Conflict, Daggers, and Punches at Work

Conflict at Work

Are you ready for the really BIG holiday season moving into high gear?  Are you ready for the hectic effort to push and pull everything and everyone around you up that steep hill to profits from now till the end of the year?

More importantly, are you ready for the extra stress, tension, and, you got it….conflict, that awaits you?

Well, you had better be. This is because conflict is everywhere this time of year: in every business, all the time. And it will be this way until the new year comes around and gives us all a bit of a breather (well, …maybe.)

Handling Conflict Year Round

Question: How do you handle conflict, individually and as part of an organization?

Hey look, we know that supervisors spend 40-50% of their time resolving disputes and that most employees, around 88%, feel their supervisors don’t do a good job here.

In fact, most managers I’ve coached wish they could just send their warring direct reports to their rooms for a time out.

Fighting Up the Ladder

We also know that executives spend lots of time listening to the upsets of their senior teams. One recent study suggests that the key to leadership is NOT being a good strategist, or visionary, or even making quick decisions.

The key to leadership is having the ability to build relationships and creating team environment.

Should be easy, it’s not.

CEO’s fail as leaders when they aren’t able to handle people management, the stuff we still gingerly refer to as the soft skills.  And one of the major areas of leadership is being conflict competent.

Boxer or the Bag?

Conflict isn’t easy for most of us. Oh sure, there are the few who like to be in the ring for the count. Not most of us. And there are no schools that teach the art and craft of conflict transformation; maybe just how to protect yourself or tackle another to the ground.

Letting someone push your buttons till you want to explode is like a dagger driven deep in your heart. And continued stress can get really nasty. This is when the “Gotcha Game” gets serious.

It is like being in that boxing ring: punch and jab, punch and jab, punch and jab.

Sure, we all get up and keep going. Yet, most of us put band aids on our gaping head wounds and pretend everything is just fine —- except —–it isn’t.

Conflict is like being in a smelly, sweaty, and bloody place, a war zone; at least that’s what it feels like at work, at home, everywhere.  And it takes guts to really look at what is going on and make change happen.

Running for Cover

Yet, what do we do? We make sour jokes, or set up new policies and procedures of do’s and don’ts. We fight it out, or run and hide. Fight or flight; that’s the nature of most conflict reactions.

Or some just freeze and stand like a lost deer in the headlights waiting and praying it will be over soon.

This begs some questions:

  • Can conflict move from defensiveness to cooperation?
  • Can it be done quickly and easily?
  • Are there tools and techniques to get out of the rancid realm of constant conflict?

Don't Bring It to WorkAnswering these questions is a major part of my book “Don’t Bring It to Work”, understanding behavior patterns we learned in our original organization, the family, which we bring to our present organization at work.

[I have put together the 5 Steps from Mad to Glad in a white paper. You can request it now at  before the holiday season feels like that sweaty, nasty boxing ring in the middle of a battlefield.]

Sylvia Lafair, PhD. is President, Creative Energy Options, Inc.
She does Workplace Relationships, Conflict Resolution, Exec Coaching & Consulting

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Barbie Marries The Hulk and We All Hate Our Bodies

Barbie Hulk

Leadership education requires us to really take a deep dive into gender stereotyping.

It does not matter if we think we are above the fray; it is vital for us to have a handle on what goes on inside the heads and hearts of our employees, our teams.

Gender stereotyping has us all by the “throat” (…or you can fill in any other word you prefer here.)

We need to look at both what was learned in our families and our culture to have the broad view and know how to handle this gender stuff so it doesn’t turn into class action suits (it has) or health related work issues (it does).

Ahhhh, Our Families…

Our families don’t intentionally set out to put us in little boxes, yet, somehow we all end up in one at some point in our lives. While eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia, were the province of girls, there is a trend for boys to become overly concerned with body image.

Think about these tags that get placed on people while within their families:

  • The pretty one
  • The handsome one
  • The strong one
  • The shy one
  • The special one

These are all rolls we end up playing at home and bring with us to work. This type of gender stereotyping percolates in families and is reinforced in literature, film, television and the internet.

