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The problem is that just like the word “fair,” the word “enough” means different things to different people.
And just as there will never be “enough” (and a person should watch using words such as“never” and “always” as well, but for the purposes of this point, we’ll ignore that philosophical admonition)—time, energy, effort, focus, attention, care—there will also never be a truly “fair” solution to a conflict.
Because, what’s “fair” for you, may not work for me. And vice-versa.
So, since there will never be “enough,” let’s instead pursue a process, rather than an outcome; connection rather than avoidance; and relationship rather than keeping track of who’s ahead and who’s not.
Let’s instead pursue managing ourselves, becoming more and more self-aware, and ruthlessly pursuing the truth of our own stories.
Because there’s never enough.
The ultimate purpose of managing interpersonal conflict is to grow us emotionally in self-awareness, storytelling, emotional management, and moral and ethical character.
There aren’t any apps, searches, or other fancy technological shortcuts for the development of those traits in us.
The opposite of civilization is human nature.
And occasionally, regrettably, human nature finds a way to break through the behavioral, cultural, social, and even religious boundaries constructed assiduously around it.
We define this “breaking through,” as conflict, violence, and—at the nation-state level—war.
The purpose of civilization is to hold back the tides of human nature and to negotiate the consequences of human nature when it runs amok: selfishness, greed, vanity, pride, sloth, envy, and so on.
Civilization does this job through the application of social and behavioral norms that enough individuals agree to. Conflicts arise, of course, when the social and behavioral norms are no longer considered normal.
Cultural evolution is a constant. Human nature is a constant.
But civilization is precious, demanding, and worth defending.
No one will ever know what you know, in the way that you know it, as passionately as you know it, and care about it as much as you do.
So, that solution that you “know” will “work” for the office conflict that’s been going on for years?
The reason that no one is joining you, yet, in adopting your solution, is because the other parties are equally convinced that their solutions will work just as well.
And they are just as passionate as you.
And they are just as caring as you.
And they know just as much as you do about the situation.
And they know what they know in the same way that you do.
So, since all the parties involved are passionate, caring, knowledgeable, and willing to work to get to an equitable solution, why hasn’t there been a solution (yours, of course) accepted and implemented in the last few years?
A lack of desire to explore the skill set of persuasion is at the core of your problem. And the art of being persuasive (along with understanding the science of why persuasion works—or doesn’t) is a key skill set (enveloped inside storytelling) that many well-meaning, solutions-oriented people, miss.
And the art of being persuasive (along with understanding the science of why persuasion works—or doesn’t) is a key skill set (enveloped inside storytelling) that many well-meaning, solutions-oriented people, miss.
Often by a country mile.
The reason why art convinces more than science does is that persuasion is about emotional connections, rather than logical, data-driven solutions to endemic conflict problems.
So, since no one will ever know what you know, in the way that you know it, as passionately as you know it, and care about it as much as you do, then perhaps it’s worth exploring persuasion as a skillset. rather than complaining (or storytelling) more to sympathetic audiences and ears, about how “they, just don’t ‘get’ it.”
Rather than complaining (or storytelling) one more day to sympathetic audiences and ears, about how “they, just don’t ‘get’ it” down “there.”
Two things are happening simultaneously in our organizational cultures, our markets, and our personal lives.
We have established non-curiosity (“I don’t care how it works, I just want it to work”) as the new standard for engaging with the work, the ideas that interest us (or not) and the world of conflicts that inevitably surround us.
We have also decided that we don’t have the time or emotional or mental bandwidth to care deeply about a topic, person, or idea, and thus we have jettisoned that character trait (caring) as well.
At the same time, for anyone who is interested enough to look, there has been an explosion in the ways that people are explaining what they do, why they do, and—most importantly—how they do it. From videos on the Internet to long-form blog posts, to intentional curation via your email, to documentaries streaming on your over-the-top video player, there are more people taking more time, to explain what they do, to more interested (curious) and caring audiences than ever before.
These two cultural occurrences represent a split and a niching down into time, attention, caring, and curiosity that is dividing audiences, and may well portend a future of less curiosity and caring at mass, and more curation, curiosity, and even care, at the edges of the conflict universe.
The things that matter, the solutions that “stick,” the statements that are meaningful, and the audiences who will care about the impresario’s show, are not going to be found in the immediate, speed driven, bite-sized, mass market.
They will be found at the edges, slowly, over time, and they will be hungering for you to arrive, with your deeply thought out solutions to their most pressing problems.
If work isn’t ‘driving your bus,’ then what exactly is motivating you to act with purpose in a world where emotional labor matters more now than ever before.
There is a story (probably apocryphal) that the comedian Louis C.K., burns his jokes, his stand-up material, and his writing after successfully delivering it at the end of each year.
This story reads like a corollary to the idea (popularized through the constant repeating of the alleged actions of the explorer Hernando Cortez upon arriving in the New World) of burning the boats on the beach.
This idea of creative (or not-so-creative) destruction, as a motivator to either exploring further (because there is nowhere else to go) or rebuilding (because everything you built before is destroyed), can be scary for some.
Even for those who believe that they’ve already burned the boats…and the jokes.
What’s never talked about is developing the will and the courage to look at what you have accomplished in the past (i.e. a successful negotiation, a big project, a positive relationship) and ask the two following questions:
What about this could be better than it is now?
Who here will have the courage to change in order to make this thing better?
Having the will to destroy what’s already been created in the pursuit of a better future is the first step toward realizing that better future.
When the answer to the question is “Nobody,” we’ve got to reexamine what the inherent messages are in the funnel of school to work.
When the answer to the question is “I already work hard enough,” we’ve got to redefine the term “hard” away from breaking concrete in the sun for 40 hours a week and move it toward breaking up other people’s emotional resistance to needed organizational change.
When the answer to the question is “I’m tired and don’t want to think about it,” then we’ve got to reexamine motivation and morale.
When the answer to the question is “Myself,” then maybe we have the beginning of creating a new paradigm of work and labor for the future.
But too often, the answers to the question are less about the question and more about the response.
Most, if not all, of the problems and conflicts in organizations, stem from cultural issues, baked in before you started working there.
“This is how we do things here.” (Status quo)
“Isn’t everything going great here?” (False expectations/Poor feedback loop)
“Don’t say anything and it’ll just get ‘better’ on its own.” (Silencing response)
“It’s always been thing way here. Why are you trying to change things now?” (Shaming)
“The last time someone tried that, not only didn’t it work, but they also got fired.” (Threats/Retaliation)
“The pot always gets stirred around here about something.” (Fake/False Conflicts)
The statements represent the issues that can be overcome with courage. But, especially in organizations where the status quo needs to be preserved for people at the top of a hierarchy to “win,” more often than not, statements like those above represent organizational cultures where courage is in short supply.
Baked in fear, power misuse and abuse, failures of courage in leadership, ignoring and avoiding real issues, and denying reality—these are all based in, supported by, and encouraged within cultural milieus that must change.
Or else the future of work, leadership, innovation, and growth will remain far away indeed.