Posts Tagged ‘Conflict’

ElephantintheRoom-Leo_CullumHow many times have you been in a conversation with others and wanted to bring up some obvious topic, but failed to do so?  How many times have you sat in meetings, heard proposals, watched presentations, discussed important matters, or been embarrassed on behalf of someone else, all the while dying to say what is really on your mind, but never mustering the courage to say it?  Why do we hold back and so often fail to acknowledge the elephant in the room?

In the case of meetings at work, perhaps you can’t bring yourself to openly disagree with someone higher up the org chart.  Maybe you are the kind of person who avoids conflict at all cost, both in personal and professional settings.  Maybe you fear the known or unknown consequences of being that person to bring up what you and probably many others wish someone would address.

If you don’t acknowledge obvious issues, it is very possible that the consequences of failing to address them will be worse than doing so.  For example, if you have relationship issues with someone, but try to keep the peace instead of putting matters on the table, aren’t the potential emotional and physical consequences of holding it all inside worse than the temporary awkwardness and unpleasantness of the dreaded conversation?  If you are being pitched a plan of action by a manager or someone higher up than you in an organization, and you know that the suggested path has major flaws, aren’t you complicit in failed and potentially harmful business decisions if you do not raise the concerns you have?  If others are trying to get you to go down some path that could be dangerous or have serious negative consequences personally and/or professionally, don’t you have the responsibility to listen to your intuition and interject a cautionary word into the conversation?  If someone’s dress, hygiene, personal habits or behavior are the subject of much discussion behind his/her back, isn’t the decent thing to do to have that needed and difficult private conversation in order to help the other person?

When it comes to acknowledging elephants in the room, few seem willing to be the one to step up and do so.  Oh, how we need more people willing to take that step!  Doing this doesn’t mean you have to do so in an unkind, harsh, abrasive, offensive way.  Besides, you won’t likely succeed in promoting positive change with that approach, anyway.  Instead, with a genuine heart of compassion, caring, and concern for what is wrong or what might fail, you have an incredible opportunity to change the path of a person, group, or entire company from darkness to light, from failure to success.  Those on the hearing end are usually able to sense genuine concern; they will most likely be able to see the intentions of your heart and hear your message, even if it is one that is difficult for them to hear.

Nobody benefits from having a bunch of “yes” men around.  While I’ll never be in a position of corporate power by virtue of the position held, if I ever was, I would hope to be fortunate enough to surround myself with men and women who always speak the truth, even when it is hard for them to deliver the message and perhaps harder for me to hear.  If it is my thoughts, plans, attitude, behavior or anything else that is ever the elephant in the room, then I desperately need and want someone to tell me that.  Do it gently and kindly and (if possible) privately, but by all means, do it!  I’m a big boy.  I can handle it.

I have no idea what life situations you are in where you feel you need to bring up something “obvious” that nobody else is saying, but I suspect you can think of one or two such situations at this time.  I strongly encourage you, in the interest of doing what is most helpful and kind and beneficial in the long run, acknowledge with whomever else needs to hear that there is an elephant in the room.  The benefit gained from the honest conversation will far outweigh the temporary fear of negative consequences that has held you back so far.

Humble PieI had a kind, good person at work send me an email today concerned about some things I had said recently.  She feared that my remarks could be harmful if taken in a way that pitted one group against another.  While that was not my intent in making the remarks, I can certainly understand where she was coming from.  I thanked her for the comments and the manner in which she shared them and felt duly and appropriately chastised.  I was reminded that it is difficult trying to find that balance between being a change agent affecting how communication happens in a large company while maintaining good working relationships with all, including those with whom you disagree.

It is amazing how open to correction one can be when coming from a trusted source whom you respect and with whom you have a good relationship.  Had the same email come from someone I regularly did battle with, I would not have been as receptive to the correction.

None of us is perfect.  Far from it.  We have our strengths and we have our weaknesses.  We like to be reminded of and praised for our strengths, but as a rule we don’t care much for others pointing out where we fail.  Still, we need people who will do that in a kind and gentle way.  As a former pastor of mine used to say, it’s like someone throwing a velvet-covered brick at you – not as hurtful as the raw brick by itself, but it still packs a wallop.

I’ll take the words of this colleague to heart and try to be more mindful of how my words influence others, for good or bad.  I thank her for today’s leap year lesson #347: Humble pie tastes bad, but it’s good for you.

