways you can tell the same story.  Oftentimes, it's just knowing how to make subject and verb agree, using appropriate grammar, and spelling correctly.  People who may not know you well will assume your level of intelligence by how you write if that's all they have to go on.  If you write like a fourth-grader, people will assume you're only as smart as a fourth grader.  To be taken seriously, you must present yourself as one who is knowledgeable.  Making simple mistakes like choosing the wrong version of a word (e.g. "your" instead of "you're" or "their" instead of "they're" or the often misused "lose" instead of "loose") can give the appearance of one who didn't pay attention in English class.  Not to mention wrong word choices can also cause confusion if they change the meaning of the sentence.
     If you're not a strong writer, there are at least three things you can do to improve your skills:
  1. Read more.  The more you read, the more you get to see words in the right context.  The more you hear the "voice" of a skilled writer, the more you develop your own voice.  You can expand your vocabulary by reading content that will challenge what you think you already know.  When I come across an unfamiliar word or one that I've seen but don't really know the meaning, I take the time to look it up.  Then I try to find ways to incorporate that word into my daily conversations so I can get used to it.  Make a dictionary and a thesaurus your best friends.  Therefore, challenge yourself to write better by reading more.
  2. Write more and proofread your work.  The two should always go hand-in-hand.  Anytime you write, and I mean anytime, you should always proofread what you've written before you send it out.  I proof everything from formal letters to emails and even my text messages to make sure they are accurate.  It is so easy to write something these days and zip it off to someone without re-reading it.  Electronic communications has made us lazy.  It's fast, but it's far from accurate.  So easily you can misspell a word due to auto-correct that may totally miss what you actually meant to convey.  That's why it is imperative to take a quick look at what you wrote before you hit "send".  I found at least ten errors in the first draft of this blog entry.  I don't care how insignificant you feel the message is or how familiar you are with the person you're sending it to.  It's all about accuracy.  Don't make people work too hard to try to figure out what you are trying to say.  I will often stop reading messages when there are too many misspelled words.  Bottom line: the more you write the better you become.  As with anything you want to improve in, you must practice, practice, practice.
  3. Take a class.  Find a quick class that will allow you to brush up on your writing skills.  In fact, my company offers a quick one-day session to adults who want to "Say It Better Through the Written Word".  Get the personal feedback you need.  Add value to your communications skills by being able to write well and present yourself as competent and professional.  It's one of the best investments you can make in yourself.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How to Speak With Authority

     Strong leaders have a commanding presence because of the way they carry themselves.  They exude confidence in the way they walk, talk, stand, and look.  Everything about them says, "I got this."  They make the people around them feel like they can trust their knowledge and their decisions.  Strong leaders are authoritative and earn the respect of the people who report to them.  They've managed to accomplish this by showing themselves to be reliable and wise.  If you've ever had the opportunity to experience this kind of leader in action especially in a crisis, you may remember yourself feeling a little relieved and a bit more relaxed when they took charge.  It was something about the way they spoke that let you know everything was going to be all right.  What did they do?  Let's explore their speech specifically.
     1)  The leader who speaks with authority tends to state facts with accuracy and honesty.  They don't do any double-speak to give the appearance that they know what they're talking about or that they are trying to hide anything.  You can be sure that what they say is true, and you can feel free to repeat it with the same confidence.  They are direct but not rude.  They are self-assured.
     2)  The leader who speaks with authority usually has something of significance to say when he has the attention of his team.  Idle chatter is not a major part of his conversation.  When he speaks, people want to listen because what he has to say shows off his wisdom, his knowledge, and his faith in his own statements.  It's clear to everyone listening that he knows what he's talking about.  He has established himself as a credible source of information.
     3)  The leader who speaks with authority is decisive.  He makes a choice even when the choice is difficult.  He is courageous in that he will do what is unpopular for the greater good rather than to protect his reputation or his own self-interest.  Thus, the very act of ignoring popularity to do what's right in turn gains him popularity.
     It takes time to learn this skill; to build the trust in others that establishes a leader's authority.  If you want to speak with authority, then try these three things for yourself:  Be credible, be significant, and be decisive.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pardon the Interruption

