Between Yesterday and Tomorrow
It is now the first few hours of the New Year, and as I sit at the edge of the year 2020, I continue to think about three words and two phrases that occupied my mind over the past 30 plus days. In the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, I received many notes, some electronic and some in the more traditional form, wishing me and my family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
I sent out similar good wishes to friends, acquaintances, and people I’ve done business with, and each time I thought about those three words and two phrases. I came to the conclusion I needed to take specific actions this year to more actively live into the call to action that lies in those words. This may sound to some like a New Year’s resolution, and to some extent, it may be.
Yet, this is not about losing weight, exercising more, or keeping up with the household chores better. These are important in their own way and lead to being a better person. I’ve come to the conclusion that so many of those more obvious goals don’t get carried out in a sustained way because the virtues have not been put in place first.
This time of year and the messages associated with this season reminds me that we cannot do anything for ourselves without first looking beyond ourselves. Conversations about virtue are rarely held outside the home because too many people are afraid to have that conversation, or simply don’t know how to start one. For me, the start of any conversation such as this, is what am I called to do about something?
The three Great Virtues are called Faith, Hope, and Charity, and each one is a call to action. People in business use a lot of action based phrases; to the point, it is often a catchphrase. For Christians these words are much more than a simple call to action, and yet, each of these words speaks to anyone who wants to make things better, and once understood in that context, the obligation to act becomes clear.
Having the belief that you can effect positive change is a universal trait. Holding to the expectation that you will succeed, and being able to act with unselfish motives are also universal.
Two phrases also make an appearance at this time of year; Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards Men. I see these words as an expression of the four Cardinal Virtues written about with great eloquence by philosophers such as Plato and Cicero.
It was Cicero who wrote….” Virtue may be defined as a habit of mind (animi) in harmony with reason and the order of nature. It has four parts: wisdom (prudentiam), justice, courage, temperance.”
As we all enter this new year 2020, I invite those who read my letter each month to dedicate yourselves to a new level of action, a higher level of commitment, and the promise to yourself that small steps matter as much as the larger steps.
As noted in several recent letters, I again invite you to join me next Wednesday, January 8, 2020, at Gallery Furniture at their North Freeway (I-45) address for the 37th Annual Economic Forecast hosted by the Services Cooperative Association
SCA is a co-operative comprised of business owners that have a mission, a purpose that hasn’t varied in 36 years. Through its processes, it assists business owners in Market Expansion, Business Development, Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Education and Professional Growth. It is a set of processes that has led numerous companies to succeed where they might otherwise have failed.
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What Did He Say?
Every once in a while, when you are deep into a discussion, you hear something that sounds like “and the eagle flew upside down.” Your first reaction is what? What did he say? If the person was talking to you, your second reaction is, am I losing my hearing? So you ask, what did you say? The person typically will give an answer that removes the initial confusion, but it will not ease the sense of disquiet that the person listening missed an essential clue in the conversation.
It is a common feeling because many times we do miss important clues. During his career, Peter Drucker would tell executives he worked with that in a negotiation the most important thing about that negotiation is what is left unsaid. When saying that, one of the things he was alluding to is that neither side takes the time to learn what is important to the other party in the disagreement.
Whether you are negotiating a contract or helping two parties settle a dispute, the truth underlying Peter Drucker’s admonition is an enduring truth. Too many times I see parties in a negotiation assigning little or no value to the other party’s concerns. Having done this for some years now, I’ve learned to discuss this issue early either in a mediation or when hired to help someone through a negotiation.
When I am brought in to consult, I make it clear that the route to a failed negotiation is taking the position that winning on all your key points is all that matters. Some years ago I assisted in a negotiation that led to an impasse because the person I was helping went into the room convinced he was right and the other side needed to see it his way. Many of you reading this already know that the insistence on being right is rarely a winning strategy.
In this instance when my client successfully painted himself into a corner, I suggested we take a break, which he readily agreed to. During our meeting, I asked him what he wanted to do. His first reaction was that he could not give up his position, that the other party would “run the table on him.” I let him talk for a bit, and then I asked him, what are the two key points the other side raised, and why were those two issues important to them?
After a short conversation, it became clear he could not state clearly why those two issues were essential to the other party. He had not learned that before sitting down to negotiate, and he had not discovered it during the negotiation. I suggested that when they resumed the discussions, that he re-set the tone by asking just one question. What is it you want me to know?
