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Six Ways to Handle Conflict Effectively

I spend a good portion of my time working with CEO’s and senior leaders of small businesses. One of the primary topics we deal with together is how to effectively handle conflict. Some of the conflicts have been relatively small, but others have completely changed the landscape of their organization.  
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  If there’s one thing I‘ve learned over the years it’s that conflict is inevitable. It is positively unavoidable. That may sound like a defeatist attitude, but I think you know it’s true.   Three important things at this point. First, though conflict is unavoidable, too many people try to act as if it weren’t. They either falsely believe that if they just doing everything right they can avoid it. This is a delusion. Or more often, once it does raise it’s ugly head, they actually do avoid it at all cost. And the cost of avoiding can become enormous.   Second, I didn’t say that a bad outcome was inevitable. As a matter of fact, I firmly believe that you, yes you, can become (if you’re not already) extremely skilled at handling conflict in a way that leads to very positive outcomes on a consistent basis   Third, conflict can be a very good thing. When handled well, it leads to deeper and stronger relationships built on understanding and trust. I believe that if an organization’s leaders can learn to model and mentor skillful conflict resolution, it can become a clear competitive advantage.   Disclaimer: Nothing I, or anyone else, can teach you will guarantee a positive outcome. You can only control your part of the conflict. However, the more skilled you become at these things, the more likely you will be to succeed and create a track record of successes.   Dive in with me as we take a brief look at six ways to handle conflict effectively.

Keys to Producing Positive Outcomes

We are going to approach this from the perspective of you being the one to initiate a difficult conversation. Most of these will still apply even if you are the one who has been confronted.   1. Prepare your own heart and mind first. This is foundational. As I already stated, you can only control yourself in a conflict, so it is paramount that you prepare well, whenever possible. Examine your motives and clearly understand your goals. Prepare yourself to be at your very best.   Here are three questions you can ask yourself with regards to your goals for the conversation:
  • What do I want for myself?
  • What do I want for the other person?
  • What do I want for the relationship?
  I realize that you won’t always have time to do in-depth preparation, but if you make this a habit, you can do a quick version even if you get thrust into a situation unexpectedly.   2. Create and maintain safety. This is the first major piece of the blocking and tackling of working through conflict…no pun intended. No blocking or tackling allowed. Without this there is no meaningful forward progress. If a person doesn’t feel safe they won’t participate in an authentic way.   Whenever we sense danger we move into fight or flight mode. Neither of these mindsets leads to a productive conversation. When we feel safe, we are more likely to open up and share what we are really thinking and feeling. The authors of “Crucial Conversations” do an excellent job of laying out both the importance of and methods for this.   Briefly, let me share the authors’ insight. You create safety by establishing a mutual, or shared, purpose. When you identify and get acknowledgement of something that you both want it has the effect of bringing you together and putting you on common ground.   Safety is maintained by mutual respect. If both parties continue to treat one another with dignity and respect, and the common goal is kept in sight, safety should remain and foster the right environment.  
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  3. Address the issue, don’t attack the person. Be specific in naming and describing the issue as you are experiencing it. Addressing actions (behavior) is fair game, but you want to avoid attacking them or their character. This will only destroy the safety you’ve created and severely hinder progress.   One of the most common ways to stay focused on the issue is by using “I” statements. Here are some examples:
  • I feel/felt like…
  • It seemed to me…
  • I sensed…
  • I wondered…
  The bottom line is to address what was done or said and how that impacted you, especially if this was an isolated incident. If it is a pattern of behavior then the pattern and its effects are the issues that needs attention. In either case you are addressing choices they are making.   4. Take ownership of your part of the issue. It takes two to tango, as the old saying goes. There are going to be very, very rare occasions where a conflict is completely the fault of one party. Most of the time you will be able to identify some way in which you have contributed to the issue, if you are honest with yourself.   The key is to come with an attitude of humility and a willingness to take responsibility where it is appropriate. Your contribution may have been to avoid the issue. Or maybe you exacerbated the issue by the way you responded.   I am not asking you to make up things to confess or to own something that is not yours to own. However, if you fail to take any ownership, it is much more likely that the person will feel attacked.   5. Ask for their input and perspective. Now that you have had a chance to set the table it is time to listen. Be clear and succinct with your input and then turn your attention to them. Come into the conversation, from the very beginning, with a genuine desire to understand.   I have written previously about the skills of active listening and asking powerful questions. This is a perfect time to implement these tools. The better you understand the other person and their perspective, the better able you will be to navigate the conversation and move it toward a positive resolution.   6. Work toward agreement. Winning is not the goal. If we come to win, safety will never be established. That’s why we begin with establishing the win-win element. The minute someone feels as though your goal is domination or victory, they will revert to fight or flight mode (unless they have read this blog and can fight off those feelings to work toward re-establishing safety).   Pursue the win-win. This may involve some level of compromise on your part, but only compromise when you feel that it is an appropriate decision and serves the greater good. Otherwise, continue to work toward the kind of agreement that serves the win-win that you both identified at the beginning.  
Conflict can be a very positive thing…if you handle it skillfully.

