Emotions and Conflict

Apr 26

Heightened emotions and conflict go hand in hand. When we sense a threat, we begin to assess the environment and draw conclusions. Then we quickly transition to making assumptions about the other person’s intentions, and our anger and frustration mount. Almost without thinking, we take a defensive posture and mount our offensive.

Sadly, when we go on the warpath, we lose our ability to grasp problems, formulate effective solutions, deal realistically with situations, and manage impulses that, if unchecked, disrupt our ability to resolve disagreements effectively.

Seeing things objectively—the way they really are—is extremely difficult in an emotionally charged environment, even when we know what we should be doing intellectually. Recognizing what drives you to feel the way you do and the impact of that on those around you can help you more quickly disrupt the process and diffuse the situation.

The information below can help you cope with heightened emotions, slow up, and resist the urge to go on the warpath.

Learn What Sets You Off

Being able to resist the temptation to act in highly emotional ways involves learning more about what upsets you in the first place. Understanding what types of situations and behaviors unnerve you enough so that you overreact can help you manage expectations and avoid certain situations whenever possible. Pay close attention to how you physically respond when disagreements escalate and notice if you feel flushed, tense, sick to your stomach, or your head pounds. This is your early warning system and can help you realize that you are becoming overwhelmed and your capacity for rational thought is fading.

Have A Plan and Practice It

Experiment with different methods of calming yourself, from taking a breath to asking for a break in the action to rethinking how you are handling the situation. The key is to have a specific plan of action in mind before the emotions start to rise. You can also do a bit of a dress rehearsal if you know that you are potentially walking into a situation that typically triggers you. Even if you practice, don’t blame yourself if you slip—just try and right the ship as quickly as you can.

Don’t Quash Your Emotions

Once the emotions are there and growing stronger, your first instinct might be to quash them as a way to seem like you’re in control and unphased. As you probably know already, this creates a ticking time bomb that ultimately explodes when you least want it to. Quashing what you’re feeling leads to outbursts, sarcasm, and passive-aggressive behavior. Not acknowledging how you’re feeling isn’t hiding the emotion from the other person and is the worst thing you can do. Not expressing how you feel in a constructive way gives the other person the ability to substitute his or her own thinking about how you are feeling and doesn’t resolve the tension.

Vent What You Are Feeling Appropriately

Often reaching out to talk with someone else can help re-evaluate the situation, your stance, and the other person’s viewpoint—but not always. Venting with the right person can often help take the pressure off as long as the person you are sharing this with listens, acknowledges how you’re feeling and helps you shift focus to the resolution of the matter at hand. Venting becomes unproductive when it becomes all about the gratuitous bashing of the other person involved in the disagreement.

Develop A Positive Mindset

Thinking negatively can serve as its own trigger for negative emotions and lead to damaging behavior. Developing positive emotions can broaden the options facing you and help you remain curious in the face of a challenge. Seeing things with a positive mindset can help you narrow the opportunity for an angry response and help you set new patterns of responding to what stresses you. Maintaining a positive attitude, and understanding how your emotions impact others can help decrease the overall tension.

Emotions rule where conflict is involved, and when they get the best of us, a strategic retreat is always called for.


Winning At All Costs

Mar 01

While waiting for a friend at a local restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice that the two people sitting at the table near the door were engaged in what I could tell was a heated conversation. One of the people seemed to be just pounding home their point, not allowing the other person a moment to interject or share their thinking. After a few minutes, I could tell that the other person finally decided to throw in the towel, end the haranguing, and agree to whatever the other person was trying to convince them of.

In that brief moment, I wondered does the person who seemingly “won” the disagreement realize that there is a difference between fighting against someone and fighting for something. Do they know that lasting victories are only achieved when people find a common cause and purpose to act together?

Understanding the difference between fighting for something versus fighting against something makes all the difference.

Taking a position against someone sets in motion a chain reaction of punch-counter punch or, in some cases, strategic retreat and avoidance on the part of the other person, which leads to one of two things: an all-out war or total defeat of the other person. Fighting for something you believe in enables trust and fairness and subtly tells the other person that you’ve got the strength to let your position be evaluated on the merits and that you’ll do the same with theirs.

The next time you disagree with someone’s position, make sure that you don’t allow yourself to become so lost in winning at all costs that you allow the argument to be about fighting against someone/something instead of for what you believe to be true.


