The Interplay of Certainty and Flexibility

This quick pen on paper sketch from the other night got me thinking about the interplay of certainty and flexibility in life…

I love to draw both in an app on my iPad and on paper. In the app, nothing is permanent. Every line can be erased, every shape can be modified, and every colour can be changed in one quick tap.

That said, when I’m sketching in a sketchbook with ink, the stakes are much higher. Every line is permanent. I need to take more time, be more precise, and somehow integrate my “mistakes” into the drawing.

I think life is a little like this too… there are times when we have lots of room to maneuver – like in coaching sessions when I’m helping a client prepare for a difficult conversation. We test out different approaches, experiment, and play with multiple options and scenarios.

And similarly there are also times in life when the stakes are higher and every “line” counts – like in the actual conversation itself.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t be conscientious when the stakes are low… or that we can’t be flexible when they’re high. Recognizing the difference in contexts and how this might impact the way we approach things is what’s key here.

So I’m curious… what does this drawing metaphor evoke in you?

Internal Checks and Balances

When I feel overwhelmed by situations or decisions, I do a little self-coaching to help me tap into the wisdom of my head, heart, and gut:

Head: What are the facts? What cognitive biases may be at play for me?

Heart: What feelings does this situation evoke within me? What are those feelings trying to tell me?

Gut: What does my “Spidey-sense” say about this?

Alignment: What path forward would take into consideration what I’ve learned from my head, heart, and gut?

What questions help you get unstuck when you’re feeling overwhelmed?

Balancing Polarities in Difficult Conversations

We balance a lot of different polarities when we have difficult conversations.

Sometimes we need to focus on dialing up assertiveness, risk, and speaking up… but this doesn’t mean that we need to totally let go of empathy, safety and deep listening. We can do both.

These polarities may each be balanced differently at any given moment during a difficult conversation. The trick is to try and do this consciously instead of falling into our regular patterns by default.

What polarities do you balance during difficult conversations?

Mapping the Contribution System

When I’m mediating, one of the many things that keeps me on my toes is helping the parties to map out all of the factors that led to the escalation of their conflict.

👉🏾 INTERNAL FACTORS: Was someone having a bad day? Running on no sleep? Stressed out about something unrelated?

👉🏾 EXTERNAL FACTORS: Was a lack of resources at play? A lack of clarity about roles or objectives? Were tight deadlines part of the mix?

👉🏾 THE DYNAMIC: What dynamic did the parties become locked into? Was it tit for tat? One-upping? Stonewalling?

Unpacking these factors generally turns up the heat in the discussion, which needs to be managed… but it’s well worth the work involved because this is what allows us to then move onto the second question – How could they have dealt with each of these factors better?

And that’s where the magic starts to happen :)

The great news is that you don’t need a mediator to do this if you find yourself in a conflict at work (or in any setting for that matter). Many issues can be resolved using this technique and a bit patience, vulnerability, and understanding.