Liz Kislik is a management consultant and executive coach, a TEDx speaker and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes. She specializes in developing high performing leaders and workforces, and for 30 years has helped family-run businesses, national nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies. In this episode, we talk about digging into the roots of conflict in the workplace and how to resolve them through respect and consideration.
Her TEDx “Why There’s So Much Conflict at Work and What You Can Do to Fix It” has been viewed more than 200,000 times.
Liz emphasizes the importance of training in communication in the workplace so that people can deal with the real problems at the root of the concern, such as stereotypes, historical or cultural assumptions and other, sometimes more complicated issues. Citing her article on Harvard Business Review “The Problem with Using I statements at Work”, she says that - “Feelings are very crucial in personal or family relationships, but work is actually different...Work is really about effectiveness.”
Liz believes that during the hard times, we are at risk of developing tunnel vision, not taking into account all the aspects of a situation. She says it’s crucial for leaders to look at the larger picture and the people in it by asking those two major questions: What are the big goals? What do my people need in order to achieve those goals?
A proponent of self-compassion, Liz believes kindness is an actual tool of leadership. She says as a leader, if you are not operating out of your best self, it is very hard for your people to give their best. Among her advice to leaders on how to take care of themselves is to pay attention to beauty and pleasure. She says immersing yourself in something you find beautiful and feeling good can help bring you back to yourself and get out of the tunnel.
Find out more about Liz on her website: https://lizkislik.com/
Connect with her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lizkislik/
- I'm Celine Williams and welcome to the Leading Through Crisis podcast, a conversation series exploring leadership in challenging times. I would like to welcome my guest today, Liz Kislik, to the show. Liz is a management consultant and executive coach, and a frequent contributor to "Harvard Business Review" and "Forbes." She delivered a popular TEDx on "Why There's So Much Conflict at Work and What You Can Do to Fix It," which we will definitely be talking about, 'cause I love that concept. Liz's specialty is developing high-performing leaders and workforces, and for 30 years, she has been helping family-run businesses, national nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies solve their thorniest problems. So I'm really excited about this conversation. Liz, thank you so much for joining me today.
- I'm so happy to be with you, Celine!
- I love all the experience. Like I said, we're definitely gonna get into the topic, what your TEDx talk is all about, but I wanna start with a little bit of a broader question, which is how I often start these, and that is, tell me a little bit about your experience or your thoughts on the idea of leading through difficult times or leading through crisis, 'cause that is sort of the theme of the show.
- I think one of the things that happens to all of us when we're in hard times is we're at risk for developing a kind of tunnel vision. We look at the thing in front of us. And that happens to leaders, too. That means you're not taking into account all the aspects of a situation. You may, it's possible, you can plow right through the middle, and you may end up all right, sometimes just by dint of focus and will and drive and grit and all those nice words, you get through a lot. But there's also risk that you scrape yourself on the sides and don't really give everything full measure. So one of the things that I encourage clients and that I see as productive when it happens is to be able to step back from the specifics of the external crisis, the internal crisis. It's crucial for leaders to ground themselves and look at the big picture again, and multiple times. Sometimes it's called zooming in and zooming out. And making sure they're taking into account the larger situation, the other people in it, not just driving for what seems to be the solution in front of them.
- I think that it's so interesting, 'cause I can definitely see how challenging times, crises change, let's just call it change, 'cause I think it's very apparent there, brings out that tunnel vision in people. And in many situations, it's not just when you're leading a team or you're leading an organization. What are some of the ways that people, if they recognize, if someone is listening to this and says, "Oh crap, that's what I've been doing," what is something they can do or what are some things they can do to step out of it a little bit? Because recognizing it isn't always enough to get yourself to a place to, now what do I do with it?