How To Deal With Irrational People

Feb 09

Preparing yourself for that challenging conversation with irrational people who pushes all your buttons, can be one of the most daunting things you’ll ever do. Yet moments like this are inevitable, and you need more than courage—you need the right strategy to emerge unscathed and in a stronger position the next time.

Finding that right strategy—the one that will help you cut your losses and make the best of the situation—involves recognizing that you are being triggered to respond in a defensive and irrational manner both by your biology and the other party. Giving in to the pressure, and responding in a defensive way, will only serve to allow the other person to drag you kicking and screaming onto their playing field where they have the advantage—leaving you feeling drained, demoralized, and fearful of that next encounter with them. Then they leave the conversation empowered and victorious. How can you keep from moving from rationality to irrationality in these situations and also keep the conversation on your home turf?

The three tools below will help you keep your upper brain engaged (where logic and reason prevail) and keep you from being drawn into responding from your lower brain (where fight or flight and emotion are king):

1) Put the Brakes On to Avoid Being Emotionally Hijacked

Delaying your response and taking a pause allows the center of your brain, called the amygdala, to calm down and to regain the high ground where you can choose to respond from a place of calm and logic. We have all heard of counting to ten and choosing to walk away for a brief time as time-tested methods, but they are not the only option you can use to avoid emotionally being hijacked. You could also choose to pause and become more conscious of how you’re feeling physically by asking yourself: What am I feeling at this moment? Or you could play out what you would really like to do or say in your mind. For example: In this moment, I want to scream how difficult they are being and see yourself screaming at the person. Choose what works best for you, but make sure that it allows you the needed time for the body to reset itself.

2) Become Present, Clear and Focused In The Moment

Reframing the situation and seeing opportunities to de-escalate and disarm the other person are essential to shifting the game back to your turf. Repeatedly engaging in de-escalating and remaining focused will clearly communicate to the other person that their usual bag of tricks isn’t working on you. However, don’t expect that in the short term they won’t try to escalate even more with an outrageous outburst to test your seriousness. Keep focused, clear, and present in the situation and continue to ask them questions that show them you won’t engage and act out in the same way. Here are a few to consider the next time you’re in a situation like this:

  • What is this really all about?
  • In what way can I do something, so we don’t end up here again?
  • What do you need from me, so we don’t have this conversation again?

Once you notice that you’ve broken their rhythm, you can attempt to steer the conversation in a more productive way. If you cannot shift the focus to the positive, and if the person is still extreme, then you know you’ve done your best, and looking for the most graceful way to disengage is the only option.

3) Seek Inspiration from Your Gurus, Heroes and Others You Admire

As you’re trying to navigate your way through this type of conversation, you might feel as if you alone are against the world. This doesn’t have to be the case. If you start feeling unnerved, uncertain, and like you’re losing control, stop and take a deep breath and ask yourself: What would my Guru, Hero, or person I admire do in this situation? How would they react to what I am experiencing? Tapping into the collective wisdom and strategies of those who mentor and we admire, even if only in our minds, can help us focus, regroup, and choose to respond in a more effective way. So the next time you feel like the person’s barbs are hitting their mark and your resolve is diminishing, call upon the collective wisdom and experience of those you admire to guide your approach. Thinking about the wise advice you’ve been given and how it could help you will lead to you shifting your perspective from fear and defensiveness to gratitude and sanity.

Overriding our natural biological influences (the fight or flight response) and long-standing approaches to irrational behavior can be challenging to overcome. Yet with practice and mindfulness in these types of situations, you can develop the strategies that will allow you to emerge unscathed from encounters with less-than-rational people. Remember each time you try these strategies that, the other person is less likely to try their usual bag of tricks on you the next time.

The Art of Giving Advice

Do This, Don't Do That

Sep 10

Will Rogers once said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Rogers’ sage words should be taken to heart the next time someone approaches you for your advice, perspective, and wisdom. Despite our instinct to jump right in and offer others practical skills, solutions, and the lessons learned from our experiences, the first thing any good adviser does is realize that giving good advice is less about your expertise and more about enabling the other person to clarify and think critically about the matter at hand.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice,” by David Garvin and Joshua Margolis, good advice has several key components: listening for understanding, developing a shared understanding, clarifying another’s thinking, and creating alternatives. These components are key to making sure that the advice seeker walks away with more than do this and don’t do that.

