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Hi everyone! Welcome to yet another episode of the NEGOTIATEx podcast. Our guest today is Andy Allan, author of the article “Five Tips to Avoid Controversial Topics At The Holiday Table.” Mr. Allan has written several articles on conflict, truth, and relationships and created a conversation-starting game called “The Words Project.”
Based in Orlando, Andy works as an editor for Cru Resources. He’s been a missionary in North Africa and Central Asia, as well as on campuses throughout the United States. He also takes a keen interest in surfing, reading, and singing silly songs with his three young kids.
With that said, let’s take a look at the insights that Andy has to provide on conflict management.
When asked to share some of his first experiences with conflict management, Andy shares an incident that involved his friend loaning him a car and him failing to return it before the specified time.
He mentions that it was his first time engaging in conflict, and it was, in a way, a lesson for him on managing conflict effectively. That’s because even though his friend was not happy about Andy returning the car a day after the specified time, he didn’t express himself in an emotional way. Instead, the fiend explained to Andy where he was coming from without getting over the board.
Next, Andy shares that for the longest time, he approached conflict management as though it was a courtroom drama. Like a lawyer, he presented evidence, made arguments, and tried to show how right he was. He was hell-bent on working through the facts and proving that he was right instead of focusing on how he showed up and addressed the relational aspect while managing conflict.
It was only after he saw the negative effect that the “lawyer-Andy” approach had on his wife, that Andy began to reassess his conflict management strategy.
Moving on, Andy highlights that whenever we engage in conflict, some of our deeper instinctual feelings take over, which puts us in flight or fight mode. More often than not, we are not mentally prepared when engaging in conflict, so our bodies fail to prepare us physiologically as well.
But if we are able to think about it and then tone down those instinctual reactions to get more into our prefrontal cortex, we could have better decision-making than these snap judgments. Andy suggests that one of the first keys when entering conflict is to be aware of it.
Citing the car incident, he knows that the person could have hurt Andy by saying hurtful things. But instead, he was calm and assertive and made sure that he could state his case without hurting their relationship going forward. So, if we just take a breath and prevent ourselves from reacting, it might help a great deal when managing conflict and resolving it.
We are usually quite stressed during the holidays since we have many family members coming together, and a clash of egos is almost inevitable. Our misunderstandings and suppressed ill feelings for our family often show up at the dinner table, so the holidays are really set up for failure in a lot of ways.
Andy mentions that we have this ideal image in our minds of how dinner should go and what our family should be like, which is often the source of trouble. That’s because we are comparing our families to an idealized “perfect family” that doesn’t really exist.
And when our family falls short in some way, we either blame ourselves or attack other people. Either way, it’s a recipe for conflict, so our options are to withdraw and isolate ourselves or fight with the people who we meet only a few times a year.
Andy highlights that at the end of the day, we just want to be valued and loved. But we can’t because we look for subtext in order to communicate value to each other rather than just speaking what we desire.
Moving on, Andy mentions that we often spend time worrying when the holidays are around the corner, dramatizing in our heads how things will go down negatively. But we can instead spend the time strategizing how to set up our conversations over the holidays.
Long story short, Andy urges the listeners to prepare and have some sort of plan to avoid and resolve conflict strategically. Think of the trouble spots. Is there a troublemaker in your family that’s gonna say something awkward? If so, have a plan and figure out how you can tackle them without saying anything hurtful.
We are busy decorating and thinking about meals and gifts during the holidays. But we hardly devote any time thinking about conversations and preparing ourselves to have those difficult conversations with our loved ones. Mr. Allan highlights that it’s almost like we spend so much time setting the table that we don’t cook the meal.
Speaking of the troublemakers, Andy suggests assigning them a role at the dinner table and keeping them engaged. If you’re nervous about the communication at the table, give responsibilities to the troublemakers. This will keep them busy and make them feel valued, preventing them from saying or doing anything awkward.
Note that you might not be able to prevent awkward things from being said, but you can be prepared for that. Understanding somebody’s perspective does not mean you agree.
