Conflict resolution

No “Buts”

14 Aug
by Bridget DiCello

For the most part, when you are speaking with another individual, it is a good idea to remove the word, “but” entirely from your vocabulary.

You may be complimenting:

That is a great idea, but… [it’s really not a good idea, my way is better].

You may be concerned:

You’re doing a good job, but… [you stink! You are nowhere near good enough.]

You may be angry:

I told you to do this, but… [I wasn’t clear, but I don’t plan to admit it’s my fault].

You may be busy:

I’d love to spend time talking to you, but… [I do not consider what you have to say important].

“But” sends the message that the first half of your statement is insincere. We all say the word, “but” much more than we consciously know.

What to do?

Pause or use the word, “and”. It can make all the difference in the world. Don’t replace “but” with “however.” It softens the blow, but conveys the same harsh message.

When you pause, it also gives you an Opportunity SpaceTM to decide what you will say next, and how best to convey the message to you hope to convey.

The word “and” is inclusive, and while it provides you the opportunity to express your main point, it also allows you to acknowledge the current situation in the first half of your phrase.

You can also add small phrases to soften the delivery of your message such as “I’m wondering…” or “I may be wrong…” or “If I understand you correctly…”

For example,

“That’s a great idea, but what’s it going to cost?”

Instead, try:

“That’s a great idea, and I’m wondering what the cost will be.”

Another example,

You’re doing a good job, but your times are still way off.

Instead, try:

You’re doing a good job at [specific task], and I’m confident you can continue to improve your times.

Just for a day, track how many times you say, “but”. In a factual sentence, it may be very useful. However, in discussions with another person and about another person, it is rarely constructive. Replace “but” with a pause or “and”.

Best Meetings – Small Scope, Big Expectations!

10 Apr
by Bridget DiCello

Have you ever been to or led a meeting that ran really long in an effort to make it through the whole agenda?  Or one that ended on time but most agenda items, including the ones you were interested in, were never addressed?

Every time you have several people in a room, you have multiple priorities, opinions, preferences and styles which will ensure that nothing will get done as quickly as you might be able to do alone.  However, the richness of those dynamics is worth the tradeoff, but your expectations must be realistic.

First, you must expect people to want to share their opinions and concerns, and time must be built into the agenda for that to happen.  If they are expected to simply sit and listen, then that must be communicated ahead of time to avoid frustrations.  If you’d like to guide their participation, add specific bullet points to the agenda to do so.

Then, you must define the scope of the meeting to be small enough to realistically be completed.  People like to walk out of a meeting feeling successful.  If your expectation of what you can complete in 45 minutes is always too high, and nothing ever seems to get resolved, your participants will get frustrated and productivity will decrease further.

Consider what you expect to accomplish; then break it into parts.  You wish to discuss Project A.  Project A has many parts.  Maybe the scope of the first meeting is to identify the main parts of the project, the key activities, define the milestones and the responsible people.  The responsible people could get together at a future meeting to discuss their individual accountabilities and timeframes.  Keep the scope manageable within in your meeting timeframe.

Small scope does not mean small expectations.  When you discuss Project A, your expectation may be that it is approached from several new directions, everyone contributes to identifying key activities, each person excitedly accepts a key role and milestones are clearly defined – which is a challenge in many companies.

In order to realize those expectations, they must be communicated prior to the meeting in a written agenda, and possibly an invitation phone call; must be reiterated in the agenda and at the start of the meeting, and revisited throughout the meeting as they are accomplished.

A small scope in no way means that very little will be accomplished.  It simply means that you will do an amazing job of discussing, brainstorming and working on results relating to a small piece of a larger puzzle.

If your meetings appear unproductive, remember Small Scope, BIG Expectations!

Egotistical Jerk or Passionate Leader?

14 Feb
by Bridget DiCello

If you’ve ever had the boss who has said,

“My way or the highway!”

“…because I said so!”

