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Touchy Topics – Tips For Navigating Workplace Conversations

There’s plenty of tension, some days, in the workplace over things such as deadlines and teams and managements and pay. But there’s often another outside source of tension that can create an unwelcome dynamic in the office: touchy subjects.

Those touchy subjects—and our opinions of them—are wide and broad, everything from sports to religion, politics, and sex. And because many of us work together and are connected on social media, we may know more about the inner workings of our co-workers emotions and beliefs than we ever did before. And that oversharing—online and then in the office—can lead to tension or outright anger.

That’s not to say that discussions like this cannot be productive—they can be, of course. But they can quickly escalate, which is why it’s important to have coping strategies that help you navigate those. What can you do? This graphic can help.

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Listening Past The Judgments: Learning How To Communicate Compassionately

Posted on Sep 29 2017 under Blog Posts

Compassion

Quick Tips:

  1. Don’t react or respond to an angry person with
  2. Be empathetic with others in conversation and be empathetic with yourself.
  3. Go into conflict with a compassionate mind and heart and a goal to connect with the other person.

 

 

 

How do you have compassionate, non-violent communication?

  1. Observe the situation from a third party perspective. Imagine you are video recording the conflict, take note of what is said and what is done. It is important when doing this that you leave out your interpretation of what occurred and any judgments you might have. Reverend Phil Schulman explained that as a society we tend to listen with judgment naturally, but we must “learn to listen through those judgments” to communicate compassionately.

 

  1. Be mindful of the emotions you are feeling. Emotions are always present in conflict; it is necessary to acknowledge them and name them to begin addressing them. Phil Schulman suggests you avoid saying, “I feel that…,” “I feel as if…” or using “I feel” as a pronoun because you will be expressing a thought or interpretation and not an emotion.

 

  1. Ask yourself what do I need? What does the other person need? Identifying what both you and the other party needs is how you will form a connection and be able to move forward. When you can reach a place where you can link with the other person a shift will occur where solutions can then be generated productively.

 

  1. Request for something to fulfill a need but don’t demand. Once you recognize the needs for yourself and the other party, you can then request something that will contribute to fulfilling that value.

Your Assignment:

In our interview with Reverend Phil Schulman on The Texas Conflict Coach® podcast, Reverend Phil suggested an assignment that can assist you in having a compassionate conversation:

  • Make a list of all the qualities (values and needs) you would like in a relationship.
  • Think of something that someone said or did that made your life wonderful. Notice the values or needs from your list that were satisfied or roused during that moment.
  • Once you have done this write out this formula and fill in the blanks with what is in parenthesis:

When I remember the way you did (Fill in what they said or did), I feel (The emotion that was roused) because I so value (Fill in what you value or need). Would you be willing to (Make a request that will help you achieve fulfillment of that value or need)?

To learn more about this topic, listen to the entire episode Compassionate Conversations.

Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Guest Blogger

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The Teen-Parent Battle: Growing Through Conflict

Posted on Sep 25 2017 under Blog Posts

Our radio program series for September is titled, Courageous Conversations on tough issues between parents and their children regardless of the child’s age. The parent-child relationship can be difficult to navigate both from the parent and child’s perspective. As a parent, you nurture and care for your little babies then watch as they grow and change into adults. As a child, you view your parents as authority figures turning to them for advice and guidance. As your parents get older, your roles reverse, and now they need your guidance and support as adult children. During your life cycle, a myriad of conflicts occur from eating vegetables to breaking curfew or differences of a career path to difficult decisions about whether to put your parent in a nursing home.

I am a child of two wonderful parents, who have always shown me support and love. However, we did and still do have our conflicts. I think when I was a child I was under the impression my parents were perfect people. Once adolescence hit my relationship with my parents changed; blame it on the hormones or on my need to prove that I was an adult. Either way, I fought with my parents, my dad more so than my mom. I know there are many teens out there whose parents get on their nerves. Many teens may find themselves wishing time to speed up so that they can be an adult and not have to listen to their parents anymore. Two weeks from now, I will be getting married, and I often wonder where the time went? I find it aggravating that ten years ago when I was sixteen and my parents said “Enjoy your childhood while it lasts because you will blink your eyes, and it will be gone” they were right.