Joe Denner

    There is no silver bullet when it comes to conflict. However, following these steps, and becoming skilled in their use will go a long way toward creating favorable results. You cannot control the outcome. You can only control how you participate. But the way you participate can have a huge, positive impact.  

You’re Invited

I want to thank you for being a part of my blog. I especially enjoy the opportunity to interact with you when you have a comment or question. It really adds value to the whole experience.   Finally, I had told you a couple of months ago that we would let you know when our management training product was being released. Well, the time is getting very close. And, to sweeten the pot we have decided to offer it to our audience at a very special, limited-time price of only $297. That is a 67% discount, or a savings of $600.   We have started taking pre-orders and wanted to get this out to you early in the game. The product will be releasing on April 14th, but at a much higher rate. So, I invite you to get in on this great deal and soak up all of the valuable material that this online video course has to offer. Check out this deal. Make sure to use offer code PRE16ORDER7DAYS to get the discount.   Question: Which of these steps will present the biggest challenge for you? [question]handle-conflict-effectively[/question]  
Seize the day!

Three Reasons Why You Should Have a Spring Training

It was 40 degrees on Saturday here in the gloomy, overcast Midwest of these great United States. What made that even more difficult to bear was that I landed at O’Hare that morning after just having enjoyed two gorgeous, sun-filled, 90-degree days in Phoenix, AZ. I can still feel the warmth even as I write to you now.  
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  My son Phil and I were enjoying our first-ever experience with Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. We flew out to Phoenix to catch our favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, playing against the Arizona Diamondbacks and then the Chicago White Sox.   It was a lot of fun. Everything and everyone was super relaxed. And why shouldn’t it be that way. The sun is shining. It’s 80 or 90 degrees (dry heat). The stands are full of happy, relaxed fans. And every day is a great day at the old ballpark.   Oh, and more importantly, none of this counts. It’s all practice. If you strike out, no one remembers. If you make a mistake running the bases, you’ll get another chance tomorrow. If you give up a home run, you can laugh it off. And, everybody wants your autograph.   As I sat by the pool early on Friday after a morning swim, it hit me. Those of us in leadership (and parenting) should be creating our own mini spring training’s whenever we can. As we seek to develop new leaders and allow people room for growth, we need to be intentional about creating safe places for people to fail (and succeed).   We need to be intentional about creating places and opportunities for them to hone their skills and spread their wings without risking the farm or sinking the ship.   All the major sports have a pre-season that works the same way. But one of the keys is that they are in a live environment, with a real opponent and real umpires. For some of the games there’s even real ESPN televising the game to real people all over the real world – like the one we were at on Thursday.   Let’s take a look at three quick reasons why creating your own version of Spring Training will serve you and your customers very well.

Ways to Stretch

1. It’s a chance to hone important skills. When we were at the game on Thursday we were talking with some of the folks around us. They mentioned that earlier that week Cub’s ace pitcher, Jake Arrieta, had walked a batter on purpose, just so he could work on pitching out of the stretch position. I could imagine a pitcher doing the same thing to work on his pick-off move to first base.   You can’t do that during the regular season. Manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t look very kindly on such a move, especially if that runner scored later in the inning. But, this was Spring Training. It’s the perfect time to do something like that. Because even if the guy does score, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have any bearing on the team’s success.   Spring Training is a time for base runners to work on stealing bases or figuring out whose arm they can challenge on trying to get an extra base. It’s a time for players to hone their hand-eye coordination and work on their judgment and decision-making.   In a business setting you and I need to be looking for ways to do the same thing. We need to be intentional about creating situations where we, or other team members, can practice and hone our skills in areas where we already have a level of competence.   Role playing is one good way to begin this process. But, eventually, you have to get people into a live environment or you will fall short of the full benefits. They need to get in front of real prospects or customers where the risks are real, but relatively low.   2. It’s a chance to try and develop new skills. Spring Training is the time for pitchers to work on new pitches they would like to add to their repertoire. It’s a time for batters to try out new or different aspects of their stance or their swing. It’s a perfect opportunity to play someone at a position they’ve never played before, just to see how they do.   My son Phil is still pretty new to the world of social media. But, I am giving him a lot of opportunities to try new things. We talk through strategies, and often review his plans together, but I have given him the lead on this for our business because it is a relatively safe place for him to learn and try new things.   The other thing we’ll be doing is creating opportunities for him to do Myers-Briggs training. This is one of the things he’s most excited about. Before, I send him out to work with our clients, we’ll be doing some dry runs with family members and people in our local community, where the risk of making mistakes is much lower.   3. It’s a chance to give the young kids a taste of the “big time.” All the big name players from the clubs have their usual number and name on the back of their jerseys. In baseball most of those numbers range from #1 to #59. But we saw a lot of younger guys wearing numbers like 83 and 98, and with no name at all on their backs.   These are the newbies. Most of them will not make the big club, at least this year, but play for one of the team’s minor league affiliates. But the coaches think they have some promise or they wouldn’t be here at all.   This is their chance to play on a major league field with and against major league caliber players. Many of them will get a chance to bat against an all-star or even an hall-of-fame-bound pitcher. By the same token, some of these young pitchers will get to face some of the best hitters in the game.   They will spend time in the locker room, at the practice field, and even out on the town with some of guys they would call their heroes. It’s a chance to give them a taste of the real-deal, without all the pressure.   In the same way we need to be taking some of our newbies and allowing them to work on projects with some of our veterans. You will likely need to make some sacrifices to do that. It’s going to cost you, but the investment is well worth it.   I had a manager (client) recently who tried to put a younger worker with a seasoned foreman so the foreman could teach him some important skills. He got a lot of pushback from the Project Manager because of the extra time that would be charged to his job. In situations like that I think companies need to find a way not to penalize job costs (and related commissions) for training investments.  
Your team members need safe places to fail – or succeed – in order to reach their full potential.

