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Monday, November 2, 2015

How to Discuss A Controversial Topic Respectfully

It is highly likely that if you voiced your opinion about what occurred between the student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, SC and the School Resource Officer (SRO) last week, you were met with cheers or jeers.  Those who agreed with your viewpoint did so emphatically because, like you, they were trying to find a supporter in the midst of so much anger and judgment.  Regardless of what side you were on, there was always someone to go against you.  This topic dominated conversations at work and home.  People argued with their co-workers, families, with their friends, and with strangers.  Everyone felt passionately about what they believed, and they would not be swayed.

Such is the way we handle controversial topics about which we feel strongly.  A certain matter sparks a deep and tender place in our hearts, and we feel compelled to speak on it.  Nowadays, many take to social media to vent or voice, and they are met with swift acceptance or rejection.  Arguments and opinions go viral like a bullet train that's lost its brakes.  Even those who aren't prone to say anything in such matters step out tentatively with:  "I don't usually get involved in this kind of thing, but..." or "I've been trying not to say anything about this, but I just have to say..."

It has been interesting to watch the dynamics in how people debate their differences, and unfortunately, more often than not it's done poorly.  Here's an indication:  if at the end of the conversation the relationship is damaged or broken, then it was a poorly conducted debate.  Debates, arguments, disagreements to some degree all challenge the opinions of multiple parties.  What all parties fail to realize is that the disagreement is basically built around opinions and not always facts.  It's hard to argue facts.  They are what they are, and they're usually provable.  Opinions are subjective and can sway either way.  What makes a matter controversial is that both sides have strong points that can be accepted as truth.  But those same points can have weaknesses that diminish the strength of those points, and neither side wants to accept those weaknesses.  They continue to reiterate them with unyielding force--a force that becomes less and less respectful.

We have to learn to allow people to have their opinions, voice their opinions, and acknowledge their opinions as just that--an opinion.  In a free society like ours, we have the right to say what we feel whether other people like it or not.  But in the debate of a controversial subject, not everyone acts like this is the case.  As has been demonstrated this week, people want to shut down the other point of view because it doesn't match theirs.  Why else do people continue to argue?  To convince the opposing side(s) that their view is the right one.

It's okay to feel passionate about your beliefs.  It's okay to debate.  But if you're going to debate a topic, and I'm sure there will be many more to come, here are seven tips on how to do so with respect:

1.  Recognize that other people have the right to believe what they want, and their beliefs don't have to align with yours.
2.  Express your views; don't force them.  Just because you believe something doesn't automatically make it the standard by which everyone else should think.
3.  Avoid arguing on social media.  Too many other people can get in on it, and it feels too much like people ganging up on each other.  Also, too much can get misinterpreted in the exchange (often delayed because each party has to wait for the other to respond in writing and too many others can get involved in between.  They can change the temper of the conversation from your original intent).  Remember without inflection and the benefit of seeing a person, it is easy to misread what a person meant.  You can lose control of the conversation.
4.  Realize that when there are two sides, you both may be right.  Both sides could have a solid point.  Conversely, you also could both be wrong. 
5.  Stay open-minded.  When you close your mind off to other people's opinions because you feel yours is the only one that matters, you become shortsighted and limit your own opportunity for growth.
6.  Be respectful when disagreeing.  Argue the point.  Don't get personal.  As hard as it is to realize that the people you thought you knew have a shocking view that's contrary to yours, you don't have to get angry with them or end your relationship.  Just respectfully disagree and keep it moving.  After all, the issue probably doesn't belong to either one of you (i.e. the student and officer debacle at Spring Valley).  It's probably someone else's business, and you're both weighing in on something that doesn't directly impact either of you. 
7.  Be patient and let other people give their viewpoint.  Cutting each other off, yelling, name-calling, cursing, and ridiculing have no place in having a respectful and mature disagreement.  You don't have to agree, but you do have to be respectful in that disagreement to maintain a meaningful discussion.