     Ever been in a conversation with someone, and they started talking while you were right in the middle of what you were saying?  It was as if you weren't speaking at all.  Or how about when you're speaking to someone and another person walks up and interjects as if they had been invited into your conversation.  We've all been there.  And some of us are guilty of doing the same to others.  For whatever reason, we feel like it's okay to butt-in where we have not been invited.  We don't recognize the rudeness of our interruption, and we take for granted that the person we're speaking to is okay with it.  Well listen up.  It's not okay.
     Like so much in life today, we are impatient in our conversations.  It's almost as if we can't control ourselves.  If a thought is on our minds, we have to immediately express it.  Usually without a lot of forethought which gets a lot of people in trouble.  If we stopped for a moment and actually considered what was going on in the interaction we were experiencing, it would cause us to take time and listen.  When we're listening correctly, we're quiet.  Thinking is best done quietly.  If you think out loud, it still requires you being the only one talking.  To have two people talking at the same time means no one is listening.  That's why arguments are fruitless.  Both people are shouting to get their points across, but no one's really listening to either point being forced on the other person.
     In most social and work environments, to hijack a conversation is a nuisance.  Therefore, make a special effort to check yourself before you invade another person's thought process.  When you interrupt, you break their stream of thinking.  They lose the momentum of what they were trying to say.  You've essentially acted as if what you have to say is more important. 
     If the conversation is between you and another individual and you interrupt, the issue is the same.  You are being arrogant and rude.  Wait your turn.  You'll get it in.  Unless the other person is the one being rude by conducting a monologue and not letting you get a word in edgewise, you should listen quietly to what they're saying and await your opportunity to speak.  You'll find that you can contribute better to the conversation because you've heard the whole story as opposed to speaking too quickly and going in the wrong direction.  I must confess I'm bad about interrupting on the phone.  I can't always hear when the other person wants to speak so I may go on too long.  But I'm cognizant of it, and I make an effort to listen harder and speak a little less.  And that's all any of us has to do--think about our behavior when we're engaging other people.  When you can admit that sometimes you're sloppy with it, then you can make the effort to clean up your mess.
     If you've stopped what you were doing to read this, then please, pardon the interruption.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Monopolizing a Conversation is a Show of Arrogance

     You've likely been in a conversation or at least overheard a conversation where one person talked and talked and talked or continuously interjected their opinion at every breath taken by the other side.  You've probably been in a training class and heard one particular participant constantly have something to say every time the facilitator asked a question or tried to move on with a point in the training.  You found it annoying and no doubt so did the other people around you.  Yet, the individual seems clueless that they are monopolizing the discussion.  Everybody in the room wants to say, "Just shut up already!"
     Facilitators like myself have to work harder in these instances to maintain control of the room.  We know that the other participants are looking to us to keep order so that they can get something out of the precious time they're spending in a training class--sometimes classes they've paid for themselves.  Out of politeness, most people--whether a trainer or just the person who's on the other side of the conversation with a monopolizer--feel like they have to use tricks to quiet the person or to overcome their assertiveness.  This takes a lot of mental energy while still trying to concentrate on what we're teaching.  Therefore, it becomes frustrating.  But rather than have us go through psychological manipulation to protect the monopolizer's feelings, the monopolizer needs to understand this one thing:  your domination of any verbal exchange is a display of arrogance.  Yes, arrogance.  That might seem harsh, but here's what I mean.
     A person who constantly offers their opinion unsolicited is acting as if they have all the answers.  They are the proverbial "know-it-all".  If this could be you, listen up.  Any time you feel you should assert your views when no one has asked you, then you are acting like everyone else wants to hear what you have to say.  You believe that your views are important above everyone else's.  In fact, you show it when you hardly give anyone else a chance to speak.  And even if they do get a word in edgewise, you may counter what they say just so your opinion is heard even louder (not necessarily in volume but in value).  You have to prove your point or share your experience or highlight your perspective.  If you're in a training class where the facilitator may throw a question out to the audience, you are usually the one who has to say something even if other people have already contributed.  Even the content of your contributions are all about you and your beliefs. They are usually self-serving and self-centered.
     Arrogance in this instance says "Look at me.  I have an opinion on that and that and that, and I'm going to tell you about it.  I'm going to tell you about me.  I'm going to tell you about what I believe.  I'm going to tell about how your statement applies to me.  I'm going to tell you about my experience with what you just shared.  I'm going to tell you, I'm going to tell, I'm going to tell."
     So here's some advice:  (Yes it's unsolicited, but it's not about me, it's about you.)  Try humility.  Stop for a minute and consider that you don't have all the answers. And even if you believe you do, no one else cares.  When they ask you directly for your opinion, then offer it.  If it is in an open forum, then refrain from offering too much.  Consider the other people in the room and that they have something to contribute as well.  Give them an opportunity to share.  You may be surprised to find that other people are wise and intelligent too, and you may actually learn something if you just take the focus off of you and listen for a change.  Pass it along.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Leaders Should Do to Speak Enthusiasm (When It's Not Your Thing)

