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Difficult People

Courageous Compassion Part 2: Standing for What’s Important to You

Un-Game Principle: Being willing to be courageous and compassionate can be a conscious choice even under circumstances people generally experience as very difficult.

CourageIn Part 1 of Courageous Compassion, courageous compassion was defined as ‘the ability to stay in caring relationship while simultaneously taking a stand that another’s behavior is unacceptable and you will confront it’. It focused on relationships where the parties would describe themselves as having equal positional power: colleagues, friends, husbands and wives, partners. There are also examples of what a courageously compassionate interchange might sound like. But what about courageous compassion in so called unequal relationships like you and your boss, for example? Or a parent or teacher and a child? What might a courageously compassionate interchange be like when there’s the experience of conflict for one or the other party?

It’s counterintuitive to imagine that both parties to a conflict actually have the same responsibility, namely to take care of the other without losing sight of taking care of oneself. It’s easy to envision a good boss taking the leading caretaker role. After all, he or she has more positional power, and the stronger is supposed to protect the weaker. In the office scenario, the boss surely wants to keep the good employee. Turnover is expensive. Besides, he might really like and value Melinda even if she “winged” the meeting whose success hinged on her report.

Let’s say Gene (the boss) knows that his positional power gives him some perceived advantage in the interaction. He has the power to fire or make Melinda’s life miserable. Fear of loss of job might make Melinda compliant. But Gene is wise enough to know that what seems like an advantage can hide a potent disadvantage. Compliant people aren’t the best employees. He wants creative, motivated employees. This is an important value for him.

Gene’s care-taking will include a conscious decision to minimize the impact of his positional power and maximize the use of his personal power to drive the interaction. In personal power we all have the opportunity to be equal, be it in incompetence, minimal competence, or even virtuosity. The playing field is level, and Gene wants to play on that field as much as possible. On the field of positional power, a disadvantage is that his position dramatically enhances the chances of Melinda going “out of her rational mind” and into ancient instinctual survival responses of fighting, fleeing, or freezing.

Not good for business. Not good for a well-lived life outside the business context.

Gene is smart to NOT use the greater power of his position. It’s one of those examples that challenges the stubborn assumption “More is better.” In fact more is sometimes less, and most often, more is simply more and nothing else!

Let’s assume he’s stated his assessment of the quality of Melinda’s report. Here’s what he didn’t say. “This report is not of the quality I’ve come to expect of you. You were not prepared. If it happens again, I’ll have to take some drastic measures. We can’t afford mediocrity. It’s not who we are.” (The veiled threat and the lecture are a reminder of who’s got the power. As if Melinda needs a reminder!)

Gene, wanting to keep Melinda engaged and wanting to minimize defensiveness, could use his personal power and begin the conversation like this: “Let’s evaluate how the meeting went. How satisfied are you that we accomplished our objectives?” Then Gene and Melinda enumerate the objectives. “What was outstanding? Satisfactory? Missing?” A discussion and learning conversation ensue where Gene doesn’t censor his own input. “I had expected X. It looks like you didn’t have that expectation since it was absent from the report. Help me understand. Tell me your thought process. ” More conversation ensues. “What will you do and by when to provide X?” Gene and Melinda settle on an action that satisfies them both. Gene could also make a demand. But he can soften it by simply asking, “Will that work or do you need to make me a counter offer?” (if a counter offer is acceptable).

The interaction between Gene and Melinda has the ingredients of a courageous compassionate conversation that moves a project along and enhances their relationship.

Let’s switch to Melinda having a problem with Gene that she wants to talk to him about (OK, she doesn’t really want to. But she’s willing because it’s occupying most of her waking hours. By now she has horrible-ized whatever Gene did, didn’t, and will do.).

For many people it is simply unimaginable to consider confronting (standing in front of) a boss precisely because of the positional power difference. They can’t imagine what courageous compassion for him, her, and self would look like.

But it’s possible even under circumstances perceived as difficult.

First of all, Melinda would do well to remind herself that in the domain of personal power she and Gene are equals. As a matter of fact, it’s precisely confrontations like the one she’s dreading yet contemplating that will give her the practice she needs to increase her personal power. To acknowledge that and then to actually proceed are courageous acts.

Secondly, Melinda needs to consciously choose to be courageous. The act of conscious choosing comes from the best in ourselves, not from an emotion like fear. It is powerful and proactive in any interaction, but especially one in which the “confrontee” has more positional power than the “confronter.” Melinda needs to act on what she intellectually knows: She is not her fears. She has fears. And she can be bigger than her fears!