- Okay, so the first thing is if anybody just said, "Oh crap, that's what I've been doing," let that go, because you've actually been managing something so far. So you don't need the pressure of, I have to be a different way, to suddenly feel like you can do all right. You're doing mostly all right. So I guess in that same vein, I'm a big proponent of self-compassion. I'm not always so great at it. There is actually research that shows that there's a tendency for leaders to also feel guilty. We're very conscientious people, leaders are conscientious. Not all leaders, of course. There are narcissistic leaders, there are people who manipulated their way to the top, all that kind of thing, but the majority of people who have responsibility actually take it very seriously, and therefore they're also taking themselves to task all the time. Well, that's exhausting, and it's hard to think when you're too exhausted. So being kind to yourself and thinking about kindness as an actual tool of leadership is so valuable for you and for the people you work with. So, to do that, you have to take care of yourself a little bit. You know, all the things you've read in the media now about getting your sleep and getting some exercise and some fresh air and all those things. They're really true, because if you're not in decent shape, it is hard to make the best decision. And it's hard to operate out of your best self. And if, as a leader, you are not operating out of your best self, it is very hard for your people to give their best.
- This reminds me of, I think I've had more conversations in the past six months with leaders who have said, "I'm harder on myself than anyone is ever going to be on me." And I think that's a real reflection of what you're talking about, and I mean, as we're still in the never-ending pandemic, for a number of people, I think that there's no break from it right now. So any mechanisms, coping or otherwise, that they might've had in normal circumstances, that's a struggle right now. And I think the idea of self-compassion is more important in this moment, in this continuing moment, and hence, in any time of crisis, than than ever before.
- So may I give a couple of thoughts about how people can break out of that prison of being so hard on themselves?
- I would love nothing more, truly. Please give all the thoughts you want to give. I'm so excited.
- Okay. I mean, this is way different from how you deal with your team and get their best and build your culture and all those things, but to have to start with yourself. So there's no question that all the physiological stuff about the need for sleep, it's all true. And I also really encourage meditation, if you can tolerate that kind of thing, and all the things I'm gonna say now, none of these things work for everybody, and all of them work for different people. So it is worth trying and rejecting and trying and rejecting until you find the techniques that work for you. In general, with this kind of stuff, when you're already feeling ground to a pulp, and someone throws all these other techniques at you for how to make things better, that's overwhelming, too. So look for things that you can do that are so small they won't trigger your resistance and rebellious nature. Like one minute of meditation. Forget the 20-minute thing. One minute of just sitting calmly. If you do that every day, it is way better than being aggravated about not being able to do 20 minutes. But I'm also going to suggest that there are two aspects of life that when leaders are being hard on themselves, they forget about. And those two aspects are beauty and pleasure. And it is a wonderful thing. Let's start with beauty. Whether that is the beauty of nature, or if you have a favorite sweater that just is a color that lights you up, or there's a particular room in your house that is not where you usually work. It doesn't matter what it is, a photograph or a painting, whatever it is, immersing yourself for a few moments in something that you think of as beautiful, that your senses can just appreciate, it's such a break for your brain! It's a great thing. And pleasure is inextricably linked. To do something that lights you up or that makes you do whatever your equivalent of, ah is, it's restful to your soul, you know? And you can just go back to whatever terrible thing you were wrestling with feeling so much better. So yes, this is a time, people are complaining so much about how much junk food they're eating, and everybody who's working at home has too much access to their refrigerator, and all those things are true. But if once a day, you eat something that is truly tasty, so that you just think this is so delicious. I can't believe it. Or you feel something that feels so good. It could be a particular hand cream, some wonderful smell, all these things restore you back to yourself. Think about all your senses when your mind has just been running too hard, too long. And that's part of how you come back to yourself. And it's only when you are yourself that you can really think about doing work for others.
- Of all the people I've spoken to about these things, no one has yet brought up the idea of beauty and pleasure as being important. And I think that it feels for a lot of people like an extravagant thing right now, to think about beauty and pleasure. And I think it's really important what you're saying, which is actually, it helps us center ourselves and be our best selves. And I really appreciate you for bringing that up in this way because it's almost like giving permission, people... Giving, let me, giving people permission, there we go, wrong order, to embrace those things that really are important to us as individuals, in any time, but especially a time where we're feeling uncentered.