Joe Denner


What’s At Stake

If we refuse to be intentional about providing safe places for our team members (or children) to fail, we will limit their growth or unnecessarily prolong the timeframe for their development.   Look for ways to proactively move the process forward for key members of your team or household. If you do it well, you won’t regret it. And they will thank you.   Question: What is one thing you can do today to create a safe place for one of your high potential team members to fail? [question]spring-train[/question]  
Seize the day!

Why Core Values Are Foundational to Your Success

When you hear the name Coca Cola what comes to mind? What about Starbucks? How about Google?


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I would bet in at least one case, something more than just thoughts came to mind. Maybe you could taste the fizzy soda or feel the refreshment on a hot summer day. Maybe you smiled and relaxed as you imagined sharing your favorite caffeinated beverage with a close friend while you took in the tantalizing aromas. Or, maybe you immediately felt a surge of confidence, knowing you could find the info you needed within seconds.

That, my friend, is the power of brand. What we often think of when we hear the word brand is logos, tag lines or color schemes. We think of marketing strategies or ad campaigns. Brand, however, is something much, much more. Your brand is the total sum of the interactions that others have with everyone in your organization. It’s the relationship that’s been created over time between your organization and others.

Some companies spend millions of dollars trying to create a brand through externals. The smart ones, in my opinion, direct their primary resources internally. Why? Because while externals do play a part, more important for your brand are the personal touch-points your people have with those using your product or service.

Consistency is one of the most powerful and important aspects of developing and maintaining a brand. Every touch-point you and your people have with others has the power to either reinforce or erode the brand you’re attempting to establish or maintain. The more consistent the customer’s experience, the stronger the brand becomes, even if the audience is small.

You might be thinking, “Branding is for large companies with a lot of resources.” Not true. Actually, if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you already have a brand whether you knew it or not, whether you like what it is or not, and whether you tried to create it or not.

You’ve developed relationships with your prospects, customers, suppliers, and possibly the community, through both intentional and unintentional means. They have all formed opinions about you as a result of the various interactions they have experienced.

So, how do you get the brand you want?

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Three Reasons to End the Interview Immediately

I have interviewed hundreds and hundreds of candidates over the last 15 years. That means I have easily spent into the thousands of hours engaged in this challenging activity.


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I’ve interviewed some real doozies in my time. Like the guy who snuck into a foreign country to do a client project because he was tired of waiting for his visa. But wait, it gets better. When he finally got caught and was deported, he decided to sneak back in. Needless to say he didn’t receive an invitation to the next round of interviews.

As I reflect on those thousands of hours I come to the realization that I have wasted some of the best hours of my life with unqualified candidates. Sad, but true.

Your time is way too valuable to waste, and so is mine. So one thing I’ve learned is that there are some questions you need to ask toward the beginning of the interview. If they fail any one of these “tests” it is time to politely say “goodbye.”

I know that may feel awkward…no really awkward. And, I know you had an hour or more set aside for this interview, but you need to end it now. I’m dead serious. There is no reason to explore any further because these are absolute deal-breakers in my opinion.

It’s your decision, of course. But I’m confident that if you can overcome the barrier of awkwardness that you’ll agree with me. Let’s take a look.

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What to Do When Your Plan Falls Apart

Last week was a perfect example. Everything was lined up. The equipment we needed was in hand and things were moving along nicely. The schedule was pretty tight, but the finish line was in view.


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Then it happened.

The rug was pulled out from under me. A critical resource I was depending on to complete an important phase of the project was unexpectedly taken away from me. I was crushed. We were so close.

My natural inclination in situations like that is to turn inward and spiral downward in disappointment and frustration over the fact that my plan has been ruined. It’s so easy to get fixated on what seems like an unnecessary detour in the road. Especially when it’s someone else’s fault. And even more especially when it looks like we’ll never make it to the finish line.

It’s just not fair, right? The temptation to give up is a strong one. But, let’s face it. If you’re the leader, or are trying to become one, that’s not really an option. At least it shouldn’t be except in extremely rare cases.

Have you ever had a plan that fell apart? Maybe I should ask if you’ve had a plan that fell apart in the last week. That would probably be a better question.

Here are four, simple steps you can take to get the train back on the rails.

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