“That’s just the way it is,” and

“Get it done yesterday – I don’t care how!”

you may be hesitant to come across like a demanding jerk to your employees.

Jim Collins in his description of a Level V Leader says that level of leadership is attained by a humble yet passionate leader.

So, when do you get tough and lay it on the line, even to the point of saying, “That’s just how it is!” to your employees?

You know you’re being a jerk when…

  1. There is a self-serving motive behind your rant like ego preservation, desire to win/they lose, or desire to intimidate.
  2. You do not take the time to let them speak
  3. You honestly don’t care what they think and don’t feel like they can contribute despite their subject matter expertise.

You know you are being a passionate leader when…

  1. You listen curiously and with genuine interest to what they are saying, combining empathy with high standards in your head.
  2. Your blood pressure starts to rise because they have/or continue to do something hurtful to accomplishing the company vision/mission/goals.
  3. You respond carefully and choose your words to avoid being hurtful AND present the mission/vision component with passion because that is the reason why their behavior is a problem.

You can get excited and passionate about your core values, vision, mission and goals.

You cannot scream and yell because someone made you mad and has frustrated you.

You can get determined and definite when what an employee did interfered with overall accomplishment of goals or the way you want your company to operate.

You cannot get miffed, sarcastic and rude because someone kept you personally from meeting your goal.

The mission, vision and core values of an organization are its backbone – the reason it exists and how business will be conducted.  This backbone is something to get excited about and no one will fault you if you get passionate and determined about it, as long as you treat them respectfully (no yelling, swearing, sarcasm, personal attacks or demeaning comments).  You may even appear egotistical if you are personally very invested in the core values and vision.  But a drive towards an admirable vision is always about more than just your desire to accomplish it, and that will come through to your team.

Turning “Yeah, buts…” into “A-ha’s!”

26 Jan
by Bridget DiCello

Does it drive you crazy when you have a good idea, an original approach or a unique solution and the first thing someone can say is, “Yeah, but…”?  It’s time to eliminate those words and turn them into “Yes, and…”

Before we jump ahead, those who routinely offer the, “Yeah, but…” are probably the individuals who ground those of us with wild, crazy and risky ideas.  So, it can be a good balance.  And their caution may be for good reason and may bring up a valid point of view.

First, open your mind to listen to the objection and ask a clarifying question or two.   They say, “Yeah, but what happens when the customer says no?”  You might respond, “Let’s look at that for a moment.  Which customers do you think would most likely respond that way?” and “What is it, do you think, that would make them feel that way?”

Then, address the elephant.  The elephant is the problem or roadblock that is preventing the conversation from continuing in a positive direction in order to explore possibilities.  “I hear your concern, and it’s good to hear why you feel that way.  Now, I’d like to continue exploring my idea a bit more.  Let’s start by looking at the benefits of what’s been suggested.”

Too often, a “Yeah, but…” ends productive discussion because the person who brought up the idea feels shot down, may not continue and may get defensive.  The “Yeah, but…” team member who brought up the objection gets defensive in return.  They get stuck defending themselves because they haven’t been given any credibility and have not been able to explore their concern at all.

When the clarifying questions are asked, the elephant addressed and the original idea explored, both people are more open to the discussion and good things happen.  With both team members engaged in productive conversation, you’re on your way to an “A-ha!”  such as, “A-ha!  I’ve never thought of it that way!  The idea may only apply to the top 20% of our customers, but those are the ones who we’d like to duplicate.  My concern was valid that we’d lose some customers, but if we lose some of the bottom 15%, that may be worth the trade off!  I’m glad we had this discussion.  Let’s do it!”

The Accountability Conversation

26 Oct
by Bridget DiCello

The Accountability conversation is one of the most difficult and this is why it does not occur routinely in many companies.  This conversation is the one that comes before the disciplinary situation where you’d like to fire the person.  It comes during the normal course of doing business and should be an ongoing conversation.  It should not be a surprise if you have set the expectation that it is coming.