Keep these points in mind the next time you find yourself on the other side of another person's perspective.  In doing so, you can preserve a relationship by acting with respect.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Diplomacy: An Essential Leadership Quality


    Donald Trump has struck a chord with many Americans who like his straight-talk approach to issues that matter to them.  While exciting some, he is simultaneously causing intense agony for others--especially in his own party.  As much as he's brought a freshness to dealing with topics in a direct manner--saying what some Americans have said in their homes, protest gatherings, and in town hall meetings--he has crossed lines in how he makes his comments.  Sometimes being too direct can have a counterproductive effect.  He turns some on and turns some off.  He gets cheers, and he gets jeers.  He draws some to him while alienating others.  We know this is to be expected for anyone running for political office.  A political leader simply can't satisfy all people.  He or she will always frustrate someone.  But Trump has created a dichotomy in his forward speeches by drawing high levels of adoration and mounting levels of animosity and hatred.  Here's why:
    One essential quality every great leader must possess is diplomacy.  Being direct is necessary and important in leading an organization or team.  People appreciate disposing of all the fluff and getting to the point.  But they also appreciate empathy and civility.  Comments without attacks and judgment are necessary to move negotiations forward in a productive manner.  Leaders who come across too strongly in sensitive situations are an immediate turn off, and discussions can stall.  Great leaders should be savvy enough to know when to push forward and when to pull back.  People like Trump need to be able to show that he can sit in a summit with other powerful leaders and not cause a war.  Diplomacy requires thoughtfulness and self control. There is no room for communications blunders in high stakes conversation--no room for childish name-calling, unfounded accusations, tantrums, and divisive speech.
    Here are three things a diplomatic leader does well:

  1. Remain aware of his or her surroundings so that communications and actions can be tempered to meet the situation.
  2. Recognize that timing matters in delivering news of importance, and patience is critical to making an appropriate impact.
  3. Consider tone, word choice, and body language when speaking on matters of import.
     Even if you don't lead a team, diplomacy is necessary in all communications.  Practice and master this skill for greater success in building professional networks and relationships.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

The World You Create

"Jeri's a great manager.  Just ask her.  She'll tell ya."

Feedback from others is priceless.  If we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to receive it, we can hear valuable information that can help us transform into the people we ought to be or who we never thought we could be.  But we don't ask.  And why not?  Because we are afraid.  Why are we afraid?  Because we tend to think greater of ourselves than we ought, and anytime anyone sticks a pin in our inflated view of us, we get upset.  Just ask Jeri.

Jeri is the director of an organization in which I was called to coach because she had created a hostile environment for herself and her team.  I discovered that she had distributed a survey to her staff to find out what kind of job they felt she had been doing as their leader.  Apparently, she thought she was doing a fine job and went in feeling confident that they would agree.  But when the results came back, the team had drawn a completely different picture.  Jeri was shocked by their responses--and appalled.  But instead of seeking the value in the feedback and finding consensus about her behavior, she became angry.  She developed a retaliatory attitude (proving one of the complaints they had), and she intimidated everyone into silence.

Had she approached the feedback in a more constructive way--because receiving feedback constructively is just as important as giving it constructively--she would have found a treasure trove of information that could have helped her to be as good as she thought she was.  Unfortunately, she missed an incredible opportunity.  Now, she will never get that chance again.  The value of any subsequent information will be close to useless because her team will no longer be honest with her.  She will continue to believe she's an exploding star when she's actually a white dwarf (a dying star; burnt out).

So here are three things everyone should consider upon self-examination:

1)  There's always room for me to improve no matter how great I think I am.  Therefore, I am going to take an assessment like a 360-degree survey and hear what people all around me see in me.  When I receive the feedback, I will look for ways to challenge myself to change in those areas that are negatively impacting my growth.

2)  Once I receive 360-degree feedback, I will seek out people whose opinions matter to me, and I will ask them for their unadulterated assessment on those weak areas in me.  I will not grow angry but try to remain curious about my own behavior.

3)  I will allow myself to be vulnerable to all valuable feedback.  I will not retaliate or beat myself up.  I will look for growth opportunities, and I will do something about me.  I will face myself honestly, and thank the person for helping me to excel.

