The Right Way To Have Difficult Conversations

The first step, according to Celeste Headlee:

“. . . be curious and have a genuine willingness to learn something from someone else—even someone with whom you vehemently disagree. I’m a mixed-race woman, just a few generations removed from slavery, but I’ve had valuable conversations with segregationists and members of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.”

Headlee adds:

“Another crucial skill in difficult conversations is to resist the impulse to constantly decide whether you agree with what someone else is saying. The purpose of listening is to understand, not to determine whether someone else is right or wrong, an ally or an opponent.

Often, we decide very quickly whether we will agree with someone. We listen for certain words that might be clues to their politics or faith and use them to categorize people, trying to figure out who thinks like we do and who thinks differently. But these snap judgments usually aren’t very accurate, and they close us off from getting a more complete picture.

Psychologists call this tendency to lump people into groups the ‘halo and horns effect.’ When we approve of some salient quality of another person, we are more likely to judge them positively in other respects. The opposite is true as well.”

Headlee’s book, “We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter” is out today.

Leadership Insights

After 17+ years in SE Olympia, Team Byrnes is moving nine miles to NE Olympia. Consequently, we’re in declutter overdrive. While culling my files, I came across an interview I did with my dad, Don Byrnes, during my doctoral coursework. At the time he was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Spalding & Evenflo Companies, Inc.

Like my brother, I was really thinking about my mom during our first Christmas eve service since her death. And almost equally about my dad even though he died 20 years ago. Probably because I’ve assumed more leadership responsibilities at work and wish I could talk to him about that. That’s why the rediscovery and re-reading of this transcript is special to me. Hope there’s a take-away or two for you too.

Selected excerpts [with commentary]:

Ron: When did you first feel you were in a position of leadership?

Don: Though I don’t remember feeling it at the time, it probably began when I was chosen to do the Easter and Christmas stories in our church programs. This was followed by serving as president of the service, drama, an student council organizations in high school. However, my first position, managing an insurance underwriting department, left me with a leadership feeling. [Had no idea he ever even attended church. Love imagining him ruling the roost on the church stage.]

Ron: What motivates you and what do you to do motivate others?

Don: Initially motivation was a combination and a desire to excel together with a need for financial security. Today, with financial security, I’m motivated by achievement—this is successfully getting to the end of the objective. As I believe an organization takes on the good and bad characteristics of its leader, I strive to set a good example by displaying industriousness, loyalty, and integrity in my interpersonal relationships. People will always follow you and help you attain a mutual goal when they believe in what you are doing and in you as an individual. The best definition I heard of a leader is: a person who finds out where people want to go then gets out in front of them and takes them there. [I like this twist on thinking that leaders should have a vision and then convince others of its merits. Finding out where people want to go probably requires more patience and better listening skills than many people in leadership positions have.]

Ron: What form of communication do you find most effective for obtaining ideas from subordinates?

Don: My personal communication style is an open door policy, with “management by walking around” in all areas of the business preaching the doctrine of what I’m trying to accomplish. You must be a good listener in order to read the direction, attitudes and morale of your employees. Once you have learned that a change or correction is needed, you must implement it so the organization will stay open and continue to contribute. [For a classic example of how NOT to do this, read this article,
Washington State Patrol Chief takes issue with report on staffing issue“.]

Ron: What techniques for stress management do you follow for yourself and others?

Don: Stress to me is too often the result of poor performance, and is an excuse used by individuals who wish they were doing something else. I’ve never had much time for people who complain of being stressed out. My escape is riding a bicycle. After an hour of riding, I feel better physically and mentally. [Brilliant insight that needs no elaboration.]

Postscript:

Eldest Daughter: Liked your blog post today. Makes me think I should interview you sometime.

Me: Thanks, quite a legacy. If I work at it, someday I may be half the leader he was. I would’ve kicked his ass on the bike though.

 

 

 

 

I’m Lost

Now that I’m the greatest triathlete the world my family has ever known, I’m lost. Sibling rivalry is a beautiful thing. For the last six months sticking it to my brother provided me with a purpose for living.

But now I need a new purpose for living. Here are some possibilities.

• Be the first male to break down the Olympic synchronized swimming or rhythmic gymnastics gender barrier.

• Cut a rap record. Are you aware there’s a serious shortage of white, 50-something, Ph.D. rappers? I could be the Chosen One. Today’s Facebook friend request from someone named Joanna Byrnes in Tennessee inspired some sick lyrics. Turns out Joanna is married to Ron Byrnes. But I guess Tennessee Ron Byrnes isn’t quite enough. Yeah Joanna, odds are you did pick the wrong one, but I’m already spoken for, so it’s probably best to get on with your life. One more reason Twitter rules and Facebook drools, lots of people on Facebook share your name despite whacky spellings. Am I the only one that weirds out? Back to my off-the-hook lyrics. Ask a friend with human beat box skills to lay down a beat while you read this seedling of rap genius:

May I have your attention please? May I have your attention please? Will the real Ron Byrnes please stand up? I repeat, will the real Ron Byrnes please stand up? We’re gonna have a problem here.. ‘Cause I’m Ron Byrnes, yes I’m the real Byrnes. All you other Ron Byrnes’s are just imitating. So won’t the real Ron Byrnes please stand up, please stand up, please stand up?

• Go hard after Frenchman Robert Marchand’s new 100k cycling record of 4:17:27. Marchand is 100 years old so that could provide me with a reason for living for the next half century. Marchand averaged 14.3 miles an hour but pre-race said, “If I was doping, maybe I could hit 21-22mph.” Part of his secret, honey in his canteen.

• Compete in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. Told the GalPal, given my horrific mountain biking skills, I could literally die during the race. A friend who competed in the race a few years ago almost watched another participant die after a terrible accident. The GalPal’s reply, “Maybe a second Ironman isn’t such a bad idea.” There’s an important life lesson there fellas, but if I need to spell it out, there’s no hope for you.

That’s all I can think of for now. Vote for one of those or recommend something new that my pea-brain hasn’t considered. But don’t delay. It’s tough living day-to-day without an overarching purpose.

Hold the presses!!! The most difficult and important project en todo el mundo just dawned on me—learn to listen more patiently to the woman who, in 1987, won the real Ron Byrnes lottery. I’d like to think her life has been a fairytale ever since, but recently she told me she doesn’t feel truly listened to.

Can I learn to listen more patiently? I’ll try.

The Relationship Conundrum

A few months ago I wrote that everyone in a committed intimate relationship annoys their partner in differing ways to differing degrees. Annoyance is a natural, common thread. Forget the “committed intimate” adjectives, people in relationships eventually end up annoying one another.

There are two contrasting approaches to this reality. 1) Change the person’s behaviors. Continually remind them to turn off the lights, teach them to listen more patiently, insist that they drive just like you. Or 2) Accept their differences. Come to grips with the fact that they’re most likely never going to change and that some of their behaviors are probably always going to be annoying.

I’m an educator so I’m predisposed to believe in the power of reason and the potential for change. But my experience muddies the water. For example, I’ve nagged Fifteen about turning off the lights in our house for years to zero effect. I finally threw in the towel a year or so ago, so now I just turn them off myself. A person complains that her partner doesn’t fully appreciate her Herculean efforts to work, take care of the house, and co-raise the children. Similarly, he feels she doesn’t fully appreciate his contributions to the family’s well-being. They’re playing the most dangerous of relationship games, the no-win “I’m out appreciating you” competition.

I vacillate between one and two depending on the conflict and the day, but if I had to choose, I believe “accepting their differences” mode holds more promise for minimizing interpersonal conflict.