Archive for conflict

When someone you don’t like or respect suggests something, what is your first reaction? I bet it’s to dismiss it. You’ve heard the phrase, “Consider the source.” That’s not a bad thing to do, but if you’re not careful, you may very likely throw out the good with the bad.

Don’t let the personality of someone you work with cause you to lose sight of the greater purpose, which is to add value to the team and advance the organization. If that means listening to the ideas of people with whom you have no chemistry, or worse, you have a difficult history, so be it. Set aside your pride and listen. And in cases where you must reject the ideas of others, make sure you reject only the idea and not the person.

~ From The Maxwell Daily Reader

Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Obviously, that isn’t an option for anyone who wants to be successful as a leader.

Good leaders are active, and their actions often put them out front. That often draws criticism. When spectators watch a race, where do they focus their attention? On the front-runners! People watch their every action—and often criticize.

Since criticism is a part of leadership, you need to learn how to handle it constructively.  The following has helped me to deal with criticism, so I pass it on to you.

Know yourself.

Do you really know yourself? Are you aware of your weaknesses as well as your strengths? Where do you fall short as a person and leader? Not sure what your weaknesses are? Ask five trustworthy people close to you. They’ll be able to tell you where you come up short.

Know the criticism – and the critics.

When you receive criticism, how do you tell if it’s constructive or destructive? (Some say constructive criticism is when I criticize you, but destructive criticism is when you criticize me!) Here are the questions I ask to get to determine what kind of criticism it is:

  • Who criticized me? Adverse criticism from a wise person is more to be desired than the enthusiastic approval of a fool. The source often matters.
  • How was it given? I try to discern whether the person was being judgmental or whether he gave me the benefit of the doubt and spoke with kindness.
  • Why was it given? Was it given out of a personal hurt or for my benefit? Hurting people hurt people; they lash out or criticize to try to make themselves feel better, not to help the other person.

Stay open to change.

Let’s assume you now know yourself pretty well. You can tell when a criticism is way off-base; maybe it’s directed more at your position than at you. And you know when a criticism is 100% legitimate because it’s about a weakness that you’ve already discovered.

But what about the gray areas? The criticisms that might hold a grain of truth? A good leader stays open to improvement by:

  • Not being defensive,
  • Looking for the helpful grain of truth,
  • Making the necessary changes, and
  • Taking the high road.

Accept yourself.

Jonas Salk, developer of the Salk polio vaccine, had many critics in spite of his incredible contribution to medicine. Of criticism, he observed, “First people will tell you that you are wrong. Then they will tell you that you are right, but what you’re doing really isn’t important. Finally, they will admit that you are right and that what you are doing is very important; but after all, they knew it all the time.”

How do leaders who are out front handle this kind of fickle response from others?

The Serenity Prayer, made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, gives direction in this area:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

If you have endeavored to know yourself, and have worked hard to change yourself, then what more can you do?

Forget yourself.

The final step in the process of effectively handling criticism is to stop focusing on yourself. Secure people forget about themselves so they can focus on others. By doing this, they can face nearly any kind of criticism—and even serve the critic.

I try to live out a sentiment expressed by Parkenham Beatty, who advised, “By your own soul learn to live. And if men thwart you, take no heed. If men hate you, have no care: Sing your song, dream your dream, hope your hope and pray your prayer.”

As leaders, we must always be serious about our responsibilities, but it isn’t healthy for us to take ourselves too seriously. A Chinese proverb says, “Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves. They shall never cease to be entertained.”

My friend Joyce Meyer observes, “God will help you be all you can be, but He will never let you be successful at becoming someone else.” We can’t do more than try to be all that we can be. If we do that as leaders, we will give others our best, and we will sometimes takes hits from others. But that’s okay. That is the price for being out front.

Originally posted at John Maxwell on Leadership on June 15, 2010

There’s room in any organization for every type of person. From the big-picture person to the detail-conscious, all can make a valid contribution. But sometimes a team member’s strength can be their weakness. Attention to detail can become fixation on the negative. And the voice of reason turns into the voice of discouragement.

This is the problem we have with Critical Carl. He’s probably the most thorough and conscientious team member. He’s a great planner. But he seems to only see the negative. And he voices his criticisms to anyone who will listen.

We’ve been spending the past few weeks talking about leading difficult people. You can click the names to read about Fearful FredSlumped SusanExcited Eddie, and Disorganized Debbie. Now let’s discuss how to understand, listen to, and lead Critical Carl.

Understanding Critical Carl:

  1. Behavior:      Often negative
  2. Motivated by: Someone to listen to him
  3. Strength:      Detail-consciousness
  4. Weakness:    No filter

Listening to Critical Carl:

  1. Privately sit down and discuss Carl’s concerns.
  2. Discuss the way he’s chosen to voice them.
  3. Point out that he tends to focus on the negative.
  4. Find out if he wants to change.
  5. Share when, how, and with whom it’s appropriate to point out his concerns.

Leading Critical Carl:

  1. Ask the people negatively affected to meet with you and Carl.
  2. Ask for their side of the story.
  3. Ask Carl for an explanation.
  4. Share with them that Carl has a problem with criticism.
  5. Share with them the process you’ve asked him to follow.

