Letting Go of Past Resentment for Higher Production

Article contributed by guest author Patricia (Tish) Conlin

What injustices have you suffered in your work as a Business Professional? Are you harboring resentments right now over slights or mishandled situations? We all experience negative emotions in our work and they are painful for sure. As hard working professionals, respect can often be hard to win with clients and staff alike and negative stereotypes can influence others’ treatment of us at times. Whether you have chosen your field of work or have fallen into, we all acknowledge that the casual rejections and ups and downs of any business can overwhelm even the most successful of us. Do you think it is easier to bury the negative emotions of past hurts or project failures deep inside than to face them? Guess what? Those past resentments that you are holding onto are impacting your energy and success today so you need to let them go so you can focus on the present instead of living in the past.

I remember a few years ago working on a huge ERP Recruitment project with a large U.S Client project. It was an incredible success for a year. Then the client got bought out by a bigger company and soon informed us that they were hiring an internal recruitment team and my team all felt doomed. Sure enough, within weeks of working with the internal recruiter, he started consistently rejected our candidates even the rock stars. I was working with our team of recruiters in both Canada and the U.S and there was enormous frustration involved. Everyone started to complain and there was a lot of anger, frustration and resentment. One of the recruiters became almost aggressive with the internal recruiter and the animosity increased. I noticed that things were heading in the wrong direction and was happy when she asked me to take over. What I did to turn this around was not rocket science. I started by separating the internal recruiter’s actions from him as a person. I developed a rapport with him and learned about his life and interests by asking genuine questions. I learned more about his past work and reasons for joining the current company which gave me insights into his decision making confidence. We shared stories and ideas and even laughed together. Then,  I started questioning his decisions to reject our candidates without rancor. I used compelling facts to reconfirmed their skills and track records and create a win-win for both sides. As trust built between us, he started selecting candidates for interviews. Eventually one was hired and the relationship started to become positive and productive. This was not magic. I have built a successful recruitment firm over 20 years because I learned the simple lesson that it never pays to get angry at the other party’s behavior just as it never pays (metaphorically and actually) to hold onto resentment.

If you are able to observe yourself every day and notice that you becoming more tense, irritable or angry on a regular basis, ask yourself what set you off. Sometimes a lost deal or rejected offer can really hurt and it is normal to feel frustrated but if you go to work consistently in a bad mood, you are doing yourself, your staff and your business a real disservice. If we’re honest with ourselves, past wrongs committed by people we expected to respond better aren’t easily forgotten like our normal everyday problems. Betrayal seeps into the bones and carves a well of toxic thoughts and feelings. Anger feels like an effective answer to betrayal, and it takes a lot of pain and suffering to raise your own little army of resentments. Unfortunately, that army is actually a bunch of crafty warriors that are attacking YOU and destroying your ability to let go and move on to better circumstances. Letting go of resentment can be incredibly hard but is incredibly powerful and will help you shift back into higher productivity at work and in life.

Below are some great tips to shift out of resentment and get back to being productive and

  1.  GAIN PERSPECTIVE- It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when your unresolved feelings begin snowballing into anger and blame. Be aware of or record your feelings in writing. Revisit later and see if those feelings make sense in the bigger picture.
  2. LET IT GO – They probably forgot already. Consider the perspective of the one who hurt you. This person is not sitting gleefully reliving how they once affronted you. More likely, they were unaware they did you harm or totally forgot. No amount of emotive rage will change the past. It’s natural to go through stages of grief when you’ve been hurt in some way. Let yourself go through them. Then let it go.
  3. TAKE THE HIGH ROAD – Taking the high road feels amazing. By now you’ve probably noticed that resentment hasn’t gotten you anywhere. That’s because you’re putting your energy and resources into nursing animosity instead of more fruitful endeavors. When you discuss the situation with the person who wronged you, focus on win-win outcomes for both to build a better go forward. Try to understand why the other person responded the way they did and whether stress or specific circumstances caused the reaction. Bring empathy and understanding to the discussion is hugely helpful. If there is a pattern of disappointment or lack of trust, opt to move on graciously instead of making a scene. It never is worth while holding onto a client or any relationship where trust has been permanently breaches.

To avoid resentment, set clear and realistic expectations with clients, candidates and staff/managers to start. Think of what you want and what they want and how both parties can achieve their goals successfully. Remember the below quote when a situation is taking charge of your moods:

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” —Hermann Hesse

I’m inspired to help other Business Professionals achieve their true potential. Why? I’m passionate about the business of living fully and achieving personal and professional goals that are meaningful. During the decades of owning and running a leading Talent Solutions company, I have witnessed countless people suffering from burn-out, chronic illness, severe stress, depression and anxiety. I’ve experiences the joy of the ups and the agony of the downs in our business and decided to use my decades of experience and training as a successful Business Professional, Black Belt Martial Artist, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Emotional Intelligence Trainer to develop specific training and coaching programs that address the soft skills needed to create lasting success. These (6 Session video and audio) on-line courses help you learn how to increase energy, improve performance and build more resilient, focused and engaged teams and are available at www.tishconlin.com

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” ~ Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

 

Is your communication obsolete?

“Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” –Robert Frost

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Do you know your communication style?

The DISC assessment, based upon the theory of psychologist William Marston, and developed into a behavioral management tool by Walter Clarke, measures our style of relating to others, which directly effects how we communicate.  Of the four styles, which do you lean toward as you communicate with others?

1-DOMINANCE.  These communicators provide direct answers and tend to be brief, and to the point.  They ask “what” questions instead of “why” or “how” and stress logical benefits using factual information. They can tend to be blunt and demanding at times, and may seem to lack empathy or basic social skills. You won’t find these folks spending too much time with chit chat.

2-INFLUENCE. Those who communicate with this interactive style are relaxed and sociable, and enjoy verbalizing their ideas, thoughts, and feelings.  They enjoy social activities and will bore quickly if you dive into the details. Their communication is inclusive and motivational.  They like the limelight, and will quickly shut down if others attempt to persuade or influence them.

3-STEADINESS. Those who communicate in this style are agreeable, cooperative, and value knowing their individual role within a team setting.  They show appreciation with their words and focus on the “how” and “why”.  They tend to enjoy sincerity and a friendly, approachable manner of speaking. They may have difficulty prioritizing their ideas as they can be people-pleasers, but respond well to clearly defined goals and objectives, and thrive when assured follow-up and support.