With that said, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is the specific unacceptable behavior that is causing the problem with performance?  Define the specific behavior and avoid accusatory adjectives like “grumpy, bad attitude, lacks initiative, lazy, etc.”
  • Does the employee know what the expectation is?  When have you told them and did they get it?
  • Has the current performance been acceptable in the past?  Still needs to be addressed, but this must be acknowledged.

Accountability works best when both the manager and the employee know it is coming, there is a set routine for doing it, and both people are involved.  These are the steps that are most important.

  1.  Be sure to clearly explain what is expected.  More detail may be required for some front line employees, where higher level employees may have more freedom in how to do the job and the expectation will be more about results.
  2. “Test” understanding.  Not by asking them to repeat what you said, but by asking a question that requires they speak about what they will do first, what they expect to be most difficult etc.
  3. Set a time and date for follow up.  And make sure they realize what they will have been expected to accomplish by that time.  This may be a specific result, progress they will have been expected to make or a task that should be finished.
  4. Stick with the time and date you establish.  At that time, ask them to report on their progress, without you having to prod with a million questions.
  5. Keep the accountability going by setting the next expectation and the next accountability date.  Have these types of conversations all the time, taking just a moment or setting a sit-down meeting.

Getting People Engaged

23 Sep
by Bridget DiCello

Engaged people are those who are interested enough to do something.  Engagement means movement.  Action.

What makes people act?  A desire to act usually comes from a desire to reach something greater than where they are either because of discomfort with the current situation or a vision of what’s possible beyond the current reality.

What does that mean for you in trying to get team members, peers, associates, and employees engaged?  Create an Invitation and find Common Ground.

Create an Invitation:  I’ve heard it often said that people will act because someone asked them to.  Will you help someone who asks?  Will you get involved because someone you trust invites you to?  Will you respond when someone explains what they need you to do?

Too often, people may not get engaged in a process, in planning, in executing and in implementing because it is easier not to.  Easier not to put themselves out on a limb, extend beyond their level of confidence, assume their help or involvement is not needed or assume what they are currently doing is enough.  If you see possibility beyond where your team is currently operating, invite others to see what you see, and ask them for their specific participation.

“You’ve put a lot of time and effort into this.  I appreciate all you’ve done.   I can’t help thinking that we could make it even better if we…  Will you help me by …?”

Find Common Ground:  People act because there is something in it for them.  I don’t mean people are self-centered and selfish.  I mean that each of us operates from our own point of view and when something is exciting, important and valuable to us, we tend to get involved.

Have you ever learned something new or gained more in depth knowledge about a cause, a problem or a challenge, and then decided to get (more) involved?

Finding Common Ground requires that we have a conversation with whomever we are trying to get more engaged.  It means we share some of our passion, and let them respond and determine for themselves what it is they are excited about.  There are often many facets of a project, problem or situation and the specific reason we get excited may not be the same as another person, and yet we both can become avid workers towards the end goal.

“I was thinking about the reason we started working on this project and how exciting it will be when we achieve the goal of…  What is it that you are most excited about?”

Who on your team needs to be more engaged?  Who do you wish would be of more help to you in what you are trying to accomplish?  Have you issued the Invitation and do they see the Common Ground?

The Coaching Conversation

14 Sep
by Bridget DiCello

Coaching is having a series of conversations with an individual in order to help them access their hidden potential to achieve greater levels of success.

-          Bridget M. DiCello

It is essential that you have both “Conversations on the Go” as well as “Undivided Attention Meetings.”  When you see acceptable or unacceptable behaviors, sometimes you need to address them immediately for greatest impact.  Other times you need to get both the employee and yourself focused on their improvement in a planned meeting where you have each other’s undivided attention.  In which meeting you bring up an issue depends on the urgency of the needed change in behavior.  If you wait as an unacceptable behavior continues, your frustration increases as does the employee’s resistance to change – which makes the conversation more difficult when it does occur.

