Monthly Archives: July 2009

What Does It Mean To “Fight Fairly”?

When we think of conflict, do we think of fighting and arguing? Some of us do. Sometimes we do. Do we think of yelling? Some of us do and sometimes we do. It really depends on who we are, how we handle conflict, and with whom we are having our conflict.

In sound conflict resolution methods, we approach the conflict as an opportunity for learning, growth, resolution, and perhaps even a more positive outcome. However, we know this works best when both or all parties are using sound conflict resolution methods. If both or all parties are NOT using sound conflict resolution methods, it is very easy for the one or ones who are trying to use them to become “de-skilled”.

This is also true of learning and developing EI and NVC (non-violent communication). If we are the only person in the situation or conflict using and trying to integrate our study into real life, it is very easy to become de-skilled. NVC groups often offer practice groups because practice is necessary to be ready to use these skills in real life.

They ARE skills, and they are also muscles that most of us have never or rarely used. It makes an awful lot of sense to practice with others who are also studying, learning, growing, and practicing so that we are all speaking the same language and can provide informed and helpful support to each other as we practice, make mistakes, make progress, and improve.

It is said that the more one practices NVC, the easier it gets. This is great news and not always true of the multi-faceted development of EI skills and learning and practicing of sound conflict resolution skills.

When we talk about fighting fairly, we are talking about the golden rule: doing unto others as we would want them to do unto us.

We are talking about being honest, not omitting information even if it makes our “adversary” look good or ourselves look less than great. It means saying things like, “well, to be fair, it is true….” That’s it, BEING FAIR.

It means being intellectually honest. It means not fudging facts or details. It means admitting when you’ve made a mistake or an incorrect assumption. It means getting out of any emotional grooves you may be stuck in (see my previous post about being stuck in emotional grooves), and it means telling the truth.

It means NOT playing television (or real-life) lawyer and spinning the facts in your favor. It means telling the real truth, the real whole truth, and the real nothing but the truth. That is fair fighting.

It also means expecting the very same from others that you would allow of yourself behaviorally. This is huge. This is about having behavioral standards. If you are allowed to have a bad day, then so are others. If you are allowed to become de-skilled but then catch yourself and do better, then you must allow others these same imperfections and treat them as learning moments with graciousness. If you are allowed to totally blow it with your communication skills for an extended period of time, then so are others.

If you are allowed to slip and yell but then calm yourself down, then you must also allow others this same imperfection. If you are allowed to slip and curse, then you must allow others this same imperfection and learning moment.

This is very much about trust, fairness, and mutuality.

You cannot very well go around saying that it is not acceptable for others to curse but it is acceptable for you to curse. You cannot go around and say it is not acceptable for others to yell, but it is okay for your to yell. You cannot go around and say it is not okay for others to get worked up and have a hard time calming down if you yourself do or have done this same thing.

If anything, you now share even more in common and can choose to use these moments as mutual learning opportunities so you can share greater understanding, empathy, shared-reality, and compassion.

There have been lists written about “fighting fairly” and sometimes these lists include well-intended suggestions such as:
No yelling
No raising any other issue
No name-calling
No walking away

And many of these can be very useful and very good suggestions in certain situations.

However, there are times when it is okay and even necessary to say “I really want to connect with you, and I really want to continue this conversation with you but right now I am afraid of what I might say; I need to cool down and take a break. I can talk to you about this in a couple of hours. How about 4pm?”

The very important message here is not just that it’s okay to do this, but that you are not completely walking away. You are STILL committed to connecting, having the discussion, and resolving the conflict. If you think this is a free pass to get out of the discussion entirely, you are mistaken; as that is the complete opposite of connecting and resolving and is a statement on the value you place on the relationship.

When someone tries to get out of the discussion entirely and does not want to continue it, they are no longer participating in the relationship. This is simply not acceptable within important personal relationships. For work relationships, it is also not acceptable; however, whoever has the greatest authority (unless there is a conflict resolution policy), will call the shots on this kind of issue in the workplace.