4-COMPLIANCE. These communicators value accuracy and like to skip the socializing piece. They thrive on the specifics: precise expectations and uniform standards.  They’ll provide you with the straight-up pros and cons, support their ideas with accurate data, and communicate in a systematic and focused manner. They may resist vague or general information and you may find them double-checking everything you say or do.

Knowing yourself and your inclinations are a good first step in improving your communication. And understanding the communication style of others can help you better work as a team player and support them in becoming their best self as you learn to communicate in a way that enables their natural tendencies. But though each of these four styles can be effective, they also can become obsolete — depending on your behaviors.

The question to ask is not which style do I utilize, but “How well does my style enable me to listen deeply and send clear, convincing messages to those I’m communicating with?”

Here are some indicators that your way of communicating may need some updating:

  • You talk more than you listen in conversations with colleagues or loved ones
  • You fail to hear what others say, even though you thought you were listening
  • You catch yourself interrupting often
  • You don’t connect well with others and struggle to establish rapport
  • You judge the ‘why’ behind what others say before finding out their true motivations
  • You rarely ask for others’ opinions or insights
  • You fail to make eye contact or give non-verbal feedback when someone else is talking
  • Threats and emotional outbursts are a mainstay of communicating for you
  • You sometimes lack tact and diplomacy
  • You can come across dogmatic when expressing your own ideas
  • You refuse to let others change your opinion — even if you realize they may be right
  • You ask very few questions in conversations

No matter your style of relating and communicating with others, these negative attributes are behaviors — and behaviors can be changed.

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” — Brian Tracy

If you find you’re at a place where your way of communicating needs some updating, try some of these on for size:

  • Learn what an open-ended question is, and start using them in every conversation
  • Become a good listener. Make eye contact, tune in to what is being said, and ask questions for clarification.
  • Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next so you can focus on the person who is talking
  • Use positive body language like smiling, uncrossed arms, and nodding where appropriate to welcome others’ ideas and input
  • Hold back your judgments if you don’t agree and seek to understand the why behind what they are saying
  • Practice speaking your words with clear enunciation and well-thought-out ideas if needed to ensure accurate delivery
  • Express gratitude and appreciation often; validate what the other person is saying
  • Match your emotions to the situation  and refrain from outbursts of negative expressions of feelings
  • Be patient when others speak and give them the time they need to express their thoughts.  Try not to finish their sentences or sum up their words before they are done speaking.
  • Fill in the blank: What is one additional behavior you can try this week to improve your communication skills?  ___________________________________________

Now get out there and practice, practice, practice!

“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.” –Jim Rohn

 

 

 

 

When Conflicts Arise

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Is there someone with whom you’re harboring an unresolved conflict?

Pause for a moment and think about this someone.  Maybe they’ve recently wronged you, or hurled hurtful words, or showed you disdain or disrespect. Possibly they simply don’t agree with you and have been adamant about letting you know.  OK–got this person in mind? Focus on his/her face, and the last expression you saw in their eyes. Does your heart begin to race? Do you feel your anger rising as you begin to ruminate about that last conversation you had with them? Do sarcastic, hurtful words come to mind which you would like to say to them if ever you got the nerve? If you were to describe this person to me, what adjectives would you use?

Now, stop thinking about them and get back to what you were doing. Easier said than done?

If you experience strong, negative emotions when thinking about an unresolved conflict with someone, whether friend or perceived foe, there may be more at stake than just the two of you’s relationship. Though it’s definitely easier to side step differences, sweep issues under the rug or just avoid the person altogether, running from conflict resolve may not be the healthiest choice. Barring unsafe people who you must protect yourself from, learning and practicing conflict resolution is a brave thing to do — and can help you lead a healthier, happier life.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.”  ― Alaric Hutchinson

We all are pretty good at making a connection between eating healthy foods, sleeping well, and exercising and our physical and mental well being. But how many recognize the value of positive social connections and their impact on our health?

Those experiencing unresolved conflict often become frustrated because there seems to be no workable solution, which can result in stress, sleep issues, loss of appetite, or overeating. Headaches, stomach aches, shoulder and neck pain, and a general down-in-the-mouth demeanor can deem you unavailable and unapproachable to others, thus negatively affecting relationships, both at work and at home.  And how about that ruminating piece?  Ever find yourself talking and talking (and talking) about the unresolved issue with anyone who’ll lend an ear? I daresay after a few sessions of this, friends, family, and coworkers may tire of having to hear about the same ole’ issues making their rounds in your conversations, and one by one will become less and less available as your sounding board.

It matters whether or not we get along with others.  Dr. Dana Avey is a Marriage & Family Therapist and explains how this works.  “Overall, having a social network of friends with whom one can spend time is noted to have significant mental health benefits, particularly as evidenced by experiencing an improved mood, both when in the company of others but also in the aftermath of the time spent socializing.  It can become very easy to become isolated with one’s own thoughts and feelings and connecting with others can offer objective feedback and support.” A study done by Deborah Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez showed that poor social relationships present serious ill-effects on our health. One of their findings showed that both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect our mental health, health behavior, physical health, and our risk of mortality. A striking sub-study by Berkman and Syme in 1997 revealed that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social connections was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most relationships.  They also found that solid social ties reduce mortality risk among adults — even those with poor health. (research.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/).

In an interesting study done by House, Landis, and Umberson, the researchers uncovered that a lack of social connection has a greater negative impact on our health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure!  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/241/4865/540

On the contrary, healthy social connections can lead to a 50% chance of living longer, strengthen our immune systems, and help us recover more quickly from disease (https://emmaseppala.com/connect-thrive-infographic/).

As if this isn’t enough evidence to encourage us to work out our conflicts and strengthen relationships, consider this:  One of the negative, lasting effects of being in an unhealthy  relationship is a steady erosion of your self-worth. Says Claire Arene, MSW, LCSW, staff writer for healthyplace.com, “It is not unusual to find individuals with serious personality disorders as a result of the insidious effect of unhealthy long-term associations.”(https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/unhealthy-relationships/the-impact-of-being-in-an-unhealthy-relationship)

If you have unresolved conflict with someone, it’s time to take action. Your physical and mental health is at stake. Even if the other party is not willing to make amends, the path toward healing can begin with you.