And so when somebody drops a bomb in the middle of the table, it’s okay to restate their view. In fact, that’s what people want, Andy suggests. They want to be heard, and they might go about it in an uncomfortable, inappropriate way, but it’s okay.
You don’t need to disagree with them right there; you can always restate what they said without agreeing and without getting into it. Andy thinks that might be the way to tone things down because restating something does not equal saying, “I think you’re right”.
Andy, Aram, and Nolan discuss a lot more on this episode of the NEGOTIATEx Podcast. Write to us at email@example.com and share your thoughts on this very informational podcast episode.
Thank you for listening.
Nolan Martin : Hey everyone, welcome to the NEGOTIATEx podcast. My name's Nolan Martin. I'm your co-host, co-founder, and with me today as always, good friend, co-host, co-founder Aram Donigian. And Aram, do you want to introduce our guest for today's podcast?
Aram Donigian : Yeah, I'll do that Nolan, thanks. So folks, about six weeks ago I came across an article entitled “Five Tips to Avoid Controversial Topics at the Holiday Table”. And I thought, what a great focus to shine a spotlight on during the holiday season. So I reached out to the author to see if he might be willing to join us. And today we have Andy Allan on the program to not only discuss this recent article, but also just take a broader focus on how we might have a new year perspective on conflict as 2022 comes to an end and we get ready to jump into 2023.
Andy has written numerous articles on conflict, truth, and relationships and created a conversation-starting game called The Words Project. He lives in Orlando, Florida, currently working as an editor for Cru Resources. He's been a missionary in North Africa and Central Asia, as well as on campuses throughout the United States. He loves to surf, to read and to sing silly songs with his three young kids. Andy, thanks so much for joining us today.
Andy Allan : Yeah, thanks for having me. I actually got to surf this morning and yeah, it's so great. I'm not a good surfer by any means, but I do love being out in the ocean.
AD : You're often based out in Nebraska, right? Yeah, surfing's gotta be a little harder in those corn fields.
AA : You know, I dreamed of bringing surfing to Nebraska because now they have these indoor wave pools and they are pretty good. In fact, I went so far as to pay a dollar at GoDaddy to get Nebraska_surf.com or.org, and I had it for a year and I thought, what am I gonna do with this? And then I realized that really to be successful I'd have to raise about 25 million of venture capital.
AA : And I thought, is this what I wanna be doing? Bringing surfing to Nebraska for the next five years of my life. No, maybe someday. And so I'm so grateful to be close to the ocean. It's like a 45-minute drive. So I wake up early, anytime there's any chance of surf, and I get out there and I paddle around and miss waves and it's like every day is the greatest day of my life.
NM : So where do you live, Andy?
AA : In Orlando on the kinda southeast side. So it's just a straight shot to Cocoa Beach.
NM : Yeah, I'm in Lithia, so I'm on just south of Brandon right next to Tampa, so
AA : Oh, awesome.
NM : We're throne stone, uh, stone’s throw away from each other, so. All right, let's jump into the podcast. So has Aram said, our focus today is gonna be about how we might adjust our relationship with conflict going into this new year. Can we start by getting a sense of your own journey as it relates to managing conflict? Any key moments along the way for you, Andy?
AA : So the first time I remember somebody resolving conflict with me positively, I was a senior at Penn State University. I was involved in a Christian student organization, it was called Crew, the company that I work for now actually. And we had a leader who was on staff there. He was paid to lead and mentor students, engage people in spiritual conversations. And I had mentioned in some context where this guy was around needing to go home and see my family. I lived eight hours away; I didn't have a car. He reached out to me and was like, “Hey, why don't you borrow my car?” I thought it was so nice of this guy to do it. He had three kids at the time, had a busy life, but he let me borrow his car for a weekend to go see my family. So I went on that trip back to Cincinnati from Little State College, Pennsylvania, and I spent the weekend there, and just on a whim, I decided to stay one more day.
