Monthly Archives: June 2013

Dinner Parties, International Study and Workplace Politics

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Last summer one of my former students spent time in Zambia on an Exploration Seminar to study Economic Development in 3rd world countries. She said her experience was an eye- opening one and couldn’t wait to get back to Zambia. I suspect she can’t wait to get back because of the people she met. Even though they have very little, they know how to have fun, tease their friends and family, are welcoming to others and love to laugh.

A few nights ago I went to a fun dinner party. What I liked about it, and what made it fun for me, was how it felt like “family”. We ate and drank heartily, laughed continuously and even played a juvenile card game that had us all in stitches.

I think the similarities of these two groups are pretty close.  I can’t wait to get together with my friends again and my former student can’t wait to see her new friends.

What can we take to the world of workplace politics from these two experiences?

If we treat our co-workers like we treat our friends and family when we’re having fun, if our attitudes are more welcoming and accepting of others, and if we easily laugh and appreciate what we have, aren’t these messages strong and positive political statements?

The Thorniest Part of Solving Conflict?

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In my dealings with solving conflict, one of the biggest roadblocks is simply “how do I start the conversation?”. A common way people start a conversation about a conflicted situation is by simply saying “We need to talk!”

I don’t know about women but I do know that nearly every guy in the history of mankind cringes when he hears those four little words “we need to talk”!  When I hear them, the first thing I want to do is run for my life. Early in my career, when I was a department store young men’s fashion buyer, occasionally I would have vendors say to me “you need to buy this product”. Every time I heard that line, whether I should be buying the product or not, my first thought was “I don’t need to do anything”. How come? Let’s think about it: what the vendor did was take away my right of choice. I considered it to be theft and automatically my brain triggered a primal instinct for survival. There is nothing collaborative about the statement “you need to…”

The same thing happens when someone says “we need to talk”.  The primal brain is hearing “this is NOT going to be a pleasant experience and I have no say in this whatsoever!”

Instead of stealing someone’s right to choose and causing an instinctual negative reaction, what would happen if you opened the conversation by giving someone a choice?

For instance, what if you started out by asking permission to talk? How about something like “may I be totally honest with you?” or “do you mind if I share with you something that’s been bothering me?” The receiving person’s primal brain thinks, “sure, why not? I don’t have to do any work; all I have to do is listen.” This is no big deal; I’m in! You have now given the other person a choice and they made it.