I wanted to write this week’s blog post for teens who find themselves in a constant battle with their parents. I have prepared a short list of points teenagers need to be aware when they get into these conflicts.

  • Let go. If you are harboring resentment towards your parents about something they did or didn’t do in the past, understand your parents are human and make mistakes. When we are born we don’t come with handbooks and your parents are doing the best they can.
  • Understand your parent’s intention. If your parents don’t let you wear certain outfits or stay out longer past your curfew, remember they have your best interest at heart. They are not trying to ruin your life, despite how it may seem.
  • Mamma and Papa know best. If you think you are an adult and capable of making your choices, understand that with age comes wisdom and despite how grown up you feel, you are still a child. My fiancé and I were looking at pictures of us as children, and we found one of him when he was twelve. He had put “sun-in” in his hair, which was a popular fad during this time of our lives. Sun-In was a hair product that would bleach the top of your head blonde. My fiancé told me how much his parents had not wanted him to use Sun-in and looking back now he said he completely understood why they were so opposed. However, when he was twelve, he thought he knew best.

I hate admitting this, but my parents were right more times than they were wrong. When in conflict with your parents remember they are adapting to you changing and growing into an adult, this isn’t an easy adjustment. While conflict with your parents is inevitable keep the points listed above in mind, and remember you will survive!

Our September series is covering a variety of difficult conversations between parents and child.

Abigail Clark M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Guest Blogger

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What Is Wrong With My Good Intentions?

Behave Reminder for Young Person in Red Sneakers about to make a Step and Join the Party, Top View.

Quick Tips

  • Identify what triggers negative reactions for you.
  • Identify your intention.
  • Focus on changing some of your specific behaviors.

How do I make my intentions to be conflict competent a reality?

Intention rescue.

Have you made a commitment to hone your conflict resolution skills this year? Are you struggling, even feeling like a failure?   Let me give you a “rescue remedy” for bringing your good intentions to fruition.

Identify your triggers.

If a specific statement, action or person creates a conflict response, know this about yourself.  Be aware of what triggers a negative reaction in you.

Ask some questions.

Think about a situation or a person which triggers a conflict or negative response for you.  Ask yourself:

  • How do I want to be in this situation?
  • What are the values and beliefs I want to uphold in this situation? Example: “I want to be confident and strong.”

Make a commitment to your intention.

Write on card, “I am willing to practice being ___ (value or belief around this situation or person)

Example:  I am willing to practice being forgiving.

This act of willingness says a lot about your commitment.

Translate commitment to behavior.

Identify the behavior(s) necessary to meet the commitment.

Example:  I might ask myself, “How do I be forgiving?” 

Then I look at the behavioral responses I personally have to change in order to be forgiving in this situation:

  • Listening with understanding.
  • Not getting defensive.

If you find it difficult to identify behaviors to support your intentions, think of what you are not doing when you are not supporting your intentions.

Example:  When I am not being forgiving….

  • I don’t care what the other person has to say.
  • I interrupt when he or she speaks.
  • I use a terse tone of voice.

Get a mentor.

Pick a trusted friend, colleague or coach to give you feedback about how well you are doing in changing behavior.  Have them observe you in the situation and give feedback in the moment or shortly afterward.

Your Assignment

In my Texas Conflict Coach® podcast, I suggested an assignment to help make your intentions a reality:

  • Write your intention statement down in the next 24 hours. “I am willing to practice ___.”
  • Identify the behavior changes you need to make in order to make your intention a reality.
  • Practice the behavior changes and get feedback from a trusted mentor.

To learn more about this topic, listen to the entire episode GOOD INTENTIONS OFTEN PAVE A PATHWAY OF GOLD…TO HELL

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Common Courtesy: Managing Triggers When Society Is Lacking

Interlinking Hands

I was looking forward to this long three-day weekend. Relaxing for me during these extended weekends means completing house projects, cleaning, organizing, and exercising.  The periods of time when I was outside of my home interacting with the public I observed a lack of common courtesy that I found concerning. It is especially worrying because of the frustration that appeared to fester because of that missing element of respect between individuals could very easily have escalated into conflict. I felt annoyed on several occasions throughout the weekend that I was able to recognize before I allowed myself to be triggered.

