Categorization of Work in Your Head

Categorization is the way that we make sense as human beings of a chaotic world of choices and options.

Case in point:

Whenever we walk into a grocery store, the peas and the peanut butter aren’t on the same aisle. Peas are considered a vegetable (or a legume) and peanuts (despite their whipped nature) are a nut.

Sometimes they’re also an oil or a spread.

Just like the ordering in a grocery store, we order the experiences to understand the opportunities that are available to us (or not), the dangers, and the neutral spots.

When we think of our adult careers, we still think of the order the progression of time to the end of adulthood through the attaining of jobs.

Jobs are those permanent states of being where we advance, struggle, and succeed with other human beings in the pursuit of common goals, not individually chosen.

Despite what you have read, the attitude and characterization of work that needs to be done into “jobs” and then “everything that’s not” is not going away anytime soon in many people’s heads.

Instead what is on the rise is the categorization of work in terms of projects: Short bursts of work with a team that we did select (or who selected us) who are doing highly impactful work, at a smaller scale, that seems rare. This definition of projects is not to be confused with the project work we that exists inside of organizational structures that is highly controlled, highly experimental, and often not politically supported.

The other form of categorization of work that is on the rise are partnerships. These are states of pairing with someone else (usually another professional) to do short bursts of meaningful work and then to separate, sometimes permanently. Partnerships and their state of impermanence seem so rare that we often don’t categorize them in the space of work. Most often they are framed as rare, specialized opportunities that are available to others, but not to us.

Why does categorization of work experiences, career opportunities, and job prospects matter?

Because in the career and social chaos that is abounding at the end of the Industrial Revolution, the skills that we need to prioritize are not skills based in more credentialing, more training, or even more education.

Although that would be nice.

The skills that we need to prioritize are those focused around knowing your own capacity for risk and courage (self-awareness), developing persuasion and influence with others (storytelling) and being able to manage other people and crises when they occur (conflict management) as they will in a world of people working with people.

The skills that matter, that will take us to jobs, projects and partnerships that will fulfill us and get us paid, will focus increasingly around skills that once seemed “easy,” “soft,” or “not really valuable to the bottom line.” Moving learning and exercising these skills out of the category of “innately acquired” in your head to the category of “valuable to my career” is the first step toward growing and developing the kind of work world you want to advance in.

And the kind of workplaces that you want your children to advance in.

[Advice] White Space

The person, or organization, pressuring you to make a decision right now, to hurry up, to do the quick and easy thing, are crowding your decisional white space.

This is a rhetorical and persuasive technique where all the methods of persuasion and influence from reciprocation to consensus, meet at the head of a pin.

They know that you know this. That’s why they’re crowding you.

And you know that something is happening to influence your decision making process— you feel the pressure and the stress emotionally and psychologically—but you’re not quite sure why or how.

The framing the person, or organization uses, is that the quick decision is benefiting you, but in reality your quick decision actually benefits them.

Make a quick decision and don’t think about the future, because maintaining the status quo is really what matters, and besides, who can know the future?

Hurry up to achieve harmony, or ensure stasis.

Make a quick decision for immediate gain—or at least, the perception of immediate gain—based on the appearance of an immediate need that needs to be filled.

Don’t slow down.

Don’t consider all of your options.

Even better, you have no options other than the ones that the organization—or the person—in charge gives to you.

Full pedal to the metal driving 105 miles per hour.


The singer Jewel turned down a $1-million-dollar recording contract when she was homeless, broken, sick, and needy.

Money is really no object.

Bob Dylan made albums when no one was listening.

Neither is safety, security, or the status quo. They are stories we tell ourselves, and let ourselves be told.

The future is unknowable, uncontrollable, and imprecise, yes, it always has been. But, today is the place where you have the most control over what you do.

Patience, slowing down, meditating, praying, contemplating, thinking deeply, disagreeing, exploring options, taking your time, being mindful of your surroundings and your inner life—these are not stories, frames or listicle based techniques or shortcuts.

They are skills, based in deeply held values, that resonate through your decisions.

These skills expand your decisional white space, and make it less likely that the person—or organization—pressuring you to make a decision across the table, will have any success at filling your white space.