It is only by listening for understanding that you can determine if you are the appropriate person to be weighing in on this topic. Listening to better understand the needs of the advice seeker is critical to influencing and shaping another’s thinking without disempowering them to act. Not jumping in too quickly with solutions and suggestions of what to do helps the advice seeker to clarify their thinking, identify biases, focus on collaboratively creating alternatives, and build their confidence and motivation to act upon their choices. Good advice leaves the responsibility for the choices in the hands of the advice seeker while empowering them to achieve their goal, increase their momentum, and motivate them to move forward to action.

The value of advice well given comes not from providing solutions or showcasing how much you know but in the learning you achieve from facilitating the learning process for another person. Often in helping others, we help to shine the light on our own biases, flaws in logic, and inside-of-the-box thinking. So the next time someone approaches you for advice, take Will Rogers’ advice and just “shut up” and listen.

6 Strategies to Cultivate Candor

And Catapult Your Success

Apr 28

In our busy, fast-paced and turbulent world, genuine communication is rare, and often we find ourselves grappling with how to handle difficult conversations with ease, clarity, and effectiveness. How often have you found yourself choosing to avoid the conversation (even though it needs to take place) by simply opting not to raise the issue or holding back on sharing your full perspective? How many times have you decided to candy-coat the message or ended up bludgeoning someone with the brutal truth to the point of harming the relationship and stifling creative problem-solving?

Candor engages others in dialogue that shares a realistic picture of what is taking place without being brutally honest, which results in harming, hurting, or alienating others. Candor opens the pathway for people to move beyond their individual points of view, gain fresh insight, expose biases, and explore uncomfortable perspectives so that they see opportunities and not obstacles. Practicing candor in your personal and professional life enhances collaborative relationships, reduces conflict, and leads to better and more meaningful outcomes. Candor as a practice leads to increased value being created for all involved, resulting in increased life satisfaction and a competitive edge.

Adopting candor as a guiding principle requires you to take steps to ensure that you are sharing information, looking for differing perspectives, and behaving the way you want others to behave. Here are some ways that you can begin adopting candor as a guiding principle:

1. Tell the truth to oneself and then extend it to others

Don’t avoid the opportunity to be appropriately honest, raise difficult issues, or engage in challenging conversations with yourself and others. These moments hold the potential for learning and growth. Encourage those around you to do the same.

2. Create and encourage people to share information and encourage others to reach out to those who need to know and make decisions or act upon the information

Be clear that you value the free flow of information, and let others know that although not everyone needs to know everything, it is your and their responsibility to find the appropriate people and share with them what you think, know, or believe.

3. Make it clear to all that you welcome difficult conversations and hearing troubling information

Let others know that you don’t want information sugar-coated or to only hear nonstop happy talk, but that you willingly seek out and want to hear information that does not conform to your viewpoint or perspective. Be open to giving and receiving feedback. Surround yourself with people who will value that as well.

Encourage open debate and feedback by creating an environment of openness and trust, and share and demonstrate candor with those around you.

4. Demonstrate respect for those who have the forthrightness to bring those issues forward and praise them for doing so publicly

Be aware that it is never easy to have these types of difficult conversations with someone else. Reward people who challenge assumptions and highlight difficult truths. Encourage that behavior and see it as a sign of respect and concern for your well-being.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

As valuable as candor can be, if you are not well-practiced in using it and having candid conversations, unintentional harm can be done. Practice will help you develop the focus and intention required to deliver negative messages constructively and without being hurtful.

6. Be Willing to Admit When You Make A Mistake

Wise people do this. Admitting your mistakes disarms critics and garners you respect. It also makes others more comfortable sharing and admitting their own errors

Candor is not something you can mandate from others, but it is certainly something you can develop in yourself and model for those around you. It may not come easily, but when you commit to practicing candor with yourself and others, you can become highly skilled at creating the dialogue needed to inspire new insights and create the peace of mind needed to succeed in life and your profession.



How To Tell Your Story

Get Others To Invest In Your Success

Apr 07

We all have certain things we want to achieve in our lives: a career in the c-suite, a promotion, or finding work that feeds our passion and leads us to a success-filled life. For many of us, our strategy focuses on building the experience, technical skills, and pedigree that we think will guarantee our success.

