Conflicts of Interest
Everything you ever wanted to know about conflicts at home, at work, or in the neighborhood.
Last year I posted this a little late in the season and I thought now would be a good time to repost it as a quick reminder on how to conduct ourselves this time of year no matter what others are doing. Happy Holidays!
Shopping during the holidays can be a real nightmare. Facing parking lots jammed with cars, performing complicated search and rescue efforts to find an available cart, and approaching aisles with your best obstacle course strategies can cause even the most happy-go-lucky holiday shopper to start a conflict with any stranger who dares cross his path. Delivering an emotionally-charged snarky remark while juggling the sweater you’re buying for Nana doesn’t say much about your ability to spread joy or share in the holiday spirit, now does it.
I can’t tell you how to manage every potential conflict you’ll face during the holidays, but I can pass on a few tips retail workers have shared with me. Of course, I’ve added my own two cents worth on the subject and hope there’s something in here that will help you keep your cool this season.
1) Minimize the material and maximize the experience: What I mean by that is limit the amount of “stuff” you buy and, instead, think about experiences you can share with your family and friends. Throwing a potluck or hosting a game night will deliver a much better experience than being angry with those around you as you wait in line after line after line spending money you don’t have.
2) Shop on-line: Avoid the lines (and the other crabby people!) by hitting up your favorite stores’ websites. Check out promotion sites to find deals on price discounts, free shipping, and the like. Words of caution, though; make sure you’re carving out uninterrupted computer time so you steer clear of fighting with the family when they “just won’t leave you alone.” Also, practice scanning Internet deals quickly to avoid getting to the checkout page only to discover the discount you’re counting on doesn’t apply to the items in your shopping cart.
3) Use parking lots as personal training sessions: Why get worked up when you can work out? Use the back entrance to the lot and take the first spot you see. Walk the extra distance to the front door with a smile on your face and daydream about what you’ll do with all the extra time you’ve given yourself by not circling the same aisles over and over. Unless you need to build your demolition derby skills, let the other shoppers honk their horns and yell obscenities.
4) Shop the little guy: I called a warehouse store to ask if they had any tips on avoiding shopper conflicts and the person who answered the phone said, “Don’t shop here.” Good point. If crowds, long lines, and oversized carts bumping into the back of your heels make you mad, shop at smaller stores that offer fewer items to fewer customers.
5) Plan to be patient: No matter what anyone else does, have control over your own emotions and reactions. Prepare yourself to take a “we’re in this together” attitude whenever possible. If the cashier is rude, empathetically ask if she’s having a rough day. She’ll probably appreciate your interest and lighten up for the next guy. Smile at everyone even if—and especially when—they don’t return the gesture.
My local grocery store manager said that for the most part, holiday shoppers and retail employees are a cheerful bunch. His staff actually notices that most of their patrons display quite a bit of holiday spirit even when they’re stressed and tired. He said that the happiest customers are the ones who have paid attention to the ads (which are timed to coincide with shopper habits) and are completing their lists with time to spare. He hinted that the best time to grocery shop is before 11:00 a.m. when most of the staff is in, the departments are fully stocked, and there are fewer customers to contend with. He also said that a shopper shouldn’t wait until late afternoon the day before an event to rush around the store and then get angry with a cashier who’s helping another customer count out change. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty good piece of advice for any time of the year.
Getting married is such an exciting time. The one you love proposes, you honor your best friends by asking them to participate in the big day, the planets align, and all is right with the world. Until the issues of time and money bring out the worst in you and everyone around you.
When did we get so weird about weddings and all their trappings? Big, blowout bachelorette parties that involve cross country plane tickets, hotels, limos, embroidered sweat pants, umbrella drinks, and financial responsibility for anything the bride orders seem to be the norm. Whatever happened to a night out with the girls and a few naughty gifts? Invitations to multiple showers; some themed, some coed, and some out of the area have even the most experienced etiquette masters confused about the rules. How does one respond to a bridezilla’s supervac sucking up more cash and time than one is willing to invest? How does one deal with the family members, bridesmaids, and others who get in on the act by switching on their own sucking machines? Perhaps a few changes on the modern bride’s etiquette website are in order.
I wonder if it would be helpful if a two-part form was submitted with every bridesmaid request so that everyone would know what they were getting into. On the form could be a few boxes to check like, “I believe I am the center of the universe”, “Only my wedding matters right now,” or “Get ready to spend some cash because I’m in competition with the last friend who got married and everything surrounding my wedding needs to be bigger, better, and more expensive.” Then, there could be a response form on which a potential bridesmaid could check, “Seriously, I love you but I need to make rent”, or “This will be my third wedding this year and I’m exhausted.”
