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When Lemons lead to Misunderstanding

lemons-2039830_1920I recently re-watched the movie, The Break- Up starring Vince Vaughn (Gary) and Jennifer Aniston (Brooke). The title gives away the plot of the film which follows Gary and Brooke as they navigate through their break-up. There is a scene that occurs early on that demonstrates how misunderstandings can affect a relationship. In the movie, Brooke and Gary run into a dispute over lemons. Brooke asks Gary to bring home lemons for a decorative centerpiece for their dinner party they would be hosting. Instead of bringing back a bunch of lemons as Brooke asks, he only returns home with three. A fight ensues due to this misunderstanding.

How many times have you found yourself in a disagreement with someone over a misunderstanding?

I have experienced and observed conflicts over differences many times before at home, in the workplace, in social situations, among other settings. My husband Bernard and I have run into disagreements over what each of us defines, as a “few.”  I feel a few means four minutes, whereas Bernard believes a few means fifteen to twenty minutes. In the workplace, general statements like ” We need to make some calls to get the project done” can cause confusion if it isn’t clear who is designated to make those calls. Misunderstandings can cause many issues so it is important to know how to prevent these miscommunications before they can occur.

  1. Listen actively. When you are speaking with someone, stay present in the moment. We often don’t listen when others are speaking. Instead, we are thinking about what we will say next, or our minds wander to other things, which results in us not hearing everything the other person is saying. Active listening can be a preventative measure to avoiding misunderstandings.
  2. Ask clarifying questions. It is important to recognize that two people can have different definitions or make alternative assumptions to the same thing. Therefore, it is important to clarify and ask further questions to ensure everyone is clear.
  3. Reflect. If a misunderstanding occurs, recognize what you did to contribute to the misunderstanding and what you can do differently next time. In doing so, you can establish preventative measures to ward off miscommunication in the future.

Instead of making misunderstandings a common occurrence in your relationships and possibly causing further damage take these steps to avoid them.


Have a Great Week,

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

Guest Blogger

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Learning Bravery through Brāv: An Update



Oct 6th

Updates on Brāv – the online platform to manage conflicts at school, work, home or more.  Brāv ultimately becomes the first option in workplaces, schools, in lieu of HRs, deans and principals’ standard policies. In this way, there is less work for everyone! In addition, teaming up with groups including schools, workplaces, police departments and task forces allow for accountability, where all parties are ensured to come together.

Call to Action:  Please click Here and register.  You will receive a free session after confirmation/scheduling and providing feedback (click on “Share Your Ideas”.)


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How Can She Get Away With That?! Understanding Abrasive Behaviors in the Workplace

shockedLast week, I was sharing with some friends my new internship with the Texas Conflict Coach®. I related ideas I had learned while reading Dr. Laura Crawshaw’s book Taming the Abrasive Manager (2007) and other articles on toxic workplace behavior. Dr. Crawshaw, aka “The Boss Whisperer®” is an experienced executive coach who has developed a method for understanding and managing abrasive workplace behavior using empathy and insight. Those familiar with “horse whispering” understand that taming abrasive managers and horses requires patience, firmness, and quiet confidence.

Like many people, my friends had numerous stories of unruly bosses. Their examples mirrored Dr. Crawshaw’s definitions of irritating and abrasive conduct. These behaviors range from simply annoying—talking too much or too loud, telling too many jokes, not listening to other opinions; to abrasive “behaviors characterized by aggression, [that] damages work relationships to the point of disrupting organizational functioning.” As we talked, three questions came up in each conversation.

  1. How can she get away with that kind of behavior and keep her job?
  1. Why is my abrasive boss so clueless about how he affects us?
  1. Why does Ms. X yell at everyone except Tom? What is Tom’s secret?