Merriam-Webster defines common courtesy as, “politeness that people can usually be expected to show.” There were several examples of a lack of common courtesy I observed and experienced over the weekend.

I was in the car driving with a friend when another vehicle pulled out in front of us and cut us off. My friend beeped the horn to signal that the other car almost caused an accident, yet the other driver did not wave apologetically.  My frustrated friend shook her head and said, ” Some people are so rude. I have half a mind to ride their bumper now.”

Bernard and I were at Home Depot picking up supplies for our home project. I observed a person trying to maneuver their cart down an aisle and ran into another customer’s cart sitting off to the side and knocked several items of theirs onto the floor. The person whose items were knocked onto the floor was not standing right there but a little further down the aisle. Rather than picking up the items, the person who hit the cart kept going. When the person returned to their cart, they appeared visibly angry shaking their head and mumbling to themselves.

I am currently training for the Baltimore Half Marathon, a huge running event at the end of October. Over the weekend, when running, I found myself in a game of chicken with a couple walking towards me on a narrow sidewalk. We could have all fit easily if one of them moved to walk behind the other while I passed. Instead, they refused to move, and I ended up running into the busy street next to the sidewalk. The situation angered me as I had found myself in similar incidents often, however, not nearly as dangerous as that one.

Finally, I observed two people getting to the grocery store checkout line at the same time. One person had about ten items while the other had only a few. The two individuals stood there for a moment looking at each other before the person with the fewer items relented. The person with more groceries didn’t acknowledge the other person.  They just walked ahead putting their groceries on the belt. I watched the person with fewer items roll their eyes and visibly bite their bottom lip as if they were forcing themselves to remain quiet.

The definition of common courtesy mentions there is an expectation of politeness, so perhaps, the issue lies with our assumption that courtesy is given but isn’t necessarily guaranteed. The examples provided above may not have caused conflict in those moments, but the potential was there.

What can we do when we feel triggered by other’s lack of common courtesy?

  1. Take a deep breath. Before reacting or engaging, take a deep in through the nose, out through the mouth breath. Just doing that can soothe the mind and the temper.
  2. Be understanding. People are often distracted by whatever is going on in their minds; they may not have noticed that they cut you off, or bumped your cart. Lashing out at someone for a perceived slight that the other person may not be aware of will force them to get defensive and potentially lash out at you.
  3. Manage your expectations. Remember that not everyone is brought up the same way. Recognize that just because you would behave one way doesn’t mean everyone else will behave as you do.
  4. Keep smiling. What I mean is, continue to show other’s courtesy and be respectful. We can show other’s the way by doing it ourselves.

Have a good week,

Abigail R.C. McManus, Guest Blogger

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Reconciling Relationships – How To Rebuild Trust Once It Has Broken Down

u-leg-bridge-1370437_1920 (003)I recently observed two people reconciling after a long period of conflict between them. A breakdown in trust is what prompted the conflict, and now they were trying to determine how to move forward.

Trust can be a tricky thing. You must have some level of confidence with those you interact with as it is a significant element in most successful encounters. However, if you have faced distrusting people who have left you feeling disappointed or hurt in the past, you may find yourself unwilling or unable to trust.

In an article on the Beyond Intractability website titled, “Trust and Trust Building” by Roy J. Lewicki and Edward C. Tomlinson they provide a fantastic overview of trust between people.  Roy J. Lewicki and Edward C. Tomlinson explain:

The need for trust arises from our interdependence with others. We often depend on other people to help us obtain, or at least not to frustrate, the outcomes we value (and they on us). As our interests with others are intertwined, we also must recognize that there is an element of risk involved insofar as we often encounter situations in which we cannot compel the cooperation we seek. Therefore, trust can be very valuable in social interactions.

What I loved about this overview is that the authors mentioned the risk you take when you are putting your confidence in others, as that is the crux of the whole unspoken arrangement. Are you willing to put your confidence in this person and take the chance that they will come through on their end, whatever or however that may be?

