Marlene Chism works with C-Suite leaders to build drama-free cultures that drive growth and reduce costly mistakes. She’s the author of four commercially-published books and a LinkedIn Learning instructor. Marlene shares simple ways to deal with conflict. Marlene advises using curiosity to learn more about the parties to the conflict, and explains the dangers for new leaders of being nice. She also shares leadership traits and the importance of being in alignment. And remember, willingness is the fulcrum point of change.
[1:52] Marlene Chism loves to dance. Marlene suggests turning off his “thinking brain” to find his rhythm!
[3:38] Marlene says we mismanage conflict with the three “A”s: Appeasement, Aggression, and Avoidance. When we think of conflict as a problem, we fear it.
[4:05] Marlene has a new definition for conflict: Opposing Drives, Desires, and Demands. It’s not one person “out to get” another. People want different things for different reasons. When you take the personal aspects out of conflict and define it differently, your gut reaction to it changes.
[4:34] Generally, we mismanage conflict because we have an inner conflict first. In other words, I might need to have a difficult conversation with you but I also want you to like me. I mismanage it because I have two opposing drives, desires, and demands within myself.
[5:35] When is the right time to address potential conflict? Marlene says we have to get curious, and the sooner, the better. Good contracts create good relationships. Marlene offers ways to be direct and find clarity. Bring up questions earlier, rather than later.
[6:55] Sometimes we imagine conflict where there is none. Are we negotiating with ourselves? Marlene suggests watching your narrative. Don’t believe everything that you think. Say, “I observed this; my perception is that.” That gives grace to the other person to clarify if they meant something else. Being assertive beats the alternative of making up a story and creating a bigger conflict than what was there.
[8:29] Marlene says she takes a breath and thinks about whether she has all the facts to be sure she is right. If she’s feeling angry, she interprets it as that she needs more information. Marlene always asks “Are you willing to be wrong?”
[10:19] Willingness is the fulcrum point of change. Nothing happens until there’s willingness. If I haven’t been willing, it means I’m in a state of resistance.
[11:01] Marlene says drama is an obstacle to peace and prosperity. She uses the visual of a rowboat with a person in it going to an island. A shark between the boat and the island is the obstacle. When we’re in drama, we’re distracted. Marlene compares employee drama with top-level drama. CEOs who think they are above the drama are not hands-on and are keeping secrets from their team so they look competent.
[13:24] If you’re not working toward a purpose; if you don’t have a shared vision, and if you don’t feel excited, that’s an obstacle. We all have to take responsibility for our engagement and desires. There is a symbiotic relationship between the employee and the company.
[14:05] Marlene discusses her latest book, From Conflict to Courage. In the workplace, Marlene says courage is not taking the easy path; not taking the path of being perceived as “nice.” Marlene’s book sets up a framework of Conflict Capacity with three overlapping circles: Culture, Skillset, and Inner Game. The three together give you the ability to clarify conflicts.
[16:18] Marlene says in the long run, aligning with your values and what you promised your customer is going to serve you. What is the point of being profitable if you are miserable because you don’t understand alignment?
[17:26] Marlene defines leadership. It is alignment or focusing energy. Aligning everything in your business trumps opportunity. Opportunity can be a distraction and lead to drama.
[18:32] If something is operating in harmony, it’s very efficient and very effective. Marlene says the owner wants to get to the treasure chest on the island, the leader wants everybody to row harder and faster, and the rower just wants a better seat cushion on the boat. A consultant has to look at all three perspectives.
[19:52] In her latest book, Marlene writes about the price of being nice. She sees three identities of new leaders before they are oriented: Best Friend, Hands-off, or Hero. When we don’t align with the values of leadership, we try to align as “best friends.”
[21:35] We can be friendly; we should be kind and polite, but when we don’t understand our role as a leader, then it’s about being nice, which is about manipulating. We think that being nice is making people like us, so we avoid being direct because it feels bad to say “No.” We’re afraid of hurting people’s feelings, versus educating them on why prior decisions are not going to allow that new idea.