- You know why else it's good? It reminds you that there can be excellence. And one of the things that's really tough about bad times is you think, oh, I just have to carry this burden over the next hill. Oh my God, there's another hill. I just have to carry the burden over the next hill, and this is sort of recurring. And so it's very hard to actually think about, what's the best way to get from where I am with the things I have to carry, as far as I have to go? And any kind of truly superior experience, I mean, listen to a wonderful piece of music. Any of these things, it just makes you think, oh, there's the potential for great stuff! Okay, I'd like to do great stuff, too. Let's think about how I can get there. But that means getting out of the tunnel. You need to open the aperture, let all the light in, and really see what there is to see, and take it all into account again. Look out into the distance or out into the future. Think about what could be fabulous, and how am I gonna get there?
- Mm, I love that. I think it's a really powerful way of thinking about things, and to what you said earlier, we can't... You know, leadership starts with self-leadership. It starts with doing the best things for ourselves, so we can be a great leader for teams or organizations or whatever. If we're external and we're working with teams, we're still leading in a way, even if it's not internal, so whatever that looks like, but it has to start with taking care of ourselves. And this is really giving that permission, and a way of thinking about it that assuages some of that guilt that I think a lot of people have when they think, I'm gonna spend time on me, as opposed to taking care of others, which, leaders have that.
- Yeah, you know, maybe a way to reframe that-
- Is, let me fill the tank, so I can go take care of others.
- Yeah, there was, I always wanna say it's Rumi, I'm not sure it is, but it's one of the, you know, one of the sort of spiritual philosopher types who talks about filling your own cup. You can't pour from your cup until you filled your cup.
- Can't pour from an empty cup.
- Exactly, I'm killing the metaphor, but that is a really great way to think about it, filling your tank, fill your own cup, before you can do anything else with it.
- Yes, and for leaders it's particularly important because so much of the act of leadership is lifting other people up when they're feeling terrible. They know it's bad. They know the business is having challenges. They know they can't communicate the way they usually do, all these things. And I'm not talking about being Pollyanna-ish or coming across like everything is just fine and dandy, but you need to be able to share what you've got, to support them when they don't have much to go on. So not only should you not be empty, you don't even wanna be really low, you know? You need extra in the tank. My great-grandmother always said, "You've gotta have a cushion." And that was a little extra money, a little extra time, a little extra food, a little extra flesh, because you didn't know where you were gonna get caught. Might not get a good meal right away, whatever it was, you needed a little extra so you could be ready for whatever the world threw at you.
- Hmm, and I think that's a great transition to talk about taking that extra, hopefully that people have, or giving yourself some space to have that. And then what does that look like for leading a team or leading an organization through crisis? Whether it's the work you're doing or your past experience, what are you seeing coming up that is working for people in doing that, that they're finding challenges around that? Because I think that when we start with an empty cup and we try and lead a team or lead an organization, there are some very unique challenges, but let's say that we are taking decent enough care of ourselves. What is that looking like? Because I think that people are struggling with how transparent to be, people are struggling with saying the right thing. Leaders are struggling with when to talk about things, how to talk about things, and it becomes a bit of a cycle for some people. And I'd love to hear your perspective on some of these things.
- Obsessing is never helpful. Right? It just grinds the gears and wastes energy. I'm gonna think in terms of two parts, and I'm going to start at the broadest possible level and then you can take us wherever you wanna to go in that.