Growth Plan:

Read Be a People Person together

What impact does Critical Carl have in your organization? His negative comments have the potential to discourage fellow team members and halt all forward momentum. By accepting at least some of his concerns as valid, and teaching him how he can – and can’t – share them, you might channel his attention to detail in a way that builds the team and contributes to every project.

Next week: The final difficult person in this series, Grandstanding Gary

My wife, Margaret, and I were married in June 1969, and like most couples, we naively believed that nothing but smooth sailing lay ahead of us. Of course, it didn’t take long for us to find ourselves in the kinds of minor disagreements that all couples experience, especially when they’re first adjusting to married life.

Like most people, I thought I was right nearly all the time, and I let Margaret know about it. I’ve always been a good talker, and I can be pretty persuasive, so I used my skills to win our arguments. We never yelled or screamed at each other. It was always very rational and controlled, but I always made sure I won. The problem was that with my approach, Margaret always had to lose.

And I truly didn’t realize that winning at all costs could eventually jeopardize our marriage, until one day when Margaret sat me down, shared how she felt when we argued, and explained what it was doing to our relationship. It was the first time I understood I was putting winning the arguments ahead of winning the relationship.

From that day I decided to change. Realizing that having the right attitude was more important than having the right answers, I softened my approach, listened more, and stopped making a big deal out of little things. In time, the wall that had begun to form came down, and we began building bridges. And since that time, I’ve made a conscious effort to initiate connection anytime I’m in conflict with someone I care about.

Let’s face it. Because of their personalities, some people are inclined to use a hammer, even when something gentler will do. That’s my natural inclination. But now, when tempted to use overkill, I try to temper my behavior using the following four Ts. You may want to embrace them when you find yourself in a similar situation.

1. Total Picture.

Do you come to conclusions long before the problem has been laid out before you? That’s a common occurrence for most of us. To keep from hammering people with answers before they finished asking the question, I’ve trained myself to follow this process:

  • Listen,
  • Ask questions,
  • Listen again,
  • Ask more questions,
  • Listen some more,
  • Then
  • Respond.

I find that if I slow myself down, I’m more likely to respond patiently and appropriately.

2. Timing

When you act is as important as taking the right action. Even knowing when not to act can be important. Noted hostess and writer Lady Dorothy Nevill observed, “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

It seems to me that the most common cause of bad timing in relationships is selfish motives. For that reason, when little things bother us, our number one objective must be putting our personal agendas aside and building the relationship. Once you’ve examined your motives, then you need to ask yourself two timing questions: 1) Am I ready to confront? That’s a pretty easy one to answer because it’s really a matter of whether you’ve done your homework. The second is harder: 2) Is the other person ready to hear? If you’ve laid a relational foundation, and the two of you are not in the “heat of battle,” then the answer is more likely to be yes.

3. Tone

The writer of Proverbs stated, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Haven’t you found that to be true? People often respond more to our attitudes and actions than to our words. And many petty conflicts occur because people use the wrong tone of voice. The next time someone says something to you in anger, respond with gentleness and kindness. In response, the other person is likely to tone down, if not soften, his attitude.

4. Temperature

As tempers flare, people are prone to dropping bombs when using a slingshot will do. And that can cause a lot of trouble because the size of a problem changes based on the heat applied to it. In general,

If the reaction is more heated than the action, the problem usually increases.

If the reaction is less intense than the action, the problem usually decreases.

That’s why I try to follow a self-imposed guideline that I like to call the Reprimand Rule: Take thirty seconds to share feelings – and then it’s over. Anytime we let a little thing create a big reaction (longer than 30 seconds), then we’re using a hammer.


Psychologist Abraham Maslow once observed, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” That might work with some issues, but it’s a terrible way to treat people. Relationships require more judicious treatment. Pay attention to the Four Ts in conflict, especially regarding the little things, and you’ll be more likely to solve the problem while preserving the relationship.

Adapted from Winning with People

The ability to understand people is one of the greatest assets anyone can ever have. It has the potential to positively impact every area of your life, not just the business arena. For example, look at how understanding people helped this mother of a preschooler.

Leaving my four-year-old son in the house, I ran out to throw something in the trash. When I tried to open the door to get back inside, it was locked. I knew that insisting my son open the door would have resulted in an hour-long battle of the wills. So in a sad voice, I said, “Oh, too bad. You just locked yourself in the house.” The door opened at once.

Understanding people certainly impacts your ability to communicate with others. David Burns, a medical doctor and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, observed, “The biggest mistake you can make in trying to talk convincingly is to put your highest priority on expressing your ideas and feelings. What most people really want is to be listened to, respected, and understood. The moment people see that they are being understood, they become more motivated to understand your point of view.” If you can learn to understand people – how they think, what they feel, what inspires them, how they’re likely to act and react in a given situation – then you can motivate and influence them in a positive way.

- from The Maxwell Daily Reader

Today on A Minute with Maxwell, my free daily video, I’m talking about LOVE – with a special message for my wife Margaret. To receive a daily notification whenever a new video is posted, you can subscribe here:

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Besides daily videos, you’ll be able to access my three-part teaching series on making this your best year ever. I hope it serves you well.