Let’s explore each of these questions:

  1. How can she get away with that kind of behavior and keep her job?

Leaders who display abrasive behaviors keep their jobs despite damaging interpersonal skills because they are good at what they do. They are highly skilled top performers, who boost the company’s bottom line. According to John Ford of the HR Mediation Academy, many HR Managers do not catch the subtle signs of emotional distress from employees such as, expressions of anger, fear, tension, guilt, jealousy, shame and contempt until the emotions turn into negative behaviors and formal complaints and grievances are filed. Lack of action does not imply leaders condone bad behavior. Many senior executives and HR directors do not know how to address these behaviors. Ford notes that many HR professionals do not have formal training in dispute resolution and mediation, so their toolbox to deal with workplace abrasion may be limited.

  1. Why is my abrasive boss so clueless about how he affects us?

While these leaders have the technical competency, they are blind to the impact they have on other people. According to Dr. Crawshaw (2007), “they have little or no ability to detect other’s emotions.” If a manager does see some impact, they are ignorant to the severity of pain they cause. One of my friends, in talking about his abrasive boss, described him as “clueless.” His boss really had no idea the damage he was doing to individuals. How can they not see? Dr. Crawshaw (2007) points out that these individuals never developed “social sonar” during their formative childhood years.

  1. Why do abrasive managers behave appropriately with some employees and not others?

My friend Tom mentioned that his boss yells at everyone except him. I asked why he thought this was so. Tom said, “The first time Ms. X started yelling at me, I held up my hand and said, ‘Nuh Uh—you are not doing this.’ Essentially, Tom set his own boundaries. Dr. Crawshaw describes this method as “The Reverse Threat Display.” Crawshaw also outlines a “Soothe Strategy” that empathizes with the boss’s need for competency. Many leaders who exhibit this abrasive behavior are high achievers. Proficiency is extremely important to them. They tend to act out of fear and anger if they perceive a deficiency in themselves and their direct reports and even peers. People on the receiving end of harsh treatment, can reassure the boss that they are committed to high standards, and suggest another way to communicate without attacking.

If you or someone you know is dealing with abrasive behaviors, there is help! Check out this archived podcast with Dr. Laura Crawshaw, The Boss Whisperer® and our recent podcast with Sharone Bar- David on managing workplace incivility. We’d love to hear your strategies in successfully managing abrasive behaviors in the workplace.


Wendy Mayfield

Graduate Student intern

Southern Methodist University Master’s Program Dispute Resolution & Conflict Management

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The Gratitude Opportunity: Expressing Gratitude at the Best and Worst of Times

Ross Brinkert
Gratitude communication involves expressing appreciation or thanks to others. Hear powerful, real-life stories of individuals who shared moments of gratitude in their work lives. Take away tips to guide you in your own life, whether handling a difficult situation or simply savoring a situation that’s already amazing.

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Emotional Intelligence Skills for Today’s Workplace-Part 1

 The topic of emotional intelligence in the workplace is a evolving area of professional interest for leaders and employees alike. How do we engage the vital skills of communicating through crisis, empathy, perspective taking and self awareness just to mention a few? In 2011, the workplace continues to hold higher and higher expectations for us all. The necessity to manage countless stressors while also producing, leading, collaborating and resolve conflicts have become the competencies of that rank up there with knowing how to turn on your computer. The many facets of emotional intelligence can take us on a journey of meaningful relationships, job satisfaction, exciting creativity and improve our organizational output. Join us as we explore the tools and techniques that can boost your EQ and cultivate your workplace experiences.

Join us as we talk with Sheri Callahan, the owner of Horizon Consulting Group, based in Columbia SC. Sheri has over 16 years in HR consulting, training, and keynote speaking specializing in employee development and group dynamics. Her education is Bachelor’s in Speech Communication and a Master’s in Human Behavior and Conflict Management. Sheri is also a certified workplace mediator, facilitator of various 360 assessments and past president of the SC State Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution. Lastly, Sheri services clients across industry lines in the US and abroad.