Maybe a more realistic approach is in order. I would suggest the bride and groom make some decisions about financial responsibilities before they ask their friends to participate. Will they purchase their own dress, tux, shoes, special jewelry, etc.? What are your expectations for hair and makeup? What about lodging for the event? Etc., etc., etc. Are you asking a friend who is just starting out in her career to pay thousands of dollars to support you on your big day? Give her a reality check before asking her to write a check. While you’re at it, don’t forget to think about time considerations. Asking a friend with small children to spend multiple weekends away from home on your behalf may come across as selfish.
Feel free to keep others under control. Sometimes it’s not necessarily the bride who goes a little nuts. A friend of mine recently experienced another bridesmaid wanting to throw an over the top shower for a bride whose family had already hosted one. I suppose that’s fine, but after her big announcement she then sent each of the bridesmaids a bill for their share of the cost. When my friend put on her big girl panties and politely told the organizer that she had budgeted only enough time and money for one shower and would not be participating in the second event, the crickets were deafening.
Be sure to keep your flexibility while keeping your eye on the bigger picture. It’s really fun to get inspiration from all the great bride magazines and wedding websites on the Internet. It’s also very tempting to add a little of this and a little of that or change your mind about previous decisions. It’s your day after all! But keep in mind the impact these little decisions have on others. Schedule changes, additional work parties to tie ribbons on new place setting markers, or spending just a few more dollars on these pair of shoes instead of those pair of shoes add up. Keep your friends your friends by considering their needs. It’ll give you good practice for the marriage to come!
Junk, noise, parking, screaming kids, fences, property lines, and anything involving a tree or pets are all neighborly topics that can illicit loads of spirited conversations between you and the Jones’. Our property value and peace of mind can be the biggest investments we’ll ever make and when a (relative) stranger threatens either one, it often makes us want to circle the wagons and defend the homestead.
You’ve probably had your share of disruptive and sloppy neighbors who you’d just as soon send to the moon than have to live next door to. But, without a direct flight to outer space it may feel that you’re left with either ignoring them or living with conflict. Rest assured, you have more than those two options at your disposal.
First, attack the problem, not the person. If his music is shaking the wine glasses from the cabinet, the problem is the music is too loud; not that the neighbor is an imbecile only a mother could love. When you bring up the subject stick to the issue and refrain from making personal comments.
Keep the matter between the two of you. Trying to build an army of other neighbors as a way to show force or to get someone else to speak on your behalf may result in your neighbor feeling attacked. It doesn’t matter if one or a hundred neighbors are sick of his junky yard, speak for you and only you. You can always include others (like Code enforcers) if repeated attempts don’t resolve the problem. Oh, and if your kids get along with his, don’t take the adult issues out on them by no longer allowing play dates.
Say it, don’t display it. A neighbor once told me that someone was repeatedly moving his trash cans into the middle of his driveway two days after the trash was picked up. He was clueless that the act was a way for the anonymous neighbor to display his frustration with an untidy street. I knew who was behind the act so I felt comfortable suggesting that it may be due to his trash bins being left at the curb for days. He responded, “No, I don’t think that’s it.” Oh, my. It would have been so much more effective had the trash-can-moving neighbor simply talked to the untidy neighbor.
Remain cordial. If you’re frustrated with Joe down the street because your conversation didn’t go as planned, continue to wave, smile, and say hello when you see him at the grocery store. This will keep the door open for future conversations.
Know that your annoyance may be the least of his problems. The neighbor’s work truck dripping oil in front of the community mailbox may be an important issue for you but don’t be surprised when it’s not the biggest problem he’s facing. If he tells you he’s dealing with health issues or his marriage is falling apart, etc., figure out a way to resolve the smaller issue without too much trouble on his part. Showing a little compassion now can go a long way toward building equity for future issues.
I could go on and on with ideas on how to deal with neighbors but I’m going to stop myself here and move to a few actions you can take so you’re not the naughty neighbor others are trying to figure out how to contend with. Make sure you:
Keep your home, yard, and sidewalk free of debris and unfinished projects. Sometimes we get so used to looking at something we can’t see it with fresh eyes. Your neighbors have fresh eyes, so keep things neat and clean.