So instead of coming back Sunday and giving him the car back Sunday night, I just stayed into Monday and then I traveled back and gave him the car Monday night. I think I might have sent him a text, maybe just saying, “Hey, I'll be a day late.” I don't even remember if I did that, but I just showed up at his door Monday night with his keys like nothing happened. So I hand him the keys and I'm turning to leave and he says, “Hey Andy, I need to tell you something.” And very calmly he said, “you know, when I loaned you my car, I expected that you'd have it back on Sunday night. And on Monday we needed to use that car to do some things with the family.” He said, “Now we've figured it out. We were able to make it work, but that was hard for our family. And in the future, if we do lend you something, we'd appreciate you bringing it back and the time we discussed and if not that you'd let me know or gimme a chance to talk to you about it.”
And that was it. I don't remember what I said, but I still remember that that was about 21 years ago when I graduated. I still to this day remember it because of the way he engaged with me and he gave me the reality of the situation, and how he perceived it. But there was clearly, there was no relational loss there. I think that's the first time I remember somebody really engaging with me in conflict and saying, this was not good what you did, it's okay, but here let's talk about next time. So that's the good, I would say I thought I was great at managing conflict until I got married.
I've been married now for coming up on 10 years and I thought I had learned a lot about conflict. From that leader- I learned how to, I thought manage conflict. But looking back, anytime I would engage with my wife in any serious conflict, those first couple years of marriage, the tears would start to fall. Hers, not mine, and it took me until the tears would start to fall to think, “Uh oh, I did something wrong.” Up until the tears, I thought I was doing really well, I was working through conflict. And then my wife would cry and she said, I need a break. And for me, I thought, “Uh oh, I'm not as good as I think I am about working through conflict issues.” And what I realized was my approach to conflict was like a courtroom drama. I was the lawyer. I was presenting evidence, making arguments, trying to show how right I was and work through like the facts of the case, you know, to show, oh, I'm in the right, what my wife needed was someone very different.
She didn't need lawyer Andy, as we started to call it, she needed husband Andy, Andy with his arms lowered, not defensive, but defenseless and open, willing to listen to be wrong instead of somebody like in the courtroom seen in a few good men just hammering at the witness.
AD : You can't handle the truth.
AA : Right, that's what I thought about my wife. Oh, you can't handle the truth. It's like, no, I can't handle God.
AD : But yeah, that, so it's so good. Well, I'm sure we're gonna get more into this as we- kind of, how we frame these conversations, the focus on being right, the facts of the case. I feel like I hear that so often from colleagues and can, you know, and folks that we train our clients, my students, right? It's just about proving how much more right I am and not in about how I show up, right? Not addressing the relationship piece too.
And so there's this tension isn't there, about trying, how do I manage, how do I protect and preserve the relationship, which is important and still at some point kinda work through the challenge. As a side note, there's a funny little video called, “It's not about the nail” , um, which, Andy you need to watch. You know, it's a little video, not about the nail. It's exactly on what you were talking about with your wife, the separation of intent versus impact. That was what I took away from your story about your- this person who let you borrow the car and who handled it so graciously, right? Being able to give you benefit of the doubt on intent and still being able to address the impact of your actions.
AA : Yeah, that's right. And there's a book called Crucial Conversations, which I've found to be very helpful. And one of the key issues that they say is when we engage in conflict, some of our deeper instinctual feelings take over. So we are often in fight or flight mode. Fight, flight, maybe freeze or fawn or some of the extras that you hear about. And so when we engage in conflict, we're not often prepared. Like, our body is not physiologically preparing us well to manage conflict unless we're able to think about it and then tone down those instinctual things to get more into our prefrontal cortex and have better decision-making than these snap judgments. I think that's one of the first keys is when we're entering into conflict to be aware of it.
I think this guy I really looked up to, I think he was aware of it and aware that he could have hurt me. He could have said hurtful things, but instead, you could tell he was calm. I think his heartbeat was at the normal level and not elevated. So I have to remember when I'm engaging in conflict with my wife, with my kids, with my coworkers, it's like, if, can I take a breath and make sure, okay, I'm not just reacting, I have a safe presence here and I have a calm presence. Because we want to resolve conflict.
If we're not in a place to do that, it doesn't matter how great our argument is, it doesn't matter how amazing our words can be, they're just gonna fall on deaf ears because people need to know that you're trustworthy and need to know your care. You need to know that you care about them. And we do that non-verbally so much.
