Relationships at Work - Leadership Skills Guide to Create a Company Culture We Love

How Leadership Can Address Team and Organizational Conflict with Carol Bowser

March 19, 2024 Russel Lolacher Episode 146
Relationships at Work - Leadership Skills Guide to Create a Company Culture We Love
How Leadership Can Address Team and Organizational Conflict with Carol Bowser
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with workplace conflict expert and professional trainer Carol Bowser on how to address conflict at work, on remote teams, in the office and across the organization.

Carol shares her insights and experience in...

  • Conflict spectrum in the workplace
  • The role of perception and communication to resolve conflict on remote teams
  • Understanding cultural differences in conflict management
  • Listening fluency as a skill for conflict prevention
  • The importance of building relationships and trust
  • The complexity of conflict resolution
  • Finding workable solutions without trust

And connect with me for more great content!

Russel Lolacher: And on the show today, we have Carol Bowser and here is why she is awesome. She's a workplace conflict expert, speaker, mediator, professional trainer. She's a president of Conflict Management Strategies, Inc. helping organizations manage conflict conflict and improve workplace relationships. She has worked as a contract mediator for the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is a lead mediator trainer for the Pierce County Center for Dispute Resolution. All the words. All impressive. She also practiced employment law for several years.

I have to love this quote. 'I know the difference between what employees perceive to be unfair and what is illegal.' Oh, I like that one. Hello, Carol.

Carol Bowser: Hello there.

Russel Lolacher: Thanks so much for being on the show. We're talking conflict specifically in the new world of work, which is all around remote, hybrid. But before we get into any of that Carol, we need to know more about you. So let's ask the first question I ask all of my guests, which is, what's your best or worst employee experience?

Carol Bowser: I would say I'm going to go into the way back machine. And I think the best and the worst was kind of early in my twenties where I realized, there was stuff going on at my employer that was not good. Where, even though there was this management training program, they were training people how to be, do sales and do office management, but there was nothing about what the rights and responsibilities in the employment relationship were.

So I had a couple of really icky experiences, but looking back, I think it was really the start of a path of where I, of where I ended up And it made it kind of... It was terrible. I remember driving to work and just thinking if I just kept driving, I don't have to go to work. Where can I go? Like, driving across the bridge going, I could just keep driving across this bridge and not go to work, but it was kind of a moment of very clear, but needed there needed to be a change.

Russel Lolacher: How do you handle that from a mental health perspective? Because everybody has those jobs eventually in their career where there's just, they're dreading. They know the minute they have to wake up. They're just sort of like, Oh, this is, this is what I've chosen. This is my life. How do you handle it from a mental health perspective in that you still have to go, you still have to figure stuff out?

Carol Bowser: I think for me it, and I think maybe I'm not unlike a lot of people. And this was kind of before I really started doing my training about conflict resolution and trying to understand why things work for people or why things don't work for people. Is it the employer, not not liking the job or is it employment relationships?

So I think, I think I went out to a lot of happy hours. I think I did a fair amount of driving, but I also think I was really pretty young and I think just being able to have an idea of that there is always a choice and being able to say, okay if I'm choosing, why, why am I choosing to stay?

What is kind of my plan for leaving? And then sometimes it's a little bit of a negotiation for yourself, kind of being able to figure out like where your own personal risk tolerances are, where you see opportunity. And I'm going to fast forward a way, a way in advance of when it is that I first started my business.

I realized that I needed to tell as many people as I possibly could what it is that I'm starting to do, what it is that I'm looking for. Otherwise, it's just a really well kept secret and that really isn't helpful. And I think that there takes a fair amount of courage for you to be able, or anybody to be able, to articulate saying, You know what, I've thought about it, and this is what I want. And being able to say that to yourself and then also have the courage to say it to others. I think it's really, really helpful. So I don't want to say that we say that I necessarily spoke something into existence, but if I didn't I think I'd be sitting in an office by myself not doing much of anything, wondering why the world didn't wanna come and do this amazing journey learning conflict resolution skills with me.

So I think that that's, that's a really big part of it, of being able to speak to yourself, what's working, what's not working, what options we have and being able to talk to people about it. And also, I'll just say, don't take some people's advice. Some people said, you should go into real estate.