     Countless surveys have been done that show teams want leaders who inspire them.  They appreciate working with a manager who motivates them with their own enthusiasm and zest for life.  This is not a skill that's learned very easily if at all.  It's actually a personality trait that a lot of people have naturally, and to act counter to it would be a strain for them.  They love life and have a penchant for seeing experiences in a positive way even if things aren't going well.  Not everyone can do this and come across sincere.  Some people have to work at it.  On the contrary, as much as the optimistic person does not have to work hard at being excited about life, the pessimist does not have to work hard at seeing the hardships of life--and living in them.
     Pessimists see optimists sometimes as phonies.  They don't believe anyone can be that enthusiastic all the time and be sincere.  They believe they're hiding their pain.  Pessimists try to search below the surface for the "real" problems.  They take life seriously and see it as a succession of fires that have to be put out and issues that plague them at home and work.  This type of outlook on life can drain the energy out of people who don't share it.  Managers who go around the office all day looking for obstacles, bringing up negative issues, and creating problems where they don't have to exist cause workers to hate coming through the company's doors every day.
     Uninspiring leaders don't often realize this is how they act.  This behavior is the norm for them, and few people tend to point it out for fear of hurting their feelings or having to deal with the wrath that may come because, of course, a pessimist will not take the feedback well.
     Some leaders are not pessimists but still lack the knowledge in how to show enthusiasm at work.  They have a more reserved demeanor and may come across as disconnected and uninspiring.
     If you struggle with showing enthusiasm on the job or in life because of either of these reasons, keep a couple of things in mind:
     1)  Troubles come without prompting so don't invite them in.  An enthusiastic and inspiring leader tries to protect his or her team as much as possible from the issues that will serve as little more than distractions to them.  These are the things that keep people from being productive and weighed down.  In speaking to the team, a leader who struggles with sounding enthusiastic should get used to saying:  "Don't worry about it.  We'll get through it."  Or, "This is a big barrier, but it's nothing that a strong team like us can't can get over."  Or, "Let's focus our attention on those things we can influence or change and not those we can't."  Enthusiastic leaders aren't bouncing off the walls, standing on chairs or shouting some rousing speech.  They simply speak with hope.
     2)  Encourage your team by acknowledging their special contributions and showing that you're one of their biggest supporters.  Speak enthusiastically about their accomplishments.  Be sincere by complimenting them only when it is earned and appropriate.  How much more enthusiastic would a person feel about getting back to their desk if at the staff meeting you called them out on an awesome job they did on a particular project or over the past several months as a "turnaround player"?  How much more respected a manager would you be if you showed your enthusiasm with a smile rather than a bland look while telling the team how you have every confidence they are going to hit the team's goals this quarter.
     Enthusiasm is far more than being a cheerleader and slapping backs and grinning.  Many people don't feel comfortable behaving that way, and it's okay.  It's not their norm.  But they can always speak enthusiasm without being enthusiastic by saying the right words sincerely and regularly.