Trust is involved in all social interaction. A wife and husband have to trust one another to remain faithful to their vows. Friends who share intimate details of their life must have confidence in each other not to share those secrets with anyone else. A boss must trust their employees to do their work. Even minuscule interactions like a mechanic and a customer require some level of trust.

Which brings me back to the two people I witness reconciling their relationship. Both parties wanted to reconcile and move forward, but once trust has broken down how do you get it back?

The essential element to rebuilding confidence in one another is communication. Speak openly and honestly about what caused the rift in your relationship. Having the ability to voice your frustrations and hurt feelings to the other person can assist in squashing any possible misunderstandings that developed. It also allows you the ability to feel heard, often we hold onto anger and sadness when we are not given the opportunity to tell the other person how we feel.  In some cases, one or both of you need to apologize. Sometimes a genuine apology is enough to reconcile and move forward. It can also be beneficial to express why you feel reluctant to trust the other person again. By discussing your reservations or theirs, it allows a chance to work with one another in brainstorming solutions to rebuild trust and strategies to address possible issues arising in the future.

A risk is always present when putting your trust in another person. If everyone is willing to reconcile, knowing how to rebuild trust in your relationship is essential in moving forward.

 

Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Guest Blogger

 

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Page Turner – Learning Conflict Resolution and Mindfulness Through Children’s Books

Photo by Abigail R.C. McManus

Photo by Abigail R.C. McManus

My niece turns two years old this week, and instead of toys, I like to buy her books. I always loved getting new books and hearing new stories as a kid, and that hasn’t changed since becoming an adult. I was walking through the Children’s section at the book store the other day looking for books for my niece when I stumbled upon a book titled, What Do You Do With A Problem by Kobi Yamada (author) and Mae Besom (Illustrator). The book begins with the child having a nameless problem. The problem is small at first, but as the child tries to ignore it, they find that it just becomes bigger, consuming their thoughts, and affecting their life. Finally, the child decides to face the problem head on and discovers their problem, “…held an opportunity. It was an opportunity for me to learn and to grow. To be brave. To do something.” The illustrations parallel the message, at the beginning of the story the pictures are gloomy and gray but as the child faces their problem, the images become more colorful. I love this book, and the message it conveys to kids. Avoiding a problem will likely only make it worse, and once you face it, you will discover there is something you can learn from it.

The book brought to my attention the unique ability adults have to convey conflict resolution, mindfulness, and problem-solving to their kids. I have theorized for many years that conflict resolution should be taught as a course in school. I feel if an emphasis was placed on tiny humans to learn to be mindful of themselves and resolve conflict constructively it will evolve into adulthood and then there is a potential that future generations will have more peaceful interactions than today.

I love that there are many children’s books promoting mindfulness and conflict resolution. I compiled a book list below of some other impressive options and the messages they convey that emphasize key elements in mindfulness and conflict resolution:

Thanks for the Feedback, I think? By Julia Cook  (Author), Kelsey De Weerd (Illustrator)

  • The book teaches children about receiving positive and negative feedback and how to act when you receive it.

My Mouth is a Volcano! By Julia Cook (Author), Carrie Hartman (Illustrator)

  • The book in a humorous way teaches children about listening to others, not interrupting, and being respectful.

Decibella and Her 6-Inch Mouth By Julia Cook (Author), Anita Du Falla ( Illustrator)

  • The book outlines how you can use your voice in varied situations to convey different messages and feelings.

What If Everybody Did That? By Ellen Javernick

  • The book teaches that there are positive and negative consequences of your actions and how those actions affect the people and world around us.

Cool Down and Work Through Anger By Cheri J. Meiners M.Ed

  • The book discusses the complex emotion of anger and how to work through it constructively.

The books listed above are just a few amazing options to teach children constructive conflict resolution skills like managing emotions, listening, productively conveying your message, handling feedback, and tackling problems head on rather than avoiding. Those skills are difficult for many adults to learn, therefore, teaching them to children early on can alter how they interact with others for the rest of their life.

What other children’s books discuss conflict resolution and mindfulness? Share  your findings in our comment section below!

 

Have a great week,

Abigail R.C. McManus, M.S. Negotiation and Conflict Management.

