Creative Conflict

First off, there are many reasons to be angry at this point in history. We realize we are mad as hell, feel distressed, because in this country, these United States of America, the status of women and children is important to us. So let’s start there: country-wide conflicts educate and inform us of who we are and what we value.

I find myself thinking about my values because last night I attended a seminar on Navigating Conflict in the Workplace for NYU alumni, led by Erik Yazdani.

Here were some strategies I learned and then I dive into greater detail below:
1. Get on the balcony to see the dance floor
2. Collapsing vs. Opening Up Your Thinking
3. Know Negotiation Theory
4. Use Systems Thinking
5. Identify Your Core Identities

1. You have to see the bigger picture. Make sure in your mind’s eye, in the film of your story, you shoot the establishing shot. This is tough for me. I am someone who does not always see the forest for the trees. As a writer I am exquisite at getting lost in the details. When I paint, I can get into the smallest of brush strokes. But composition? Setting the scene? Not so much.

2. Yazdani demonstrated the idea of collapse vs. opening up by showing two images — one of two people facing each other in a heated exchange. The other, two people on a park bench staring off together into the distance. This is a good image for me. As one of the world’s greatest bench sitters, I love the vista and relaxation of a moment on a park bench. I love to look outwards at a body of water towards the common good.

3. Negotiation theory is that idea of Getting to Yes. Ask open-ended questions. Find wiggle room. Find the places where there is more than one possible answer or way out. We discussed the example of the car salesperson who may not be able to negotiate on price but may be able to negotiate on the timing of the car payments.

4. Systems Thinking involves recognizing that there’s a whole back story to each of us. And we may have to compromise. What a radical concept — compromise. We are all coming to our own understandings and conclusions, given our own habits, styles, personal histories.

5. Core identities refers to our values. Conflict calls these into question. When I am in conflict, I definitely become sensitive, withdrawn and, yes, emotional. Because I care! But my heated emotions may trigger your defensiveness. And the goal is to NOT EVER trigger the other person’s defensiveness, because then, we have just begun a tug of war. We are not able to listen empathetically to one annother. We are only listening to win.

Conflict helps us identify our core identities, so we ask:

  • Am I competent?
  • Am I a good person?
  • Am I worthy of love?
  • Am I able to stand up for myself?

Other take-aways from last night’s session about difficult conversations include the advice to:
1. Start well — set a tone of curiosity rather than certainty. (Love this!)
2. Imagine you are speaking from the place of a third-party party mediator. I have said this to my kids: imagine you are your own lawyer. Yes, speak up for yourself, but do so factually, rationally. Be a self advocate. Be lawyerly. Self-advocacy is a tool that takes practice.

Yazdani recommends these books: Difficult Conversations and Leadership on the Line.

I also remind you of the amazing The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. For women and especially for us at this moment in history, this book explains why we cry when we are angry. Back when it came out, this book changed my life. I was able to see that there were some people to whom I could speak up to when I felt injured or hurt, but there were others for whom I could not (and should not) i.e., my boss or my teacher.

Lerner also taught strategies for not blaming someone else but using your “I” statements — like a broken record, if necessary. State your emotions — from the “I” point of view — again and again, if you are not heard the first time. Stay empathetic and thoughtful. (Yes, curious, too.)

I have also always loved the book Getting to Yes. When I led the middle school debate club at school, I wanted to use this text, but it is a little advanced for preteens. I love the idea that in conflict negotiation, all parties can win.

“Anger is a tool for change when it challenges us to become more of an expert on the self and less of an expert on others.” – Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships 

“People listen better if they feel that you have understood them. They tend to think that those who understand them are intelligent and sympathetic people whose own opinions may be worth listening to. So if you want the other side to appreciate your interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs.” – Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In

Central Park Bench
There must be a story behind every plaque on every Central Park bench.
Reservoir park bench
Near the reservoir you have flowers, tee shirts, shorts, coffee, and citibikes galore.

For more information from Erik Yazdani on Navigating Conflict, check out:

Rewards of Sharing and Organizing

Some people are splitters and some, lumpers. Some cut wood and some gather wood.

Learning is more fun when it’s experiential and relevant.

School rewards people who can compartmentalize. If you have a diversification of or a variety of interests, it’s harder.

Organizations must become small pieces, loosely joined, as opposed to big entities. Organizations grow (learn) best when agile.

Evolution teaches that a system can heals itself. (So if your organization is not agile, it can learn to be.)

Now that there is a lower cost to content, we’re abundant in resources, content, abilities to share.

Institutions no longer manage scarcity through central control. They manage abundance. We live in a world of abundance.

The cost of collaboration and the cost of communication has gone way down. The entrepreneurs who focus on sharing and agility succeed.

The key to success is on process and empowerment (in organizations) and less on control.

knowledge is power.

I am getting organized. Order is a thing of beauty. These notes are pieces of flotsam that drifted onto my evernote app. I am cleaning out the digital notes on my phone. 