I'm like, no, I should not go into real estate.

Yeah, I'm just saying I think some people mean well, but it's yeah, I don't think so.

Russel Lolacher: I love when you get advice like that and you're like, do you know me as a person at all? Are we really friends at all? Because you don't seem to know what, what makes me tick that you think I should do that.

Carol Bowser: No, and I will say that maybe you know this I think this also kind of relates to what I do now is like somebody sees something in you that reminds them of themselves because it was people in real estate that said you should go into real estate or that people wanted you know that I said I wanted flexibility like well this career has flexibility. So I mean I think that there's a certain amount of flexibility. good intentions with that. And I also see this happens in the workplace where managers or co workers or leaders start giving advice based on what works for them or what had worked for them. So being able to back up and say what is it that you're seeing or experiencing in me that leads you to make that recommendation versus that's ridiculous.

That's dumb idea. I'm not going to do that.

Russel Lolacher: The problem is that a lot of us at that younger age, us included, just don't have the tools or the confidence a lot of the time to make those decisions. And yet. horrible, horrible experiences that we carry with us decades later. So let's help a few people with some tools today, Carol. So I want to, I want to start off first with defining things.

And that's always I feel is a really great baseline before we get into things. So for instance, how do you define workplace conflict?

Carol Bowser: Oh, I have a couple of different definitions and thanks for asking because I do find that in my work that people use these big broad terms like teamwork, team player, professionalism, good communication, conflict resolution. And there really isn't an agreement on what that means in practice across the board.

So when I think about it, I think about people's ability to engage, to be able to articulate what they see their needs are, what they the gaps are and to really kind of engage in a dialogue and brainstorming. I think that that, that that is it. And again, it's... I say again, but I talk about it so much that it's not sunshine, puppy dogs, hold hands, touch knees, sing kumbaya, but it's being able to, is this a solution that I can live with?

And let me just say that this is, I may get into trouble here, but I really, really wish we could back off of the term of a win-win solution, because I think that means that it sets a high bar that we're going to really love the solution and we love because some people love to win.

But sometimes is it a livable, is it a workable solution? And I think sometimes for people who are aren't in kind of negotiation and problem solving as a profession, we realize that sometimes we're not, we don't go for a big, huge win-win, everybody feels amazing about it. That we know it's a process and just say what about this is workable?

Because then we set people up for disappointment, which serves to fuel the fire of conflict.

Russel Lolacher: Of course. So, There has to be a spectrum. To get a little further into the definition of conflict, is a disagreement conflict? Or does it have to be full blown yelling matches, or could it just be that perfume you're wearing is driving me nuts. What is, what is conflict in that sense from a range standpoint?

Carol Bowser: So, I'm going to say yes and because I do think that there is a range. There could be what I refer to sometimes as a dis ease, meaning I'm not totally comfortable with it. To feeling as though the level of dis ease is causing physical and psychological symptoms and then how people deal with it to be able to, to be heard or try to persuade somebody or really do express a high level of frustration that it can go to kind of the, really what I would call severe behavior is one that aren't welcome or desired in the workplace to, that could probably get you fired three that might get you arrested.

So you know, it's a big, it's a big spectrum. And I think, in the workplace, maybe a lot of the conflict is is interpersonal, also internal. Do I talk to this person? Do I not talk to this person? Do I take the risk? Do I approach it this way? So, I mean I often joke that when people go into law offices, it's so quiet.

It's because you can't hear the screaming that's going on inside everybody's head of all, of all the things they're trying to negotiate themselves internally.

Russel Lolacher: Now, if we put the lens of remote work on conflict, does it show up differently somehow? Is there a different way of perceiving it in that realm?

Carol Bowser: I think yes, and no, because I think part of it is how you perceive conflict is how well do you know your teams and your co workers? Do you know their tells for if they're feeling uncomfortable or if they're feeling frustrated or if they're feeling impeded? Now, I will say I think across the board whether it's in person, a hybrid, or for that if people feel as though they aren't being successful at work, that someone, something, a system or a process is impeding them from being really successful, that's where a lot of conflict comes in.