AD : The next question I was going into was talking about why these conversations so often go wrong. I feel like you've already started to answer that, which is we have this kind of reacting approach that gets the better of a very deep instinctual. We tend to wanna prove ourselves right. And again, in this first article that I've read of yours, you know, you just talked about these controversial dinner discussions that occur, especially around the holidays, cuz we're getting together, maybe they're somewhat inevitable, they're often incredibly awkward. I love the reference to, you know, the milking animals scene from “Meet the Parents”. So, you know, why do these happen and why do they seem to happen at the holidays when we're getting together with people we love and care about? Right? And why do these conversations just sometimes go like really, really wrong?
AA : Well, can we admit together that we're often at our worst during the holidays, aren't we? Do you guys feel that way? I feel like especially with little ones in this season, this is like the stressful season for me. And so when I'm coming into dinners, when I'm doing things, I'm distracted. I am stressed, there's a lot going on in the back of my mind. And so I am not as present as I want to be, which as a Christian in the Christmas season especially bums me out because I'm celebrating the birth of my savior. Jesus is the most important person to me. And yet I often think back to the holidays afterward, like, I missed an exit on the highway. Like, “Oh, where did that go? How did I miss that?” So distracted with everything else. And the holidays are just that, aren't they? Just stressed family members coming together and often in conflict. It's not about what's said on the surface, it's about what's deeper down. And our families have deep-down stuff .
AD : Yeah.
AA : And it's not sunshine and rainbows when you're digging up. We have hurt, misunderstanding for years and years that comes up and some people we just see 'em once or twice a year. And so it's really set up for failure in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, I think our culture plays into that as well. So we're at our worst, we're already stressed, we're seeing people with whom we have maybe a lot of baggage and we're only seeing them for a couple of hours, you know, three times a year if that. I don’t know if you would resonate with that. Do you feel like the holidays are a recipe for stress?
AD : Oh yeah! And, and everything around us, right? From the music to everything else is telling us that's not how it's supposed to be. So I think I would add to everything you're saying. I completely agree. Distracted, stressed, not as present. There's hurt, misunderstanding.
There's these deep things. I'm seeing something that I only see once or twice a year at the most, perhaps is the internal turmoil, right? Churn around. And it's not supposed to be this way, it's the holidays. Everyone's, you know, that's supposed to be, you know, carols being sung and bells ringing and you know, reindeer on the roof and, and there's uh, yeah. And it just feels like, so now it's even this more internal thing, which is “What's wrong with me? What's wrong with us because we can't seem to get through it without a fight?”
AA : That's very insightful. We have this ideal image in our minds of how it should go and what our family should be like. And that's often another source of our trouble right there, is that we are comparing already to this idealized false family that doesn't exist, the perfect family. And so when ours falls short in some way, we either attack ourselves, blame ourselves, or we blame other people. Either way, it's a recipe for conflict because we do one of two things. We withdraw and isolate ourselves or we attack and we fight with other people. And ultimately it's this deeper surface stuff to be valued. We want to be valued, we want to be known and loved, we want to connect with others, but it just seems like we have these broken places that we're unable to fix that we're just not able to get there because we can't.
Could you imagine if you just went to the dinner table at Christmas, like, “I would just like y'all to tell me how good I am and tell me how much you love me, please can we just spend five minutes doing that? And then we'll go around the table and everybody can say how much we love each other.” We don't do that. We just look for subtext in order to communicate value to each other rather than just speaking what we desire. I just wish that everybody would tell me, I'm awesome , can we just do that? Instead we look for ways to get others to do that in some way.
AD : Yeah.
NM : So is that one of your tips that you're gonna give for how we can avoid controversy at the dinner table?
AA : Yeah!
NM : Just everyone tell each other how I'm awesome.