It is a simple question, yet a powerful one. Surprisingly, it is one question both sides forget to ask. I recently attended a dinner where a gentleman with a great deal of experience in this field gave a speech, and it was downright eerie to listen to him talk about solving disagreements and using language very similar to the language I routinely use.
In the example above the two sides eventually resolved the dispute successfully, but it took a bit of effort to get there. (My client was young, successful, and brash). He had good control over his personal and professional life, except for his ego; which is common among very bright people.
I was reminded of this when I read the book, Multipliers, by Dr. Liz Wiseman. A number of the examples in her book resonated with me because of my own experiences in helping others to become better listeners. I urge those reading my letters to buy this book – after buying my latest book. It’s called The Battle for Ethics and Integrity in the Workplace: The Leaders Dilemma.
And this brings me back to the eagle flew upside down. When you experience such a moment, you will find you don’t have a hearing problem; you have a listening problem. There is a growing awareness of this, and more companies are providing training to their employees to become better listeners. Unsurprisingly, I find too many companies offering these classes to the wrong end of the organization chart.
It is hard to convince employees to engage in better listening exercises when those higher up the chain don’t walk the walk. Managers and senior managers have a hundred different ways of saying “make the problem go away, do it quickly, and as cheaply as possible.” We have all heard variations of that theme enough times to know it creates more problems than it solves. Still, it remains an all too common message employees receive.
The gap between agreement and disagreement won’t go away until you take the other side seriously and they perceive you are doing so. It applies equally to disagreements with coworkers as much as it does at the negotiating table.
When something you read raises a question, don’t be bashful. Give us a call. We can be reached at 346-561-0612, 832-452-8537, or at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about CDC Integrated Services by visiting our website at www.cdci-mediation.com
Food for thought: Beyond the precise meaning found in a dictionary, judgment is more than just the ability to make good decisions about what needs doing. It begins by thinking carefully and critically, which are skills that come through practice. You cannot acquire them by going to a conference or a seminar.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
We at CDC Integrated Services wish to take a moment to thank everyone who chose us to aid them with the issues brought to us during the past year. We are grateful for your business and wish all of our clients a safe and peaceful new year.
Peace and Goodwill to all.
From Jerry Cooper and the CDCI team
After the Shock Wave
This week’s blog can also be called Ethic’s Seismic Fracture, and here is why.
Wells Fargo Corporation opened fake bank accounts and fake credit card accounts, and charged its customers fees for accounts they did not know existed. These actions were both illegal and unethical and will have significant consequences for all those involved. It has all the trappings of a soap opera scandal and everyone is piling on adding his or her opinion wherever they can. But the story is not over and I think there is more to come.
This is an ethical failure of seismic proportions, and I will likely write about it in a future letter, but it is too soon because I don’t believe we know the whole story. It does offer an excellent segue into a related issue that I think is relevant to this story.
An article in the Harvard Business Review discussed the subject of listening and why this is such a critical skill for CEOs and other leaders. The author noted that a recent survey indicated as many as 25 percent of CEOs of major companies were either not good listeners or down right bad at it. The article went on to explain that this deficit at that level of leadership in a company can have severe consequences to the point of damaging the company. I think it’s safe to say the authors of that survey got that one right.
When such a deficit exists at the top level, imagine what the absence of this skill would mean in someone heading up a major business unit who must communicate and receive feedback from other business unit leaders. Information naturally flows up an organization making information transfers across the various organizations difficult at best, but it is made more difficult if the person in charge of one of these organizational structures does not listen well.
Think for a moment about a company much like Wells Fargo where employees at multiple levels in an organization are trying to convey important information up the chain of command; information that signals the train is going too fast and is about to go off the tracks, but that information doesn’t move up the organization. It meet resistance that shows itself in several ways. These can be procedures that require detailed explanations and lengthy reviews for no apparent reason, a set of well-established routines that do not conform to any written procedures or policies and which cannot be bypassed, and a culture that says to the average manager or employee “make your numbers first and save your complaints for later…” The transition from poor listening skills to an un-willingness to listen is a very short step.
One of the most important skills a leader has is the ability to listen. It is one of the ingredients of leadership that separates a leader from the rest of the crowd. Does this mean that you can’t achieve a leadership role without this skill? No, it doesn’t; a person can achieve a leadership role in a company or organization without this skill, but the chances of doing well in that position are significantly diminished without it.
The leaders at Wells Fargo failed in their leadership role. It is not the first company to suffer a severe failure of leadership, and it won’t be the last. As more time passes I think we will find there were ample opportunities to change the work ethic in that company, but the warning signs were ignored. I believe the failure to listen at various levels of the organization was the catalyst that sowed the seeds for disaster.