So, if you are having a conflict with someone, AND WE ALL WILL–SINCE CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE, it is best for us all to:

1. Learn as much as we can about Emotional Intelligence and our own personal development of our own EI.
2. Learn as much as we can about sound conflict resolution methods and find others who are learning these same methods and practice.
3. Learn as much as we can about NVC (non-violent communication) and find a practice group in which we can practice, grow, and learn.

Why do athletes practice? Why do we practice public-speaking? Why do we ask children to practice learning the ABC’s?

Because that is how we learn. With the ABC’s it is using an easy-to-remember song.

With athletes, it’s learning to respond to any number of situations using the skills, muscle, endurance, memory, and clear head needed to succeed.

With public-speaking, it’s about knowing one’s topic, being prepared for questions, and knowing our speech well enough that we’re not just reading it.

With conflict, we are using EMOTIONAL and INTELLECTUAL MUSCLES that many of us have never ever used. It’s alot like trying to wiggle your ears or roll your tongue when these are new things for you. You may be looking for and trying to physically feel a muscle you’ve never used before, and it may be hard to even find the muscle to begin with. In moments of frustration, you may ask yourself if you’re even capable of this and if you even have this muscle!

Once we find the muscle, once we know what it is to give and receive empathy, once we know what it is to approach someone else’s anger with curiosity and not a blast of anger or defensiveness back at them, we begin to develop incredibly powerful and useful muscles that become easier and easier to use each time we need them.

Once we find others with whom to practice, we’ve found a safe community of others to become better and better at this with.

Ideally, we’d have everyone on earth learning and practicing EI, NVC, and sound conflict resolution skills. Someday, I believe we will. Imagine a world in which all schools, houses of worship, workplaces, athletic teams, families and other groups regularly practice and then use in real-life conflicts all of the excellent skills in these disciplines!

What a world!

Fighting fairly means allowing others to be as imperfect as you allow yourself to be in your processing of, responses to, and expressions of feelings. It is also a commitment to addressing all feelings, needs, and issues. Many times a fight will include overlapping issues, and that is okay. Fair-fighting also means a commitment to always working to doing better and always connecting and resolving when the relationship matters.

Fair-fighting also means having as much awareness as possible about how we have tended to handle conflict in our past and making a commitment to never using methods of coercive control, power-over others, or any other behavior that is found on the Power and Control Wheel that is used by professionals who research and work with issues of relationship violence.

Relationship violence is not just physical; how we handle conflict can easily become violent and unhealthy if either partner responds with behaviors that meet the definition of coercive control, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, or emotional blackmail. These behaviors are not limited to conflicts that occur between romantic heterosexual partners; these abusive behaviors can occur between homosexual partners, between family members, between friends, in the workplace, on sports teams, in houses of worship, or within any group or people that numbers two or more.

Please keep reading as I explore how issues of unhealthy and abusive issues of power and control can affect us in every area of our lives – UNLESS – we choose to consciously recognize them, name them, address them, disconnect from persons who behave in these ways, and do everything we ourselves can do to ensure that we conduct a fair self-examination and get whatever training, therapy, education, and practice we can to ensure that we do not engage in these behaviors and consciously choose to replace old dysfunctional behaviors with new healthier behaviors such as NVC, emotional intelligence skills, and sound conflict resolution skills.



Layers and Layers and Layers of Emotional Intelligence ~ It Seems to be Everywhere!

Having just returned from the third International Emotional Intelligence Conference (IEIC), I am inspired, amazed, and feeling very sanguine.

My flight was delayed more than seven times, my gate for my flight was changed three times, I was charged $15 by American Airlines just to check my normal-weight bag, my flight finally took off five hours after it was originally scheduled to, and my luggage was lost.

Unlike the very understandable response from Ben Stiller’s character in a “Meet the Parents” clip shown at the conference by David Caruso, Phd, I managed to remain calm, happy, and enormously appreciative of the truly inspiring scholars, researchers, practitioners, coaches, trainers, and consultants who presented at the IEIC.