  • The good girl
  • The wild rebel
  • The gorgeous jock
  • The strong silent type
  • The over-giving martyr

These characteristics and many others like them intersect in our minds and end up being acted out in our work and home lives.

A Closer Look

Let’s take a closer look at what can cause us to freeze in our emotional and relationship connections if we don’t pay attention.

Here are two character rolls that are front and center on the home, school, and work stage at this time:

The Strong Silent type and the Woman Warrior

Laura Croft

Masculinity in our culture has traditionally been seen in terms of physical and emotional strength.

The manly hero is one who is in charge, acts decisively and succeeds in everything he does, at work and in romance.

Think Superman or Batman and you have it nailed.

A corresponding role in recent years thanks to Angelina Jolie and her character in “Lara Croft Tomb Raider” or more recently with Johnny Depp in “The Tourist.”

Women can be in charge, have perfect bodies and won’t decompose into mush the minute trouble arises.

Who’s To Blame?

Should we point the finger of blame at picture perfect actors and that bendable Barbie doll? Well, as impressionable kids and pre-teens we absorbed the hype we were fed along with our multi-vitamins.

Then without realizing it, the way we were taught about gender follows us invisibly until it is brought to the forefront and knocked on its rump.

Research at The University of Arizona asked teenaged girls to describe their own bodies as well as what the perfect girl would look like. Their ideal was a girl about 5’7” weighing 100 pounds, with long hair. Sounds like Barbie to me.

Ken dollNext is a study in the Journal of Research about Sex Roles. It involved male subjects and Ken dolls along with action figures like the Hulk. The males in the study reported a more negative self-image after connecting with the hyper-masculine action figures.

Ken was safer to them than the big guys on steroids.

Gender stereotypes can kill if we let them get out of hand. We starve ourselves, or vomit to be beautiful, we bulk up to be super strong or we end up on antidepressants because we are not able to live up to the image of how we think we should be.

One of the keys to leadership is transforming stereotypes to their healthy opposites. It will take gutsy women and bold men to help the changes occur.

It’s about you, it’s about me, and it’s about time.

Sylvia Lafair, PhD. is President, Creative Energy Options, Inc.
She does Workplace Relationships, Conflict Resolution, Exec Coaching & Consulting

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Leadership Challenges: What to do with the Big Bad Bully?

Workplace Bullying

Has anyone out there never been bullied? Please raise your hand. Then send me an email. I want to know your secret…

Has anyone out there ever come up against a bully and change the blame game of “He did it, she did it, they did it” to one of “we resolved the mess?

Raise your hand and then send me an email. I want to know your secret…

Bully Flashback

For the rest of us; take a minute and remember when you met your first bully as a kid. Think about how scared you were. And then write how the situation happened and what you did.

I’ll give you an example: my older brother has grown into a kind and gentle man. However, as a sister almost six years younger who wanted to hang out with him and his really cool friends all the time, I was a pain in the rear.

What the heck does this have to do with leadership?

Keep reading, I promise it will make sense.

Details, Details

One day when I was 5 and he was 10, I would not leave him alone. He and several friends were playing with a chemistry set and he informed me they were making an explosive combination that would shatter me to the far corners of the universe. I persisted, so did he.

He put a “potion on my arm that was meant to burn the skin off…..yikes, what’s a girl to do!

So I ran to my mother, ready for a long hospital stay. Of course my brother got in deep trouble. I played the victim to the hilt. He got sent to his room, the big, bad bully!

My arm, oh yes, it was fine. The potion was a combination of water and sugar. I could have licked it off and been done with it.

I learned an important lesson that day, not one that forwards the action, one that made me play the victim card for years. The victim, that’s the one who knows how to get the rescuer to well, rescue!

Who do you know who has mastered this game at work?

Rebooting Your Psyche

I have had to retrain my brain as an adult. I have had to help multitudes of other retrain their brains. Yes, there are bullies out there in the world, Virginia, and yet, it is not as simple as it seems.

