Friday, March 26, 2010

Relationship CPR

So, you are a manager with an employee who has a certain behavior that you don't like; lets say they are chronically late, and otherwise, a good employee. Or lets say you have a teenager who repeatedly ignores your requests to clean up their room. You have lost count of how many times you've talked about the behavior that needs correction, and nothing changes. You see some improvement for awhile and eventually, the behavior that disappoints you returns. What do you do?

Fire them? Ground them? Find some other way to punish?

How about performing relationship CPR.

Here's what I mean. Let's use the chronically late employee as the example.

The first time you confront the employee about being late, the discussion is about CONTENT, which is the subject of lateness. You only talk about the expectations for the time that the work day starts, with something like this:

"your starting time is 8:30; this means the work that is done at your desk needs to be started by 8:30, which in turn means you are expected to report to your desk giving yourself enough time to hang up your coat, get your coffee and start your day by that time".

As a result of this first time discussion about content (lateness) the employee makes a committment to arriving at work in time to do her pre-work routine so she is at her desk and ready to go by 8:30.

It lasts a few weeks and then she starts arriving late again. After a few more days of this behavior, you have a 2nd conversation. This time however, don't go back to talking about content (lateness) Rather, this time you are going to talk about PATTERN/PROMISES. Again, the conversation is straight forward, no hinting, no beating around the push. You might want to say something like this:

"the last time we talked about lateness, you made a committment to arrive to work on time. You kept your promise for awhile, and I'm proud of you for that. Now I see an emerging pattern of lateness again. You are expected to be here on time and you are expected to keep your promises about that"

Again, you see improvement for several weeks until the pattern of lateness returns. After giving it a few days, you have a 3rd conversation. This time, you are not going to talk about content (lateness) or pattern (broken promises) This time you are going to talk about your mutual how the broken promises over the lateness is affecting how you and her work together. Here's what I would say:

"When you and I first talked, it was made clear when your start time is. You made a promise to be on time, and for awhile you kept it. Not so long after that though, you broke your committment to be on time, and it's happening again. I want you to know that I'm becoming concerned over how you and I can work together. I'm having difficulty trusting you and am getting a sense that you do not respect my leadership or this organization. How can we fix this?"

People seldom intend to break promises and erode the trust of others, so when faced with the reality that this is what is happening, they often begin to finally take it seriously. Talk about the content each and every time a confrontation is needed, and nothing changes; talk about the effect of broken promises and harmed relationships, and you are at the heart of the matter, and this prompts change.

If done respectfully, it is in the relationship discussion, that both parties are enabled to really open up and be authentic. You might find out things that you never knew before, like stuff happening at home for the employee that had been driving the behavior. This is where creativity happens, and brainstorming results in solutions that make it possible for you to continue working together. Moreover, mutual respect is built upon.

This is CPR...the first time you confront, it's about the behavior; the second time you have to confront, it's about the pattern and the broken promises; the third time you confront, it's about the relationship, how trust has become eroded, and respect seems to have declined. CPR is effective in any situation, any relationship, whether it be work, parenting, or partnering. And just like the real CPR, it can save a whole lot of grief if done with compassion and respect.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Observing Without Interpreting

....or other wise entitled, "the judgements we make".....

For a couple of years now, I have taken young people who have no experience in my field, and have trained them. One of the things that they are required to learn well, is "reporting". On each assignment, and after the investigation, we are required to write a report to the client explaining everything from what happened, to how and why it happened, to how the claimant is or is not reacting. We are also required to include a recommendation. It has been my experience that one of the most difficult points to get across is that we are to do this without judgement and opinion.

If only I had a dollar for everytime I coached one of my trainees, "write about the behavior you observed, do not give it an interpretation or meaning, stick to what you observed"

We see our son sitting on the sofa, watching TV, while the dishs sit in the sink and we interpret "he's lazy".

We see a woman shoulder her way into a line and we interpret "she's rude".

We hear our spouse lament that they are not getting their way and we interpret "he/she is selfish"

Rather than observe what "they do", we judge what "they are" (based on the interpretation we assigned to the behavior we saw) and we seldom, if ever, recognize the true feelings that were "triggered" in ourselves, when we observed the behavior. All we know is "it made us angry" (or usually, "THEY made me angry", which is a superficial emotion that covers up most other emotions)But I digress.

This interpretation of behavior is judgement. And because judging tends to give us an unconscious sense of superiority, we do not see the need to clarify what it was we actually saw.

The "lazy" son could be sick, or immobilized by depression, or simply needing mindless escape. We won't know if we don't get past the judgement and become curious instead.

The "rude" lady could be frantic about a missed deadline and in a "life or death" hurry, or panicked and distracted and simply unaware that there was a line.

Our "selfish" spouse could simply be wanting to be heard, or have their needs met and don't know how to communicate that well enough.

One of the things that Jesus did, and did with intention, was get curious. He never judged behavior He observed; He asked questions. Rather than assign His own meaning, He requested explanation.