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” — William James

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Become self-aware of your own emotions and where they are stemming from. List out how you are feeling, using as much detail as possible, and attempt to determine if what you are feeling is a direct result of the conflict — or are there other factors at hand? Understanding what you’re feeling and why will lead to greater insight into why this conflict arose.
  • If your emotions are running on high, consider stepping back for a moment to let yourself cool down. When we lash out in anger or a negative emotional state, it’s very likely we’ll say something we’ll regret.  Take a walk, journal, talk to a counselor–whatever it is you do to get your emotions in check — before you attempt to reconcile.

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. –Laurence J. Peter

  • Tune in to what the other person may be feeling. Understanding where they are coming from and where their emotions are stemming from can help you develop empathy for their point of view. How to do this? Ask open-ended questions to discover the whys behind their words. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their viewpoint.
  • Improve your listening skills. Stop thinking about how you will respond and really listen to what they are saying–and what they are not saying. Watch their body language and ask question for clarity when needed. When they finish, ask them if there’s anything else they’d like to add before you pipe up.
  • Withhold character judgments. When someone opposes you in a combative manner, it’s easy to self-protect and convince yourself that they are a bad person. Try to focus on the issues at hand rather than trying to become a judge of their morality by focusing on the problem not the person.
  • Speak without finger pointing. When it’s time for you to speak up, take care to avoid blatant insults, nicely-hidden put-downs, or assigning blame. You are there to express your viewpoint, not make assumptions as to what they are feeling or thinking.
  • Keep calm and cool. Agitated body language and words laced with negative emotion can put the other person on the defensive before you even get started.  Slow down, lower your volume, and choose your words carefully. Check your facial expression. Even something as simple as softening your expression by raising your eyebrows and removing that frown can ease the tension.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — Ancient proverb

  • Try to find common ground. Though there is obvious disagreement, is there anything you agree upon? Finding issues you both connect and agree upon can form a bond and build trust. A “me too” attitude provides a sense that you’re on the same team…partners in collaboration vs. opponents in battle.
  • A little laughter goes a long way.  Unfortunately, our sense of humor is one of the first things to go into hiding when we’re agitated. When you laugh with another, a positive bond is formed which provides a buffer against negativity (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/managing-conflicts-with-humor.htm  ). However, avoid sarcastic humor at all costs.
  • Remember, you can’t control the other person.  Despite your best efforts, the person you’re clashing with may not respond in the way you hope. Your role is not to control their reactions, but to manage your own behavior in a way that lends a hand toward resolution. Sometimes, you may have to do the right thing and let go of the outcome.

It’s not easy to solve conflicts, but making attempts toward peace and understanding is worth the effort. Who will you start with today?

“Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth-or rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. The choice is not up to our opponents, but to us, and our willingness to face and work through them.” — Kenneth Cloke

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Registering today for our free webinar on social + emotional intelligence is a great way to increase your learning this month!

Whether you’re learning about social + emotional intelligence for the first time, or this is a refresher for you, the information and insights you glean will prove valuable to your relationships, both with yourself and with others.

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It’s Lonely Near the Top: Challenges for Chiefs of Staff

Article submitted by guest author Ted Riter.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The role of Chief of Staff continues to grow in corporate and nonprofit America. While the responsibilities for this role vary from organization to organization, within organizations, and even between predecessors and successors, there are common challenges across the board for chiefs of staff. This paper presents both challenges for those in this field and recommendations for success as a Chief of Staff.

THIS STUDY

The background information for this study was gathered through interviews conducted November 2018-February 2019 with over three dozen current and former Chiefs of Staff. These Chiefs of Staff were in long-established corporations, startups, nonprofits, government agencies, and family offices[1]. They were in diverse fields, including high tech, pharmaceuticals, philanthropies, and higher education. Most Chiefs of Staff had served in their position for 12-18 months. Some had transitioned to other roles within the same organization or started their own ventures. A small number of Chiefs of Staff saw themselves as “career” Chiefs of Staff. Most Chiefs of Staff filled this role for a Chief Executive Officer. Some filled this role for other Executives or an entire C-Suite.

THE CHIEF OF STAFF ROLE

Chiefs of Staff are inspired and inspiring professionals, dedicated to the success of their Executives and their organizations They are eager learners, selfless with their time and energy, and masters of navigating sensitive situations. And, they are often placed in this role with great hopes, but little guidance or support for self-development.

Though a universal job description for Chiefs of Staff does not exist, Prime Chief of Staff, a leader in this field, breaks down the role of Chief of Staff into the following six functions: [2]

  • The Goalkeeper – Manage and triage workflow of the executive. Prioritize, delegate, and complete work on behalf of the executive.
  • The Operator – Add structure and process for better communication within the office of the executive as well as across teams. Ensure activities are running efficiently.
  • The Implementer – Drive business priorities from start to finish. Execute special projects or initiatives on behalf of the executive or the organization.
  • The Integrator – Create cohesion among teams and departments. Connect the dots across the organization for improved alignment and engagement.
  • The Proxy – Act on behalf of the executive for greater visibility and accessibility. Prevent bottle-necking and promote decision-making when the executive cannot be present.
  • The Advisor – Serve as a strategic thought partner, sounding board, and confidante. Inform organization strategy and decision-making.

These six functions are helpful when conceptualizing the role of a new Chief of Staff. Those interviewed in the field had a less nuanced view and responded:

  • I manage the staff – the CEO included.
  • My goal each day is to help connect people to people, people to ideas, and people to purpose. I spend 90% of my time helping people understand the “why.
  • I do a lot of listening and “pealing back the onion.” I’m the internal consultant/versatilist – I help every department scale.
  • I represent my CEO with special projects and make their life easier.
  • I am not chief of the staff, I am a chief connector

Chiefs of Staff routinely reported that their functions relied heavily upon both the needs of the Executive and their work and life experience. Mark Organ, Influitive CEO and thought-leader in the field of Chiefs of Staff, offers the following guidelines for hiring a Chief of Staff:[3]

  • A manager-level hire – This person would be responsible for typical administrative tasks like calendar management and booking travel, but he would also make important judgment calls on how the CEO should best spend her time and what meetings would be most valuable for her to attend.
  • A mid-career, director-level hire – This person may have 6-12 years of experience. He would be in charge of tasks like running town halls, preparing speeches and prepping the CEO for leadership meetings. He’s unlikely to take on any strategic responsibilities, however.
  • An experienced VP-level executive – This person is already an experienced executive who’s looking to become a CEO one day. She may meet with department heads to talk through goals and targets, and work on developing tactics for various parts of the business.