Guest Blogger

 

 

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When Change Happens: Celebrating a Fresh Start

Coffee Station

Photo by Patricia M. Porter

If you have been reading my latest blog posts on managing change, you might wonder how the new neighborhood coffee house is doing since they opened. La Taza Java Coffee house re-opened in early July under a new owner, Corrina Perez. Corinna, a regular customer of La Taza for years, like myself, made a big leap of faith and a decision to keep our local gathering place from closing forever. With anticipation, I stepped into the shop, it had familiarity, and yet it changed. Things were different. It had a fresh and clean look, a wall removed creating an open feel, and they chose a local artist to feature her paintings along the walls. Even the coffee beans and food product lines changed. Corrina is all about partnerships and community building which means fresh bagels from another locally and family owned business, Bagel Factory. I recall feeling good about the changes, and Corrina greeted me warmly as I entered the shop. I even saw familiar faces, so it felt comforting.

With any change and transition, we first need to recognize the past before accepting and celebrating the new. The local customers along with the previous owner, Judy Hanley, hosted a goodbye party. Then, you know from my last blog post When Change Happens: Maneuvering Through The Unknown that there is a second transition with a period of confusion, delay and sometimes lack of communication. Once we move through this zone, then the path becomes clearer. In the third transition of change management, we engage in celebrating a fresh start. This beginning comes with new systems or ways of doing things. For example, Corrina set up a self-serve coffee station along with fresh cold brew coffee. In the past, I would run a tab paid in advance. Although Corrina did not have a system in place for this, she immediately inquired about this process and demonstrated a desire to understand and meet the needs of her customers. She is now considering a couple of options for frequent coffee drinkers. As I approached the self-serve coffee station, I lightly joked with another long-time customer that it would take some visits to learn the revised ways and taste the new products.

What does it take to implement new changes in your life or business successfully?

  • Recognize everyone transitions at a different pace with some embracing change quickly, others reluctantly moving forward and yet a few individuals refusing to let go of the traditional ways.
  • Keep listening for concerns, unmet needs, and confusion. Acknowledge for that individual what you heard as important to them.
  • Be honest and transparent in your communications. It is critical to moving through the usual chaos that comes with big
  • Check and change your attitude. Ruminating in negativity keeps you stuck in the past. Demonstrating a neutral or positive attitude helps you move forward through the transitions.
  • Show You might be super excited about the fresh start and wonder why everyone is not experiencing the same excitement. Be curious, ask questions such as “What is keeping you back there?” or “What are you giving away with this new change?”

Celebrating a fresh start is more about a psychological shift in how we think and feel about the change. Mark the occasion with another event like a celebratory gathering with friends or family, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and in the case of La Taza Java Coffee House, an Open House to announce to the community, we are here and ready to serve you. Stay tuned at La Taza Java Coffee House Facebook page for the Open House event.

Patricia M. Porter, LCSW

Conflict Management Expert

 

 

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“That’s None of Your Business” – Setting Limits with Nosy People

sculpture-2209152_1920We have all met nosy people in our lives. Nosy people ask intrusive and sometimes rude questions, they overstep boundaries, and they tend to make others feel uncomfortable. What I find interesting is in situations where I am speaking with a nosy person, they don’t seem all that interested in my responses on the subject just in how the information I provide effects them.

For example, I have a nosy coworker; I will call her Dana. Dana has been training another coworker; I will call her Sandy. Sandy and I have an established relationship as I worked with her previously at another company. Since we have a relationship, Sandy feels comfortable coming to me if she is struggling with a particular issue, to get my guidance or perspective. Last week, Sandy was in my cubicle, and Dana walked by and jokingly asked if we were gossiping, to which we laughed and said “No” as we weren’t. Dana then left for her lunch break, upon returning she then proceeded to ask me what we were discussing and if it was about her. I have found myself in this situation with Dana many times, where she boldly asks about my conversations with other coworkers and even our boss.

When this incident occurred last week, I recognized that I was getting triggered by Dana’s intrusive question. I became mindful of my annoyance, and I felt the strong urge to bite my tongue to avoid saying anything that could escalate a conflict or that I would regret. Once Dana walked away I reflected on this, why did Dana’s question trigger such a strong emotional response from me? I felt irritated because I value privacy.  Dana assumed she’s entitled to this information and she seems to lack of awareness that it is none of her business what I discuss with my coworkers or boss. Once I acknowledged why I felt triggered, I was able to determine what I can do next time I am faced with a nosy intrusion – not just from Dana but anyone.