Because that's where, it's where that person is being a jerk or, and because he's being a jerk or she's being a jerk, I'm spending more time managing the relationship or responding to these ridiculous emails. Things along, along those lines. And I think I do think it goes back to how well do you know your people.

So, for example, if we're doing it virtually on ZOOM, are you picking up little tells that there may be disengagement? Are they leaning forward and leaning in, or are they really leaning back? If it's kind of through Slack or TEAMS has the quality, the quantity or the tone of the communication changed?

As I said, recognizing these signals is a lot like how to play in poker. Everybody's got a tell. And so do you know that your tell? I, I know what mine is. I started using the word fine or whatever. A little bit. And and so I think that though that that that that's kind of universal. It may be that we need to spend a little bit more time kind of sorting through things, especially if we're in big meetings with a lot of people.

How well have we begun , through the onboarding process or the continuing of the employment relationship, continuing to check in and not just on a transactional level. Is stuff getting done? How is stuff getting done? And I'm not saying go in and start having a counseling session with people, but maybe putting on your curiosity cap and having conversations about help me understand what times and what type of work are, are stressful or how is, how is the pace of work going? And by the way, if anybody says fine, it's okay, no problem.

Maybe take that with a grain of salt. And here's a tip I would love to share with everybody. In our culture, when we ask the question, how are you, we really don't want to know. That's just a fancy greeting. And one of the difficulties is, is that if you have a manager who's really interested or specifically human resources or checking up with things, generally speaking, if there are people in positions of power and there are things going on where people are concerned about engagement, retention, diversity, equity, inclusion, professional development, when they are asking, how are you?

They, they are likely using that for an entree to have the conversation. So if someone asks you that question, you can say, Hey do you, do you, do you really want to know, or are we just saying hi to, hi to each other? Because if you really want to know I can share with you some things I'm really excited about. I can share with you some things that I'm being challenged with. I can share some things where I'm, a bit frustrated with, but if that's not some, if that's not the point of this conversation, we can leave that to another time. Now, notice I just did it very matter of fact, not making a big deal out of it.

It's just like the same tone, pitch, pacing of, how are you doing? I'm just fine. How are you saying kind of same thing.

Russel Lolacher: Really good point in there, is it our culture? Now, there are many different types of cultures and certainly In a virtual hybrid world, you may not be getting some of those cues physical cues that you would get being in the same office. So as a leader that's trying to address conflict in those situations with different cultures, what kind of suggestions would you recommend in that situation?

Carol Bowser: I remember you had one guest on recently who said that she spoke five different languages. Man, I think most people have enough challenge with conflict in your maiden language. I would say does that person or that leader, do you know enough about the culture or do you have a trusted advisor where you could say, what types of things should I be noticing generally speaking within cultural norms or specifically this office's cultural norms that would maybe key to me that there might be some challenges or might be some disappointments or frustrations going on because you, again, I, I deal mostly with the U S and there are very, very different cultures throughout the U S. geographically. For example, here in the Pacific Northwest where I'm located, we have a strong and nationwide reputation of being amazingly passive aggressive. In the south, very much so that that you can be killed with kindness and politeness. And there's also a 'Midwest nice', which means we're not going to talk about certain things. And then you go to the East Coast. New York has a very strong reputation of I'm going to be very direct. I'm going to be very blunt. I'm going to maybe use my pitch the pacing and tell you what I really think and try to maybe push you in the direction that I want you to go and that can be very unsettling for people when they're rooted in their own norms.

So for leaders, can you find out a trusted advisor of tell me how stuff is normally dealt with here? In the past, how has conflict been dealt with? Has it been dealt with? How comfortable have your past leaders been with addressing conflict? Have we trained people to not bring forward conflict or to act independently because they feel as though the leaders aren't stepping in?

Russel Lolacher: Fair enough. Is there ways if we're understanding these cultures to be different and diverse, while still trying to, to move the vision and the mission forward, are there things as leaders that we can do strategically to mitigate conflict from even happening, sort of, I don't know, just soften the world that we work in so conflict doesn't happen as readily?

Carol Bowser: Well, I view it that conflict happens because something important for the individual or the team is at stake. So being able to, start developing some skill sets and I, I talk about listening fluency and whether that listening is like reading fluency, reading in between the lines or listening for what's important to people.