AA : That's right. I was thinking about that. Yeah, why not do this encouragement thing? And one of my tips in general is to say the thing that we're thinking in our culture, we're just so bad at that. To actually say the thing- when it comes to conflict, what if we just said, we're thinking, “Hey, I want to talk to you about something and I'm really scared that it's gonna hurt your feelings if we voice these things that are going on”. Some of that requires forethought. And I think in the article I wrote about the holiday conversations, it really sums up or it can be summed up by preparation. We spend time thinking about the holidays, usually, it's worrying about it late at night, kind of dramatizing in our head how it's gonna go negatively, talking about it, thinking about it while we're on the way to work, while we're getting ready, while we're cooking.
But what if we spent that time strategizing strategically thinking about how to set up our conversations over the holidays for success? I think if you're able to do that, to put some forethought into how it's gonna go, that's 90% of the way right there. Let's have a plan for this. You wouldn't go into a football game without a strategy. Every coach has a strategy, going in without is a recipe for failure. And so what is our strategy? If we have anything, you're already ahead of the game. So, I think most of my tips revolve around strategy, thinking ahead, and providing some simple things: What are the trouble spots? Is there a troublemaker in your family that's gonna say something awkward? And if you can't think of them, maybe you're the troublemaker.
It’s worth considering, “Am I the troublemaker?” You could ask a family member, “Hey, do I say awkward things at the table?” Am I awkward?
AD : I'll answer that on behalf of Nolan and say he absolutely is . So keep going, I don't wanna stop you there.
AA : That's great.
AD : I love what you said about preparation, Andy, which is, and I think about so many other things around the holiday, right? We think about how we're decorating, we think about meals and we put thought into, and when, when does whatever we're serving need to go into the oven and we think about gifts and all this other stuff, how much time do we spend any amount of time thinking about conversations? Yeah.
AA : It's almost like we spend so much time setting the table that we don't cook the meal. Those are the things we spend. We buy presents, we set up our Christmas tree, we do all these things and we expect that those are the pathways to a great holiday. When in reality it's preparing for these connections. And it seems unnatural to us to prepare for communication, but it's really the best thing to do. I think about the Tonight Show, these late-night shows where the host of the show gets up and they give a monologue and they seem so natural. So off the cuff, a Jimmy Kimmel, a Jimmy Fallon, you look at them and you think, “Oh man, they make it seem so easy.” But what you don't know is they spend hours and hours every day rehearsing that monologue so they get it right. They're perfectly timed.
And so, so much preparation goes into making it look easy. And I think that's what we need to do with our family as well. One of the things I was thinking, I did this with my family one year around Christmas. For Christmas, I got my parents and my brother, a code to do the Strength Finders. I don’t know if you're familiar with Clifton's Strength Finders, but it'll tell you your five top five strengths. And then all of a sudden we had like two hours of conversation preloaded. It's like, what are your strengths? What are your strengths? We talked about 'em as a family.
We saw what we had in common where we were different. They cost like 10 bucks each to get those top five. You could do a free assessment, a personality test like Meyers Briggs, the Berkman maybe, something like that. Even like, I don't know, what Friend's character you are, anything to prime the pump or come up with a list of questions. Hey, what was the best thing that you experienced this year? What's your favorite Christmas memory? Come in with a list of questions just helps ease the gaps in the silence where somebody awkwardly thinks I'm gonna jump in or somebody's ready with something, they just want to get out there. And so if you don't give them a chance to do that or you don't allow the conversation to lapse, I think you're just, you're setting yourself up for success.
AD : Yeah, I have to say that I love those suggestions you just gave preferable over like, what was the third headline as I scrolled through my, you know, Fox News feed, that's gonna inflame and incite everyone at the table. So much more constructive, what you're discussing.
AA : And we know, like I said, there are the troublemakers, maybe are the people that you feel like you just wanna reign in a little bit at the table. And so if you can give them a role at the table, that's huge. Don't do it all yourself.
In fact, if you're hosting or you're playing a role, remember that everything you're doing, you're away. You're distracted. And so if you're nervous about what's going on and the communication at the table, allow yourself to be fully present and give the other responsibilities, like keeping dishes warm or refilling waters or condiments or anything like that- give them to the troublemakers! Give them to people so they have a job, they'll feel valued and then you can be present.
AD : And they get to serve, right? So it switches the way you engage the troublemakers. I keep cutting you- keep going.