Achieving our dreams and being successful requires a strategy beyond just building the requisite profile and expertise. Success in whatever we choose to do comes down to having others invest in seeing us succeed, so much so that they find ways to help us do just that. The success you can achieve when others believe, promote, and support you on your journey is extraordinary. This type of support extends your reach and gives you a competitive advantage—others will know and trust you even before they speak to you based on what people they know have to say and believe about you.

How can you do everything in your power to tell your story in a way that garners the level of support that results in others advocating on your behalf? The answer is simple: you need to get your story right.

Achieving this goes beyond creating a great first impression and is more complex than you might think at first glance. Telling the right story about yourself means delivering the message in a powerful way, which guarantees others will clearly understand what makes you uniquely qualified, how you can best serve their needs, and keeps them wanting to know more about you and how you can help them succeed. Getting the story right, however, means more than just sharing your resume. It means sharing who you are in a way that enables others to understand you intrinsically and in a uniquely personal way long after the initial conversation has faded. Telling your story in this way forms the framework so that others can begin promoting and advocating on your behalf. Getting your story right means taking the focus off what you need and shifting it to what they need to choose you.

In order to be able to make this shift from what you need to what they need, here are a few things you need to do:

  • Begin by getting crystal clear in your own mind about what you bring to the table. This involves more than just your successes—it also includes lessons learned from your failures. Determine which of these have the most relevance in the current situation, provide the most benefit to the other person, and be able to share them in a concise and convincing way.
  • Spend more time in the conversation listening than talking, even though this seems counterintuitive. Ask questions so that you learn more about what the other person values and needs. Once you know this, you can reflect to the areas where you are in sync by sharing real experiences that embody the skill or result that meets their needs. Listening helps you identify areas that need clarification. It also enables you to address concerns at the moment and creates the resonance needed to make it easy for them to see you in that role.
  • Make sure you talk about how you are different from your competition. Ensure that you do so in a way that does not diminish others and also demonstrates your sense of integrity and fair-mindedness. Demonstrate your sincerity, confidence, and commitment to the success of others as well as yourself. Be honest and position yourself as someone they can rely on.
  • Be on the alert for opportunities where you can deliver value to them immediately and be of service to them by stating what you would do. This doesn’t mean giving away the store, but selectively giving them something that shows you are the solution to the need they have and demonstrates your ability and desire to contribute.
  • Be brief, descriptive, and focus on how what you do/did benefits them and will lead to their success. The first sentence you speak should explain how your actions and skill set met the strategic objectives of the person or organization you did this for in the past. The second sentence should focus on and frame the most significant results of the action taken and be tailored to the context most closely related to the person you are presently speaking with. Make sure that what you say generates more questions like: “Tell me more about how you did that?” or “How could you do that here?”
  • Show up and approach the conversation with the long view in mind. Understand that you have to actively campaign and share information about yourself before, during, and after the conversation. Look for opportunities to follow up and reinforce your story and the seriousness of your intentions. Know that this level of engagement brings about the person’s investment in your success and makes it more likely they will remember you if another opportunity arises and talk about you with others.
  • Let them know you realize they have the power to help you achieve your goal. Be sure to ask them for their insight into how best to succeed in their eyes. Talk with them about what you can do to make them feel good about making a choice and choosing you, and show your willingness to be mentored and coached.

Getting your story right isn’t as much about telling the story you want to tell but telling your story the way they need to hear it. If done well, getting your story right means painting a vivid picture that others can easily share about what you have to offer, who you are, and why they support you so strongly. The right story builds the connection needed to have others become invested in seeing you succeed, so much so that they take action on your behalf.

How do you plan to tell your story?  I love to hear from you.


Something Sage: Do You Know Your Hot Buttons?

Sep 02

When was the last time you found yourself in a situation where someone or something aggravated and frustrated you to the point where, despite knowing better, you instigated a conflict?

 This has happened to all of us at one time in the workplace, at home or at social gatherings.  Our hot buttons are characteristics or situations that aggravate, frustrate and provoke us into lashing out and engaging in conflict even though we know better.

Some of us get upset when we encounter untrustworthy behaviors; for others, it might be encountering people who are self-centered. Giving in to your frustration and engaging the button pusher leaves you feeling angry, demoralized, anxious and powerless. Creativity and productivity are impacted, as well as your physical and emotional well-being. When our buttons are pushed, we are less likely to resolve disagreements constructively and are more inclined to engage in behavior that is destructive.