The concept of the persecutor, lovingly known as the bully, is one that meets with wrath and disdain. They are the bad guys who make the good guys, the victims, cower in a corner, until superman or wonder woman shows up, ta da… the rescuer.

So, here is the question:

Who has the power, the bully/persecutor, the victim, or the rescuer?

Anatomy of a Brouhaha

First, let’s look at how the brouhaha starts.

  • Someone says or does something that is downright annoying.
  • Next there is a retaliatory act. Like when I was bugging my brother and he smeared my arm with sugar-water on my arm.
  • Next the rescuer gets involved, in my case it was my mother, let’s call her human resources or management.
  • Then there is finger-pointing, blaming, someone gets punished, my brother sent to his room; often there is a performance improvement plan or if really noisy situation, termination.

It’s a crap shoot; sometimes the bully gets the brunt. Sometimes, it’s the victim. But it’s never the rescuer.

However, they are in a circular drama. And unless each actor in this complex and frustrating play takes responsibility, this triangle of lost productivity gets played out again and again and again.

The Power Seat

Now, who is really in the power place in this drama?

If you answered “the victim,” you win a trip to the island of your choice.

To see where you fit on the bully/victim/rescuer continuum please go to here and take the quiz.

  • You will begin to observe your personal behavior
  • You will be able to make changes in a fast and furious manner that will keep you from ever being bullied again, or ever bully again.

Begin to connect the dots by writing down as many situations from your younger years and the patterned role you played in the family and in school. They are mostly the same. We become comfortable with the early roles we learned for survival and security. Then they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Sadly, most of us would rather be right than happy; and that’s how the repeating and repeating and repeating behavior takes hold.

So, join the millions who are doing the brain-retrain-thing and take on a new, healthy pattern that will open you up to creativity and fun-filled relationships.

Bye-bye bully; bye-bye victim. Hello happiness!

Sylvia Lafair, PhD. is President, Creative Energy Options, Inc.
She does Workplace Relationships, Conflict Resolution, Exec Coaching & Consulting

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The Age of Relationship Has Come of Age

The Age of Relationship

“What kind of workplace do you want to join?”

I asked this question to many people I meet. I ask the millennials,  gen Y’s, the gen X’s, the boomers, even those starting high school that I call the gen F’s (the Facebook crowd…)

What Do You Want?

The kind of organization that people want to be in emphasizes these aspects:

  • Self-development
  • Quality of relationship
  • Meaningful activity
  • Cooperative effort
  • Combinations of individual space and group connectedness
  • Balance between time to work and time to play (without a twist of guilt thrown into the mix)
  • Blending of diverse people and ideas without polarization

What Do You NOT Want?

The kind of organization that people DO NOT WANT to be in reject these aspects:

  • Worker separateness
  • Workplace silos
  • Competitive struggle for success
  • Boring old repetitive office politics

Organizations have gone through changes just as technology and society have changed and evolved. Workers from bygone generations are not the same as the ones in today’s workforce.

In yester-decades, relationships and social networking where not as pronounced as they are in today’s work environment. Consequently, attitudes about work and organizations have changed.

So when and how did these changes occur?

Historical Context

In this time of shifting economic and social values, attitudes about what is important to large numbers of people have shifted.

Q’s ::

Were they the result of the rapid rise of social media?

Did this new paradigm begin with the peace and love movement of the ‘60’s, underground until now?

Was it from the forgotten “command-and-control” organizational structure that permeated post WWII workers that has since evaporated?

A :: Yes to the above.

And we can go back even earlier to find the stirrings that have led to more and more demand for a better way to work together. When the Holy Roman Empire, the church was the dominant institution throughout Western Europe. It told everyone what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.

If you disagreed, well, it got ugly.

At some point the Industrial Revolution caused a new way to thinking. However, the rules were not that much different. A small group of men at the helm of the work wheel told people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.

Bells rang at specific times, made the workers salivate and take action.

There were only three options: clock in and move into work areas, clock out and go home, or go to the place designed for a meal and eat your sandwich.  Not much individuality there. Sadly, that sounds like most of the schools in this country.

Ah well, that’s for another blog.

