Having Those Difficult Conversations

Took an interesting class recently in having difficult conversations.


These are the conversations you need to have about performance, accountability, expectations, bad news, conflict, and so on. 


Often these are the conversations we tend to avoid, because we don’t know how to have them without making things worse where things get emotionally charged, people become defensive, things gets misinterpreted, and they get escalated. 


And it’s even more difficult when there is a discrepancy in power between the people having the dialogue. 


But it is important to have the critical conversations in order to solve the underlying problems!


Often problems are rooted in that we judge others too quickly and erroneously, or we just don’t have all the facts. 


The data points we do have get filtered, interpreted, assumptions are made, conclusions are drawn, beliefs are adopted, and actions are taken that may be wrong (reference: The Ladder of Inference by Chris Argyris).


The key to having a productive conversation is to explain the issue and the impact, acknowledge your part in the problem, describe the desired outcome for the relationship and the work, and most importantly, give space for the other person to respond.


We need to get the other person’s point of view, including the data points that we may have missed or misunderstood, generate options, and agree how to solve the issue.


Unfortunately, there are times when the other person digs in and isn’t open to working on or resolving the problem, in which case you may need to decide whether to grin and bear it (i.e. live with it) or leave the relationship, because it has become too unproductive and toxic. 


The instructor said it well: This is about problem-solving. But life is too short to deal with jerks!  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Compromise = Winning

So this shutdown has really been an education in political dysfunction, bickering, and childish behavior. 


But when President Trump yesterday went on the air and provided a compromise solution whereby he gets funding for a 200 mile border wall/barrier and the Democrats get money for humanitarian relief at the border, high-tech sensors, and years of protection for 700,000 children that came to this country illegally (DACA) and another 300,000 for immigrants from designated countries that prevent their sage return (TPS)–it seems like everybody would come out a winner!


That’s negotiation.  That’s compromise.  That’s diplomacy.  


When President Trump did this, I thought he really won the day, especially when the Democrats rejected his proposals and offered nothing in return or as an alternative. 


Even if the other side disagrees with the solution, they can and should offer what their version of a compromise/agreement would be and so on between the parties–this way, they can negotiate until both sides get to the magical compromise that everyone can agree to and live with. 


What I learned from this is that regardless of your political leanings, the side that shows flexibility and compromise and the desire to get something done, is the side that wins the argument, period. 


Those that want it all or are simply obstructionist and haters are the big losers in the debate. 


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Upside Down Bird, Black Sheep–Same Thing

I thought this art was funny and accurate:

There’s always one in every family.

Really, it should be there is always one (or two) in every family, group, and organization. 


Whether it’s the upside down bird or the “black sheep”–I think we call it that person a troublemaker!


Is it the attention they crave? 


Is it a good fight or argument they are after?


Are they just different and that’s okay.


Listen, we are all the same, but we’re also all different. 


Imagine being completely the same and how boring that would be. 


So being the upside bird isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 


The other birds may look at this upside down bird as cuckoo.


But the bird may not be a cuckoo bird at all.


He may just be acting himself. 


To the upside down bird, he probably thinks of himself as being right side up bird, and that it’s the other birds that are the cuckoos.


From my experience, there is being different and then there is being cuckoo for real. 


There really are one or more cuckoos just about everywhere you look.


Worse yet, if the other 4 birds are sane, then watch out because you may be the cuckoo bird.


And then there was the movie, “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal) 

Tired of All The Whining About China

I don’t know about you, but I am so tired about all the whining about China. 


– They are stealing our intellectual property. 


– They are hacking into our systems. 


– They are unfairly forcing us to transfer technology to them.


– They aren’t opening up their market to us. 


OMG stop the complaining already!


If you don’t like what they are doing, then do something about it. 


Tariffs are a start, but just a small one. 


Seriously, if you can’t incentivize them to stop the harassment and unfair trade practices by adding them to the World Trade Organization, investing in them, and partnering with them, then you need to actually compete with China. 


– They steal our sh*t–you help yourself to a generous serving of theirs.  