- I think the leader needs to focus in two very broad directions. One is, what are the big goals? And that is a combination of, what's the work product that's expected of us? Who are we meant to be in the marketplace, even now? You know, you can name those however you want. Those are the business goals, the organizational goals, the cultural goals. And the second major chunk is, how are my people doing? What do they need on the path to those goals? And if you remember, you know what it's like? When I learned to drive, one of the lessons was not to look at the bumper of the car in front of me, right? You have to look out ahead, because all you're gonna do is crash into that bumper. So if you can keep those big pictures and then know how to translate them back into action, you will be as set as it is possible to be, given that you have to be able to change it up, because stuff's gonna come flying at you that you're not necessarily anticipating.
- So the first question that comes to mind inside of this for me is, given the amount of uncertainty, in many ways right now, I see leaders struggling with, even, with how to set those big goals, how to have that vision. And so the question I have is, what do they do about that, what can they do... What does that look like? Because I've heard it so many times that I'm imagining my microcosm of the world that I'm hearing it from is somewhat reflective of a trend, at the very least, in the bigger, broader world.
- So we have to assume that we're gonna be okay at some point. We're talking about the pandemic. There is going to be a vaccine that will eventually be distributed to enough people. The political and governmental situation here in the US at some point is going to shake itself out. You know, there are all kinds of major upheavals. If we are not going to assume that things are going to be basically okay at some point in the future, it's very hard to live. So let's start with that assumption. That's a base assumption. I really like the timeframe of three years. So for any leader who is stuck, I ask them to think about where they want themselves, their operation, whatever it is, to be in three years. Because yes, of course, 100 things will change by then. But on the assumption that they will be dealing with roughly a similar marketplace to what they know now, or that they know it's going to be different. Say they are, that kids are their consumers, their customers, their end users. Well, families then are their buyers, right? So there are still gonna be families in three years. So you look at what will families want in three years? You won't be accurate. It doesn't matter. What we're looking for is a trajectory. If you can say, "Here's what I think is gonna be true in three years," then you can say, "Here are ways we would need to meet that." And you put it up on the whiteboard or on post-its on the wall, or however you like to do this kind of arraying big plans. And if that's what's true in three years, I ask, "What would have to be true in two years to get us there?" So you detail that. So what would have to be true in a year to get us there? And you back into what are the choices and decisions I would have to make today, or let's say in a month, let's say, you know, even the next four weeks, we're at a total loss, and everything has just gone to hell in a handbasket, in a month, when I'm feeling halfway stable, what are the decisions I would have to make then? This gives you so much clarity about the big picture. Of course, things are going to not work out exactly that way, but you know your general path. You have a sense of potential resources and choices and what you need from your staff, so that you're not lost. It's not like looking into the abyss. You can tell yourself good stories about what's likely to be true. Oh, and let me make that point. In the same way that all a budget is, is a bunch of made-up assumptions with a whole lot of rigor to it, that's what this is. It's a bunch of dreams and wishes and stories that you then apply rigor to. Nobody has the exact right answers. And if you came up under a boss who said, "This is the way you do a budget," as if there are correct answers without making assumptions, they taught you wrong, first of all, and second of all, they were lucky, because they were functioning at a time of stasis. When you could just add 4.35% to everything, and it all kept going in the same direction. You have to make it up. So do that, but be rigorous about your assumptions, so that as things change, you can change your assumptions.
- So, first of all, I appreciate that. 'Cause that genuinely made me laugh, because I always think the same thing about budgets. And I think it's hilarious when people are then shocked that their facts didn't come true like they predicted the future. So I very much appreciate that. And I think that that's a really important point. I talk about assumptions with people all the time, in that, for me personally, and just in my own life, I'm constantly looking to test my assumptions. So I don't want to be operating from a place of, for anything I'm doing, of an assumption that is outdated, or doesn't have the best information or hasn't been tested. And I love that what you're saying applies to a much broader scope, as well, and to this idea of casting a vision. That we can, that a leader can say, here's the assumptions I'm starting from. Here's what I want this to look like. Let me back this up. And as I move forward towards that three-year vision, I am constantly testing those assumptions in a rigorous way so that I'm never caught in a place where I'm operating from an assumption that no longer serves me.