Today’s Context

The business world is still king. With all the technology and social media at hand, the workplace hierarchy is in the process of deep change. Leadership is no longer just a function of the person or people at the top of the organizational chart. Taking a systems’ perspective and a relationship view leadership can contribute from anywhere in the organization.

This is the time and the place for everyone in every company to become a relationship expert.

It’s not that hard. We have permitted this realm that impacts all of us, be the sacred space of “the experts” for way too long.

Think of It This Way

We are all born from a relationship, through a relationship, into some form of relationship, often called family.

We take what we learned there with us into school and then to work. All we need to do is learn the skinny on how relationships work at work. Then off we can go to create, collaborate, celebrate, and make work a place we can’t wait to get to rather than a place we want to get away from.

This is vital for all organizations right now!

So how are you doing at adapting to the changes in technology, attitudes, values, and generational forces that appear in your organizations? How are you balancing the shift in expectations from the people on your teams? Are you adapting well to these changes, or do you find then annoying or difficult to handle? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Sylvia Lafair, PhD. is President, Creative Energy Options, Inc.
She does Workplace Relationships, Conflict Resolution, Exec Coaching & Consulting

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Leadership Lessons: Success and Fatal Flaws

Fatal Flaw

There is so much glitz and glamour that comes with that power-word “success.

It says “You’ve made it!” And “From here on, life is good! Right?”

Well, no… Not so fast…

The biggest distraction to success is all the stress and anxiety that sits like a weight in the pit of the stomach that often comes with the territory. It has to do with the worry that it will all disappear tomorrow, the next day, someday.

Falling From Grace

You know the saying “The higher they go the harder they fall?”

It’s a warning to watch out, be careful because you never know when the party is over.

How about “Don’t rock the boat.”

This tells you to play it safe and not take too many chances, especially once you have the houses, the cars, the perks.

Keeping Your Grip

So many films show the fall from grace; quickly going from success to the gutter. Why is this amorphous thing that we all covet, called success so tenuous to grab and to hold?

Partly because once success hits, there is a tendency to hide the fear by acting over-confident. You get used to being bowed to, applauded, and respected by folks who only know you by reputation.

They never see your uncertainties, hesitations, and inadequacies.

  • But what explains the unsettling tendencies for success to be so tenuous and difficult to support?
  • What are the enemies to success?
  • What causes a strong journey to fail along the way?

Take a look at these recipes to sabotage success.

3 Fatal Flaws

Here are the 3 Fatal Flaws that never get talked about:

1) Entitlement

Paradoxically, many people do not feel entitled to success.

Stupid idea? Perhaps.

However there is a sense that many successful people have, the “if they really knew me syndrome.” That thought of being in a masquerade, being seen as more than one really is, waiting to be “caught with pants down” often is a fatal flaw that sets up the fall down the slippery slope to failure.

You see so many times we have these self-fulfilling thoughts and deep in us we would rather be right than to be happy!

Doesn’t make logical sense, yet in the emotional parts of the brain, it is exactly correct and makes total sense.

2) Loyalty

Another flaw is loyalty spawned from generational expectations. This is where we look at success in terms of our lineage to understand benchmarking and standards. Consider this line of thinking:

If it is good enough for my parents and grandparents, then it is good enough for me.”

That is a set-up to not be capable of going beyond the level of the family, often for generations and generations. It means that if no one ever went to college, well you may be able to wear that cap and gown, but don’t ever expect to get the top job.

Or, if you do become the top dog, expect the fall from success to come along eventually. “After all, one shouldn’t stray too far from living at the level of the rest of your family.”

Does this make sense? Not really. Does it happen often? Absolutely.

3) Patterns

We all play roles in our families that become familiar ways to stay safe and accepted. Often these patterns show up when we are tense and anxious. When stress hits the hot button, we all tend to revert to childhood patterns that were there for security and survival.

These patterns may not be effective in high level positions, yet there they are making us look like we have spilled a bowl of oatmeal on our shirts.

So, if you think you’ve been acting like a baby, you’re right!