THE CHALLENGES

The Chief of Staff role is filled with challenges, some of which are unique to this position

Job Descriptions & Loneliness

Loneliness is not an uncommon experience for leaders. It often comes from a perception that they must “carry the burden” on their own. Chiefs of Staff report an added layer to this experience, often feeling that no one quite understands what they do in their organization.

In dozens of interviews, it was clear that day-to-day, no two Chiefs of Staff serve in the same role. Job descriptions vary greatly, and often do not even exist until long after the role is filled.

According to former Chief of Staff and author Tyler Parris, “…a chief of staff is a catch-all role, filled by someone with exceptional organizational and people skills, who handles all manner of tasks not covered by an existing member of an executive’s leadership team or administrative staff.”[4]

This difficult to define “catch-all role” can create confusion for executives, directors, and staff, especially when the role is filled for the first time.

Confusion around this role may result in pushback from those in the C-suite who see the Chief of Staff as a possible barrier to communication with the CEO. Staff might fear losing influence with the CEO and have uncertainty about their standing in the organization. This fear can easily be projected upon the Chief of Staff and lead to a creation of walls that hamper communication. Some staff members even outright express to the Chief of Staff, “I didn’t think we needed you.”

A consistent message from Chiefs of Staff, is that the most positive working relationships are based upon mutual agreements rather than expectations. One former Chief of Staff knew it was time to leave the role when it became clear that the CEO’s expectation was an 80/20 split between directly supporting the CEO and project management, while the Chief of Staff envisioned it as a 50/50 split.

Chiefs of Staff recognize that they have no real peers in their organization, unless they are in a larger setting with multiple Chiefs of Staff. The comradery that is often experienced in other positions may therefore be absent for Chiefs of Staff. A Chief of Staff for a Family Office shared that it “often feels like I’m on an island – it’s unlike any other job.” And, because of this isolation, one admitted, “I’m very frustrated. I don’t know how long I will be able to stay here.”

Even those Chiefs of Staff who excel in their position might feel unseen. One reported: “It’s very lonely. Because I’m so good at what I do, they don’t even see what I’m doing.” Another said, “I feel not seen and not appreciated.”

Many Chiefs of Staff spoke of the tremendous amount of privileged information they hold. This responsibility often makes it difficult to find colleagues and loved ones to confide in and count on for full support without breaking confidentiality. And, in fact, some Chiefs of Staff reported that their partners “know too much that is probably confidential.”

One Chief of Staff confided, “My CEO might be doing things that are unethical and I’m not sure what I can do about it.”

Social and Emotional Intelligence & Overwhelm

While the Executive might be a passionate leader with a big vision, the Chief of Staff often serves as a counter balance.

One Chief of Staff reported, “My job is to be an observer with my emotions removed, and then show what I see to the CEO, who cannot remove their emotions.”

This facility for social and emotional intelligence is critical for the success of a Chief of Staff, and yet not a skill that comes naturally to all in this role. As defined by the Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence, “Social and emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of our own and others’ feelings – in the moment – and use that information to lead yourself and others” [5]

Some Chiefs of Staff, lacking these skills, commented:

  • I internalized all my frustrations and then I changed the way I did things. For instance, I stopped bringing many things to the CEO.
  • I’m a people pleaser, so difficult conversations are a big challenge.
  • I have a hard time initiating the conversations and then letting them go.
  • I get frustrated because I see the change but am not able to do anything about it.
  • I’m often the least experienced person in the room and this kills my confidence.

Many of the Chiefs of Staff who struggled with social and emotional intelligence, reported feelings of overwhelm and burnout:

  • I sometimes work 90-hour weeks and rejoice when it’s down to 60.
  • I recently took my first vacation in 4 years.
  • I don’t know how long I can continue here.
  • A Chief of Staff has to thrive in chaos, and I don’t know if I can anymore.
  • I have no time for my own health and relationships, let alone personal development.

This toll of overwhelm might be a surprise for some in an organization. Some Chiefs of Staff report that others see their travel schedule with an Executive or a fancy restaurant reservation and imagine glamorous and exciting opportunities not afforded to everyone. While travel can be to exciting places and access to the Executive enviable, this is by no means vacation, and most Chiefs of Staff express a desire to curtail their travel and spend more time at home.

One Chief of Staff offered, “I am envied by many because it looks fun. At the end of the day, it’s not a glamorous thing. I’m one of the hardest working people in the organization.”

Chiefs of Staff leave their position for many reasons, including acceptance of a predetermined tenure end-date, and following bigger dreams. However, many are burned out with no more to give in this position and gratefully move on to other positions in the current or different organizations.

SOLUTIONS

Most of the Chiefs of Staff interviewed self-identified as “successful” in their roles:

  • They are fully supportive of their Executive.
  • They feel supported by their Executive.
  • And, they believe they are helping the overall success of their organization.

And yet, even many of the successful Chiefs of Staff expressed a need for more support. With this added support, the role of Chiefs of Staff will continue to grow and benefit organizations across the globe.

Fuzzy Job Descriptions

Creating a job description for a Chief of Staff, especially for the first person to fill this role, is both challenging and worth the effort.

In addition to the measurable responsibilities for a Chief of Staff, the hallmark of a good Chief of Staff-Executive relationship is one built on trust. A high level of trust enables the Chief of Staff to predict the Executive’s behavior, understand the decision-making process, and allow the Executive to focus on the biggest priorities.

Recommendations to Build Trust:

Create measurable outcomes and goals from the beginning: One Chief of Staff suggested making a list of the top 5 tasks for the week and delegating everything else.

Schedule private time for direct communication: One Chief of Staff recommended undisturbed meeting time one to two times per week to give the Executive peace of mind so they can focus on what is most important for them to be doing.

Practice vulnerability: Vulnerability is not typically welcomed in the workplace because it is associated with weakness. However, vulnerability is an extraordinarily powerful tool for building trust in any relationship, including between an Executive and Chief of Staff.

There are many exercises for safely expressing vulnerability. The simplest practice is to admit and own mistakes without assigning blame to others.

Loneliness

Since there is unlikely to be peer support for Chiefs of Staff within an organization, find those who “get it.”