Successful leaders learn early in their careers that listening is part of a process designed to produce communication with others that works so that misunderstandings are reduced or eliminated. I encourage those who read my letter each month to read, or if you have already, then re-read Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He understood that listening, especially empathic listening requires training. Sometimes leaders trained themselves to achieve this level of listening, and sometimes leaders found someone to teach them how to achieve this level of listening.
In chapter 5 of his book Stephen Covey wrote that there are several principles of communication and he begins by saying “seek first to understand then to be understood”. I believe those principles are as valid today as when he wrote his book some 30 years ago.
The idea that you first needed to understand the person you were talking to was a completely foreign concept to the vast majority of people. In the business world of that era it was seen as an impractical point of view, and that view was not hard to understand in that most communication at time was directive in nature where the boss told his employees what to do and when he wanted it done and the employee was expected to figure it out.
I am firmly convinced that empathic listening as he wrote about has a sound ethical foundation and provides the best framework for building listening skills of the scope and reach that will separate you from the crowd, and sustain you in your role as a leader.
A strong ethical culture requires the right kind of action. Listening is an action and so it must be supported by the right kind of action to be successful.
Food for thought: Great readers and great listeners all have great work ethics. They work hard at what they do and they are devout about their reading and listening. (Andy Wilkinson)
CDC Integrated Services believes that small businesses are the foundation of ingenuity and supports the efforts of the Services Cooperative Association in Houston in its efforts to foster and promote entrepreneurship
Much of what I do as a mediator involves disputes between companies, employee disputes, intra and inter-organizational disputes, and disputes between individuals. I have mediated disputes between individuals and companies often vendors they did business with. When it comes to divorce mediation, I turn down most of those requests such that this type of mediation is less than 15% of my work.
It therefore something of a surprise that I was approached last year to mediate a dispute involving a blended family, and from that experience I have since been approached to assist in several other disputes, all of which involve disputes within a blended family environment.
Unlike divorce mediation where the mediator is tasked with assisting couples bring to closure a relationship which was destroyed and deal with the aftermath and its impact on children, the dynamics of blended families is underpinned by hope. Here are people trying to build a new family structure for themselves and the children they now share with their former partners. The families I have assisted want very much for their new family structure to work, for their children to be happy and to feel safe in the new environment.
I think what I enjoy best about this new aspect of my practice is how willing the parents are to do everything they can to make things work for the children. I do not diminish the obstacles the parents face in a blended family and I have made it clear to the parents that solving the more immediate issues is not the end of their journey. The children especially need a way of voicing their concerns and fears, and they need to do that with the support of a trained professional. But what is really rewarding is the pleasure and sense of accomplishment the new parents gain by climbing out from under the anger, frustration, and uncertainty about doing the wrong thing. The biggest thing they have to learn is that the best solutions begin with small steps. The children cannot be expected to immediately love the new mother or the new father, but it is a major step forward if the children like being around the new parent.
I have treaded very carefully in this new environment, and so far the feedback has been positive.
Conflict is a necessary part of the competitive process between and among organizations and individuals, but this is not the generally held view. When a conflict manifests itself/ rises up among individuals in a group, management sees this as a bad thing, and reacts accordingly. It is seen by many as a crisis to be addressed quickly. This view and the approaches taken to address conflict based on this view can create an environment that makes solving the conflict more difficult.
A crisis mentality impedes rather than accelerates the dialogue necessary to breakdown the disagreements that produced the conflict. In an effort to move the parties past the perceived reasons for the conflict/dispute, management often tries to referee the issues, and these types of efforts rarely succeed for the simple reason that one party or the other in the dispute will perceive that management is taking sides. The manager may believe he or she is trying to sort the issues out, but the manner in which the questions are asked of do the opposite. Ms. Sonja Carberry makes a similar point in a recent article in the Investor’s Business Daily. In her article she recommends that, when attempting to unravel the reasons for the conflict, the questions should be presented with a soft touch to avoid being perceived as interrogating the party being questioned.
The reality is that conflicts in the workplace are resolved more successfully when the parties are allowed to work through their differences in an open and honest dialogue that is free from the heavy hand of management. Yet when the conflict does begin to affect the work place environment or the status of the work, the use of an impartial third party to facilitate or mediate the conflict is almost a necessity. A conflict in the workplace that is impacting the work process cannot be resolve by management without coming down on the side of one party or the other, and the only way to address such conflicts in a way that minimizes the negative impact on the work processes is to use a third party mediator.