I like to say, “Organization is the key to success.” But I am also empowering others and sharing what I know. I have to redefine success. 

How To Talk About Your Business

Everyone loves a winner. So talk up your winning biz. You can take several routes.

The humble way – Shucks, we’re just ordinary plain folk who got lucky.

The hardworking drudge – Well, sure we’re a success, but all we do is work, work, work. And we never see our kids, spouses, or mothers.

The boaster – I’m pretty fricken’ amazing. That’s it. I kickass.

The passionate soul – I love this work. Man, I’d do it for free. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. And it’s a labor of love.

I suggest when you talk about your biz, mix it up and use all four routes. Go the humble, hardworking, boastful and passionate way. “We got lucky, we work it, we’re awesome, and by the way, we love what we do.”

Mary Beth Coudal and Cheryl Sandberg exchanged a few laughs at BlogHer in Chicago.
Mary Beth Coudal and Cheryl Sandberg exchanged a few laughs at BlogHer in Chicago.

Note: I say “we” because, sometimes people appreciate the ‘we’ better than the ‘me.’ Or at least, we think so. Who’s we? Me and Cheryl Sandberg of Lean In. I think she said something like this at BlogHer last summer in Chicago — how women are more powerful when we’re collaborative rather than competitive.

Even though I’m pretty much a shop of one, I feel like I bring a team with me on my assignments. Ya know, I get by with a little help from my friends.

This post was inspired from a post by Seth Godin, marketing guru.

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We Have To Share

This year I learned to share. And it’s been awesome.

  • I shared cars and bikes.
  • I shared office space and jobs. I subbed as a videographer for a friend on maternity leave and as a middle school English teacher at a local private school.
  • I shared my home and family with exchange students from France.
  • We are moving from a culture of rugged individualism to collaboration.

    And if you want to join the movement, here are some ideas:

    Make your expectations clear. I am so grateful to the teachers who left me very specific instructions on what to do with their classes while they were out. Yes, I have a bunch of creative curriculum ideas, but it’s best to go with their plan.

    Leave the place nice for the next person. Like, when driving a Zipcar or Enterprise car, don’t leave your OTB stubs in the front seat. I admit I am the person who did not clean up the pine needles from the Christmas tree in the back seat last week. However, I have cleaned up my own (and earlier renters’) coffee cups, parking stubs, and such.

    Skip the elequent email, pick up the damn phone. I felt slightly chastised after offering an idea for my professional organization and I wrote that in an email. But rather than get in this lengthy email swap, the president of the group picked up the phone and called me. We worked it out in no time flat. Instead of getting in this tortured email chain, we talked directly. Yay.

    It’s nice when we can play nicely. And it’s not that I don’t expect us – any of us – to have problems, we will. A collaborative journey can be way more difficult and unwieldy than a dictatorship. But ultimately, sharing is best for everyone.

    have a plan. when our exchange students came to live with us, I was worried about our ad hoc dinners. So Charlotte and I made a two-week meal plan, adding our favorites to the lineup.

    On the morning of his departure, one student said to Chris, “I like you cook.” So, you see, their English did not improve much, but their appreciation for our food did.

    So, for me, 2013 was a year to share. Now, if I could just get my darlings to share in the kitchen cleanup and the paying of bills, we’d be all right.

    Here’s a CitiBike I shared.


    And a Thanksgiving dinner (that’s me with my brother!) Holiday dinners are a perfect time to share. Hope you get to share this Christmas with people you love and keep the love and sharing going throughout the new year!

Happy Campers

I tagged along yesterday as an older and wiser camper took my daughter on a tour of her new sleep away camp. We visited the arts and crafts cabin, petted an old horse in the stable and walked to the archery range.

But the most happening stop on the tour was at the stage set. The crew was painting, building, finding props for the production of Charlotte’s Web. Or maybe it was The Ugly Duckling. I was only half listening to the tour guide, hypnotized as I was by the young women working.

The campers and counselors were totally in the zone, like bees building a hive. Each doing their own thing, but doing it for a greater good. Work can be like this — like parallel play; like, we are doing our own thing, but we are side by side. And it all comes together in the end.

When I taught drama to kids, I tried to teach them that the lead role in a show was a small piece in a much bigger puzzle. The real world and work of theater is about collaboration. There are box office managers, set designers, costumers, musicians, lighting engineers, a variety of skilled craftspeople.

Theater is about craft — not about celebrity. It is about being in community and building something even brighter than the brightest star. Theater is about snapping the jigsaw pieces together to create the production.

As our tour guide and my daughter drifted ahead, I dawdled. I wondered if parenting, which often feels like my work alone, is a collaborative project, like a theater production. And maybe this is why I like sending my kids to camp. Yes, they are the brightest stars in my personal production. But they are, like all of us, workers on a set in a production even larger than I understand. They are co-creators of a new show. And I have to let them go.

As parents and as campers, we play our bit parts. We help build the set.