Recommendations to Alleviate or Prevent Loneliness

Join an established Chief of Staff network: New opportunities for connection are being created through the efforts of Prime Chief of Staff and a current Chief of Staff herself, Caroline Pugh. Together, they are hosting events around the country and have created an online community of practice[6]

Create a Chief of Staff network: As the role increases in the business world, there are more and more opportunities to find or create a local network with Chiefs of Staff from all sectors of the workplace. Formality is not necessary.

Find a mentor: Chiefs of Staff are generous with their time and energy even when they have moved on to other roles, and they are often open to mentoring others.

Social and Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the field of social and emotional intelligence, teaches that leadership is based primarily (85%) on emotional intelligence and (15%) on IQ. Fortunately, emotional and social intelligence are also skills that can be honed through training.

There are four areas of concentration that can be trained for Chiefs of Staff to excel in their positions:[7]

  • Self-awareness – knowing your internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions.
  • Self-management – managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources.
  • Social awareness – awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns.
  • Social skills / relationship management – ability to create desirable responses in others.

Many Chiefs of Staff have a very high level of social and emotional intelligence. They report:

  • I’m good at learning new skills.
  • I’m fearless when it comes to failure – I hop into the ringer.
  • I’m not afraid to put out a shitty first draft; zero to one is easy for me.
  • I am very often the youngest person in the room and try to make age irrelevant in a meeting.
  • I like to sit in the back of the room and take it all in.

Recommendations to Build Social and Emotional Intelligence

Hire a coach: The coaching industry is growing even faster than the Chiefs of Staff field. Good coaches might have good answers to a Chief of Staff’s questions. The best coaches will have good questions to a Chief of Staff’s answers.

Budget time and funding for professional development: Training pays dividends. The best professional development has a component geared for Executives as well as Chiefs of Staff.

Overwhelm

Overwhelm can be a result of fuzzy job descriptions, loneliness, and poor social and emotional intelligence skills. And, there are practices to prevent overwhelm on and off the job.

Recommendations to Alleviate or Prevent Overwhelm:

Practice self-care: Physical exercise, meditation, healthy eating, and time off might sound trite. However, they are recommended by every successful Chief of Staff interviewed for this report.

Practice embodied leadership: Our bodies are excellent teachers if we are attuned to them. However, we spend most of our day in our heads. Through training in embodied practices that stretch our nervous system, Chiefs of Staff can better hold the disruption and stress of the day.

Train for clear communication: Difficult conversations are inevitable in any leadership position. Learning clear communication skills is an art form that will be of benefit both inside and outside the organization.

RESOURCES

 Books Recommended by Chiefs of Staff (with some surprises in the mix):

  • Being You, Changing the World by Dain Heer
  • Chief of Staff: The Strategic Partner Who Will Revolutionize Your Organizationby Tyler Parris
  • Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  • Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen
  • Discover Your True North by Bill George
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message by Tara Mohr
  • Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord
  • Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
  • Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
  • Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happinessby Forrest Hanson and Rick Hanson
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Factsby Annie Duke
  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
  • The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
  • Your Oxygen Mask First: 17 Habits to Help High Achievers Survive & Thrive by Kevin N. Lawrence

Books Not Yet In Print

In addition to recommending books, some Chiefs of Staff envision writing the following:

  • How To Do It All – Including taking care of yourself
  • I’m A Chief of Staff…Now What?
  • Paving the Way for Process
  • The Story of Creating This Place: Things that seemed so big, but in the end are pretty small
  • Things That Make Sense But Don’t Make Sense

 

FOR FUTURE CONSIDERATION

An Unexpected Finding

One of the unexpected findings of this study is that many Chiefs of Staff experienced difficult childhoods or other challenges in their formative years. Though this paper cannot make a direct link between a difficult childhood and success as a Chief of Staff, it is an interesting area for further exploration. When questioned about specifics, these Chiefs of Staff confided they were often the ones who mediated family disruption: Arguments, divorce, death, illness, crisis. Perhaps, the experience navigating these challenging situations made it easier to step into the Chief of Staff role and mediate the high stakes, big egos, and charged energy of the workspace.

Transitioning Into and Out of the Chief of Staff Role

As the role of Chief of Staff grows outside of government, it is becoming seen as a stepping stone to higher leadership positions.[8] Though a great proving ground for numerous C-Suite and VP positions, the transition is often not seamless. There is a training opportunity both in the time before stepping into the Chief of Staff role and upon exiting. There is also an opportunity for addressing the emotional impact of transitions felt by Executives and Chiefs of Staff as the relationships come to an end.

CONCLUSION

Chiefs of Staff are proving to be invaluable assets for Executives in business and nonprofit organizations, just as they have been for many years in the government and military. Those who participated in this study were smart, talented, energetic, and motivated for success. They were great ambassadors for their Executives, their organizations, and their roles as Chiefs of Staff.

As this position becomes more common, it is important to address the challenges unique to Chiefs of Staff and offer appropriate training and coaching to ensure continued success for both the role and for those who serve in these positions.

 

What is an open heart?

Article contributed by guest author Rick Hanson.

The Practice:

Put No One Out Of Your Heart.

Why?

We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn’t like you, a partner who won’t keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I’m thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “Hell is other people.”

Sure, that’s overstated. But still, most of a person’s hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings – who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet – you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you!

So what can you do?

Let’s suppose you’ve tried to make things better – such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. – but the results have been partial or nonexistent.

At this point, it’s natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about “us,” it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack “them” – and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you.

But what are the results? Closing off doesn’t feel good. It makes your heart heavy and contracted. And it primes your brain to be more tense and reactive, which could get you into trouble, plus trigger the other person to act worse than ever.

Sometimes you do have to hang up the phone, block someone on Facebook, turn the channel on TV, or stay at a motel when visiting relatives. Sometimes you have to put someone out of your business, work group, holiday party list –or bed.

In painful or extreme situations, it may feel necessary to distance yourself utterly from another person for awhile or forever. Take care of yourself, and listen to that inner knowing about what’s best for you. You may need to put them out of your life. And you can see for yourself if you need to put them out of your heart.

How?

When your heart is open, what’s that feel like? Physically, in your chest – like warmth and relaxation – and in your body altogether. Emotionally – such as empathy, compassion, and an even keel. Mentally – like keeping things in perspective, and wishing others well.

Feel the strength being openhearted, wholehearted. Be not afraid and be of good heart. Paradoxically, the most open person in a relationship is usually the strongest one.