Minimize noise. Keep your pets happy and your music down low. Ask around to make sure no one’s bothered by the early morning lawn mowing or evening ball games with the kids in the cul-de-sac.
Follow the rules. The neighborhood covenants are for everyone, not just for your neighbors. It’s difficult to ask someone to follow rule #3 when you’re disregarding rule #4. And, don’t forget that the local laws regarding fireworks, parking, pets, outdoor fires, and maintenance apply to you as well.
And, for all ya’ll (as my Southern friends would say), forgive the occasional exception to the rule. Give each other fair warning about the annual Christmas party or a garage sale that may cause extra traffic and parking issues for the weekend. They say good fences make good neighbors, but I think flexible ones are better.
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Here’s another one of those “I-wish-people-would-stop-doing-that” blogs.
Disappointing relationships often cause good people to do really dreadful things. And, punishing the wrong person for your disappointment is definitely a dreadful thing. I see loads of mediation clients who insist on using their children as sticks and carrots when it comes to dealing with their exes. Problem is, they don’t see that in their attempts to reward and punish the person who hurt them greatly they are greatly hurting their children. Revenge is not so sweet when it sours your relationship with the kids. It’s even worse when you think your actions are okay.
Many of my mediation cohorts and I have come to the conclusion that children deserve two parents no matter how stinky you think the other one is. I’m not a therapist but I’m pretty sure that your kids won’t grow up to thank you for all the times you cancelled a visit as punishment for their other parentwho was 10 minutes late to the meeting spot. Your little ones won’t always be little and when they’re grown they most likely won’t appreciate you for using them as pawns in a poorly-played game of I’m-so-mad-at-you-I-could-spit chess.
Trying to be the mature player in a game like that is really hard, but it’s worth it. Actions do speak louder than words and demonstrating maturity to your children can be more impactful than pulling out the dictionary to read the definition. Demonstrating communication, forgiveness, and hope is powerful.
At the end of the day, what feels fair to you may not be fair for your children. Of course you want to save your little ones from disappointment and the reality that parents don’t always keep their word. So, I understand wanting to “take away” something from your ex so that (s)he gets the message that it’s not okay for them to do that to little schmoopie. Sometimes the conflict that comes your way can be a great teaching tool, though. Showing children how to compromise, how to discover what’s most important to them, and how to keep their integrity even when others don’t keep theirs are pretty good life lessons–certainly better than lessons like displaced anger, sabotage, and revenge.
I’m having chicken noodle soup for breakfast—because I choose to. It’s probably not what most people are opting for this morning, and it certainly would turn a few heads if I ordered it at the local diner but I’m going with my gut here and answering my hankering for a bowl of comfort on this rainy, Seattle morning.
I didn’t feel the need to consult anyone about my choice today but the mental process I went through to heat up the good stuff made me wonder why the decision to buck the norm took so much time and seemed, well, a little radical. I remembered a recent item from the Internet that covered the idea of choices and how our preferences are often influenced by the preferences of others. We have a multi-cultural society and yet when it comes to what to have for breakfast we often limit ourselves to choices like eggs, cereal, and pastries. Most people would call that standard breakfast fare.
And, speaking of standard, many of my mediation clients ask me what’s standard or want me to tell them what most people do when faced with choices like the ones they’re about to make. What’s standard has become an artificial choice for many. When couples are building parenting plans the standard protocol seems to be that Mom becomes residential parent, the kids see Dad every other weekend and on Wednesday evenings, and then the two adults cannibalize holidays making the kids go back and forth for meals, events, and gifts. Turns out, this standard arrangement doesn’t really work for a lot of families.
My clients may not know in the beginning that standard isn’t going to work for them, so I suppose it’s as good a place as any to start. What would be nice, though, is after they’ve tried standard on for a while they could admit to one another that standard doesn’t fit the bill and maturely go back to the drawing board to create something that fits them like a glove. I’m not sure how to make that way of approaching agreements a standard approach, though. I’m just having one of my standard early-morning, single-participant brainstorming sessions. I’ll have to noodle on that for a while.
Mediators are trained to give clients instructions that both sides must be willing to listen to each other in order give resolution a chance. I’m going to stop requiring participants to listen because listening doesn’t accomplish squat. Let me explain.
In my opinion it’s too easy to listen—or at least claim you’re listening. All you have to do is sit there. You can think about your last vacation, try to remember the 5th item on your grocery list, or clutter up your mind with any number of ponderings—all under the guise of listening. Sometimes the only real effort listening takes is staying in one’s seat and not leaving the room.