[22:14] Peter Drucker, in his book, Concept of the Corporation, says that when front-line people give ideas and they don’t match, don’t look at it as if they’re stupid or they don’t get it. Look at it as they want to engage but they don’t understand how the business operates and how the different departments work together. We should educate them. We want people to grow, not to like us.
[23:27] People will like you if you are fair with them. Work on having a relationship with people. You don’t need to conduct a personality assessment on your team to resolve conflicts. You need to spend time with them and talk honestly with them without posturing.
[24:41] Feigning niceness but not wanting to develop a relationship, is not niceness. Some say the traits they have that distract are virtues. If people say that’s just the way I am, Marlene asks them “Is that who you want to be?” Do you want to be authentic to the childish parts of you, or do you want to be authentic to the future you, who is growing, evolving, apologizing and working on yourself?
[26:23] With a clear definition of how you want to show up, that changes the game. Ask yourself, am I willing to stop rolling my eyes and interrupting? Am I willing to notice that habit, to be a better communicator?
[27:01] What are some of the challenges of building relationships without being in the office? It’s an opportunity for those who want to be intentional about connection. Learn to be good in the office, on Zoom, on Teams, on the phone, and in text. Have a system because eventually, it will put you at the top. Be the one who follows through instead of ghosting.
[28:22] You will never lose by deciding to be intentional about how you form relationships and how you treat other people.
[29:14] What if you’ve been a coworker, and were suddenly promoted to manage people who were your “best friends”? Marlene hopes the organization would help to onboard you into management, but it doesn’t happen very much. You’re going to take on a whole new identity. Don’t believe that the better you treat people, the more they’re going to do you favors. They will take advantage. It’s human nature.
[30:09] Have a meeting with everyone, individually and in a group, to explain the new position and what it means. Marlene shares a script for being open and setting expectations from the beginning of the things that will change and how you will go forward. Generally, when expectations have not been set is the time Marlene is called in! You’ll have to start with a clean slate and own the part you played.
[30:59] You cannot set a new boundary out of the blue. It will make people your enemies. Tell your observations. Acknowledge your part in it. Explain how it is affecting the operation. Set the new rule and say everyone will need to comply. It will require, when someone messes up, for you to enforce the consequence you said would happen. A boundary is not solid unless you keep the boundary.
[32:48] Leadership clarity is about situational analysis and the outcome. Without those two points of reference, you cannot solve any problem at all. Identify what’s happening that shouldn’t be, what’s not happening that should be, how that affects your business, the two points of reference and the obstacles you think are in the way. Start with clarity.
[33:58] Leadership identity is how you see yourself in relation to these issues. Leadership Identity drives everything but you can only be as effective as your ability to be clear.
[35:01] Marlene recently had a clarification meeting with a new client. Just as they were about to sign the contract, the client wanted to add in a StrengthsFinder, as well. Marlene answered, yes, they could do that for an extra fee, but since we know the situation and the outcome, let’s see if we can uncover some of those issues that are creating a lack of clarity and resolve them with what we’ve agreed to do.
[36:23] What can happen if a board member is hired by opportunity (deep pockets and good connections) instead of by alignment (having the same values)? Drama! Jim compares conservative and progressive values in corporations around DEI. Marlene encourages getting to know the other person and learning what it’s like to be in their shoes, whether or not you agree with them. Align with them.
[40:05] The real problem is we’re saying, “Just like them” or “Not one of us.” We need to stop doing that. There’s room for all, we just have to be willing to build that capacity and to be a little bit uncomfortable with it. That’s what conflict capacity is about. Be willing to be wrong and be open.
[41:17] The story you tell is the life you live. Whatever narrative you think or feel about yourself, is the source of your suffering. The good news is your story can also be the source of your “salvation.” You can shift your story and see other things that are equally true and explore that.