Monday, June 23, 2014

3 Ways to Sound Empathetic When You're Not Sure How

     Empathy is a little practiced emotion in today's communications.  Many people I've talked to admit that they tend to forget to be empathetic when they should be.  They also get confused about when they should be empathetic and when they should be sympathetic.  In fact, they hardly know the difference between the two and aren't quite sure how to show either.  So let's start there.  Let's distinguish between the two.  Empathy is the ability to be able to understand what other people are going through because you've experienced the same thing or something similar.  Sympathy is feeling compassion for someone else when something unfortunate happens to them.  Therefore, empathy is about, "Hey, I know what you're going through" and sympathy is "I may not fully know what you're going through, but I'm sorry it's happening to you."  Our focus today is to know how and when to be empathetic.  To avoid the awkwardness that can arise when an opportunity requires it and you're not sure what to do, keep these three things in mind:
     1)  You don't have to have all the right words to say.  Sometimes people believe they have to sound like a Hallmark card during difficult times.  Reality is, most of us aren't all that prolific.  Rather than forcing comments that will likely fall flat, just keep it simple.  Be sincere even if it means admitting out loud that you don't have the words.  Something like:  "I really wish I knew what to say right now, but I don't think any words would be adequate.  But know that I hate this for you.  I'm just going to sit here with you for awhile, and if you want to talk about it, I'm here to listen."  Then be quiet.  Sometimes just being there is enough.  Empathy is shown as much as it is said.
     2)  Tell your story.  Your experience in a similar situation could be a comfort to the person who is struggling through at the moment.  Show them you are a survivor.  Give them hope that they will make it through too.  Saying something like, "I understand if you're afraid about your diagnosis.  I was diagnosed with the same thing" or "I know it's hard to lose a parent.  I lost my mother when I was 18" or "I know how it is to work with a demanding boss.  Mine has been a pain in my rear for two years now."  Being able to relate to what someone else is going through because you've walked that path before provides them a bit of relief.
     3)  As much as it helps, it is not necessary that you experience a particular hardship exactly to be empathetic.  You can show or express your feelings about the situation without having lived it.  But try to avoid statements like "I know how you feel" if you've never been in their predicament.  People find that annoying.  Still, you can show your support with a few standard responses because your experience was similar if not exactly the same.  For example:  "If I were in your shoes, I would feel the same way."  Or, "I can understand your frustration.  I would be frustrated too."  Or simply to acknowledge their feelings: "You're hurt right now because you've been betrayed.  It's okay.  You should feel hurt.  Most anyone would."
     One caveat about the statement "I know how you feel" is that you can say it if you have experienced the same feelings they are. Therefore anyone can be empathetic because all of us have had the same emotional responses as other people in life. We may not display them at the right time or in the right way, but we've all felt the same emotions at some point.  Our reaction may have been the result of a different situation, but the emotion is still the same.  For example, you may have been embarrassed because you got caught gossiping about a person and they heard you.  The person you are trying to comfort may be feeling embarrassed by a criticism thrown their way by the boss in a staff meeting.  Even though the situations are different, the feeling is still the same.  Therefore, you can empathize about being embarrassed.
     Being empathetic builds emotional connections.  Empathy brings comfort and increases confidence in the other person.  Your affirmations are healing and your validations are supportive--two things they need most at the moment.  Try them and build stronger relationships.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

10 More Rules of Engagement in Conflict

Hopefully you've had an opportunity to read the first ten Rules of Engagement in conflict on this blog.  They are explained in depth.  But here are ten more to round out the list.  They are as valuable as the others and are sure to squelch any disagreement that could escalate into a full-on war of words.  Try these:

11.  Avoid sarcasm.  It is condescending and sure to annoy the other party.  Just be straight in your answers and leave the judgment out of it.

12.   Look the person in the eye.  Show interest, not disdain.  Eye contact means you're paying attention to what they're saying and actually considering their perspective.

13.  Watch your body language.  No big threatening gestures or pounding on tables.  No slamming doors or throwing items.

14.  No interrupting the other person while they’re speaking.  We get so caught up in trying to assert our point, that we don't realize we're denying the other person the opportunity to express theirs.  In that regard, we're not looking to resolve anything, we're looking to force our opinion as if it is the only one that matters.

15.  Stick with the issue at hand.  Don’t go back and rehash old arguments.  It is so easy to go round and round trying to push an issue, to never let things go, to never yield.  Some people can keep disagreements alive for years.  Learn to be a peacemaker.

16.  Always look for solutions.  Don’t just argue without an end in mind.  Be a problem solver.

17.  Choose your battles carefully.  Everything doesn’t require an argument.  Learn to be agreeable and compromising.  You can’t always have everything your way.

18.  Don’t bring other people into your argument—figuratively or physically.  And don't let anyone bring you into theirs.  Fight your own battles and let other people fight theirs.

19.  Listen for ways to avoid making the same mistakes that lead to an argument.  Commit to making a change in your own behavior before correcting someone else's.  Listen to what other people tell you about certain habits you have that cause issues for those around you.