There is enormous hope for the world, I think. I’m sure there will be moments when I don’t feel or think this way, but for now, I do.

William Blair, the Chief of the Toronto Police gave a keynote speech that brought tears to my eyes, a lump in my throat, a more palpable heartbeat, and goosebumps on my skin. Chief Blair has transformed his entire police force into a learning organization that encourages the development of emotional intelligence, embraces diversity, and is an open system that flexes, changes and learns as necessary.

Heather Anderson is doing compelling work with CEOs and other business leaders, convincing them of the critical importance of Emotional Intelligence and how their own EI directly impacts every aspect of their businesses.

Annahid Dashtgard and Shakil Choudhury from Anima Leadership have some important national partners in Canada; The Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Crown Corporation with a mandate to fight racism, and the Canadian Policy Research Networks, a National think tank with a specialty in public policy development through deliberative dialogue processes. Shakil and Annahid’s presentation was powerful, inspiring, contemplative, and transformative. Their work is exceedingly important and valuable. And I now understand why Shakil said that as they do this work, he feels more hopeful about the world.

Mark Skalski, PhD from England, gave a brilliant and stimulating talk on how change is difficult for humans, why that is, and yet how vitally important it is in the workplace to make the business case for the development of EI, for the budgeting towards improving EI in serious way, and ultimately for the bottom line of business.

The IEIC is a conference that I wish happened regularly so I could take everyone I know both personally and professionally to experience at least parts of it.

Change is hard. People – WE – can be resistant. But we can also bring awareness to ourselves, we can ask what we want to be different and better, we can explore what is in our power to adjust, change and improve. We can make changes. We can define what our gold medal is.

Some trainers asked about winning. Do you want to win? We have to understand that “winning:” is different things to different people. What is winning to you?

We also had the opportunity to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. When an exhibit draws you into it so deeply that you imagine yourself as a part of history tens of thousands of years ago, you’re in a zone of contentment and learning, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

When you see how far we’ve come from the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls until now, you realize just how much change, growth, and development are possible. Skalski points out that with more options, we get more stress, which we need to be aware of and manage.

I’m typing this on a computer while I have a gorgeous view of Manhattan. I can see the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Tomorrow night, I’ll be able to see the July 4th Macy’s fireworks over the Hudson River.

I have all the food and drink I need, and am taking a break from writing a book. My dreams are coming true. We have so much to be grateful for.

Where is evidence of emotional intelligence in your life? In yourself? In your family? in your workplace? Among your neighbors and friends? I am very grateful for those around me who work on self-development. And for those who don’t, I am grateful for my own self-development to help me deal with those challenging moments, situations, and people I encounter.

I still don’t have my luggage. I am optimistic (though grounded in reality-testing – Thank you Dick Thompson!) that I will get it back. And if I don’t, I will survive.

There are those moments, days, situations, and people who challenge us to bring awareness and regulation to our emotional responses. There always will be those. The practice is never-ending.

There will be those leaders who don’t want to hear Henry L Thompson’s brilliant message on “Catastrophic Leadership Failure” and who don’t want to understand how it is they wound up there. There will be those business leaders who are too frightened or ashamed to acknowledge that they’ve mishandled something important. They will keep it a secret. They will view all those around them who try to do things differently than them as their enemy.

Employees who are hard-working, innovative, creative, ethical, but who aren’t “yes-men” or “yes-women” will either grow bored and leave or they might even get fired for not being “yes-people”. Leaders who fail will exclude quality staff from meetings, decisions, and processes because they don’t want to share power, to share success or to share failure – they don’t want to share learning. They may continue to make quite bad decisions and not even be aware if they are violating the law or creating more and more serious problems for themselves because they only want to be surrounded with those who agree with them – or – because they will only accept disagreement and critical thinking from a select few. Catastrophic Leadership Failure can be a downward spiral. Those who don’t want to allow others into an in-group that for whatever reason needs an out-group wind up cutting themselves off from valuable resources in their own midst–on their own team. But leaders who fail do not see those who think critically of their decisions as team-members but only as enemies and threats. Perhaps someday they will be willing to examine why that is and make different and better choices. We can only hope.

