I’m in the middle of an unresolved relational conflict, and it has consumed a lot of my thoughts of late. Last Thursday and Friday I discussed this relationship in four different conversations, seeking advice.
Or maybe I was really seeking validation for my point of view.
“How did we get here?” I thought to myself as my wife and I sat in silence, furious at each other on our anniversary get-away. In 23 years of marriage, we had never once had a fight about money. Then, out of nowhere, we found ourselves at odds over how much we were willing to pay for our daughter’s college tuition. I was so pissed that I stormed out of our Cincinnati Airbnb, and started walking north in the cool night air to clear my head.
I returned later that evening in the same state of mind as when I left. Kim and I went to bed angry, facing opposite directions.
By nature, I’d prefer to completely avoid conflict. To me it feels like walking with other people through a minefield, either by force or by choice. In some ways, it is. Navigating conflict requires courage and is profoundly vulnerable.
We know that avoiding conflict at work makes us sick, damages creativity and diminishes productivity and morale. One study by CPP, Inc. found that 1 in 4 employees reported illness or taking sick days due to workplace conflict. More than one-third said that conflict resulted in someone leaving the company, either through firing or quitting. The losses and costs add up quickly.
The kindest words that have been said to me lately are, “Jess, I’m worried that you’re wrong, and that it’s going to hurt you.” They came from a friend, who I know didn’t really want to say them, about some personal views in which I had been very confident. Essentially, I had forced her to call me out on pridefully asserting that I was above struggling with something. After opening the conversation, she went on to gently explain her point of view, pointing out some obvious flaws in mine. She was humble, gracious, and obviously continued the conversation for my good rather than her own.
My 13-year-old son Kael was babysitting my 10-year-old son Zeff last week. Upon my return from an appointment, I asked Kael how it went. “Zeff was pretty good, but he disobeyed me.”
According to reports I’m hearing, my experience applying for a policy on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace has been pretty typical – I’ve spent many hours navigating the site and trying to get help from well-intentioned customer service reps with no more power or knowledge than me.
My wife is a biochemist by training, and she was the one who came up with the name “Catalyst” for my fledgling consulting practice in 2006. A catalyst is a substance that accelerates a reaction without itself being changed by the reaction. I thought that was a perfect metaphor for the work we do– encouraging change in others. As we end 2012, I’m realizing that the metaphor is incomplete.
For the past four years, helping teams build high-trust relationships has been a significant portion of my consulting practice. My clients and I achieved some decent results together, but something was missing from my approach. Up until 2010, I had assumed that 2 people who have a damaged-trust relationship can shake hands, agree to work together, “let bygones be bygones,” and move forward in a trusting way.
I was wrong.
Thanks to my good friend Kris Taylor from K. Taylor & Associates for hosting me as a guest on her site. You can read my post on The XYZ Sandwich there.
This past Tuesday, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, voted in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the “debt deal”), but he wasn’t happy about it. He described it as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”
He’s not the only one eating a big helping of nastiness; frontline workers in many organizations are gagging on their own Satan sandwiches.