20.  Ask questions rather than make accusations.  For ex. “Why did you say that?” and "What do you mean by that?"

And here are three bonus tips:
1.  Be willing to apologize.
2.  Don’t hold grudges when the disagreement is over
3.  Adhere to these rules.  They don’t work unless they’re followed by BOTH parties.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rules of Engagement in Conflict--Rule #10

Rule of Engagement in Conflict #10 calls for all of us to stop the tit-for-tat interactions that are common in disagreements--especially in marriages.  If someone says something to you about yourself that you don't like, the most common response is to point out to that individual that they do similar things.  Instead of stopping to digest what has just been said, our natural response is to get defensive if we have not trained ourselves to be accepting of other people's opinions of us.  We say, "Yeah, but you..." and the other person fires back with the same.  Next thing we know, nothing's getting resolved, and no one is holding themselves accountable for their behavior.  It is easy to point a finger at someone else without considering the legitimacy of what the other person is saying.
     Let's face it--it's hard to hear less than glowing remarks about our actions.  We'd like to think we do almost everything right, and somehow it's the other person's fault for taking what we say the wrong way or misinterpreting our good intentions.  We don't often stop to think that we may have led people to feel or respond to us in an undesirable way because of something we said or did.  We tend to place the onus back on the other person for not getting it right.  When they bring it to our attention, we get defensive and upset.  Then we look for ways to point out some shortcoming of theirs while ducking responsibility for our own actions.  "How dare you say that to me when you do..."
     In conflict, this can go on forever.  That's why some people have told me they can argue for hours.  They won't let up or go to bed without trying to "resolve" the issue because they're mad!  But the fact is, this kind of behavior never leads to resolution.  It usually ends up with a lot of hurt feelings because both sides have said too much, made too many accusations.  Hurtful things you can't take back.
     So here's what needs to happen:
     Listen first.  The key to any debate, argument or disagreement is to listen.  Then consider the value of what's being said.  Whether you agree with it or not, try to understand what the other person is conveying.  Can you see from their point of view how you may actually be acting in the manner they said?  In fact, are you behaving that way at the time of the conflict?  Some people will deny that they're hard to talk to while they're being hard to talk to!  The fact that the other person has a problem with you means that an actual problem exists.  In order to resolve it, you can't deny their complaint or overlook it just because you don't like to be considered as part of the cause.  People who are successful at resolving conflict achieve that success by listening first and immediately thinking through the possibilities.  They hold themselves accountable and try not to match one negative comment with another.  They ask themselves, "Did I really do that?" and "How could I have said or done that better?" and "Even though I didn't mean it that way, I still owe this person an apology because I offended them."
     If we all sought ways to be peacemakers, peace and mercy would prevail.  Conflict would shrink, and everyone's individual space could contain a little less drama.  Try it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