Rather than requiring my clients to listen, I’m going to ask each of them to consider what the other has to say. I believe there’s more than a subtle difference between the two. I looked to Webster’s to see what the dictionary had to say and though there are a number of definitions for the words that are quite similar, I found these two meanings particularly interesting.
Listen: to pay attention
Consider: to look at thoughtfully
Considering allows one to move from idle listener to engaged co-participant. Listening doesn’t demand much but considering requires a lot. To consider fully one must mull it over, play “what if”, ask mindful questions, create clarity, and develop ideas that start with the initial proposal but end up somewhere else. It’s hard to do that if you’re just listening.
With the kiddos headed back to school and the adults jumping back into volunteer work, fundraising responsibilities, and committee dynamics I thought it might be a good idea to repost a bit I wrote last year about volunteers…
A few months ago I had lunch with a good friend who discussed some of the challenges she faces working with volunteers. After much discussion we came to the conclusion that all workers–paid or volunteer–are motivated by such things as recognition, reputation, and teamwork, but volunteers often place more importance on their unique motivating factors than paid employees do. If a paid employee isn’t getting the recognition he believes he deserves, he may say, “Well, at least I’m laughing all the way to the bank.” That fallback position isn’t true for a volunteer and thus his need for getting his values met amplifies, which can cause unwanted conflicts in the group.
Take a look at how to spot and work with common volunteer personalities:
The Fine Upstanding Citizen: Interested in building or keeping a solid reputation he may volunteer for too much because he wants to be seen as someone who can be counted on or he may want to focus on just a few things because he would rather do one thing well than a lot of tasks half-way. If you need him to do more, or less, appeal to his desire to keep his name in good-standing when making your request. And, recognizing his contributions with a simple plaque or mention in the newsletter will almost always motivate him to keep up the good work.
Mr. Fix-It: New volunteers who want to swoop in and fix everything they perceive is wrong with the current program make the old guard uneasy and run the risk of alienating the very people they need to help them make changes. There’s nothing wrong with ideas that have the potential to yield higher returns, but there’s a method to helping others hear what one has to say. If you have an over-enthusiastic recruit spewing ideas left and right, suggest that his ideas be shared by first addressing the group and stating what is working, sharing what the proposed change would yield for both the organization and the other volunteers, and stating how much of the work he’s willing to take on himself. His ideas will be received better if he speaks to specific changes rather than suggesting everything is wrong.
Keeper of the Flame: Often known as the traditionalist or old guard, a Keeper may say, “It doesn’t matter whywe do it that way; what matters is that we’ve alwaysdone it that way.” She may be resistant to change because she values tradition and the status quo (and probably boundaries, too). Perhaps she feels she and others have put in a lot of work to hone a well-oiled machine and consequently will take any suggestion for change as a personal affront. Let her know her service and opinions are still appreciated and speak to what her role would be with any changes. Often breaking down proposals into more palatable steps is easier for a Keeper to accept, so suggest a few changes and get her opinion about where you might start.
Social Butterfly: Most organizations have folks who are less concerned about program efficiency than they are making sure everyone has a fun experience. However, meeting timelines or financial goals and building friendships don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You may be better served by utilizing her skills on activities that don’t require timely reports or consistent attendance. Give her permission to bow out of a task and, of course, be okay with having the occasional good time Charlie in the group because, let’s face it, they’re often the ones we appreciate most when it’s time to host the party and build enthusiasm for an event. Whoopee!
The Dues Payer: Often the most pragmatic of volunteers what you see is what you get. Many organizations require parents or members to make a volunteer commitment as part of the membership or tuition, so it should come as no surprise when you’re working with volunteers who are there because they have to be. For these folks you may be better served to find out what it is they would like to do and let them do it rather than assigning a task they have no interest in. Let go of the expectation that everyone shares the same level of enthusiasm for the organization that you do. Have these volunteers do what they do best, thank them for their efforts, and wish them well when they move on.
Resume Builder: Similar to the Dues Payer, the Resume Builder volunteers for no-nonsense reasons. Charitable organizations are a great way for the stay-at-home parent or displaced worker to build or expand his resume. A great way to motivate a Resume Builder is to help him create experiences that meet his goals while benefiting the organization. For example, if the volunteer is interested in leadership opportunities, help him develop his skills with group tasks or specific fundraising assignments.