Try these and watch your environment change around you.  With a panoramic view of you, you can impact your world extensively.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

FREE WEBINAR: "The Four Pitfalls of Communications"

        At a time when it seems like everybody's running around doing crazy things that are counterproductive to building relationships, here's an opportunity to learn how to start saying things that will lead to more rational actions.  The Sisters of Charity Foundation in Columbia, SC is hosting a free webinar to tackle the tough challenges of being able to communicate well.  We all falter at some point along the way when we try to express our thoughts, opinions or feelings.  We know what we want to say, but somehow, what's in our heads doesn't always come out appropriately from our mouths.  Sometimes our thoughts are all scrambled like Legos in a pile on the floor, and we have difficulty coherently articulating what we really feel.  There are all kinds of reasons why we fail at communications.  In this 45-minute webinar, you'll hear about only four.  But in those four, you'll discover how to start to overcome them, and increase your chances of building rather than destroying relationships.  You can tune in to this webinar starting at 10 a.m. EST on Thursday, June 25 and learn "The Four Pitfalls of Communications".  Register at .  It's a small investment of time for a large return on your personal growth.  Join us.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Why (S)Lacking in Communications Costs

            You send out an email to your boss, and you don’t hear anything back that day—or the next day.  Or the next two days.  Or at all.  You leave a message for a coworker, and it seems to have disappeared into a vortex akin to a flushing toilet because all you get back is recycled—silence.  You text one of your fellow volunteers to check on a date for the next meeting, and you may as well have sent a smoke signal.  Your message seems to have evaporated.  Not communicating is very much on the list of poor communications behaviors.  Poor communication is not just bad word choices, rude responses, sharp tones or unclear input.  It’s also slow or no responses to communications with you.
            It’s happened to you, and yes, you’ve done it to others.  You’ve neglected and been neglected.  For myriad reasons, you excuse the need to be responsive.  You’re too busy to answer right now.  The message isn’t urgent so it can wait.  The message is from annoying Alice in billing and not important.  And guess what?  Others have said it themselves when they’ve gotten messages from you.  If the message or individual isn’t important in the mind of the person receiving the message, it is likely to be ignored.
            So what happens as a result?  Depending on the request, answers are delayed, progress is slowed down, frustration is increased, and perhaps, the other person will refrain from contacting you in the future because they find you unreliable and unresponsive.  You, then, miss out on information that may be of value to you—pertinent information that could be costly if not shared.  A dissatisfied customer who is threatening to leave if an issue is not resolved.  A job candidate who is also being wooed by your competition, but your company hasn’t been able to close the deal on his joining you.  A poor decision made by a lower level leader because you did not respond, and now an unnecessary expense has been incurred.  No longer will you be able to complain that you didn’t know or nobody told you.  You’ve set a precedence for the way you want people to communicate with you.
            Regardless of your reasoning behind why you choose not to respond to emails, texts, and phone calls, there is a more effective way to handle the influx of communications that come your way.  It does not require a lot of time, and you can still pick what you will respond to if you set better expectations for those who try to communicate with you.  Do it right, and you can be more efficient with your time while not making people feel frustrated or ignored.  Try this:

1.    Acknowledge messages.  Respond with a simple, “Got your message.  Will get back with you as soon as I can.”  This works if you get an email, text or voice mail.  Even if someone leaves a voice mail, you can still send an email or return text of acknowledgement.  The response takes barely 30 seconds.  We convince ourselves that it’s time consuming to respond; when in actuality, it takes only a matter of seconds to send a quick acknowledgement as indicated above.

2.    Ask those who are in contact with you most to alert you to messages of priority by indicating so in the subject line.  Use words like:  IMPORTANT, TIME SENSITIVE, ACTION REQUIRED.  Having them prioritize their messages for you will insure that you don’t overlook what is genuinely important.

3.    Respond in a timely manner.  After acknowledging that you received their message, then you actually have to take action at some point.  Responding within 24 hours is acceptable unless the response can be delayed longer.  Establish the proper expectations regarding how you like communications to occur between you and particular people.  Communicating is not a one-size-fits-all action.  Tailor your communication preferences with those whose requests require expediency.
             The bottom line is this:  always respond.  Never ignore messages that have value.  Even if the value is minimal in your eyes.  They matter to the person who sent them.  When you devalue the message, you devalue the person who sent it.  You say to them that they are not worth your time to respond to them.  Avoid the awkwardness of this perception and set appropriate expectations.  Help them to understand that you respond to messages that require action on your part—not idle chatter.  In so doing, you keep communications open and meaningful.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Oh, Those Pesky Blind Spots!