By learning what situations and characteristics lead to your being most upset and understanding when and how you are provoked, you can develop better reactions to the button pusher and confront conflict more effectively. Cooling down your reactions lets you take the button pusher’s perspective and better assess their motivation.  Identifying and understanding what triggers you and designing new ways to react in those moments will reduce the negative emotions, help you better control your reactions, and allow you to exert influence over the situation and not be caught off guard. Identifying your hot buttons is only the first step. Making behavioral changes requires changing your characteristic reactions and new tactics and interpreting situations in different ways.

The Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP) contains a section dealing with Hot Buttons. A portion of the assessment tool that helps you to identify your Hot Buttons is online, so you could try it out. The Hot Buttons are only one part of the larger assessment that deals with conflict behaviors and organizational perspectives on conflict.   As an executive coach, I use The Conflicts Dynamics Profile (CDP) both in my group and individual coaching work to help leaders become conflict competent. Working with the (CDP) feedback and coaching either in an individual or group session enables my clients to understand what drives their responses and develop practical recommendations for dealing more effectively not only with their hot buttons but workplace conflict as well.

I invite you to learn more about your hot buttons by taking the portion available on-line by following this link or reaching out to me either in the comments field below or via email to susangilellstuy@sageexecutivecoaching.com.

The Art of Persuading People

May 09

When did you last have to persuade someone to decide in your favor?  Were you successful?

Persuading people is all about shaping judgment rather than creating certainty.  The key to successful persuasion is to be able to discern what motivates someone to decide and to artfully influence them in your favor.  

Someone is persuaded when the following three criteria are met:

  • The person has a clear idea of what you’re asking them to do
  • They are assured that it is within their power and best interest to do it
  • After hearing, the rationale for doing what you want, and the rationale for either doing something else or nothing at all, they decide that what you’re doing is best

Are you ready to give it a try?  Here are some tips:

  1. Learn as much as you can about the person you are trying to persuade; what motivates them to decide?
  2. Educate yourself about the facts that favor your position and emphasize the ones that are the most defensible.
  3. Have a clear idea of facts that do not favor your position, counter them on the merits or dismiss them as irrelevant.
  4. Never overstate the merits of your side; you’ll harm your credibility, err on the side of caution, and don’t use phrases like always or never.
  5. Give your best facts first, and then refute those that work against you.  You’ll appear evenhanded and trustworthy.
  6. Don’t defend the indefensible. Openly acknowledging those positions demonstrates you are reasonable and avoids the appearance of trying to sweep things under the rug.
  7. Appeal to other people’s common sense and fairness; not only is your choice factually right, but it is within the bounds of reasonableness.
  8. Close powerfully by creating a vivid image of the benefits to the listener for acting on what you have so carefully and logically presented.

What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

The Wrong Question to Ask

Apr 25

Language is the principal way we convey and communicate our frames of reference. We all communicate through a set of filters that have been shaped by our history, beliefs, values, and perceptions. Likewise, those who hear our words process them through their own personal filtering system as they try to understand us. I’d offer the following alternative to the strengths or weaknesses question for predicting someone’s behavior in a specific role.

Being able to ask questions that tap into a candidate’s unconscious thought and behavior patterns in given contexts and circumstances is a far more effective strategy for selecting the right candidate for a job. If you are looking
 for a candidate who won’t get caught up in groupthink, it would be
 better to learn the source of the person’s motivation and judgment.

A great question for eliciting this information is: How do you know that you’ve done a good job at work? If the candidate’s answer focuses on their deciding that they did a good job, or they indicate resistance to someone else making a decision that they did a good job, the source of their motivation and judgment is internal. Since they are internally motivated and their judgment comes from internal standards, they would not get caught up in groupthink.

On the other hand, if their answer revolved around comparing what they did to an external standard or others’ opinions, the source of their motivation is external, and they would be more likely to engage in groupthink. Neither approach is good or bad in and of itself. What matters most is that the person’s pattern and what is needed for success in that role is compatible. This is just one of the many patterns that interviewers can test for with candidates during the course of an interview.

An organization that is capable of accurately identifying the patterns for specific positions, and interviewing to test for those patterns in the candidates, will be well served and end up hiring and managing people’s strengths instead of suffering from their weaknesses.