Conversations on the Go:

1.  You bring up the unacceptable behavior and get them talking.
“I’m concerned about… because…  What Happened?”

2.  Then you talk.  Explain current unacceptable behaviors describing them specifically.  “Your bad attitude” and “your lack of initiative” are not specific behaviors.

3.  Get commitment to precise, doable action from the employee.

4.  Determine a follow up date – it may be your monthly meeting with them.

Undivided Attention Meetings – Monthly meeting where each of your direct reports prepares for and attends a meeting with you.

This is not about how you can help them or what they think you or the company could do differently.  This is about them reporting on their progress and challenges.

According to set agenda both you and they have prior to the meeting:

1.   They report their successes first – according to goals you have set

2.  They report on set metrics, projects, goals, status

3.  They identify the areas where they have fallen short and what they will do differently.

4.  You compliment them on successes you’ve seen

5.  You comment on their performance that can be improved. (using specific examples of unacceptable and acceptable behaviors.)

6.  Get commitment to precise, do-able and measurable action.  Help them come up with action items and strategies.  This is not easy and may take time.  Dig in and really find a do-able action.  Use Clarifying Questions like, “Can you give me an example?” and “Can you be more specific?” and “What have you tried in the past?”  Watch for Smokescreens and Tangents. 

7.  Determine a follow-up date and follow-up.

The only way you can help your team to really access their potential and therefore move your team to a higher level of performance is if you coach them.  Even the best employees need your coaching.  Michael Jordan had a coach who pushed him to excel!


“I Know You Can Do It!”

18 Aug
by Bridget DiCello

“I know you can do it!”  Why are these such powerful words?  When voiced by a someone about a colleague or team member, they express confidence in that person.  Despite the independent, confident, maybe egotistical approach of people who are difficult to work with, I believe there is a great lack of self-confidence under the surface, being hidden by confident speech.  When someone who they respect, whether because of a great relationship or by only an official relationship, says they believe they can do something, it energizes that person.

You are telling them that you believe in them and that they should believe in themselves.  Too mushy for you?  Well, it’s powerful and used well, can bring about significant changes in performance and levels of cooperation.

Do you tell team members this who you find difficult to interact with?  Can you get yourself to believe it for those who have less than stellar performance?

Why would you say this if you don’t believe it 100%?  There is power in what we say about ourselves and what others say about us.  By saying, “I know you can do it,” you are instilling a determination in that person.

You will find the most success when you follow up by holding them accountable to what they have agreed to.

What if they fail?  Doesn’t that mean you were wrong?  No!  It just depends on what timeframe you are talking about.  If you say they can accomplish something and they get frustrated because they didn’t get it done in a week.  Push harder.  Insist you know they can do it and ask them what the next step they are going to do is.  Everything is accomplished with a series of small steps.

Sometimes team members may at first look to prove you wrong in order to stay in their comfortable current level of performance.  Insist you believe they can do what needs to be done, that they have the ability to learn and to accomplish more than they have.

Try it.  Say, “I know you can do it!” with conviction to each person important to your success once a week and see what happens!

Power Words in Difficult Conversations

29 Jul
by Bridget DiCello

Have you ever seen the person you were speaking with shut down in reaction to something you said?  The words you choose can make a huge difference.

Be aware of these powerful words and use them carefully and purposefully:

1. No – “No” stops people in their tracks.  It puts up a wall.  It closes down communication.  Even if you disagree or feel the answer is “No,” you can sometimes still answer “Yes” and clarify the conditions in your response.  For example, the employee asks, “Can I have a $5/hour raise?  You could say, “No way!”  Or you could say, “I’m glad to see your drive.  Here’s what I would need to see in order to give you a raise of that size.  You would need to increase your production by 200%, train new people in the position and be a leader on our annual project.”

2.  Yes – At the same time, “Yes” is extremely powerful as well.  It makes people happy to talk to you.  It opens doors.  It opens communication.  If there is any way you can be honest and forthright and say “Yes,” do so.

For example, “Yes, I’d be happy to look at that.