10 Signs That You Lack People Skills

I am often amazed by how many people work in jobs or serve in some capacity where their priority is supposed to be the needs of other people, and it is clear they are not people-focused.  They are in customer service, at the check out counter, in supervisory positions, in ministry, healthcare, and other places that require they help those around them.  They fail miserably and have that perplexed look like they don't understand what went wrong when people complain.  If this is you, well, let me help you out.  Below are ten signs that you might lack people skills:
  1. You think of your needs first before anyone else's.  Those who are people-focused will put other's needs ahead of their own when appropriate.  I'm not suggesting people should deny themselves in order to please others, but if an opportunity presents where a more immediate need arises, the one who has people skills will try to find a way to help the other person first.  Those who practice this skill best will anticipate other people's needs and meet them before they are even asked.
  2. Your tone and word choices don't consider other people.  When you speak and offend others regularly, it might be because you haven't thought about how hard your words land when you throw them at the other side.  People-focused individuals will at the very least ask themselves:  "If I say this, how will it come across to the other person?"
  3. You are not sensitive to what matters to other people.  A friend's low life boyfriend has finally broken up with her.  Secretly you're elated because you never liked the jerk in the first place.  If you have people skills, you will find a way to be empathetic at a time when your friend is in pain.  If you lack people skills, you'll likely say something like, "Good riddance.  I don't know why you put up with him this long!"
  4. When you see an opportunity to be helpful but you aren't.  Oftentimes in the workplace, there is a coworker on the team who has fallen behind but does not ask for assistance for some reason.  You can see where this thing is not going to end well for her, but you do nothing.  You essentially feel like that's her problem so she needs to fix it.
  5. When you'd most rather be by yourself than with a group or crowd.  This sounds a lot like being introverted, but people who lack people skills aren't necessarily introverted.  Introverts can hang with crowds, but probably for a shorter amount of time than an extrovert (they won't stay until you tell them they have to leave like extroverts) and not as frequently (happy hour every Friday with the office crew might be a bit too much).  The one who lacks people skills doesn't want to be a part of the group for selfish reasons.  They can't be the center of attention and monopolize the conversation or they may feel some people in the group are "too sensitive" so they stay away.
  6. When you are generous but not nice.  People give to causes all the time just to be generous.  Perhaps you were asked by a coworker or family member to contribute, and you do.  But you have a nasty streak that comes out without a lot of provocation.  You give to a cause out of obligation rather than compassion.
  7. When collaboration is exhausting.  Those who are not people-focused tend not to do well collaborating.  They may feel forced into working on a team because of a special project, but they don't necessarily want to.  It is a chore.  They will likely rub people the wrong way because of a negative attitude, rude talk or a disappearing act that leaves everyone else feeling like they've been disregarded and left holding the bag.
  8. When you are more interested in receiving credit for hitting a goal rather than giving recognition to people that helped get you there.  Oftentimes, when an individual is not focused on others, they are focused inward.  They are concerned for self primarily, and they pay attention to only what will benefit them.  They are not willing to share success with other contributors.
  9. When getting tasks done is shown more importance than people's needs being met.  When you are a leader and are more concerned about day-to-day operations getting accomplished but you neglect that a parent wants time off to attend a child's graduation or pick up a sick kid from school or miss a day to attend training, you are not people-focused.
  10. When you have a hard time showing empathy for someone who is in crisis.  You see people's issues as their own and you "don't want to get involved".  You may say, "I feel bad that happened to him, but that's not my problem."
Do you have others to share?  Add to this list or comment on any of the ten above.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rules of Engagement in Conflict--Rule #9

     The one thing I can say with certainty about humanity is that we love to judge one another.  We have no qualms about looking at what other people do and then voicing our opinion about it.  Our opinions are largely derogatory unfortunately.  Gossip abounds and is viewed negatively by almost everyone, but it's like a sickness without a cure.  We are compulsive with it.  It is a habit that is hard to break because the lines are blurred between speaking about the things that people do that aren't right, and complaining about what people do that we don't like.
           In a disagreement, telling people that they are the problem will and does escalate an already volatile situation.  Any statement where one person is passing judgment on another will surely spark ire in the accused party.  Therefore, rule #9 in the Rules of Engagement in Conflict is to take judgment out of the conversation.  Statements like, “the problem with you is” or “if you hadn’t…” or “it went wrong because you…” are pretty much guaranteed to invite resistance from the other party.  No one wants to be blamed for anything that goes wrong.  Any time the word "you" is thrown in the mix, it sounds like an accusation.  Accusations put people on the defensive.
          Judgment makes one person appear to feel superior to the other.  There's a sense of "I don't make the same mistakes you do, therefore, I'm better.  Get your act together."  To pass judgment is to look at an individual or situation and insert your personal assessment as if you're qualified to make it.  It's usually unsolicited, and it's usually without a lot of basis in fact.  It's often conjecture and personal opinion.  As a result, the other person who obviously has their own views on the matter counters what the first person has surmised and does so angrily.  Then boom, there's the making of a heated argument.
      Judgmental statements in a disagreement sound like, "You think you know everything."  Or "You're always trying to control everything."  Or "He's a micromanaging boss."  All of these statements pass judgment on the other party, true or not.  They are all 100% negative.  Even if each statement could be proven, the accuser could never do so because they've already blocked the chances of getting to the truth by making an inflammatory statement immersed in judgment.  A better way would be to say, "I appreciate how much you already know about the topic, but there are some things you may not be aware of."  Or, "One way things would probably work smoother is if you allowed other people and their ideas to take place without interference.  You may be surprised by what would come of it if given the opportunity."  Or even, "Your trust in us is badly needed in this situation.  We believe if you permitted us to do what we are capable of doing, that would free you up to do the important job of leading in other areas.  Don't worry, we got this."
      Avoid any verbiage that sounds like finger-pointing.  Save yourself from the muck of useless arguing and debates.  Give yourself the chance to get along with other people by avoiding those pitfalls that come with judgmental language.  Try it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rules of Engagement in Conflict--Rule #8