– They break into our systems–you find your way into their systems.


– They try to unfairly take away our markets and jobs–you take away theirs big time.  


Everyone knows that to deal with bully, you must fight back!


The more we are scared into inaction, the worse it gets.


This doesn’t mean that we should get into a military exchange with China, but we do need to get into a confrontation over what economic and global partnership should mean and look like. 


China is an old and truly great nation and their people should be highly respected.


However, the USA should also be treated right, and if that means it’s time for a heart to heart and some evening up of the playing field then that is what has to happen. 


We have to restore respect to America, not by becoming bullies ourselves, but by standing up to them when we are being taken advantage of.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

My First Interfaith Event

So I attended my first interfaith event today at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Maryland.


The first lady that I spoke to said that she wasn’t any one religion.  


When I asked more about this, she said:

The core to all religions is Rachamim (mercy, compassion) and Ahavah (love).


Pictured above are the table seating cards that directed people to sit next to people of other religions:  Jewish, Muslim, Other. 


The event was led by the One America Movement, and the Director, Andrew Hanauer spoke very well about bridging what divides us. 


Here are some of the take-a-ways:


– We need to address the divisiveness, polarization, and conflict. 

– Remember that we are talking with other human beings and not with labels.


– Polarization is not just issues, but devolves into identity–“I hate your stupid face!”


– But we are all human beings (and children of G-d). 

– Republicans and Democrats each say that the other is 20% less human than they are. 


– We all have our own “facts”:  My facts vs. Your Facts. 


– We attribute good that happens to us as being because of “us,” but bad that happens to us because of “them.”


– Similarly, we believe that we act out of love, but they act out of hate–and:

– We interpret threats to our viewpoints (political and otherwise), as threats to our groups and to ourselves. 

– Try to remove binary thinking (right and wrong, left and right, etc.), critique your own point of view, and share doubts

– Reconciliation:  If we can cross the divide, have open dialogue, and positive interactions with each others, and develop cross-cutting identities then we will make it easier to counter divisive narratives, solve problems, and reduce violence. 

(Source Photos: Andy Blumenthal)

How Does It Feel At The Top

A colleague told me something interesting about what it feels like at the top.


He said:

The 360 degree view is good, but it get’s windy at times!


I thought this was pretty smart, and one reason that many people opt out of moving into senior and executive positions in their organizations. 


Yes, it’s great to be able to lead and have more visibility, influence, and impact. 


But at the same time, this does not come for free or without risks. 


At the top of the pyramid or corporate offices or whatever, there is opportunity. 


Yet, your dealing with other top honchos with strong personalities, egos, and often harsh ways of dealing with others and conflict can be perilous for many. 


My father used to tell me his philosophy:

Better a little less, but you know what you have. 


There is definitely wisdom in those words. 


Maybe as with most things in life, there is a time and place for everything. 


It is great to have the opportunity to lead.


It’s also not bad to have a time to follow and contribute in that way. 


What’s important is that whatever role your in at the time, that you do it with integrity and passion to do good. 


So how does it feel at the top–sure, it’s a nice view, but it can get very windy too. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Parking Lot Full of Ideas

So conducting large meetings is not often easy. 


People have their own concepts as to where they’d like the discussion to go.


Yes, agendas help keep the meeting focused. 


And a good facilitator enforces meeting discipline. 


Some people think that any deviation from the agenda is like taken a sudden left turn or driving off the cliff. 


But you don’t want to throw away the baby with the bath water. 


It’s important to jot down good ideas or follow up questions that come out in the discussion even when they are not immediately relevant. 


That’s where the “Parking Lot” comes into play. 


A flip chart or whiteboard to capture the important thoughts for follow up afterwards. 


While parking lots are needed to take certain things off the table immediately in order to focus on accomplishing the meeting’s objectives, they are not junk yards for people’s input. 


Instead, they are a place to park the stray thoughts and then to actively follow up on these after. 


No question is a dumb one, and no idea isn’t worth considering. 


Parking lots can be full of these and they should be parked and then taken for a spin around the neighborhood.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)