I think that that is really important. In fact, I was just delivering a, an all hands webinar and this one organization had just acquired, in a fairly short period of time, eight eight other companies, and so they were trying to merge all of these cultures, and they were really kind of deliberate in saying this is the kind of like they didn't say that we're the Borg.

We are assimilating you so you need to come into our culture. But as a side note, if some of the research goes that the vast majority of mergers and acquisitions never meet their potential and primarily because there's such a clash of cultures, the ingrained way of doing things.

So being able to articulate, but then also role model and to hearken back to the question you asked today of let's take a moment and define that term.

And by the way, we're going to give people enough time and enough space to gather their thoughts, to put forward their thoughts. And we really want our leaders to put on their listening hats and their curiosity hats, not just to be available to listen, but being available to listen and develop a listening fluency for what underneath, what's really important to this person that we've invited into this organization for their brain power in order to execute and they're saying I'm uncomfortable. I'm not feeling successful here. I feel that there's something impeding me or impeding my team. I mean if leaders if you view yourself as it's your job to you know have a vision and and help people clear away obstacles, listening to where people feel themselves successful and where they feel them in feel themselves impeded.

I mean, that's conflict prevention at a molecular level.

Russel Lolacher: I love the hammering home of the importance of building a relationship with your, with your team, with your colleagues, so that when conflict does arise, you're much better suited because you know that person's values, their motivations, why they're conflicted, or why they're bringing up an issue, why they're picking a fight, because you know them as a human, as opposed to a cog in a wheel is fighting another cog in a wheel, and you don't know them as human beings.

So obviously the name of the podcast is, is all about this sort of stuff. So no, I love that.

Carol Bowser: One of the things that, I have seen kind of through the last couple of years, particularly through the pandemic, that's a bit of a source of conflict is that people , they were hired into companies that normally had in person onboarding and in person work or a bit of a hybrid, or that people were getting together and that everybody was in such a triage mode that they were trying to kind of keep the patient, keep the business alive to be able to get through things.

And people never really developed opportunities to be able to build that trust. And one of the things when I'm talking with, whether it's in person or hybrid or completely remote teams, I'll ask and they say there's real trouble. There's a lack of trust. There's a lack of respect. And I would go back and say.

Was there ever a point in time where there was trust and people go, Hmm, no, because we never really developed it and or that, and I'm working with an organization right now, where there was a fair amount of turnover of people and people are coming into new positions and they really didn't have an opportunity to sit down and build a little bit of trust and a little bit of rapport and get to know each other's quirks a bit so they didn't become disabling frustrations.

Russel Lolacher: And yeah, I mean, I can understand. I know people that have gone onboarding, worked for three months before they actually were in the physical space of another human being during the pandemic. So they didn't feel a part of a team. just because they had never, and I'm a fan of hybrid work and remote work, but there is still that human connection of understanding that is still so valuable for people to come and create that cushion for that conflict.

Because then again, like we were talking about earlier, you have an understanding of the human and why they might be bringing these things up. So you're in it, Carol, you are in the conflict. As a leader that's watching a team do this and fighting with each other and, and sort of getting to that point where you need to step in what techniques, what tactics do you suggest to, to, to be assertive, to not be assertive, to let it burn out?

What would you say would be the best approach?

Carol Bowser: Lord. Oh my gosh. I was so glad you asked that question because I have many, many different answers to that one question. So I think the first, I want, I want to go back to my lawyer days and give you the answer of, it depends. It's my favorite answer. I have seen cases where leaders say, you know what, I've hired adults. their senior, their senior level, they need to know how to work this out on their own. And I always say, yes, however, if they are bright, capable people, if they were able to work it out on their own, don't you think they would have already? So what, so what's going on with this? And I've also seen this where it goes on for a long, long, long time before someone steps in.

And that creates different types of memories, different type of bruising that it takes a while to heal and nobody really gets over it. I think what we do is we learn from it and we adapt how we interact. So if there was a time where trust was broken. It's going to be a different relationship.

I mean, it may be a little bit like that Japanese, I'm gonna, I don't know the name of it, but it's an art form where if a vase breaks, they put the vase back together with gold. So it looks very, very different. And the fissures are very, very obvious. And I like to make that analogy that if there is, if there is a breach of trust that goes on, how, that they can move forward, but those fissures are likely going to be there and maybe the interactions look different.