And finally Melinda can consciously choose to be compassionate with Gene, remembering that in the domain of personal power she and Gene are simply two human beings doing the best they can with the light by which they are able to see. Gene, too, is no stranger to the fight, flight, freeze response defending against imaginary tigers and lions, his greater positional power being no help to him at all.

And so Melinda decides to talk to Gene who calls her frequently on weekends for non-emergency situations. She privately assesses that Gene thinks he should have unlimited access to her at any time.

Here’s what Melinda doesn’t do: she doesn’t sigh and silently acquiesce to all of Gene’s requests. She might begin by noticing her assessment. It’s only an assessment. There seems to be good evidence, but can she really be sure it’s what Gene really expects? Is he putting out a demand or just a request that she can accept or decline?

Melinda might open the conversation with “Gene, how important is this? This is my family time. Can we explore on Monday how I can help you accomplish X without cutting into my family time?” (Melinda is signaling she wants to help, would do so if it is really important, and intends to protect her private time).

Gene has an opportunity to see what may be a blind spot. Perhaps he does think he is entitled to Melinda’s time. Or he gets to consider just how important his request is to him. In any event, the conversation is off to a good start. The next move, if Gene sputters a version of “But, but…,” is for Melinda to hold her ground, quietly and firmly. “I’ll give you an hour (if she’s willing and able), but this has to be an exception rather than an expectation.” If Melinda can envision playing the long game, she knows it’s not sustainable to give up her private time and space. She will act with courageous compassion. Not just for Gene but for herself!

The truth is that confrontation in any relationship, be it among equals or those unequal in positional power, is risky. That’s what necessitates courage–the courage to be willing to lose something important. But the confrontation, expressed with courageous compassion also opens up the possibility to gain something profoundly important, namely to connect genuinely with another person and to experience the deep satisfaction of growing one’s personal power one interaction at a time. The ultimate prize is freedom to be what seems exceedingly difficult for most of us, namely to be ourselves! And the ability to stand for something…because if we don’t…chances are we’ll fall for anything!

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.

Escape to Freedom: A Way out of the Drama Triangle

13-10-29 A Simple Way out of the Drama TriangleUn-Game Principle: All of us have more choices than we believe. The challenge is accessibility and practice.

Have you ever had repeated, unsatisfying interactions with a co-worker or family member which had you stumped? Have you experienced helplessness in your ability to get these important relationships on a positive track? I have. For me it’s like imagining myself lost in the expansive, fog-drenched  Alaskan wilderness, seeing no path out, knowing the futility of moving, probably in circles, deeper and deeper into the endless expanse. Could you envision what it would be like for you if you suddenly saw a path?  A path must lead somewhere. Hope and extreme excitement. Your life may be saved!

In unsatisfying interactions, until we see a clear path before us, we are also doomed to move in circles, repeating the same thing over and over again, hoping but really not expecting different results. Misery, isn’t it?

You may have heard about the Drama Triangle first identified as such in the 1960’s by Stephen Karpman. It’s a brilliant visual for those unsatisfying interactions that lead nowhere. Populating the drama triangle are three roles: the VICTIM, the PERSECUTOR, and the RESCUER. In any given interaction you may predominantly play one role, let’s say VICTIM, but you may shift to another role in the same interaction. The VICTIM needs a PERSECUTOR  or a RESCUER to stay in the triangle. Again, one of the two players, if there are only two, can shift and become the RESCUER for the given interaction. Here’s an example:

Mary didn’t finish her report on time. She’s done it before. Her boss is fuming.

Boss: “You’re always late. Why can’t you get this stuff to me on time? Everyone else gets it to me on time. This is your last time for this nonsense.” (He’s said that before)

Mary: “I’m so sorry. I had to take my mother to the emergency room, and I had to….”

Boss: “I’m sorry about your mother. But you always have an excuse. That’s just not going to cut it.”

Mary: “OK, I’ll do better with the next deadline.”

Boss: “Fine.” (It’s not. Fine stands for Feelings Inside Not Expressed.)

On first sight it appears that the boss is the PERSECUTOR. His threat and the false accusation put you on notice that a lie is about to be told! (NO one is always late. The word always is a red flag.) Again on first sight, Mary seems to be the VICTIM of her boss’ diatribe. However, consider that the boss actually experiences himself as the VICTIM. He doesn’t follow through with his promise (This is the last time). He eventually even plays the RESCUER by accepting her statement “I’ll do better…” Better how? Not as many hours late? Mary just looks like a VICTIM. She is more like the PERSECUTOR.