Get a sense of your heart being expansive and inclusive, like the sky. The sky stays open to all clouds, and it isn’t harmed by even the stormiest ones. Keeping your heart open makes it harder for others to upset you.

Notice that an open heart still allows for clarity about what works for you and what doesn’t, as well as firmness, boundaries, and straight talk. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are famous for keeping their hearts open while also being very effective.
Seeing all this, make a commitment to an open heart.

In this light, be mindful of what it feels like – physically, emotionally, mentally – to have your heart closed to a particular person. Be aware of the seemingly good reasons the reactive brain/mind throws up to justify this.

Then ask yourself, given the realities of this challenging person, what would have been a better path for you? For example, maybe you should have gotten more support from others or been more self-nurturing, so you wouldn’t have been as affected. Or spoken up sooner to try to prevent things from getting out of hand. Or managed your internal reactions more skillfully. Maybe you’ve done some things yourself to prompt the other person to be difficult. Whatever these lessons are, there’s no praise or blame here, just good learning for you.

And now, if you’re willing, explore opening your heart again to this person. Life’s been hard to him or her, too. Nothing might change in your behavior or in the nature of the relationship. Nonetheless, you’ll feel different – and better.

Last, do not put yourself out of your heart. If you knew you as another person, wouldn’t you want to hold that person in your heart?

Speaking the truth with love

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

A few years back I met a group of  loved ones honoring a deceased friend at a celebration of life gathering. There were old faces I hadn’t seen in years, and it was great to catch up, rehashing stories from college days, sharing about our kids, families, and travels. I found it delightful to engage in the rich, connecting conversations, and despite our sadness over the loss of our friend, joy abounded — except with one. She was not someone I ever knew well, but we shared many friendships and experiences. Within minutes of a conversation with her, she had turned off everyone unfortunate enough to be standing within earshot. Not only did she share a disapproving comment about our deceased friend’s children, she found fault with the food (lovingly prepared and donated by some kindhearted women in the local church area), and went on to share with us all how her personal eating and exercise regime is what made her look as good as she did.  Huh?! One by one, people made excuses to leave the conversation. I noticed she didn’t look any of us in the eye as she spoke, and didn’t pause to ask many questions. When one friend pointed out she was being a bit rude, she defended herself with, “I’m just being honest.”

Justifying hurtful words

How many times has someone used these four words to explain away their hurtful, negative, and damaging behavior, as if somehow honesty makes it OK?

I am not talking about telling lies to appease people, or about being dishonest to win friends. Being honest, up front, and speaking the truth are vital components of building trust with others, and trust is the foundation of meaningful relationships. Those that make a habit of telling untruths, whether about important or seemingly trivial matters, ruin their dependability and trustworthiness. Speaking with honesty is a very good thing. But how we speak our truth matters.

“The only way to tell the truth is to speak with kindness. Only the words of a loving man can be heard.” –Henry David Thoreau

You can’t have one without the other

Honesty and kindness go hand-in-hand, and those who don’t learn how to speak truth with kindness will most often go unheard. These are the people who come across as a little “rough around the edges”, and have an approach when tends to chill conversations. They may appear to be arrogant and unapproachable, and are often impatient, distant, and insensitive. Without even trying, they’re able to devalue others and are quick to jump to their own conclusions, eager to share their own opinions without consideration of the viewpoints of others. They often appear to be ‘too busy’ to slow down and really connect with others, and often struggle with a strong sense of self-righteousness.

Does this sound like someone you’d want to work for, or hire, or work alongside on a team? Those who haven’t learned the art of  building bonds are not the most enjoyable to be around, and often not someone we even want to connect with. The absence of people skills can leave them isolated and lacking in the friendship department. They may think others respect them where often it’s just that others avoid them. Though they may pride themselves in “speaking the truth”, this inability to connect with others can limit their success.

“Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.” — Ancient proverb

What is kindness?

On the other hand, kindness can be translated as interpersonal effectiveness. It’s a competency of emotional intelligence that can be developed, and is a strong determinant of the quality of our relationships. It’s the ability to make others feel comfortable and put them at ease. People who are good at this are able to show compassion and empathy to build rapport…while they speak the truth.

How do they do this?

For one thing, they have a good understanding of how the social world works by tuning in to those around them. They’ve taken the time to understand and in turn, respect, differing cultural, religious, political, and socioeconomic belief system, even if it is not how they personally believe. They have learned to listen intently, reading body language as much as the verbal words they’re hearing, reflecting back for understanding, and use their words to build others up rather than tear down. They take a genuine interest in others and strive to understand who the other person is and why they do the things they do. They exercise solid conflict management skills and are able to diffuse high-tension situations with ease by being supportive and encouraging when they encounter strife. They’re not afraid to be vulnerable and share about themselves, because they’re being intentional about living a life that is above-board and honorable.

Developing good people skills

If you find that more often than not your truth lacks kindness, take heart. We’re talking about behavior, and behavior can be changed. Here are 7 tips to improve your interpersonal skills so that your truth spoken can be heard.

  1. Just put on a happy face. Seems simple, but recent studies show that those who express a genuine smile are able to connect better with others. Researcher Kostandin Kushlev says, ““Smiling is a really powerful social lubricant. When somebody smiles at you, that indicates approachability,”((https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563218304643) )  The positive energy a pleasant demeanor creates, not only in yourself, but others, can do a lot in building rapport.
  2. Make eye contact and speak their name. Have you ever left a conversation realizing you never even looked the other person in the eyes? Or have you asked someone their name only to forget it immediately? This is a fairly simple place to start, but looking at others in the eyes and using their name goes a long way in building rapport. Dale Carnegie said, “There is nothing more pleasant to a man than the sound of his own name.” No good at names? Stop making excuses and get good at it, because it is important. Using name associations and/or jotting down someone’s name when you meet them can help.
  3. Say thanks. Robert Emmons, one of the leading scientific experts on gratitude, found that expressing gratitude does several things to improve social relations. It enables us to become more helpful and generous and leads us to forgive others of wrongs. Gratitude can even help us feel less lonely and isolated by prompting us to be more outgoing. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good)
  4. Show you care.  Learning to tune into the whys behind what others think can help you understand what drives their actions. Become other-oriented. How? Ask them questions about the details of their day-to-day lives — inquire about their commute, their kids, and what they did over the weekend. Learn their dog’s name. Discover their hopes and dreams. People love to be asked about themselves (and talk about themselves!) so ask open-ended questions to draw them out. And in doing so, resist the temptation to turn the conversation back to you. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” — Steven R. Covey
  5. Be amiable and affable. People respond to a pleasant, friendly demeanor much better than when they feel criticized or judged. Even if you don’t like what they’re saying, or agree with them, there’s no need to be demeaning or rude.
  6. Learn to fight fairly. No one enjoys conflict, but sweeping it under the rug or becoming combative and/or defensive doesn’t do much to fix the situation. Attempt to listen to the other side of the story and let your goal be a win-win solution vs. getting your own way. There is an old proverb that encourages us not to let the sun go down on our wrath. If there’s someone you are at odds with, do your best to resolve the conflict sooner than later. Ignoring the issues at hand only encourages us to stew, ruminate, and plant a seed of bitterness.
  7. Lend a helping hand. Developing a servant-leader mindset can go a long way in developing strong relationships. If there’s someone you’re not getting along with, try laying your own hurt feelings aside and think of something kind you could do for them. Maybe it’s offering an encouraging word, or a sincere compliment, taking them out for coffee, or extending your help on a project.  As Arthur Ciaramicoli says in his book, The Stress Solution, “Doing good induces others to reciprocate.”