- That's excellent. Celine, that's so good. And part of why I liked that so much is because the other thing a leader should be doing, and it fits exactly into this testing process, you want to be running these small experiments all the time, okay?
- How would it be if we changed this thing by 2%? How would it be if we changed that thing by 4%? Learn from small experiments, because first of all, then you are cushioning your risk. And second of all, they're easier to start up and take down. So you don't have to exhaust people. It's better for your folks if they know your philosophy is, we're going to run a lot of games and we're gonna see which ones are good. The ones that don't pan out, gone. The ones that do, we may double-down, or we may decide that's good enough. One of the things I like about that approach, I never loved the idea of, fail fast, fail forward, fail whatever. Too many people feel like they're failures, when they hear that language. I like to think of it as, experiment, and then accept or reject the results. And then there's no failure in it. It's all success, but you're still trying out a lot of things and deciding which ones work.
- There's, and I don't remember which modality this comes from, but the idea of continuous improvement, right? Which the idea of, you're constantly testing, you're running small experiments; it might be design thinking; you're running small experiments, and then you're looking to improve upon, so you're taking accept or fail or accept or pass, and then you move that forward, so it's that continuous improvement which, listen, I talk about failure all the time because people want to hear about it, and I always switch it into that concept because the language of failure is so loaded, but the idea of testing and improving, that's scientific, so that's fine!
- Yes, so in design thinking, one of the major themes is about empathy. Understanding what your customer, your audience, your target wants. Not just because it's an idea in their head, but because it's the way they actually operate. So I wanna to put that together, that kind of empathy, almost as a way to segue into the other bucket about how are your people doing? Because, you know, it all goes together anyhow, and the experiments let your people see what is real, and adapt, and adapt. And most of us are not good at adaptation. We don't like change. We particularly don't like change that anyone else is telling us we need to do. And one of the things leaders ask me about all the time is, why are they so resistant? How can I get them to do this thing that we need, et cetera, et cetera. So, one of the questions when someone asks about failures, or says, "Oh, this is a failure," I ask them, "What failed?" I want them to take me through and explain what the failure is, because often, they did not get the result they wanted, but they were coming at it from the perspective of, it only worked if it worked, not it worked if we ran the test right. So if you can get people to reframe to, we really tested to see if these market conditions and our offer were a match. Turns out, they're not. Do we go back to square one? Do we just go to the toolbox and take a different tool? Then the world is open to you again. If you are only looking for, did we get the success we wanted, and that is your only criterion, you're back in the tunnel.
- I think it's... Yes, I could not agree more. I love how you phrase that, and I think it goes to this idea that, and I don't wanna get into the topic necessarily, but when I talk about feedback, I talk about feedback as data. It's just information. And it's the same idea of what you're talking about, is, this is information, it doesn't mean... You know, the question might've been wrong, the assumption might, or wrong, there could have been a better question, there could have been a better assumption, if we're testing a toolkit. There's lots of pieces in here that led to this piece of information and it's just data. Anything else we attach to it, that idea of failure, that's something we're attaching to it, 'cause it's just information.
- I agree 100%.
- And I think, I love the framing of what you're talking about with, is it a different tool, is it a different question? Is it, you know, we just didn't get the result we wanted or we were looking for. That's all this is.
- Yes. That goes to the human angle, though. In general, people have a hard time with that. It's why they think things like, I'm a failure, which makes it hard for them to come into work with the right attitude. It makes them think things like, my boss isn't letting me do the thing I want, instead of, well, I made a pitch. I didn't get the result I wanted. Do I need to change the pitch? Do I need to, you know, what are the factors I have control over, how do I go back? It's also the thing that makes people think they're in conflict and assume that others are against them, as opposed to the idea that they want something that doesn't necessarily work and integrate well with what someone else happens to want right now.