And if they are still interacting sufficiently to be able to do the job, then it's a little bit like a scar that we've, we learned to adapt with the scar. I've also seen it where some leaders jump in a little bit. too early and then they start pulling it away from people because they, they need to be in control of it.

And so it's the leader solution rather than the people's solution. And let me just say that in an organization, and if you are a leader, it has to work for the organization and the leader and has to be workable for the, for the other people involved, but just being able to try to figure out, and this kind of goes to my main.

A main point that I share with leaders is if you're uncomfortable with conflict, and you don't like to have the conversations don't let your level of discomfort compel other people to live in points of pain. Because if they are wanting you to step in or feel this, so you need to step in or I feel it's your role to step in just saying I'm not comfortable or I'm going to avoid this or you should just figure it out on your own, really isn't helping them and it really undermines their confidence in your competence is a leader.

I think people would prefer discussions earlier on, and then just say, we'll just, the two of you need to work it out. Okay. It's, that kind of reminds me of like my my younger sister showing up to my house in a couple of days. And I seem to remember the backseat of cars for road trips.

We kind of worked it out, but there was like a lot of bruising and a lot of resentment afterward. So how can, and then there are some people who who can just move on. Emotionally, they're the very task oriented okay, we finished the task we moved on. There are other people who have a long emotional memory and so, do you as a leader know the people who move forward move forward move forward? Do you know the people that have a long emotional memory and what are what are each one needing from you to help facilitate, a some degree of resolution?

Russel Lolacher: Is there a different way you approach this based on where the conflict resides? For example, if the conflict's happening between two team members versus you and a colleague versus executive, is there a different way of looking at it based on, for lack of a better word, where everybody fits in a hierarchy?

Carol Bowser: Wow. That is a great question. I, the workplace by definition has hierarchical power structures. There are, there are always, always power imbalances in the workplace. Some is from positional power, some is from social power, some is from knowledge power. And I think I was just working with, with someone who's a, who is a newer leader and didn't really feel comfortable using any of her positional power.

And so I think sometimes for positional power, you do have a lot of influence. And if you say, coworkers, we would love for you to be able to get along, but as an organization, as a team, this is the way the organization and team needs to function. And because of my positional power, I am giving you I'm giving you the white lines in the road, and I'm giving you the double yellow lines in the road that thou shalt not cross.

And I think that's kind of universal wherever you are in an organization, because there's some things that people have discretion over, but there, there are definite lines in the road of how the organization is deeming how things should be handled. So it's not just a It's not just a free for all. There, there is a range where those, those boundaries have to be set.

Russel Lolacher: So you hear conflict a lot in the workplace, and then you hear conflict resolution said all the time. So going back to definitions, What is that? What are you resolved? How do you know you resolved it?

Carol Bowser: You know what? No one has ever asked me that question directly before. I love this. So I think conflict resolution going, going back to what we were originally talking about. I think it means are you actually defining what the issues or issues? Or as I like to say, what are the unmet expectations that the people or the groups have?

Because I find generally, it's not just one thing. It may be multiple different things to each person. So I think being able to pull apart and define what those are. I sometimes think in terms of a tapestry that each person brings a color of yarn or thread into it, and then they weave it together with all of the other people involved.

All of the systems and processes and hierarchies within the organization. So I think sometimes being able to pull it apart because I find that people they clump everything together that there's a conflict and that well, it may be, it may be an interpersonal conflict. It may be clashing communication styles, maybe clashing values.

It might be that someone really loves a fast pace of change while other people want a more methodical pace of change. It may be differing risk tolerances. With senior leadership teams, I find that it's a lot of very, very different mental maps of what their professional training has told them are, quote unquote, the best practices or the best analytical frameworks to address things.

And so I think for the conflict resolution in part is being people being able to articulate all of those different things of what is contributed to it and then having some type of discussion and validation of not necessarily their truth, but of certain elements of how their, how, of what their experience has, has been.