Now you know the flaws to watch. Take the time to understand and work on these areas of entitlement, loyalty, and patterns. By bringing to light these often invisible forces you can harness and refine them so that you will continue to build on success after success and leave a powerful legacy for future generations.

Sylvia Lafair, PhD. is President, Creative Energy Options, Inc.
She does Workplace Relationships, Conflict Resolution, Exec Coaching & Consulting

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Leadership Lessons: Slow Is The New Fast

Slow is Good

It is time to bust open the myth about speed being the winning card for success. Speed is not your friend. Speed kills.

Unfortunately, “speed” is what is taught in many leadership development classes today as the way to success. The name of that game is: “Fast and Ferocious Wins!”

But I have three countering notions to “Speed Wins!” They are:

Not so.
Never was.
Never will be.

Microwave Leadership

TV DinnerPerhaps since the advent of the TV dinner in 1953 for C.A. Swanson & Sons or from the rise in popularity of instant coffee after WWII, the idea of “faster is better” for every aspect of one’s life began to take hold in the minds of people.

I can sacrifice some flavor for the convenience of speed” began to take mind share in the populous.

This mentality accelerated through “the space age” and hit it’s multi-generational stride with the wide adoption of the “the information superhighway” called the Internet.

So, of course, when I coach high-potential leaders they want the instant version; the list of five (max) one liners that will guarantee success. Instant, pronto, snap-of-a-finger, blink-and-think, right now, red-hot, all your success-in-an-hour seminar

Stop the Madness!

My experience and wisdom says…


Their experience and wisdom says…


On Chaos and Control

Let’s get to basics…

Yes, the world is still whirling in space at a dizzying clip. That has not changed. What has changed is the speed with which we get information and how we are to compute it all in our brains. It does seem that everything is more complex.

But is it? And if so, how do we literally use our heads to make appropriate decisions?

Maybe responding to the chaos of complexity is getting in the way of actually making solid decisions that have long-term positive impact. Due to technology, there is a new quality of openness available to all employees in a company.

  • We need to consider using this technology as a tool and not our master.
  • We need to control its usage and not let it become another form of addiction.
  • We need to slow down our responses so information at the speed of light can work for us.

Redefining Leadership

Please Slow DownMaybe it is time to redefine leadership…

My definition is that everyone in the company has true leadership potential.

Unique, positive changes can happen in this new era of open communication.

More input; More creativity; More options.

Yet, here is the yellow sign of caution:

There is a need to slow down:

  • To Read
  • To Re-read
  • To Question
  • To Think
  • Then to Re-think, Review, and Revise.

No, this does not have to take weeks or months; it can be done quickly and effectively. However, it MUST be done to move forward. Complex changes require forethought and then the decision-making process can be fast and furious.

When we don’t slow down and sit down, the tendency is to react to symptoms rather than consider the holes in the system. To make a system whole it is important to see the information and issues underneath the symptom.

It means you must connect the dots of the patterns in play.

If we don’t take the time to rethink even the most basic of assumptions; in short to unlearn the things that had led to past success but are likely to be anachronistic in the future, we enevitably miss the mark.

Slow Motion Panic

Executives who have spent years learning how to “get ahead” are being asked to change the very thinking modes that made them successful in the past. These executives often experience panic when it comes to slowing down to access information, have open dialogue, collaborate, and dig back into past beliefs of how work should be done.

“If it worked then, it should work now” and the old mantra “time is money” are passé. The fix-it-fast and let’s move on does not cause real sustaining transformation in a company.

In fact, there is no such thing as organizational transformation; there is only individual transformation that happens within a group. When YOU change, that is when the culture can change. This new world of opportunity is waiting for YOU to slow down and sit down to ask the questions. It is then the challenges of this complex new world will unfold and decisions will become clear.

Think of it this way: slow down, sit down, learn the new plays and the touchdown is inevitable.

Slow is the new fast…

Bookmark Leadership Lessons: Slow Is The New Fast

Sylvia Lafair, PhD. is President, Creative Energy Options, Inc.
She does Workplace Relationships, Conflict Resolution, Exec Coaching & Consulting

Email | LinkedIn | Twitter |  Web | Blog | Book

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