- Yes, so I wanna acknowledge something and then I wanna actually talk about conflict a bit, 'cause I know this is your TED Talk. But I do wanna acknowledge that I think that, I really hope that everyone listening to this or watching this walks away being able to ask the question or come away from a situation saying, "I didn't get the result I wanted." And then, you know, the follow-up question of what can they do about it, depending on the situation, but that phrase, "I didn't get the result I wanted," I think is so important, and is such a gap for people to be able to acknowledge. And I didn't wanna jump into the idea of conflict, 'cause I think it's important to get there without acknowledging that I hope every person in their vocabulary, they now have "I didn't get the result I wanted" when that's what's happened, and take away the other meaning and start there. And I just wanted to say that, 'cause I love that.
- That's a beautiful thing, and as you see, I do tend to quote my family members quite a lot. My father's mother, on a rainy day, used to actually say, this is a quote, "The weather is against me."
- Oh, wow.
- Okay, now that is so powerful, to think that all of nature is conspiring to wreck her day. And yet, this is the kind of thing we believe. Now, anybody listening would recognize that my grandmother was being a little ridiculous. How could you put it in that way? But we have the slightest disagreement with a coworker and we can come away thinking, not, I didn't get the answer I wanted, how could I get it? But, Steve is against me. Well, the hell with Steve, you know? And all of a sudden we are pouring water on seeds of animosity that don't even need to be there.
- It's amazing how good humans are at making things personal.
- Yes, you know, this is because we expect... I'm putting this in the most anthropological of terms, but we expect we're gonna die! We expect, if it doesn't go our way, that we are actually about to be drastically harmed, that everything will fall apart. We awfulize at the drop of a hat when of course it's not necessary. But Rick Hanson, who is an expert in neurological science and also meditation and a whole variety of other things, he talks about our being motivated by carrots and sticks. But that we really are negatively motivated, because as animals, we know, if I don't get a carrot today, I will probably live and have a shot at getting a carrot tomorrow. But if I'm hit by the stick today, there will be no more carrots forever. And so our bias toward the negative, toward danger, toward failure, toward every bad thing, is a way of keeping ourselves alive. But it doesn't help us at work!
- No, not at all, and I think this is a great... You know, and correct me if I'm wrong, I think this is a great moment to transition into what your TED Talk is about, which is this idea of why there's so much conflict, and I'm not getting the title right, I apologize, but why there's so much conflict in the workplace and what you can do about it.
- So you know, tell me a little bit about where that topic came from, or... Because it sounds like some of this is some of the why.
- Exactly so. So the topic came up because it's the kind of thing I'm working on all the time with clients. We don't necessarily name it that way, but I get so many questions about conflict, and when you look at it deeply, really explore what's going wrong, it's not the part that feels like conflict that's often the problem. The part that feels like conflict is like my grandmother. I think that person is against me. They're trying to hurt me. Well, most of your colleagues don't go into work trying to hurt you. Even the ones that don't like you are generally not trying to hurt you. So thinking about how can we simplify and humanize this for people, is where the talk came from. And it came to a large extent out of an experience I had at a particular client where two heads of, let's call them divisions, were just fighting with each other and had been for years! And you know, that's just crazytown, and the inefficiency is extraordinary. And everybody knew they were against each other. And I had the opportunity, the CEO brought me in. And so not only did I meet with them, but I met with their teams and I got to ask a lot of questions that nobody had asked. And it turned out that there were certain underlying norms, historical assumptions, and all kinds of structures that had grown up over time that kept them locked in this practically armed combat. And that without addressing those, there was no kind of, you know, communications training. You could get them to speak in ways that sounded nicer. It wasn't gonna help if you didn't deal with the problems underneath. Sometimes it's the business processes that get in the way, but people don't realize it because they take them as settled fact. So you really have to dig under whatever argy-bargy kinds of stuff feels so ugly at the top. Sometimes it's the roots of the thing that are the ugly part.