The above scenario will repeat itself unless one of the players

a. is willing to get out and

b. realizes that being  in this so-called Drama Triangle is a choice.

Knowing it’s so is a first step to getting out of the dense fog. You start to observe painful interactions that go nowhere. You start to observe the roles people play (yes, you too). The Drama Triangle becomes familiar in a new way. You now have choices you didn’t have before.

What choices? And how do you access them?

The alternative choice to the no-win Drama Triangle can be described as another triangle populated by three different roles. It might be called the Empowerment Triangle. Knowing this provides the initial access to it. If you can make that shift and practice these new three roles, everything changes. The Drama Triangle as a prison will be history for you.

The roles people play in the Empowerment Triangle are CREATOR, CHALLENGER, and COACH. These are largely unfamiliar-to-us roles. So we need to learn and practice them. But they guarantee the way out of those miserable, repetitive interactions that drag us all down and leave us stranded in the Drama Triangle.

The CREATOR, for example, knows s/he can choose to be willing to bring clarity, focus, courage, compassion, truthfulness (and many more qualities of contribution) to any interaction. They know they have feelings. They don’t let feelings have them. They know to be careful to not believe everything they think!

The CHALLENGER, for example, doesn’t go into collusion with the other. They challenge the other’s thinking by helping to clarify it and by showing the paradoxes and the distortions in the other’s thinking. They speak truthfully about the impact of the other’s behavior on them and others, if appropriate. They challenge their own thinking and inquire into what they could do differently.

The COACH, for example, keeps the space of the interaction open and safe. They are not hooked by bad behaviors. They ask questions for the other to reflect on. They help bring anyone in the Drama Triangle into the Empowerment Triangle by modeling the clarity that gets people who are “out of their minds” (in the Drama Triangle) back into their minds (the Empowerment Triangle).

Accessing choice becomes easier when you ‘re clear you are not your feelings (You have feelings. Big difference.).

Assume that prior to the conversation the boss has chosen to be willing to demonstrate being truthful, courageous, compassionate, clear, and focused. By so doing, he’s chosen to be CREATOR, not a reactor (All roles in the Drama Triangle are reactive.). He knows he can’t guarantee he will demonstrate those qualities. However, he can guarantee that he’s willing to. Big difference again.

Ready to practice?

Here’s the same conversation between Mary and her boss from inside the Empowerment Triangle.

Boss: “Mary, this is now the 5th time your report is late. This is a problem, and we have to solve it.” He’s being CHALLENGER. He’s simply telling what’s true (The “always” is absent, for example).

Mary: “I’m so sorry. I had to take my mother to the emergency room, and I had to….”

Boss: “I’m sorry about your mother. I hope she’s OK. Let’s talk later about how I could support you about your mom. Right now we need to solve this problem of your lateness. Let’s let this be our last conversation about this. What would ongoing lateness mean to our project? (He’s demonstrating being focused, clear, compassionate). He’s being CHALLENGER and COACH.

Mary: “I know it’s not good. OK, I’ll do better with the next deadline.”

Boss:  “I‘ll do better’ worries me.” He’s being CHALLENGER (How do you define better?). He’s being COACH.

Mary: “Well, I’ll get it in on time.”

Boss: “What will you do differently  the next time so that meeting the deadline actually happens? Do you see needing some support you now don’t have that will assure you keep your promise to me and the team?” He’s being COACH.

Mary: “Well, the last two times I’ve had trouble getting the info I need from Frank. I probably just have to be more insistent.”

Boss: “Tell you what, Mary. Could you envision making clear requests of Frank in the future? Might you benefit from teaming up with Mark to support you with this? Do you agree he’s very clear in his requests of the team? He may be a good accountability buddy.” He’s being COACH.

Mary: “That will help. Thanks. I know this has been a problem, and I want to solve it too. I haven’t been proactive in asking for support when I need it. I’ll do that.” She’s being CREATOR!

The interaction, led by the boss has brought Mary out of the Drama Triangle. At least in this interaction. Fancy that! With practice we can make progress. Wouldn’t it be great if the Empowerment Triangle became just as familiar to us as the dreaded Drama Triangle? The choice is ours. Shall we practice?

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The UnGame , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.