And they will have even less success crowding the white space of your life.

[Strategy] The Deep End

The deep end of the swimming pool is the best place to be in order to change through conflict.

The deep end is where no one wants to go. It’s at the edge of the conflict universe, far away from the shallow center and a place for pioneers, adventurers and a place where safety is not a primary concern.

The deep end as an idiom describes all the ways that people used to respond emotionally to being put in situations that didn’t conform to the status quo, and that required a level of rebellion and non-conformity to confront and overcome. The idiom comes directly out of the last century, a time when personally, professionally, academically, and in every other way that mattered, challenging the safe, right, and easy path wasn’t as profitable as it is now.

We use the phrase “off the deep end” to mean that we have been involved in a situation, or trapped in a behavior, that we have no previous experience in handling, and that we feel so uncomfortable in, that it feels like death.

Of course, out on the edge of the universe, out in the deep end of the pool, we might drown. Or we might just decide to suck it up and persevere, gaining grit and resilience in the end.

Bringing up the importance of swimming in the deep end is somewhat problematic these days, in a public culture that’s built around filing down the rough edges and hammering down the nails that insist on not being hammered down. This is an interesting phenomenon, because there have never been more opportunities to be weird, to stand out, to go to the end of the emotional universe, and to jump willingly into the deep end of the pool of emotional experience.

There are few strategies for managing getting into the deep end:

Realize that you won’t die—the pool of conflict is deep on purpose, so confronting your boss, your co-worker, you parents, or someone else who you think has power over you about their conflict behavior and choices, won’t result in death. Just you being uncomfortable for a while.

Realize that the deep end is where real changes happen—getting excited about the new Iphone or Samsung phone is not a change. Going to the deep end with another person on their behavioral choices that have impacted you negatively is a change. And change always happens at the edges of confrontation and away from the safe, chunky middle.

Realize that, of course you can’t handle it, that’s why you’re doing it—just responding to a conflict (i.e. with accommodation, avoidance, confrontation, collaboration, or compromise) in the ways that you’ve always been comfortable responding is what you’ve always been able to handle. Moving away from that safety emotionally and behaviorally will feel scary, uncomfortable, and will yield results that you couldn’t have imagined. Because you had no basis from which to imagine them in the first place.

If you’re not doing something every day, to change how you address conflict behaviors in your life, you are placing yourself in the shallows of life. And when a real storm comes, and it always does, the deep end of life will come and visit you, instead of the other way around.

[Strategy] Managing the Conflict You’re In

There are ways of managing conflict that involve using the weight of the other party’s assumptions, expectations, and emotional residue in order to create different conflict outcomes.

There are three things to understand in considering how to use the “throw” weight of another party in conflict:

Which quadrant are you in, and which quadrant are they in? Parties in opposite quadrants (i.e. accommodator/controller or collaborator/avoider) rarely interact productively in conflict scenarios, particularly when stress levels are high, mistrust is rampant and miscommunication is the coin of the realm. Knowing your own preferred conflict management style is critical to understanding what kind of assumptions, expectations, and emotional residue from past conflicts you are going to have to manage in yourself before beginning to manage the other party’s.Managing the Conflict Youre In

What is in their quadrant? Accommodators think of managing conflict as a process where being unassertive and cooperative is the way to manage others, and themselves. Competitors think of managing conflict through behaviors that tend to be viewed by others as assertive, but not cooperative.

A person who chooses competition is always going to be frustrated with an accommodator and eventually, a party who baseline is accommodation will either get stressed in the conflict because of do too much of the emotional work; or, they might decide to stop engaging in pointless self-sacrifice.

Avoiders (and many parties in conflicts in business and in life self-identify their behaviors as conflict avoiding) manage the process by being both unassertive and uncooperative with others. In the opposite quadrant are conflict collaborators, who view the process of conflict as one that increases the pie of value and options. Opposite from avoiders, collaborators are both assertive and cooperative.

A party that has collaboration as their baseline is going to be constantly frustrated by the lack of cooperation between themselves and a conflict avoider. And the avoider is going to go out of their way to avoid collaborating—or engaging with any of the other conflict management styles, until there arises an opportunity to work the conflict in their favor.