- Yes, and you know, it's so easy to get stuck in the symptom, right? It's so easy to get stuck in the thing we can see, whatever the symptom is. The conflict immediately in front of us that we can see, this thing, we're gonna focus on that, that Steve hates me. I'm focusing on that because I can see that. And again, we're making assumptions here. We're putting a story on it, but that's what we can see. Digging down further is challenging. We can't see the root cause.
- That's exactly right. And we don't know if Steve was taught by his first boss 20 years ago that this is the way you do something. We don't know necessarily if it's a function of Steve's compensation program, which of course he's gonna try to satisfy. We don't know if there's actually some middle person that we don't deal with, that Steve has to satisfy. There are so many things that could be going on. Until you ask the questions, you can't trust your instincts about it. Because if you're feeling bad, your instincts are gonna be pretty negative. Back in the tunnel! You can't see what's there. Now I do wanna just make the point that every once in a while, there is a bad person who hates you. In many careers, it never actually happens. You feel that way, but it's not the truth of it. But every once in a while, there is a person who is so negative or so unhappy, or has some psychological problem, and they live to make trouble for other people. When that's really the case, after significant examination, it is appropriate for the organization to coach and counsel them out, if that's the case. So I don't wanna say that there's never a circumstance in which it's the person, but it's rare, and a business that is not too conflict-averse, or not too locked in an old rigid way of doing things, ought to be able to find that and deal with it.
- I wanna ask a question. In your experience, when we're dealing with a lot of change, challenging times, a pandemic, whatever the case may be, is there a significant benefit for an organization to be less conflict-averse? Does that serve them in a specific way or a different way, when there's a lot of change and conflict happening?
- So being conflict-averse comes from the fear that if we disagree, we will hate each other and never be able to work together. It's basically the fear of the death spiral. So I just won't say anything. I won't say it, right? I won't say anything. I'll pretend it's okay, and then no one will notice. But in fact, you know, when we shut ourselves up too much and we're carrying around all this negativity, we start creating other bad aura, negative halo, we're stressed, which is certainly happening to people now all the time. We're just too crispy around the edges and brittle, and we start to shred. So instead of thinking about being conflict-averse, in the same way that you said before, "I didn't get the result I wanted," when you perceive a conflict, just ask, "What's actually going on here?" Which is separate from "What am I experiencing?" I may be experiencing uncomfortable feelings that come from thinking Steve doesn't, poor Steve, Steve doesn't like me, Steve is treating me badly, Steve is being unfair to me. All of a sudden I've made everything about Steve. I wanna know what's in the way of the work. How could the work happen better? Are there things we could dig up that would let us do a better job of the work? So if we think in three years, I may not be here, Steve may not be here, but the work needs to happen, what's the best way we could be delivering this work to other departments, to the marketplace, et cetera, and work it back? That's a whole nother way of looking at what questions should we be asking now? I wouldn't worry about being conflict-averse. I would worry about not picking on people, not going to people in anger, not being frustrated, and not doing any of those things that make people feel terrible, like treating them as if they are the problem. So for example, just one very small example of that, is if you're having a conversation with somebody and you don't like what's going on, and you say to them, "You always do this terrible thing. You never give me the results on Tuesday, which is when I have to make the report." Right away, you have made the problem permanent, as if there is this ongoing vendetta. Well, from their perspective, of course they have to defend themselves because they don't wanna feel like a schmo. So what do you mean, I never give you the results? I always give you the results! So all of a sudden we've gone, you know, to 300 miles an hour when nothing is actually happening. Everybody's quite safe. There's no blood, there's no fire. And that's a very good thing to check by the way. Is there blood? Is there fire? No, okay, I'm safe. Now, is this working? Is this not working? We can do something about that. So if you're always giving me the results and I'm not getting them, something is going wrong in the middle. Let's get curious and figure out what that is! Because there may be a very, very reasonable thing, you know, maybe there's some stupid reporting problem that's happening in the system that neither of you know anything about. That's simplistic, but these kinds of things happen in the layers of organization all the time!
