The Constellation Learning Newsletter
must be my age - the summer slips by so much more quickly
than it used to. Here it is again, the fall, and that’s
my “new year” no matter what the calendar says.
I suppose it’s a paradigm deeply embedded from childhood.
New number 2 pencils! New shoes and uniforms (yes, I wore
a uniform to school) and crisp books; the promise of a new
beginning, a fresh start.
You know, we can choose fresh starts anytime we want.
All it takes is a dust pan and brush...
Monthly Message ~
is the real work of leadership.”
-- Nitin Nohria --
Senior Associate Dean and Director of
Faculty Development at the Harvard Business School.
me on-site at a branch operation of a multi-billion dollar
global engineering conglomerate. They build bridges, dams
and other very large structures. They plan, oversee, and manage
the delivery of highly complex systems.
Relationships, however - being far more complicated
than say, building the Hoover dam—are a bit of a challenge
sometimes, hence my involvement in a conflict resolution process
as the communication specialist. I was asked to investigate
the situation, talk to the parties involved, and bring it
to resolution one way or the other. It had become a destructive,
over-blown case of “he said/she said” between
the manager and one of his engineers. The conflict
had brewed for months and HR had no idea what to
Clearly the situation had festered far
too long, infecting the other team members. It was
only a symptom, however, and the underlying issue soon became
painfully apparent: a lack of leadership (specifically
timely, accurate communication) had produced a team in limbo.
Like a lame duck, the current manager (the “he said”)
had no constituency. One cannot lead without followers.
And people innately want to be led. They want clear
direction, support, and acknowledgement - and all those things
require effective communication.
Engineering might just have the longest lineage
of linear thinking as a profession - somebody oversaw
the building of the pyramids and the Great Wall of China!
And here they were seeking soft skill development. Heavens!
I’ve worked with financial institutions and their related
industries for years, sales teams, executives, facilitators
and team leaders of all shapes and sizes, but when the HR
department at a global giant says “we need to develop
our people skills,” you know the tide has turned.
The trickle down effects from twenty-five years
of investing in technological training and specific narrow
fields of study as professional guarantees to a secure future
have revealed one inherent weakness: people don’t
work in a vacuum. Unless you’re Howard Hughes,
you’ve got to interact, communicate (if only
by blackberry), and actually understand other people’s
points of view in order to do your job effectively.
And that’s where all the specific skill training
in the world won’t help. It requires people
training, something we address in the Leadership Dynamics
This is especially true even when you don’t
speak because that’s when your body shouts your
real opinions. The subtle non-verbals - the tilt
of your head, the lift of an eyebrow, the wave of your hand
- send micro-messages you may not have intended consciously,
but to which the listener ascribes more importance; 60% of
all communication is visual.
Consequently, although the proper words may
have been said (“I’m sorry” or “Let’s
put this behind us”) the body and face still shouts,
“I’m not really sorry - I wasn’t wrong,
I’m just the bigger person, you jerk!” All of
us are able to recognize a hollow apology. That’s not
resolving an issue, that’s sweeping it under the carpet.
I met with the two discordant individuals and helped them
to see each other’s point of view. (Too deeply steeped
in our own myopic point of view it is often necessary to have
an objective third party present. When you don’t know
what you don’t know, it’s impossible to fix it.)
Here’s the thing: neither person had said anything they
thought was “wrong.” It was the other
guy who had miscommunicated, misinterpreted, misunderstood.
I’m happy to report that in the end both
parties realized there was no point in re-hashing the past
and agreed to a “fresh start,” this time with
a methodology in place for addressing future disagreements.
Everyone wants a fresh start sometimes, but
it’s impossible to move forward effectively without
acknowledging the existing piles previously swept under the
It’s not a one time thing. It’s
an every time thing.
- “Carry a
dust pan and brush”
Issues from the past with another
person won’t become conflicts in the future if cleaned
up in the present. Just like sweeping your floors, it’s
a far less daunting task if you sweep up the dirt each day
rather than waiting a period of time as it continues to
Disagreements are a sign of healthy teams;
they trust each other enough to voice differences. Nowadays,
too many are afraid to voice their opinions and often
lack a lexicon with which to articulate what
they feel and why.
I strongly recommend reading Micromessaging by Stephen
Young (see my review below). Increasing your own understanding
of what you really communicate with your tone
of voice, your body and your words, will enable
you to recognize and address potential misunderstandings
as they arise (which they will), instead of hoping
they’ll go away (which they won’t).
- “Empty it!”
In the “conflict” field there are basically
two types of people: Those that sweep things under the carpet,
think they’ve dealt with whatever it is, and then
are blind-sided when one day they “trip” over
the build-up they inadvertently created under the carpet;
and those who are assiduous about sweeping everything
up, as best they can, whenever they see dirt. They don’t
want any piles under the carpet. The problem is
they fail to dump the dustpan. They “hoard”
the dirt in the pan until it over-flows with resentment
preventing further clean ups.
If you don’t dump your dust pan, eventually
it will become an ineffective tool, preventing any possibility
for a fresh start.
our Newsletter Archives