And then being able to say, okay, what is workable? What is workable for the two of you to be able to have, or the three of you, or the five of you, or the 10 of you to be able to feel as though you have a somewhat productive, respectful and working relationship. And sometimes, and, and I have seen this too, it's well, we're never really going to get to trust. We're never going to have a really... never feel completely safe in this, in this environment, but maybe we have a more kind of tactical type of relationship. Of we approach a task. We do the task. We approach the task. We do the task. And sometimes people say, well, how can you have a resolution without trust? And the answer is, well, sometimes you just have to have agreements and that people follow through on the agreements.

You may not trust the person, but we can develop a track record for actually following through with what you said you were going to do and how you did it is maybe the best that that can be hoped for. So sometimes that's resolution. Sometimes it's hold hands, touch knees, sing kumbaya together. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we hug it out.

And sometimes we just say, I'm putting down the burden of carrying this thing around anymore. I'm just going to approach it differently.

Russel Lolacher: I want to pull the lens back a bit because we've talked about conflict, but generally within the sense of individuals, teams, but there's conflict that happens through a change management exercise that could be an entire organization going through conflict. And you're dealing with thousands of people that are feeling undervalued because the work they did isn't important as the work that's coming or vice versa, or... How do you approach that as a leader when your scope is so much bigger and you can't personalize it?

Carol Bowser: That's a big one. So I'm, process. I'm just feeling like a wave of like responsibility that that come that comes over. And I am just when we're recording this, there have just been yet another announcement that a huge amount of people are being laid off in my in my local area. So I, I am, I'm recalling a colleague of mine who, said nobody, nobody should really feel good about firing someone because that's just really kind of a huge disappointment.

And he took it as, as a leader, I didn't do something right. Was there something in the hiring or the training or the professional development or the feedback that, that I couldn't do, but that's more on the personal. I think in those situations where it is, and we're unable to get the personal as much as you possibly can let people know what your thinking is.

So that way, it's not, hey, we're firing Carol, but the organization has to move in a different way, and we've had to make some, I think it'd be an acknowledging of saying we've really had to make some hard decisions, and these are the, these are the decisions that we've had to made, and then you end up just helping people deal with the consequences of those.

Again, I'll go back to people want to feel successful at work. And for some people, they may, they might have dreamed that this particular employer was going to be kind of a lifetime employer. And also some people may just say I'm not here for the longterm, this is another opportunity, but it's still how we feed our families.

It's how, in the U. S., the vast majority of people get access to health care, and it creates a huge amount of uncertainty and scariness and a certain amount of risk. And a lot of people don't have a great, great relationship with ambiguity and risk. So in as much as it's, it's causing conflict because it's probably causing conflict based on the personal impact of the decisions that those folks have had. And I think, again, it goes back to do people feel successful in the work? Do they feel appreciated? Do they feel as though you as a leader get it? What's needed to be able to execute? As a leader, you do, but it's kind of through, relationships through others. I often joke that sometimes when I'm doing conflict resolution work, I said, I'm a little bit like a midwife.

I've been around, I kind of know what happens. I've got, I've got some things to help you through the process. But when it comes to it, as a midwife, They don't do the pushing as a as a mediator, facilitator, I'm not the one doing, doing the pushing that other people have to do the work. And it may not be work they wanted.

It may not be work that they thought that they had had to do, or they may be feeling as though it's just not fair. And so sometimes it's have to say is you may not feel it's fair. You were making the best decision that we could. And I think it's might even be able to say all of you, you, had you been in my position, if you were in my position, you might've made a different choice.

That's okay. But this is the choice that I made. And then let's talk, let's, let's negotiate problem, solve, collaborate, like how, how we're going to move through, how we're going to move through this. And if some of you choose to leave, or if some of you are asked to leave, or some of you were told to leave, we can still figure out how to be able to make that, as dignified as possible for everyone.

Russel Lolacher: I like that within the realm of a larger scope that even if you can't be personalized to the individuals of what they're going through, you can make it personal from yourself using that transparency, vulnerability, authentic, admit failure, like really be that relationship that you want. Even if it's like it was when I was in radio, we would always envision there is, here's your audience, you're really talking to thousands of people, but there is one person that signifies and you talk to that one person humanely, kindly, passionately, that represents the all, but it's coming from a personal space.

So even if that person is going through conflict hates you, hates the decision, they at least can maybe understand it or respect it, even if they're not thrilled by it.