If we learn how to observe without interpreting, and instead get curious about what we saw (which does not mean we interrogate..more on this another time) , we are more than half way to effective, peace filled communication.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Check the Self Talk

This one is slightly off topic, in that, it's not really about conflict resolution, though actually, now that I think about it, perhaps it is. Perhaps it's about resolving the conflict we create in ourselves. Hmmmmmm?

This evening I was chatting with a very special lady on facebook, and made a comment about my self talk and she said "sounds like a blog post" and I am.

A few weeks ago, prompted about a comment I read about judging ourselves and others harshly, I decided to pay attention to my self talk. This is not something that is new to me. Having taught a spiritual healing 12 step for several years, "self talk" is something that we learned to be cognitive about. What we tell ourselves about ourselves is what we believe. Where the new learning came in, was the idea that how we (meaning, I) self talk is a good indicator on whether we (meaning, I) judge harshly or not.

Here is what I mean. Let's say I have a "should", in that, there is something that I "should" or "should not" do. I either don't it, or I do it, either way, I've blown my "should". Ideally, when I blow a "should" I am best served by a reaction that is both compassionate and forgiving towards myself. By that I mean, observe the behavior without assigning a harsh meaning or judgement to it, as in "Ok, I did or I didn't do something (that I "should"), now what am I going to do about it, and how am I going to learn from it?"

Observe the behavior, learn from it, try not to do it again. Period. That is how we learn and grow.

But what I tend to do instead, is judge myself as having failed, and berate myself for the failure. My judging self talk can be quite harsh...."you idiot", "how stupid can you get", etc etc. This kind of self talk does not motivate change; you cannot learn from it; it only "punishs". And no matter what anyone says, we humans do not learn and grow from punishment. We might change some outward behavior to avoid more punishment, but the heart remains the same.

I believe that the more we judge ourselves by harsh self talk, the more we are determined to "get it right", (to avoid those feelings of failure), the more we strive, the more we fail, and the more the cycle continues, until we spiral, perhaps even into depression. Judging self talk becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Rather simply observing the behavior of "I did" or "did not", we begin to believe "I am" or "am not" in "I am stupid" or "I am not good".

The scary thing....if I observe and judge my own behavior this way, what is stopping me from observing and judging another's behavior in the exactly the same way. If I see their behavior, and do not agree with it, my thoughts will tend to "oh, that's stupid", or "what an idiot". How, with those ideas in my head about that person, can I expect a compassionate, authentic relationship with them?

As I said earlier tonight in the chat, we (or perhaps just me) need to learn compassion and empathy towards ourselves so that we can have compassion and empathy towards others. I really do believe that you can't have one without the other. Jesus said, "love God, and love others, as you love yourself". Perhaps He could just as easily said "you will love God, and you will love others, the same way you love yourself".

Just a thought.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


You ever get so busy that you forget you have a blog? It's amazing how life happens, and you end up wondering where did all the time go? Then, tonight, when I remembered I have a blog, and logged in, I was stunned to see that it's been since early February that I had anything to say.

I'll blame it on the Vancouver 2010, Winter Olympics. What a hoot that was!! There was such a ground swell of emotional pride in this city, and Canadians, whom I believe have always loved this country, were wearing it loud and proud! Every where you went, people were in a good mood, interconnecting, talking, chatting, high fiving one another; it felt good. Last Sunday, several weeks after the Olympics have come and gone, mom and I went to the movies. We got into a conversation with strangers in the line up (yes, Avatar still has line ups!) and then, once in the theatre, with strangers seated next to us. Later, mom said, "I don't think I've ever talked for so long to so many strangers", and we both wondered if that was the legacy Vancouver 2010 left behind...strangers who are willing to chat up other strangers. I hope so. It feels good.

I could allow this to seque into a post about interconnection, conflict and strangers, but haven't the energy right now. Instead, I'm going to talk about a resource I've found.

Since 2003, when I started to study conflict, and conflict resolution, I've read dozens, and I mean, dozens of books. I've read biblical conflict resolution books, secular ones, university textbooks on the subject, and personal journals. That is how I learn, and each book has had something great to offer. But I must say, the book I am reading now, is by far and away, the best book I have ever read on the subject.

It is called Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life, by Marshall B Rosenberg, Ph.D. Here is the description on the rear cover...

"Most of us have been educated from birth to compete, judge, demand and diagnose - to think and communicate in terms of what is right and wrong with people. At best, communicating and thinking this way can create misunderstanding and frustration. And still worse, it can lead to anger, depression, and even emotional or physical violence"

The book talks about how ANY communication that leaves one feeling hurt, wounded, little, alone, is violent communication and violent communication has nothing to do with physical, violent contact. Words that wound the soul are words borne in violent communication.

Gandhi taught that passive violence - violence where the hurt is more emotional than physical - is actually more insidious than physical violence, because passive violence ultimately generates anger in a person that over time corrodes that persons faith, hope and eventually, love. Whoever said "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" had no clue!

So, if there is only ONE book you can read about conflict, and communication, this is the one. It is published by PuddleDancer Press, and you can check it out online at It has a companion workbook.