AA : That's great. You know, we're not gonna be able to present or to prevent awkward things from being said. I would say somebody's gonna come in, it's okay. But we can be prepared for that as well. And a book that really flipped my thinking on conflict was one called Between the Words by Norm Wakefield. This is a powerful book, it's on listening.
And one of the things he said that I'd never heard before it’s so insightful is that understanding is not agreeing. Understanding somebody's perspective does not mean you agree. And so when somebody drops a bomb in the middle of the table, I can't believe that this person did this, and politics or something- it's okay to restate their view. In fact, that's what people want. They want to be heard and they're going to go about it in an uncomfortable, inappropriate way. But it's okay.
I don't need to disagree with that right there. I can restate what they said without agreeing and without getting into it. And in fact, I think that might be the way to tone things down. Somebody says something, you say, “You know, it sounds like you have some very intense and strong thoughts about dinosaurs and I'd love to follow up on that with you afterwards, but I'm distracted now.
Remind me to ask you about that later.” So you're acknowledging what's going on, you're saying, I'd like to talk about it and I'm just pivoting there. And if you have something else you wanna say, like, I really want to know “Jim, how was your college experience going?” Or something like that, some way to pivot. But we can restate what somebody said and say, let's revisit this another time. I think that's what people want.
So they’ll feel heard, they know they're going to get a chance to talk about it, and we've just redirected things. So I think being able to do that, it's hard to imagine that by me restating something, I'm not tacitly approving it, but that's reality- that restating something does not equal I think you're right. And I use the word interesting.
That's an interesting idea because interesting is a very neutral word, . So I have a lot of spiritual discussions with people and frankly, I've heard of a lot of ideas that I think are like, do not hold water in terms of the realities of spiritual life. But usually, I don't wanna just punch somebody in the face with what they're believing, even if I significantly disagree, what would be the point? So instead, usually I would say that's an interesting idea and it usually is when people have ideas that I don't think are right.
They usually are pretty interesting. They believe in the flying spaghetti monster. I really do wanna know. Tell me more about that , if you believe the earth is flat, I wanna know. I do. It is interesting. Like, tell me about that. And I think some of it is being open to different viewpoints. I think I've tried to be more open. It doesn't mean I'm going to accept them, but if I don't crack the door on viewpoints, how am I gonna learn? And so these, even the holiday table can be a place to do that within reason and then thinking, okay, this is, let's put a pin in that and we'll talk about it later after dessert.
AD : Yeah. I know you give some other advice. We'll push folks to your article to see some of the other advice you get there. What you're talking about right now though is this idea of being open, and it feels like sometimes the root of this is there's some truth involved, a truth for us or a truth for them. And not just what the facts are, but even how we feel about 'em. And you know, you've written about this, you've written a little about kind of seeking truth and how challenging that can be. Can you tell us a little bit more about, how you're framing for investigating differences and perceptions, and perspectives?
AA : Well, it's interesting. I'm very passionate about truth. But at the holiday table and in our relationships, I would argue it's not about truth as regards facts and beliefs and ideas, but it's about value. We as individuals, we want to be valued. And I think value is about being known and accepted. And like I said earlier, we just don't go up to people and say, “can you tell me that I'm known and accepted? Can you show that to me?” So we look for places and ways to do that. And one of the ways we like to do that is by getting people to agree with us and by winning arguments, winning conversations. I, I love playing basketball. And I remember a point, I was in college, I was playing pickup basketball with a friend. He was not very good at basketball. He came out to spend time with me.
He was a great friend. He was just wasn't great at basketball. And I was yelling at him on the court, he missed the shot, yelling at him, come on, what are you doing? And he had to look on his face when I yelled at him, crestfallen, sad. And in that moment, something clicked for me, like, why do I care so much about him playing basketball?
I'm not gonna make the NBA, I'm coming out to have fun and play. And yet something happened where my performance or our team's performance was attached to my value and I had to switch my thinking to say, no, I can't care more about this silly game of basketball than I do about caring for my friend. And so we have to get past this idea of our arguments and truths are where our value exists. Because if we can't get to that point where I'm attaching my value to my beliefs about the president, to my beliefs about a political party, I am not going to be able to engage in those things well.