My friend and I also came to the conclusion that it’s rare to find a volunteer with just one volunteer personality or motivating factor. You may encounter a Fine Upstanding Citizen who is fulfilling her child’s tuition requirement while simultaneously building her resume or a Mr. Fix-It hoping to be the next Keeper of the Flame. This may require more investigating on your part, but working to discover what makes a volunteer tick and then managing her accordingly will keep her motivated and minimize conflicts.
This just in! The City of Kirkland has proclaimed Sunday, August 28th as “Sasia Regan-Hughes Be Kind to Everyone Day.” Check out the link on Facebook to attend this virtual event and make a pledge to offer a simple act of kindness to everyone you encounter that day from wherever you are in the world. For some it will be easy. For others a bit of a struggle. Either way, I know you can do it.
A PROCLAMATION OF THE CITY OF KIRKLAND
Proclaiming August 28 as “Be Kind to Everyone” Day
in Kirkland, Washington
WHEREAS, kindness is commonly defined as a state of being or benevolent deed, and is synonymous with the words: compassion, thoughtfulness, gentleness, and sympathy; and
WHEREAS, anyone who experiences giving or receiving kindness or observes an act of kindness, innately knows the benefits of kindness and is motivated to be kind to others; and
WHEREAS, kindness guided the life of Sasia Regan-Hughes, a Kirkland resident and Lake Washington High School graduate, who showed thoughtful consideration of others, epitomized loving kindness, and looked for the goodness in everyone; and
WHEREAS, Sasia Regan-Hughes lived by her favorite “Words of the Day” – duende which is the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm; and ahimsa, an important tenet of the Hindu and Buddhist doctrine, which means kindness, and to refrain from harm of all living things ; and
WHEREAS, Sasia Regan-Hughes was born on August 28, 1985 and passed away unexpectedly on June 17, 2011 and her family wishes to carry forward her desire that people express kindness toward one another;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Joan McBride, Mayor of Kirkland, do hereby proclaim, in perpetuity, August 28 as “Be Kind to Everyone” Day in Kirkland, Washington and invite the community to be kind to others through words, actions, deeds, and thoughts; not just on this day, but every day.
Signed this 28th day of August, 2011
______________________ Joan McBride, Mayor
Old, unresolved conflicts can be maddening, heartbreaking, and distracting. And, because it takes two to tango you may think that it takes two to bring closure. Most times you’re probably right but I discovered the other day that that’s not always the case.
For the past few years I’ve gotten the cold shoulder from someone who has the skills to address disagreements with me but has chosen not to. Every once in a while I would run into him and be reminded that he’s very angry about something and it would dredge up the fact that even as a mediator there are some things in my personal life I’m just not interested in “fixing.” Sometimes I would see him and think, “What a jerk,” and sometimes I would feel guilty about not being the bigger person and working to make things right between us. There was a time when I thought highly of him and truly enjoyed his company. I considered him a friend.
After our falling-out I gave him the space to speak about it when the time was right for him and didn’t try to rush a conversation. The weeks turned into months and the months turned into years. Crickets. A few weeks ago I attended an event and saw him from across the room. The usual contradictory thoughts of his character ran through my mind and I decided I was no longer willing to have this situation hanging over my head. I, too, have skills and it was high time I used them. So, I approached him.
I found a moment in which no one else was around and sat next to him. I said I missed him, that I had tried to ignore the good things about him in order to stay away, and then stated that when he was ready, I was willing to talk. I had no expectation that my approach would make him melt. And, I was right. I was vulnerable and as he sat in stony silence, I felt he was taking advantage of that vulnerability to try to make me feel small. It took a lot of self-talk not to go to the “what a jerk” place in mind. He finally said he would need more time to which I reiterated that whenever he was ready the door was open and then I walked away.
And, then I saw a flash in the room. Not a real flash from the overhead fluorescent lights, but the kind of lightening strike that comes when you have a life-changing realization. I had closure. I realized that it didn’t really matter to me if we ever talked. For a second that thought felt very wrong because it didn’t fit my perceived notion of closure. And, yet, I felt closure stronger than I’d ever felt it before. I was good, I had clarity, and I considered it “over” for me.
My hope for you, reader, is that you have a similar experience. Is there a negative situation hanging around you that could find closure without the other person? Maybe putting your thoughts down in a letter, extending as much of an olive branch as you’re willing, or simply breaking the ice with a quick email wishing them well might help you get there. It doesn’t have to be a big production. You don’t have to get the House and the Senate to agree, you just have to open a door and let the fresh air into your own house.