Don’t lash out. The question they are asking can be rude and inappropriate. It can be natural to respond in the same fashion. However, as I mentioned before, negatively responding could cause a conflict to escalate and make the situation worse.

Change Subjects or Postpone. If you are uncomfortable, try to shift the topic to something different. Ask them a question about something unrelated to take the spotlight off of you. Or, postpone responding altogether by saying, ” Would you mind if we discuss this later? I am in the middle of something that I need to finish.”

Be honest. Vocalize to the person what you are feeling and be truthful in how you respond. You could say, “Dana, I know you like to be included, and yet, I feel it is intrusive when my private conversations are being interrupted by your need to know all that is said. I assure you that I am not talking about you or gossiping.”

Have a “go to” response. Prepare a generic response for when you get asked a meddlesome question and keep it short. You could say, ” I feel uncomfortable talking about private matters.”

Respond to the question, with a question. I thought this might be the best course of action with Dana. Next time she asks about what I was discussing with a coworker, I can respond by asking, “Say more as to why this is important for you to know my conversations.” If she responds that She wanted to know “if we were talking about her?” I could ask, ” What makes you believe we were talking about you?” By doing this, it takes the attention off of you and puts it back on the asker. However, be mindful of your tone to make sure you don’t sound defensive, or angry.

Family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, complete strangers, all have the potential to ask nosy questions, knowing how to respond and handle those encounters constructively can make an uncomfortable situation more pleasant.

 

Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Guest Blogger

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When Change Happens: Maneuvering Through The Unknown

La Taza Java Coffee HouseIn my last blog post, When Change Happens: Embracing the End First Before Starting Anew, our neighborhood coffee house changed owners. At first, the communication to the regulars who visited the coffee house is that the new owner would open in 4 weeks. I thought to myself that will go by quickly. Since my local grocery store is in the same shopping center, you could drive by often and see the sign on the shop’s door, “Opening First Week of June.” The first week of June came and no opening. The sign continued to read the same.

I shared earlier that the first transition to any change is embracing the end first. Secondly, we enter the unknown period, and with a lack of communication, it often causes confusion. We begin to question the information or lack thereof with “What’s happening?” People make assumptions when information is not communicated such as “There must be something wrong” or “There are delays because of X.”

Think about significant changes in your family life or workplace organization. You might recall the boss saying we are going to move offices by the end of the week. She gives an instruction “Start packing your things.” Two weeks later, your office supplies and files remain packed in boxes in a holding area, and nothing and no one moved. The only response you get “I don’t know when the move will happen. Be patient.” The negative impact when there is a lack of communication during a major change event is numerous. People naturally feel anxious, they chatter with gossip, and before you know it, the lack of solid information leads to chaos and confusion. Keep these transition strategies in mind.

  • Communicate clearly and often to diminish misunderstandings
  • Acknowledge an individual’s anxiety if they are struggling through the change
  • Encourage and reaffirm that you are all in this together
  • Discuss unmet needs or concerns due to the change

One day, I saw activity in the new coffee house. I stopped by thinking they may be open after all. The new owner, Corinna, greeted me warmly as I entered the shop. Clearly, they were not open for business. However, she took the time to welcome me and provide information on the delay. She assured another local community member visiting at the same time and me they were very near to opening their doors. Corinna wanted everything to be just right. She let us know the revised name, La Taza Java Coffee House, and it already looked and felt different inside. A new layout and different coffee beans and food product lines to enjoy. Corrina also indicated changes in how things would run from closing hours to holding special events and supporting activities for the local community and non-profit groups.

Wow! I felt relieved and excited for the new owner and the next rendition of our neighborhood coffee house. In the next blog post, I address the third transition, starting fresh and accepting the change.

 

Patricia M. Porter, LCSW

Conflict Management Expert

 

Note: La Taza Java Coffee House is now open in the Brookhollow Shopping Center in San Antonio!

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