Most of us don’t like being the bearer of bad news.  On the contrary, we would rather be associated with the verse from the prophet Isaiah: “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Isaiah 52:7) – a verse repeated by Paul in Romans 10:15.  The positive image brings to mind a runner going to or perhaps returning to a community to bring welcome news from afar.  Such a messenger will be greeted with joy.

Not so with those who bring bad news.  In ancient times, if a messenger ran to an enemy camp with a message not well received by the hearers, it would be unfortunate but not inconceivable that the hearers might take out their frustration on the messenger.  It was a dangerous role for the one delivering the news.

Nothing much has changed today in that regard.  While we don’t send runners to enemy camps with bad news anymore, we still find ourselves from time to time in the uncomfortable position of telling others things they don’t want to hear.

If you are the messenger, then you have the obligation to deliver the message clearly and with whatever level of compassion seems appropriate.  You don’t really have the option of not delivering the message without failing at an important task.  Friends, managers, coworkers, family members, even strangers may find themselves in such a role and perhaps with a message originating from themselves and not from someone else.

If you are the recipient of the message, then you have to control your emotions and react to the message rather than the messenger.  That isn’t easy.  It’s human nature to lash out at personal criticism or in response to news that is upsetting.  Still, the adult response is to absorb the message, take some time to process it if needed, and then respond appropriately.

Next time you hear something you’d rather not, try to remember leap year lesson #317 – Don’t shoot the messenger: You might miss the message.

You’ve probably seen one of the yellow and black diamond “Safe Place” signs on businesses and other locations.  The one shown here is their latest logo.  It is the symbol for National Safe Place – a youth outreach organization that educates youth about threatening situations and seeks to provide safe shelters for youth in crisis.  I applaud their efforts.

The phrase “safe place” has become a part of our vocabulary in a variety of contexts, not just in that of the national organization with the signs.  It may refer to a physical safe place or shelter in the midst of a storm.  It may refer to an emotional safe place of a group or setting where someone can share thoughts, feelings and experiences without fear of rejection or condemnation.

As I lay awake in the wee hours of this morning unable to sleep, the term came to mind in the context of where people gather online to talk.  Are those social media gathering places safe places for participants?  I’m not referring to the well-publicized times when the slime of society prey on children or others with the intent to abuse or harm.  I’m referring to the conversations that happen between friends, acquaintances and colleagues every day.

When you visit Facebook, for example, how safe is your news feed?  I know mine became quite toxic during the months leading up to the presidential election to the point where I unsubscribed from the comments and posts of most people I am friends with (even those I agree with politically), and I tried to not make the news feeds of others too toxic by limiting myself to one political post per week.

Beyond the politics, though, how friendly, warm, encouraging, and accepting are your social media gathering places?  They should be, or else you have no good reason to frequent them.  We must do our part in making them safe places for others.  As the community manager for my company’s internal online community, that has me thinking about what we need to do to make certain our community is a safe place for all.

As an individual, community or organization, leap year lesson #314 is Be a safe place for others.

I suspect that many of us prefer to live in a world where the majority of others agrees with us on significant matters.  Unless you’re unusually driven by conflict and controversy, you have a strong affinity for those who are a lot like you.  That’s understandable.  It’s a fact of basic human nature even if not politically correct.

One of the frequently discussed aspects of Tuesday’s election exit polls is the changing demographic of the American voting population.  It’s less white than it used to be.  It’s less religious than it used to be.  It’s less conservative as well.  That would appear to be a trend that doesn’t bode well for the future voting success of someone with the philosophical leanings of this white, conservative Christian.

America believes strongly in the idea of majority rule, although we go out of our way to make exceptions to that when we want to protect the interests of minority groups.  We say we believe in diversity, yet we tend to limit that appreciation to categories of physical, ethnic and sexual differences rather than diversity of thought and values which are not tolerated well by those on either side of the aisle.

If we learn much from Tuesday’s election, we at least learn this isn’t your parents’ America any more.  It may or may not be the America you want it to be.

As I reflect on the election, I come back to the simple thought that I can’t expect people who do not share my beliefs and values to think and act (and vote) the same way I do.  To expect otherwise is foolish.  If a majority are not conservative, then I can’t expect conservative positions and candidates to prevail.  If a majority are not Christian, then I shouldn’t be surprised when the results are at odds with traditional, biblical Christianity.

It is pointless to fret or fume over what I believe is my new minority status.  It is what it is and I will be who I am and I will stand for what I believe regardless of the consequences.

Therefore, leap year lesson #310 is Don’t expect those with different values to be or act like you.