So how do we find our value separate from that? And I think by committing to be truth seekers rather than truth holders- If I'm approaching you guys saying I have all the answers, nobody does, nobody has all the answers. God alone has the full knowledge of the truth. No one can claim to even have really what, 10% of the truth that exists in the world. So if we come to conversations thinking we have all the answers, we are setting ourselves up for failure, rather than saying, I might have some answers, I have theories, I have ideas, you have theories and ideas.
So let's talk together and allow ourselves to sharpen each other to move forward together. If we can see that and have that perspective, then we'll be able to navigate even really difficult conversations with graciousness. But that starts with humility. So the truth exists, but below that we desperately want to feel value. I don't know, would you agree with that? Does that resonate? That makes sense to me. But sometimes I'm like, I don't know, maybe I'm just crazy. Maybe I'm really insecure.
AD : Well, the humility piece for sure, and you use that word and just the willingness to engage, which I feel takes some risk, some willingness to say, what if I am crazy? What if I am not right here? And, as we, if we're talking about value, then my openness to listening to you could jeopardize the value I thought I had cuz of this belief or idea that I was so grounded in that feels a little scary.
AA : Yeah, that's a great point. And I think those are some of the trouble spots when we can see them. And it's a great place to dig in to say, okay, why? What is it about this thing? As I've explored that, some of the things where I rise up against it, I realize how much I kind of hang safety and security on certain precepts that I just have taken for granted growing up. Like things in the medical community, you know, like, oh, I trust this because I've just trusted it all my life and I don't question it. And somebody pokes that and I realize it’s poking at my safety, my sense of how the world works. And so if I do that, I have to look at that thing in particular and say, okay, why is this so important to me? Can I let it go? Am I willing to be wrong about it? Am I willing to grow?
It's a growth posture. I really appreciate that and it's a process, but I think starting to see it and reflect on it and think about it just helps as we go into conversations over and over. I think even in a, like for a company and from an organizational perspective, I think often as leaders we're expected to know the most, to be the best and to have all the answers. But it's really the opposite. The best leaders are the ones who solicit help from those, their peers, from above, from below, anybody can make a contribution and anyone can have the answers. And the leaders I've respected the most are the ones who brought me along on the journey. In fact, John Maxwell's Developing The Leader Within You, it's such a great book and it basically says that the more leaders care about the people with whom they work and those who they lead, the more those people thrive.
In John Maxwell's eyes, to be a great leader, you simply have to be going after something worthwhile and you have to care about the people. And I think that works with conflict too. When conflict happens over arguments, over discussions, you can reorient by saying, where are we headed? What do we want? What are our outcomes? And then how do we value each other in the process? How do we show care to each other in the process? You mentioned humility. Humility is so valuable, but it's something that's so hard to embody in the moment, I would say.
AD : Yeah.
AA : What's, how do you guys do it? What's your best practice for humility, lowering your defenses?
AD : Practicing humility, Nolan, how do you practice humility?
NM : So in the military, especially as an army officer, whenever you have non-commissioned officers, they're very quick to humble you, and kind of put you in your place. And I mean, honestly, I probably learned some lessons along the way from all NCOs that have impacted my career while I was in the Army. And so I think that, I don't know if I self-learned it, but don't know if I self-learned it, but I was taught humility and put in positions to where I started to realize, okay, wow, this organization's incredible, really just gonna figure out my piece of the pie here. So, I don't think it was self-taught. I think I was taught humility, but it's definitely something that ingrained in me early in my career and something that I've tried to maintain throughout my life as I have transitioned and started to do other things. So how about you, Aram?
AD : think it's been a process of realizing what I don't know and, and, and a real commitment to being curious. Like I feel like I'm married to someone who's really naturally curious and she's, every time after I've had a conversation, right, she'll say, “Hey, did you ask this and this?” I'll be like, “Nope, didn't.” And so I think that like, there's humility in as Annie was saying, just, you know, not knowing that I don't have all the truth. And then really being committed to a process of seeking it. Which reminds me, Andy, you use Sherlock Holmes as kind of an example of someone who would, who would do this, right? Who is a truth seeker? I'm a huge Holmes fan. Why Holmes? How do you see homes as demonstrative of a kind of this ideal that you're discussing?