      When I've had to train in difficult environments, I've heard participants denigrate their superiors and the culture of the organization.  There's usually a lot of animosity that's piled up over the course of years, and employees don't mind expressing their dissent.  In fact, dissent and disparagement are the course of conversation for the day--until I have to shut it down.  I've found that some people just like to complain.  They stay in problem mode.  They say things like, "That'll never work.  They don't listen to us.  They don't do what we ask.  We don't trust anything they say."  And on and on it goes.  They contribute only to the negative aspects of the feedback and rarely to anything that yields solutions.  If solutions are proposed, they dismiss them with more derogatory talk.  I've come to learn over the years in dealing with conflict that disagreements devolve into endless bickering because one or both parties do not know how to keep the conversation above board.  In order to move past the problems, a change in the pattern of conversation has to occur.
     Therefore, Rule #8 is to keep comments positive by resisting the urge to indulge in the negative.  It is easy to get caught up in your own needs and point of view when opposing the other side.  But if we don't look for ways to ultimately resolve our differences, the conflict goes round and round, never ending, and the problem stays alive.  There are no ways to kill it because a lack of solutions is like providing oxygen to a fire.  To douse that roaring flame, somebody has to pour positive power on the naysayer's putdowns.
     Think about how disarming it would be to trade a rebuttal for a possibility.  It could sound like: 

Party 1:  "We're just wasting our time completing this survey.  They don't really care about what we think." 
Party 2:  "I realize nothing's improved in the past when you've been surveyed, but maybe this is the time when you'll finally be heard." 
Party 1:  "Why would this time be any different?  They keep asking our opinion and nothing happens.  Nothing changes."
Party 2:  "But if you stop bringing up what needs to change, then it certainly won't.  Your voice makes the difference."
Party 1:  "My voice is just dust in the wind.  You need to see the handwriting on the wall."
Party 2:  "I do, and it reads:  Help is on the way."
Party 1:  "Keep dreaming."
Party 2:  "I do, and that's why I have hope.  You've obviously stopped dreaming because you paint this situation as hopeless.  Is it?  Are you?"
Party 1:  "Certainly not!  I never lose hope."
Party 2:  "Then start speaking like you still have it."
Party 1:  "Okay.  I hope they'll finally respond with action after this survey."
Party 2:  "Now, that's more like it."

     It is hard for a person to stay negative when each negative comment is countered by a positive one.  It requires more than one comeback comment, but every time you share possibilities and hope, you defeat the argument and not the party who's posing it.  Try it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rules of Engagement in Conflict--Rule #7


     "You're always late."
     "You never have anything nice to say about anybody."
     "Are you ever organized?"
     These statements are absolutes.  Statements like these ought to ALWAYS be avoided in conflict situations.  The previous statement was one of the few appropriate times you could use words like "always" and "never".  The appropriate times are very few.  Therefore, they should be avoided as often as possible.  Here's why:  most of us are rarely always doing anything or never doing something.  To make such a claim is likely false, and people hate to be lied to or lied on.  To make a blanket statement about someone's behavior--especially if that statement is largely negative--is to create conflict or add to it.  Think about it:  you rarely do anything all the time.  There are few things we never do, but they aren't usually perceived as a criticism.  For instance:  "I never rob old people."  That's obviously a plus so it's okay to make that absolute statement (if it's true).  However, if an absolute statement is laced with criticism like "You never help me with the housework!" then you're likely to get some push back if that statement isn't entirely true and is accusing.
     When engaged in a disagreement, stay away from making absolute statements or using words that rob a person of their contributions--no matter how minimal--to a particular situation.  The other person may not help with housework as much as you'd like, but they do offer some help on occasion.  An individual might live and work in clutter the bulk of the time, but there are a few times when you've seen their environment in order.  Moreover, these types of words also have an accusing quality.  It's a judgment upon on another person, and you've just opened the door to get something you've done thrown right back in your face.  Then the tit-for-tat happens, and the conversation devolves into an ugly confrontation.
     Changing the way you approach a person's lack in life should grab positive attention from them so that you can encourage them to listen to you better.  For example, rather than accuse your coworker of "never picking up the slack on the team", you can say:  "I appreciate it when you help out.  I'd like to see you do more of that.  It helps us get more done faster.  We need you, and you do a great job."  We must practice caution and care when engaging in conflict with others.  Using a simple rule like this one can help.