We all want to be heard, and learning to speak our truth with kindness can go a long way in enhancing our connections with others. As with any new habit, it takes hard work, and time, and consistency to  achieve results. But it’s worth the effort, as your success depends upon it.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ~ Henry James

 

 

5 Steps in Healing a Broken Heart

Article submitted by guest author Lindsey Leach.

Among the emotions of being heartbroken, this title might feel impossible depending on where you are with your steps of grief (shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, acceptance). In the past couple of months, I have been healing from a broken heart in more ways than one. I am working through a break up, and I lost my job a month ago. It’s been a struggle of loss, and naturally, this all started the day after my birthday in November and throughout the holidays. So, while many are traveling, enjoying time away, and with loved ones, I’ve been simultaneously crying myself to sleep while trying to pick up the pieces and do something about it. No time to feel sorry myself. I knew what I needed to do to start achieving my career goals, having some fun, and shaking it off to start a new chapter.

I dislike all of the down time, but it’s allowed me to work through all of the emotions and not judge myself when I suddenly start crying while doing dishes. And now I am finally putting more time and effort into what I love most, which is impacting others, writing and creation, social and emotional intelligence, and self-improvement. The fact that my blog is up and running, and I’m able to share with you all is making my heart the happiest.

Every heartbreak is different and for me personally, this break up was especially difficult for me to process because it wasn’t due to a fading of feelings, not feeling the same way, or determining we didn’t have a future together for whatever reason. Our break up is due to time and timing. At the end of the day, I have to choose to not judge myself for the pain I feel from losing my best friend and take every small step forward possible so that each day feels even just a sliver closer to healing. The negative self-talk gotsta go.

1) Feel how you feel when you feel it.

This is definitely the INFJ in me, but the healing won’t begin if you just suppress what you’re feeling. Everyone has to work through this on their own terms, but longer you suppress, the more you’re just suppressing the inevitable and you’re probably going to explode or implode in some way further down the road. This isn’t healthy. It’s hard to collapse into our feelings. Many are taught this at a young age, and in some cases it is what’s best. It’s not the easy thing, but it is the thing that’s best for your next relationship, for all of your loved ones around you, and for your healing process.

2) Do all the things you love most and take care of yourself.

Put yourself first and do things that make you happy – like how my blog and sharing with you all makes me happy. Workout. Read that dusty book on your shelf you’ve been putting off. Cook. Clean out your closet (get rid of all of things that remind you of them!). Write or journal. Do that thing on your to-do list you’ve been procrastinating. Grab a drink with your best friend. Take a bath. Put on a face mask. You got this.

3) Train your thoughts.

There will be darker moments than others. Some days it will be harder to wake up and get out of bed than others. If you train your thoughts in these moments so you KEEP GOING, you’ll remember the power of your thoughts. Do you miss them desperately? Do just want to hear their voice? Do you just want to go see them? Do you want to text them? And then does your mind wonder and hope they aren’t moving on and meeting someone else before you? In these moments when you go down a rabbit hole, you have to be able to shift your focus, train these thoughts, and shift them positively. If you call them, THEY GET to hear you voice. If you text them, they get to see your name come up on their phone. If you go see them, they get to see how WELL you’re doing. Remember how beautiful you are inside and out. If they broke up with you, no matter the circumstances, when they did that they eliminated every right to deserve any of the above. If they can’t prioritize you, pick up the phone, put in the effort, be what you need, express their love, whatever the matter then why should you be putting in the effort? In these moments, as harsh as it sounds, I have to slap my wrist to snap out of it and ask politely for my self-respect back please.

4) Write.

I know not all of us like to write as much as me, but it’s therapeutic for everyone. Write down what you learned from this relationship. Write down your deal-breakers, like-to-haves, and must-haves for your next relationship. Write down casual questions you’d love to ask the next person you date. I think it helps to get all of your thoughts outside of your head and then use that as personal power to move forward and think about how your next relationship is going to be so much stronger because you learned all of this valuable insight on yourself and what you want.

5) Don’t forget to slowly but surely still put yourself out there in some way.

Heartbreak can feel lonely. I haven’t wanted anyone to feel burdened by my temporary sadness, so I tend to keep to myself. I don’t want anyone to have to deal with my tears and sadness. The people you consider your true loved ones want to listen, they want to help however they can. So say yes to that happy hour, say yes to trying that free month of Class Pass and going with a friend, stay active, get out of your apartment/house, and say yes to trying that new bar/restaurant/coffee shop, and keep going. You. Are. Not. Alone. Most have experienced a difficult period in their life, but “this too shall pass”.

If you’d like to share your love loss story with me to help with #4, I’d love to hear it. Maybe none of these resonate because of the phase of grief you’re in, but you will get there. You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to someone who knows you best. This past month would have been impossible without new and old friends.

#heartbreak #heartbroken #socialintelligence #emotionalintelligence #selfimprovement #healing #healingabrokenheart #stepstohealing

A better way to fight

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m bad at fighting.