     I was traveling over spring break with my family by car.  I was the driver.  I try to be very careful on the road because I know it can be deadly out there.  Consequently, I don't use my side mirrors much because I don't believe they give the full view of what's around me.  I often physically turn my head and body before I switch lanes.  This action is recommended by public safety officials because of the potential for vehicular accidents due to those pesky "blind spots".  However, regardless of my efforts to be safe on this particular trip, I still managed to cut in front of another driver without seeing him.  It was absolutely frightening after I realized he was back there.  I saw him in my rear view mirror riding extremely close on my tail.  I felt bad and told my husband I was sure the guy was mad at me.
    My intention after that was to wait until he passed me and mouth an apology.  But no sooner had I gotten back in the right lane than he whizzed by me so fast and cut so close to my front bumper that I was sure he would clip us and send us careening off into the trees.  He wasn't just mad; he was furious!  And dangerous.  I get it that I made a serious mistake.  But it was not intentional as was his road rage, and it was certainly not my desire to cause an accident.  After all, I had my kids in the car.
     As much as this sounds like a lesson on road rage, it isn't.  It is, however, a message on blind spots.  His and mine.  Mine in this instance is literal.  I was blind to the person who was very near me and out of my line of vision.  Even after glancing over my shoulder, neither my eyes nor my mind registered his presence.  It could have cost us lives.  I thank God it did not.  His blind spot, however, was his attitude towards me regarding my mistake.  His first response was not to consider that the careless lady in front of him had made an unwittingly dumb move, but it was retaliation.  He allowed his emotions to get ahead of reason, and he reacted out of spite--an equally careless and dangerous move.
     Why is this considered a blind spot?  Because blind spots don't allow us to see on a personal level how we relate in our day-to-day interactions with other people.  We are "blind" to our attitudes, emotions, and overall behavior.  In leadership, managers don't often consider how their tone and words impact the motivation of their teams.  Co-workers don't realize how their lack of response to each others' requests slows down progress.  Customers don't see how their unrealistic demands set their vendors up for hardship or failure.  We are not self-aware enough to recognize our damaging behaviors and then to do something about them.
     Everyone should take a self-assessment to determine how they are.  We try to define who we are, but we don't often take care in recognizing that the "who" determines the "how".  Find a behavioral assessment that will help you understand your style.  Be open to what you hear--especially if it's from a 360-degree survey.  Don't be defensive but consider the feedback fairly without trying to detract from its validity.  The results are usually the consensus of a large number of people, and they can't all be wrong.  Once you have this valuable input, then do something that will transform you and make you grow.  Finally, "see" yourself, and eliminate the blind spots that keep you traveling in the wrong lane.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why It's So Hard to Apologize

     Sometimes apologizing is like trying to cough up a fur ball.  I don't know what that means exactly because I don't own a cat.  But I imagine it must be like having something tasteless, dry, and suffocating wedged in your throat.  Those who struggle with forming the words "I'm sorry" feel it would be better to choke them down than cough them up.  Why?  Oftentimes, it's because they don't want to be wrong.  Apologizing is an admission of "blowing it" on some level.  Regardless of the size of the infraction, someone or something has gotten hurt, or at the very least, inconvenienced in some way.  An apology says, "I am wrong".  Some people don't accept that they make certain mistakes so rather than own them, they blame others or excuse their behavior.  You've heard it:  "That wasn't my fault.  If he hadn't done this, I wouldn't have done that."
     Another reason why apologizing seems hard is because it is perceived as weakening the position people have worked hard to establish for themselves.  If I'm a boss, and I made a bad decision in leading my team, I don't want to look like I don't know what I'm doing.  As a result, I won't admit my mistake.  If I'm a husband and father trying to lead my household, and I drop the ball in meeting the needs of the family because I didn't listen to them, I won't admit my negligence because I don't want to lose their respect.  If I'm a service provider, and my service falls short of my customers' expectations, then I make excuses because I don't want to lose their business or compromise my reputation.  Somehow, apologizing has been wrongly linked to loss.  People believe they lose in apologizing.  But what they don't realize is that to say "I'm sorry" actually increases their position in the minds of others, not weakens it.  Because not many people will hold themselves accountable for their actions, (not the insecure or overly confident ones anyway) people find it refreshing when they do hear an apology.  Thus, raising the apologists' respect level another notch in the minds of the witnesses and beneficiaries of it.

     Therefore, if you feel that trying to push out an apology is as hard (and yucky) as that kitty trying to dislodge that fur ball from his gut, then keep this in mind:  the power in saying those two simple words raises your esteem far higher than NOT saying those two words will ever lower it.  One more thing--if I've said anything in this blog entry that offends anyone, please accept my sincere apology.