Then there are the “ditches,” areas between the conflict management baseline styles where interesting things happen. This is where the jiu-jitsu begins in earnest, because these are the spaces where parties can recognize elements of other behavioral styles and use these elements strategically.

This use will be to either maintain the status quo (the ditch between an accommodator and a collaborator or between an avoider and a competitor) or to challenge the way that the conflict process is happening (the ditch between the accommodator and the avoider or the ditch between the collaborator and the competitor) and try another way.

How deep into compromising do you want to go? For a party with a baseline conflict management style defined by competition, compromise will feel like defeat. For a party with a baseline conflict management style defined by avoiding, compromise will be scary and tempting. For a party with a baseline style defined by accommodation, compromise will seem like gaining the Holy Grail, but at the expense of losing something else. For a party with a baseline conflict management style defined by collaborating, compromise will also seem like gaining the Holy Grail, and not losing anything at all in the process.

Going deep into compromise is a strategy, not a tactic. And preparing the parties to “go deep” into an area they don’t understand (and view through their differing frames and lenses in differing ways) is a risky strategy at best. But getting them to cross the ditch toward each other—a ditch filled with assumptions, expectations, and emotional residue from past attempts and failures to cross the ditch—is the second hardest work of managing conflict.

[Opinion] How Do We Jiu-jitsu Our Own Clients

Mediators, negotiators, facilitators, lawyers, therapists, and analysts do it all the time.

When you understand the nature of the thing, it is almost impossible to avoid doing it.

When you do it, sometimes you feel as though you are manipulating somebody else into doing something that they wouldn’t normally do. But then you realize that kindness, patience, and humility begin to matter.

When it’s done, it’s done intentionally, not by accident, or even in a haphazard way, a reaction to something that another party said or did.

And yes, when you do it, you can still be taken by surprise. It just doesn’t happen as often.

In the past, people used to characterize it as “playing head games.” But really, once you understand that in many ways, individuals change, but the group doesn’t, then it’s less a “head game” and more a “gaming the system” game.

When you do it, you have to be careful to preserve the other party’s autonomy and rights to self-determination. Presenting all the options to get out of a conflict, without presenting the consequences as well (or even worse, allowing the other party’s imagination to ‘fill in the blanks’) lacks human empathy, and dares to challenge your own spiritual growth.

When it happens, it may seem like jiu-jitsu to someone watching from the outside (using the other party’s ‘throw weight’ of their language, rhetoric, ideas, or stories, against them), but the ability to

  • analyze,
  • listen actively and non-defensively,
  • hear a story succinctly,
  • and paraphrase that story back to the teller in the way the teller wants to hear it,

is not jiu-jitsu.

It’s just good form.

[Advice] KPIs for Conflict Resolution Skills Training

We talked about KPI’s (key performance indicators) for New Years’ Resolutions toward the end of 2013.

It was pointed out to us at a workshop recently that, while our content was compelling and valuable, there seemed to be no KPI’s or metrics to indicate to the organization (or any organization that would hire us) that our training had any long-term value.

Good point.

As a result, we went back and though about our recent posts on CRaaS (here and here) and how to integrate conflict resolution skills training into the workplace, and came up with some relevant KPI’s and metrics.

Follow along with us:

  • The primary KPI for conflict resolution training is to measure changes in levels engagement at the supervisory/management level. This can primarily be accomplished through having reports and higher-ups engage in 360 degree evaluations with special emphasis on conversations with impacted employees, with a particular focus on quality, frequency and type.
  • The second way to measure performance improvement at the entry and mid-level positions, is by tracking reductions in registered complaints and concerns, reductions in reported and perceived conflicts and tracking reductions in sick day/vacation day usage by entry level employees, interns and others who are front facing but rarely receive training or mentorship.
  • Finally, measuring increases in productivity is hard. However, increased customer engagement, overall employee satisfaction and measuring employee retention, goes a long way toward measuring the efficacy of conflict resolution skills training in your organization.

Of course, if you don't want to measure in these three areas, you could always track reductions in lawsuits and litigation efforts by employees, supervisors, managers, customers and others.