[42:18] Marlene found that you can only coach a regulated person. If someone’s in their story and they’re upset, all you can do is be a radical listener. You cannot coach someone that’s not self-regulated. Marlene loves that you can help a person shift their story, and create a new possibility.
[43:09] How and why has Marlene changed her identity several times? Marlene was a blue-collar factory worker for 21 years. She wanted something more. She had to learn business practices the hard way because you don’t know what you don’t know. She first identified with being a professional speaker. As she became more aware of business practices, she realized she was not as good as she thought!
[44:36] Going from a front-line worker to a supervisor gives you a new identity and it can be completely overwhelming if you haven’t believed, accepted, and felt that you are in that place. You have to feel it.
[45:03] Marlene explains three life tragedies that occur mid-life: 1. I know I want something more but I don’t know what it is. 2. I know what it is but I don’t believe it’s possible. 3. I know what it is and it might be possible, but now I have to be willing. Willingness is the fulcrum point of change. In any tragedy, you don’t have clarity. You have to be willing to discover, develop, and deliver. Find your purpose.
[47:55] If you’re stuck, confused, in drama, or conflict, clarity can change any situation. Marlene’s job is to hear the stories of the parties she coaches and help them get clear, and they will know the answer.
Quotable Quotes“We are all afraid of conflict … and so … we try to avoid it. I call it the three ‘A’s: Appeasing, Aggression, and Avoidance.” Click To Tweet “Generally, we mismanage [conflict] because we have an inner conflict first.” Click To Tweet “Watch your narrative. Don’t believe everything that you think.” Click To Tweet “I could be right, but I might be wrong and there might be one missing piece. … If I’m feeling that angry, instead of interpreting it as I’ve got all the facts, that means, I’ve got to have more information … because that helps me… Click To Tweet “The question I always ask is, ‘Are you willing to be wrong?’ Or, ‘Am I willing to be wrong?’ Because nothing happens until there’s willingness. … Willingness is the fulcrum point of change.” Click To Tweet “If I haven’t been willing, it means I’m in a state of resistance.” Click To Tweet “In the long run, aligning with your values and what you promised your customer is what’s going to serve you. … What is the point of being profitable and being successful if you are miserable because you don’t understand alignment?” Click To Tweet “My definition for leadership is that if leadership is about anything, it’s about alignment and alignment is about focusing energy.” Click To Tweet “The owner wants to get to the treasure chest on the island, the leader wants everybody to row harder and faster, and the rower just wants a better seat cushion on the boat. As a consultant … it’s about looking at all the… Click To Tweet “You will never lose by deciding to be intentional about how you form relationships and how you treat other people.” Click To Tweet “If you’ve messed up for a while, which is generally where I come in, what you have to do is you have to start with a clean slate and you have to own the part you played. Because you cannot set a new boundary out of the blue. It… Click To Tweet “If you care more about them understanding than you do about your boundary, that’s where you’re going to be a poor leader.” Click To Tweet “Wherever there’s drama, there’s always a lack of clarity.” Click To Tweet “That’s what conflict capacity is about, ‘I’m uncomfortable with your ideas and thoughts and it’s OK that I’m uncomfortable. I might change my mind if I’m willing to be wrong. And you might change yours if you’re willing to be… Click To Tweet “If you’re stuck or you’re confused, or you’re in drama or conflict, there’s something that I live by, and that’s: ‘Clarity can change any situation.’” Click To Tweet
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- Marlene Chism Consulting
- Marlene Chism on LinkedIn
- Marlene’s new book: From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading
- Marlene’s previous books:
- LinkedIn Learning
- The Ladder of Inference
- Peter Senge
- The fifth discipline fieldbook: strategies and tools for building a learning organization, by Peter M. Senge
- Concept of the Corporation, by Peter F. Drucker
- DiSC Profile
- Tony Robbins