Let’s find 10 minutes next week,” is much better than saying, “I’m too busy and can’t look at that right now.”  That would cause them to feel unimportant, no matter how busy they know you are.

3. You – It’s almost impossible to start a directive sentence with the word “You” without it feeling like you are pointing a finger.

An example: “You need to fix that problem.”   Instead you might say, “I’d like to see you take on that challenge.  Why don’t you give it a try and if you’re struggling come see me to ask me some questions.”

4. Why – “Why” can be a pushy sort of word, even if you don’t mean it to come across that way.

An example: If I asked you, “Where did you go to college?”  You tell me where, and I ask, “Why?”  You say, “Because I liked it there when I visited.”  I say, “Why?”  Eventually, you start to feel as if I am being critical of your decisions.  Use the other “W” words if at all possible to ask the same question, but in a less pushy way.  “What made you decide to attend that college?”  “When did you make a decision on which college to attend?”  “Where else did you consider attending?”

5. But – When you put “but” in the middle of a sentence, you are usually saying that one half of the sentence is a lie.

An example: “I really like that idea, but it won’t work.”  “That’s a great idea, but…” is essentially saying that it is not a good idea.  Replace the “but” with a pause or an “and.”  “That’s a great idea, and I’d like to explore the details a bit more, including the cost of implementation.”

6. Their name – Everyone likes the sound of their own name.  I realized the other day just how little I ever said my best friend’s name.  You tend to just talk if you are around someone a lot.  Getting someone’s attention by using their name is powerful and will start the conversation on a positive note.

Have you ever responded powerfully to one of these words?  Maybe you bristled when someone told you “No!” or started a statement with the word “You.”  On the other hand, maybe you felt good when you heard the word, “Yes,” or someone used your name when they were speaking with you.  Do you use these power words often and well?

You Can Talk, but Can You Communicate?

24 May
by Bridget DiCello

Eloquent.  Intelligent.  Clever.  Articulate.  It’s a pleasure to listen to a well-spoken person.

Communicating, as opposed to speaking, requires that a message is sent and that a message is received.  Do you ever feel like you are just not getting through to someone?  You may try to rephrase what you are saying, say it again or remove distractions.  All these tactics work on the speaking end, but fail to take into account that in order for the message to be received the person on the receiving end must be ready, willing and able to be communicated to.

The ability to hear and understand is often the easiest to ensure – is the person intelligent, educated on the topic and experienced in the area being discussed?  It is the “ready and willing” that can be missing.  Are they worried, upset, offended, personally distracted, colored by their experiences, their successes, their failures, and their interactions with you that have gone well or badly in the past?

You communicate with a variety of people on a variety of topics every day.  However, I would guess that there are a few key interactions that are most important.  Maybe you:

-          are trying to ease tension between two team members

-          are working with a particular employee in whom you see great potential

-          are developing leadership skills within your middle managers

-          are trying to decrease turnover in your sales team or front line employees

-          wish to access the creative potential of all your employees to improve your bottom line results through increased efficiency or new product development

-          desire to improve the customer service offered by your organization

These are the situations where you may wish to spend a bit more time evaluating your effectiveness in communicating:

  1. Is your message clear?  Are you sure what you wish to accomplish?  Have you outlined it to the extent that someone else can grasp your full message?
  2. Are you communicating to the right people?  Are they able to lend their expertise, assistance or suggestions in this area?  Are you leaving anyone critical out?
  3. Are they ready and willing to listen and respond?  Where are they coming from?  What is important to them?  How do they see the situation?  What is on their mind right now?

To get your message across the best thing you can do is get the other person talking about it.

  1. What questions can you ask to get them involved in conversation so you can listen to how they view the situation, the options and possible solutions?
  2. How is this communication making them feel?  Worried?  Inadequate?   Overconfident?  Overall, are the two of you communicating or are you talking to a wall?

You can do a lot of talking and very little communicating if you aren’t speaking, asking questions and listening purposefully.  Who is it that you find it most difficult to get through to?

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