- Yeah, I love the idea of of checking in and saying, the question you asked at the beginning around "What's really going on here?" I think that's a really important question. And I think a challenge that I have seen come up repeatedly is that, and you know, a lot of people who have been through therapy do this, and they'll note that this becomes a challenge, but they'll say, it becomes about them. So rather than making Steve the enemy, right? So they're like, "Steve always does this," they say, "Okay, I'm gonna frame it from my feelings. I feel this way," and then it feels like a different type of attack on Steve. And I've seen that, and it's not a dig on therapy, 'cause I think therapy is wonderful, but I think people take that tool and misinterpret it or misuse it in such a way that it actually creates more conflict, and the other person is not in a position to say anything 'cause how do they argue with your feelings?
- You are so right, and I actually wrote a piece for "Harvard Business Review" about not making I-statements at work.
- I need to read this! I didn't know that!
- Yes, you nailed it directly. The reason it comes up in therapy is because feelings are very crucial in personal relationships, in family relationships. But work is actually different. There may be love at work, but work is not about love. If you get love at work, I mean the good kind, that's a bonus! At work, there needs to be respect and consideration, but it is not about love. Work is really about effectiveness. So I-statements are not helpful. And in fact, I-statements can cause your opponent to become conflict-averse, and therefore not tell you the truth about what's going on because they are afraid of having to hear about your feelings, which they don't know what on Earth to do about! Okay, so instead of saying, "This is a problem because I feel this way," share what is not working. When I don't get those numbers on Tuesday, I can't issue this report that my boss is breathing down my neck for. So first of all, that gives me a bad afternoon, and I would rather not have a bad afternoon, and I would hope that you would rather I not have a bad afternoon, but it also means that my boss is concerned when she has to go see her boss that she doesn't have the data she needs. And it actually creates problems all up the chain. So can we look at, if there is any way I can get this stuff earlier on Tuesday, and I'm not assuming that the problem is anything you're doing! There's something I need and I'm wondering if there's some way we can work it out. Either we find something in the system, there's a process we can do with different timing. Maybe we can get another work group to do their stuff earlier. I don't mean to make a problem for you. But is there a way we can work together to try to get these numbers out earlier on Tuesday? I would really appreciate it.
- I feel like I could talk to you for the next 17 hours, and I do wanna be respectful of time. And I know, and I would love to have you back, because there's so many more things I wanna talk to you about. I would love to have you back at some point, but I do want to give you a chance, is there anything that you would like to emphasize or that we didn't get to today that you would like to leave the listeners with? Because you know, I have 1,000 more questions, so I am not the person to wrap this part up.
- Okay, let me, let me leave listeners with this thought, which is not directly related, but it's related to everything. And that is that there is always something you can do. For as long as you have your job or your role or your goal or whatever it is, if you can stop grinding in the moment and just think, and maybe have somebody else help you think, there is always something to do. We are incredibly resourceful. So don't give up, don't feel hopeless. Even in very bad circumstances, sometimes a kind word to a colleague is the best thing to do in the moment. You know, it doesn't need to be expensive and it doesn't need to be time-consuming. Sometimes it is. But there's virtually always something that can be done that will improve the situation for you, and therefore, for others.
- I think that is a powerful way to end this, and I appreciate you sharing that. There will be links to, I'll include a link to your TED Talk in the show notes and where people can find you online. And I'm also gonna find that "Harvard Business Review" article of yours and include that because I love that and I think that's super powerful, 'cause it comes up all the time. But I really wanna thank you for taking the time to chat with me and put this together for the listeners, 'cause this was wonderful. And I really appreciate you so much, Liz.
- I've enjoyed it. I think we believe a lot of things in common, so it was really fun. Thank you, Celine.
- Amazing, thank you! Thanks for joining me today on the Leading Through Crisis podcast. If you enjoyed this conversation, please take a minute to rate and review it in your podcast app, and you can always learn more about any of our guests at www.leadingthroughcrisis.com.