Most of my life I’ve been a conflict-avoider, sweeping potential disagreements under the proverbial rug. But these days I seem to face contentions head-on, boxing gloves poised and ready. This is good, for the most part–running from conflict rarely solves anything. However, now that I’m not afraid to take on the hard conversations and can bring up the minors before they become majors,  I realize I could use some fighting skills. It seems I’m doing it all wrong — taking things personally, bringing up past issues that have nothing to do with the present, throwing in hurtful digs, albeit slight and ‘hidden’ (but not really). I shut down after I speak my peace and am closed-minded and judgmental when the other person expresses their side of things, wounding my dissentient and getting my own feelings hurt in the process.

So I write this article for me. And for any of you who struggle when it comes to conflict resolve.

We’ve developed bad habits

Of course, we don’t make fighting a goal. In a perfect world, we’d tune into our emotions well before conflict arises and use these wise old friends to guide us as we manage our behavior, thwarting tensions before they erupt into battles. But then again, we’re human, imperfect and immature and insensitive at times, so it’s highly likely disagreements will evolve into fights. Most of us have picked up some poor habits, as early as childhood, and haven’t learned there is a better way.

But before we look into acquiring some new fighting skills, let’s determine first if your conflict management needs some work. Here are some things you don’t want to choose to do when troubles arise:

  • Fail to listen to the other person’s point of view with an open mind
  • Instead of seeking to find common ground, fight for your own way or ideas
  • Do most of the talking in disagreements
  • Feel extremely uncomfortable when conflict arises
  • Don’t use tact when voicing your concerns, rather, you demean the other person and/or their ideas and/or use crass language to prove your point
  • Say things like “always”, “never”, and “everyone thinks this way…” (as if you know how everyone else in the world thinks or does things)
  • Bring up the past to prove your point of “Here we go again…”
  • Use put downs and demeaning words, saying things you know you’ll regret later
  • View the other person as an adversary or foe because they don’t agree with you
  • Think things like, “If only they would change, this could be resolved.”
  • Quit and run away before the conflict is resolved
  • Use dishonesty to put an end to the conflict rather than being authentic with your feelings
  • View yourself as more superior, smarter, or ‘a better person’ because of how the other person is feeling/acting

Which of these best describes your boxing tactics?

It starts with Self-Awareness

Whether you choose one or all of the above when conflict hits, learning a new way of fighting can take some work. As with any behavior, we can make shifts in a new direction, but it’s not always easy. But devoting effort to the development of conflict resolve skills will serve us well when the next battle comes along.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.” ― Alaric Hutchinson

So where do we bad fighters start?

First of all, as with most things — becoming self-aware is a good initial step. Take note of the poor habits you use when fighting, write them down, and take a hard look at them. Do they serve you well or do they usually escalate the conflict, or cause further avoidance? How do you feel when you act that way? How does it make the other person feel when you act that way? Most likely the things you’re writing are not the most positive. It’s OK.  Recognizing the need to change often comes from acknowledging the hurt we are causing ourselves and others.

Managing our behavior

Now that you’re ready to make some shifts, simply acknowledging bad behaviors is not enough. And just erasing them won’t help either.  As with the breaking of any old habit, it’s beneficial to have a new toolkit at your disposal full of actions to replace ineffective behaviors.  Here are a few to try:

  • Separate the person from the problem.  Don’t let yourself go down the path of “this person is bad, wrong, selfish, etc.” because they have a differing opinion.  Fight the desire to label them and instead, focus on the disagreement at hand.
  • Lay down preconceived ideas. It’s easy to think you already have everything figured out before the conflict even begins. Be present and ask clarifying questions where needed so you’re sure you understand their viewpoint, not your interpretation of their viewpoint.
  • Take a deep breath and slow down.  An overload of feelings can cause an amygdala hijack.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes our emotions. Because the emotional processing in our brain happens much more quickly than the rational side, if the amygdala perceives the situation is at a “fight or flight” level of danger, it will trigger a response that shuts down the rational side of our brains, causing us to say and do things we’ll regret later. Trust me, this is something to avoid.
  • Listen to understand. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and tune in to what they’re saying, and not saying.  Watch for body language (are they agitated, are they scared, etc.) and attempt to hear what they need/want in this situation, not just what is coming out of their mouth.
  • Before speaking, ask yourself, “Will this help or hurt the situation?”  Sounds simple, but it’s very effective! Choose your words carefully and be sure not to throw out insults or put-downs in the heat of the moment.
  • Remind yourself that their way may be a better way. Be curious. Have an open mind and think of the conversation as a way to brainstorm creative new ideas rather than taking offense because they don’t agree with you.

“When we aren’t curious in conversations we judge, tell, blame and even shame, often without even knowing it, which leads to conflict.” — Kristen Siggins

  • Don’t attach judgments about their character because of their opinions. Again, separate out the issue from the person and fight the urge to jump to conclusions about their moral integrity just because you don’t like what they’re saying.
  • Be aware that the other person is experiencing his/her own set of emotions.  There may be drivers going on that you’re not aware of — past hurts, disappointments, or struggles that the other person is dealing with.  Offer some grace, in the moment, as you seek to understand the why behind their actions or words.
  • Find a way to say something valuing about the other person. Even if you don’t agree with them, making the other person feel valued for who they are, in the heat of an argument, can do wonders to diffusing anger and frustration levels. A great sentence starter is, “You know what I like about you?” then fill in the rest with a sincere, kind word.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — ancient proverb

  • Remember that the goal here is coming to a solution that works for both parties, not getting your own way. This may mean you have to reach a compromise where both of you give up a little to arrive at a peaceful outcome.

I know, easier said than done. If this list seems daunting, pick just one goal and focus on it for the next few weeks. Talk to a coach or counselor about the areas you struggle most with and seek an outside opinion on how you could begin to make some shifts. Then get out there and practice.

For those of you (us) who have done it all wrong, going back to that person and offering a sincere, “I’m sorry” can do wonders to soften pain of the blows you delivered. It takes humility and courage to admit our errors and ask forgiveness of the other person. They may reject you, scoff at you, or even attempt to continue the fight — but these three magical words can do as much for your own angry heart as it can the other person.

Unless you live on an uninhabited, deserted island, where you have no contact with others, there will be conflicts on the road ahead. Coming prepared with healthy, helpful tactics will enable both of you to stay standing at the end of each round. Even better, as you work on your own conflict management skills, you may come to realize that it was never a fight at all, but a passionate interaction between two unique and worthy individuals, on the same team, working toward the same goal, each offering the gift of learning something new.

“We meet aliens every day who have something to give us. They come in the form of people with different opinions.” — William Shatner

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