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Are You a Target of Workplace Bullying? The Dos and Don’ts

In my prior blog post,  UnderstanWORKPLACE-BULLYING3ding Workplace Bullying: Are you a member of the 28% of Americans who are not aware of workplace bullying?, I provided insight on how to identify bullying in the workplace and its effects on employees.  Through my research, I found many articles suggesting what one might do if this occurs to them or if they witness such an event.  Various articles suggested jotting down each instance as it occurs, evaluating the situation before speaking up, confronting the individual demonstrating bully behaviors, evaluating what you might be doing to provoke the co-worker, rallying witnesses, etc.  Expert or not, your gut instinct might provide insight on some of the dos and don’ts of the situation.



Do Not…

Reach out to someone in authority (Supervisor/Human Resource/Ombuds)

Confront the individual with reactive or aggressive behaviors

Speak with a friend or family member

Isolate yourself

Jot down any and all instances as they occur

Sweep the situation under the rug

Know your company’s policies on incivility

Stay uninformed

Create boundaries with the with the supervisor or coworker who is using these types of behavior

Place blame on yourself or accept the abusive behaviors


By following these suggestions, you are empowered to take action and give yourself tools to manage the stress. By reaching out to those in authority, you are allowing the situation to be handled by an individual trained to handle workplace conflict and bullying behaviors. You are also passing the confident message that your voice will be heard without allowing the situation to get the best of you.

When taking the situation to a third party source, have a detailed notebook that includes: notes of the instance(s) as they occurred, time/place of occurrence, who was there or might have overheard the bullying behavior, and what was said or done.  Providing this information at the minimum will help your supervisor, human resource personnel, or Ombuds to more efficiently research and examine your claims. For additional information on what to do, visit workplacebullying.org.

If you are a witness to workplace bullying, encourage the target to confide in a Supervisor, Human Resource personnel, or Ombuds. You can also offer to help write up the incident you witnessed, and be a listening ear.  Hopefully these tips will help put a stop to workplace bullying.  For additional information on bullying/being a bystander, listen to Dr. Maureen Scully’s talk on Workplace Witnesses: How Bystanders Can Become Essential Allies in Tense Situations.


By Yvette Watson Jenkins

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program



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Workplace Witnesses – How Bystanders Can Become Essential Allies in Tense Situations

Dr. Maureen Scully

Someone makes an inappropriate comment, maybe a racist or sexist joke.  You feel uncomfortable and hope that someone else will speak up.  Everyone hopes that someone else will speak up.  Uncomfortable silence falls.  What does it take for active bystanders to speak up?  When they do so, they can often avert brewing conflict. Learn more about how people can become active bystanders through awareness and practice.

For Further Reading:  Bystander Training and Bystander Awareness


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You’ve Figured Out What’s Wrong in the Office – Now What?

Stephen Kotev and I help you figure out how to resolve conflicts in the workplace. In this episode we pick up where “A Manager’s Dilemma: How do YOU figure out what’s wrong in the office?” left off. You now understand the problem, what’s next? Listen in and learn effective responses to problems involving difficult relationships, bad data, mismatched values, cross-purpose interests and ineffective systems.

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A Manager’s Dilemma: How do YOU figure out what’s wrong in the office?

Front-line managers to CEOs are all asked to put out fires and fix problems. Stephen Kotev, my guest co-host and I will discuss a simple way to determine what is going wrong in the workplace. We will focus on what managers can do to unravel their problems and understand new ways of breaking down issues into resolvable segments. We will review 5 areas that are the most common root causes to conflict. Identifying the right one is crucial to resolving the conflict effectively.


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What Targets of Abrasive Behaviors and Workplace Bullying Must Know about These Behaviors

 Most information about Workplace Abrasive Behaviors and Bullying focuses on simple models of bullying and simple advice for targets. But simple models don’t help because they encourage defensiveness, powerlessness, and more abuse.

Join us as we talk with Kathleen Bartle, PCC. She has uses proven best practices, the wisdom of scientific research and coaching skills to help those embroiled in abrasive and bullying behaviors. For over 20 years Kathleen brand of Discerning & Compassionate Conflict Coaching has guided thousands of people to reduce tensions and conflict in the workplace.


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