AA : Man, I also am such a Sherlock Holmes fan and there's so much great Holmes content out there. It's amazing. Now we have family members, we have Enola Holmes, the sister. Look, we have so much, and I love that in a post-modern culture where we often don't seem to have a great grasp on truth and how to find it, we have also an obsession with Sherlock Holmes, who was great at discovering truth that eluded so many other people. I think the first part that makes Sherlock Holmes so good at discovering it is that he loves the process. Like when Sherlock Holmes comes across a really difficult problem, how does he react? He gets excited most of the other people, and it makes sense. Policemen, detectives, and his world and his orbit, they just wanna solve the mystery as quickly as they can to get onto the next one.
They live in this like revolving door of, we just have to get to the next one, and solve it as fast as possible. Sherlock gets to choose what he does as this consulting detective and what he loves is to find mystery. And so as if we're gonna be truth seekers and we're gonna enter into conflict, if we're gonna manage relationships and get to the reality, I think we have to embrace and love the process. Usually, when it comes to conflict, it's scary. I'm an avoider, I don't ever want to do it, but if I get to adopt Sherlock Holmes's posture, when some conflict comes around, I get to get excited. Hey, I really do believe it's an opportunity to move relationships forward in any sphere of our lives, in our organizations, with our bosses, with the people we lead. These moments of conflict are great times to grow a relationship if we know how to do it. So I love that about Sherlock. Holmes City loves the process, and then he resists making assumptions. He chooses deliberately not to make assumptions. And so that frees him up to look at everything without any prejudice. He tries to be as unprejudiced, and unbiased as possible. And then because of that, he's really able to discern what is meaningful and what is not meaningful. You know, he'll look at a crime scene and other detectives will look at the crime scene. I'm blanking. What's that other detective's name that he's usually like, is the guy.
AD : Not, not Watson. So not his partner Watson, who was I gonna ask about. Yeah, the inspector, the, yeah, I know who you're talking about. Yeah.
AA : I'm blanking on his name, it drives me nuts. I'm probably thinking it 20 minutes later. These average “detectives” or will say, even Watson when he looks at a crime scene, he will make observations, but Holmes knows what is meaningful and what isn't. So when we're engaging with weighty matters and we're entering into conflict, are we able to hold back our assumptions, and are we able to figure out what's meaningful and what's meaningless? And I think usually it's the relational aspects that mean the most, it's not the facts, the truth, they have meaning, but the most important thing is, do people feel safe and valued and cared for? And I would say in an organization, in a company, that's even more crucial. Because the larger your organizational structure, the larger your company is, I think the more likely people are to feel misunderstood and not known or valued by your organization.
It's really hard. And so if you as a leader when you're in conflict or you have a problem with an employee, a problem with somebody in your organization, if you can show them care and show them that they matter, you will win them over to your side. If you're right, you can find it. If you're wrong, you have a chance to grow. But either way, I think you get to win. And so we have to, I forget where this is, but I think it's from an Adam Young podcast, The Place We Find Ourselves. He talks about “connect before you, correct.” And I love that. I just think that is great. Before I enter into things, am I connecting first? Often we're busy leaders, and we don't have time, but if we take that moment, sometimes it only takes 10 seconds to say, Hey, how are you doing? Here's something I value about you. I appreciate your enthusiasm, I appreciate how much you care about these things, let's talk about it. I think that makes all the difference between conflict unwell and conflict done poorly.
And even thinking about the outcome. What is the outcome? What do you want? Do you want to be right at all costs or do you want to build relational capital? And do you wanna move a relationship forward? I think no matter what the context, it's always going to be the relational thing. So we have to go in, think about that.
NM : Everyone. Nolan here gonna have to jump in and stop today's podcast. Appreciate you listening so far. If you haven't already, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast and we'll see you next week in part B of this episode.
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