Courageous Conversations – Interrogate Reality

Interrogate reality doesn’t only mean the other person’s reality. It means we begin with our own.  Always. If we harbor thoughts like “John is unreasonable. How in the world can I tell him without him getting defensive?”, we’re looking in the wrong place. Courageous conversations are first of all conversations from the heart. Courageous derives from the French word “coeur” which means heart. Our hero’s heart, as in the archetype which contains both the masculine and the feminine form. And courageous conversations depend on our ability to tell the truth. “What is truth?” you ask wisely. A crucial question to have an empowering answer for. I like a working definition of truth I learned in my coach training program. “Truth is what happened or didn’t happen in physical reality” Not in my mind, but in reality. In other words, just the facts, please. By that definition “John is unreasonable” is never the truth. See how certain I am? It’s because you and I can’t see “unreasonable” in physical reality.  We can only see actions John performs or doesn’t perform which we interpret as unreasonable if we conclude “John is indeed unreasonable.” So the answer to the question “How can I tell John he’s unreasonable without him getting defensive?” is… you can’t. Of course even the word “defensive” is an interpretation and not the truth. We’re limited by our need for short-hand, and so I’ll use the word “defensive,” but I’ll use it consciously knowing it’s my interpretation of whatever John does when I share my thought with him. He may say “What? Me? Defensive? You’ve got to be kidding. You’re the one who’s….”. “Or, he may say nothing and glare. Or he may say “Tell me more” although I doubt it. I doubt he’ll be interested in you telling him more. Why? Because you haven’t told him the truth. The truth might be “I hesitate to open a conversation with you, John, because I’m afraid it won’t work out very well.” (What didn’t happen in physical reality is a conversation you’ve had in your mind, and if you report on your inner state it’s probably accurate that you had the thought it wouldn’t work out very well.). Notice how you experience your energy around your heart region. Notice the difference  between the energy generated by the truthful statement versus your other one. You continue. “I’ve had the thought that you’re unreasonable. But what I realize is that you promised to have the report in by Friday, and then you asked for an extension that caused me to scramble. I was resentful. Let’s talk about this and see where our process broke down.” That’s a pretty good beginning of a courageous conversation. When you have a good working definition of “truth” you can practice being truthful, and you will eventually do it with ease; the truth shall set you free to have a courageous conversation whenever one is needed. Imagine if our public discourse were populated with truth-tellers. Let’s imagine it and let it begin with us interrogating our own reality. If and only if we’re clear, we have a chance to help John interrogate his reality.  

Managing Difficult People

Managers along with everybody else expend a lot of energy being concerned  about “difficult” people.  How to keep them from ruining the quality record.  How to keep them from plummeting team morale lower than a snake’s belly.  How to keep them from creating rabid customers.  And, of course, how to “fix” them. (4) I suggest that this may be a gigantic, albeit common waste of precious energy.  It’s a waste because we focus on the wrong person when we focus on the “difficult” person.  The great manager knows not to do that.  They have several strategies that help them deal with a potentially difficult situation. I’ll just focus on one here. (8) Great managers look to the locus of their power.  If they focus on the other person, they’re lost from the start because try as they may, they have influence, yes, but no real control over anyone else, even if they can hire, fire, and control the paycheck. Great managers know they can control themselves better than they can control anyone else.  So they ask what can  I do here.  In other words, they’ve found the locus of the power they are able to apply without help from anyone else. (14) Great managers make a distinction between their assessment “This is a difficult person,” and the facts.  “What does this person say or do or not do that has me conclude they are difficult?”  They can name specific behaviors.  They will ask themselves questions like “What might I be contributing to this being as it is?” “What’s in the way we have our department set up that’s contributing to this?” (5) After getting some answers to those questions, the great manager will not hesitate to call the employee in to talk. In possession of specific behaviors that don’t work, he or she will have an exploratory conversation with the employee.  The great manager will not be shy to point to behaviors that don’t work, but they’re not looking to remediate.  They don’t assume that there’s someone to fix.  The great manager sees him or herself not as a controller and a corrector, but rather as a catalyst to assure performance excellence.  In earnest great managers will look with the employee—in partnership at what’s in the way.  Uninspired performance is always unacceptable, but focusing on where the power is to remove obstacles to excellence is key. The power belongs to the manager who is aware that his or her thinking about things matters hugely.  Thinking someone is difficult puts them on a path that doesn’t lead where they want to go. (12)