Carol Bowser: Yeah. And I mean, I don't know how many people have ever gotten fired or laid off and stuff like that. You know what? And we probably don't like the decision and it may be in the rear view mirror that we, that we have a less intense reaction about it. And I think it is much as you can acknowledge that this, this is going to be difficult.

It's going to be difficult for some people. It's going to be hard for some, for some people. You may not agree. You may never agree with it. But know that that I really did, did try. So I think that that's part of it, that you, you think about how it's going to land and you think about like in three months, six months, nine months, how do you want people talking about it? That Carol, she was an ass. That she just seemed disinterested, distant couldn't really care, kept checking her watch because I think, and I think this goes back to the remote teams is people don't live in your head. The some of the people that when I was working with teams, they said, she's really distant she's just checked out.

And in speaking with them, they said, Carol, I have so much anxiety. I have so much fear. I have so much anger in me that that I just am calm and I pull back and it's not because I don't care. It's that all of this is roiling in me. But going back to it that people are are going to read into your language how they would have done it. So if I don't talk when I'm pissed or I want to dismiss somebody then, then when I don't see other people talking or I say, what questions do you have?

And they don't say anything like, they didn't really care. They just want me to be out of there. Yeah. Screw them. So I think it, it does get really difficult. So I always if I need a minute or somebody needs a minute to say, I'm processing this, got a lot of, I've got I've got a lot of feelings about this.

I want to gather my thoughts. I want to gather my, I want to gather my feelings, but... if you've been up at night thinking about it, if you've been processing it, I think that people want to see that there's some effort going, going into this, that there's some concern about it.

Russel Lolacher: So what would you say to cold and distant Carol needing to beef up her superpowers when it comes to being better at resolving conflict for others? Like what skillset do we need to be working on for us to be better prepared as leaders in conflict situations, regardless of scope?

Carol Bowser: So I think being able to kind of increase your situational awareness of what the emotional climate is, because if your folks retreat into silence when they're really and they stopped talking to people, if they start shutting up, you need to do that. You need to know. So being able to, to recognize, even if maybe you aren't comfortable with high levels of emotion, there may be a lot of high levels of emotion going around with you.

So being able to kind of increase that, I, there's this one, little, I think poster you see it around. It's a lot in used in elementary schools and pre K schools around their social emotional learning. Isn't that? Isn't that amazing that we now teach social and emotional learning where people are able to name their emotions?

I think even there was a recent Harvard Review, Harvard Business Review article or maybe a Ted Talk talking about if you can name people's emotions, you can name your own emotions, you're much more likely to be able to navigate them appropriately. So I would say, start increasing your emotional fluency and maybe get one of those little charts of how am I feeling today?

Am I feeling angry? Am I feeling frustrated? Am I feeling happy, sad? Things like that because if you can't recognize it in yourself, you're not going to be able to recognize it in anybody else and that is going to give you a sign of how people are emotionally processing things. Because if they don't have skin in the game, and it's not a big deal to them, and it's not resonating emotionally with them, there wouldn't be a conflict.

So, that's one. Start, start recognizing your, your emotional fluency, and your emotional EQ. And also, maybe just ask yourself, when's the last time you heard anybody laugh? When's the last time you heard anybody talking about something that was meaningful to them? I think those are important things.

And are you actually creating space in very brief, small, deliberate, repeated ways for people to be able to do that? So that way you're, you are creating opportunities for people to walk in and have those conversations.

Russel Lolacher: Okay. I love this, Carol. I just, I have to wrap it up with the final question. You've already given us a couple tidbits around conflict, but I'm curious if you'll answer this last question differently. What's one simple action, simple, super simple, that people can do right now to improve the relationships they have at work?

Carol Bowser: I'm going to give you a question to ask yourself and to ask the other person. The question you want to ask yourself is in any situation, what's my ask? And to be able to help to guide people to formulate their proposals, share options with you, ask them. So, what's your ask?

Russel Lolacher: That is Carol Bowser. She's a workplace conflict expert, speaker, mediator, professional trainer, and president of Conflict Management Strategies, Inc. Thanks so much for being here, Carol.

Carol Bowser: It's been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.