There will be those business leaders who refuse to share organizational power and consider that the skills, knowledge, and abilities of someone else on their staff may actually be exactly what they need in order to handle something well. There will be those business leaders who keep glass ceilings and walls firmly in place as they remain unaware of or unable to acknowledge their overwhelming shame or disgust or anger or threat of allowing appropriate others truly INTO processes, C-Suites, decision-making meetings, and other critical operations. Becoming overwhelmed by primal brain, as Skalski puts it, is how this happens and is something EI development can explore, examine, and prevent.

Inclusion and Exclusion are hugely significant in every aspect of the operation of an organization and are also very related to emotional regulation. Most leaders will say they are not racist, sexist, ableist, ageist, or otherwise bigoted, however, a closer look at exclusion and inclusion can show otherwise. There is hope for those who are willing to regularly look honestly at their practices, at who they exclude, at who they include and to honestly ask and answer the question: WHY? Once there is awareness, a rational cost/benefit analysis can be done and better choices can be made that will not create liability exposure, fraud, civil rights violations, retaliation claims, unlawful privacy invasions, and a lack of integrity in chosen actions – all symptoms of leadership failure with great consequences financially, publicity-wise, and operationally.

It is about willingness. It is not about ability. It is about either being willing or refusing. EI is now proven to be a hard skill. It is far from a “soft skill” or a fun work-shoppy diversion from work. Development of EI IS the work in every moment, in every decision, in every interaction or non-interaction. It is the work in performance evaluation. Rater-bias is a huge problem in organizations whose leaders are in a downward spiral of failure and who are not bringing critical awareness their decisions with the knowledge that all decisions are driven by EMOTIONS. Emotions – an extremely important part of the workplace. There is now agreement that not only do emotions belong at work but they are THERE whether we like it or not. Every decision is made using emotion whether we realize this or not.

I am personally fascinated by workplace systems in which only certain people are allowed to express certain emotions or allowed to express them in certain ways. Why is this? Have you seen this? Where have you seen it and who was or wasnt’ allowed to express anger? What happened if someone who wasn’t allowed to express anger did so? Why do you think some organizational systems try to limit who can and cannot express anger?

Skalski talks about expressing anger as being related to POWER. This is why. It is an issue or organizational power. What happens when those who aren’t supposed to express anger or aren’t supposed to express it overtly do so? What is the response of those who try to make rules about who can and cannot have or express emotions in the workplace? How many of you have actually seen a performance evaluation that instructs a person to only express positive emotions?

How is employee A thought of and how is employee B thought of? And why? What is the criteria? What are the standards? Are there conflicts of interest? Are there ethical issues to be addressed? What are the emotions that are affecting these performance evaluations and why?

Steve Stein, Phd. announced that MHS will soon have a measurement instrument for testing INTEGRITY! How exciting is that? Should the Dow Jones require leadership Integrity test scores to be on the CNN and MSNBC crawls? Shall we require the public integrity test scores for our elected and public officials?

I am still feeling extremely joyful and with a cup that runneth over with inspiration, knowledge, teaching, hope, tools, research, and incredible passion for and commitment to the developing field of EI. Mark Skalski taught that joy is elusive and is only in existence when fear, anger, sadness and disgust are NOT present. I guess I’m in one of those rare moments!

Given how life is, it is only a matter of time before I am confronted with my own or someone else’s fear, anger, sadness, or disgust, and when that moment comes, I will dig deeply into my EI skills and find that self-awareness, practicing the skills, exercising these brain muscles, and hoping I do my best.

What a privilege to be part of a self-reflective community that values integrity, scholarship, solid research, and an impressive spirit of generosity of ideas and learning.

“Let us all do something today to make someone else’s life better “(-Bob Anderson)