2 posts categorized "Blame"

March 07, 2016

When employees are stuck in the pain of the past, how do we support them to move on?


You know… 

When you have an employee that has confided in you about something painful that they haven’t yet shared with their boss. 

And they don’t want you to raise the issue either. 

But they want to know what they should do? 

So you start by just giving them empathy, because without it, nothing is going to happen. 

You acknowledge their experience as fully as you can. 

You imagine and intuit, (to paraphrase Daniel Pink’s definition of empathy) what it is that they are feeling. 

This has a calming effect. 

As the truth of their subjective emotional experience is acknowledged - without defensiveness and without justification - they can relax and let their guard down. 

So now they are somewhat open. 

But be careful. 

If you invalidate they will close up again. 

As long as they are open you can attend to their original question. 

This takes great patience. 

To take the time necessary to hear out someone who is upset before attending to their request for your advice. 

Remember their question. 

What they should do to address the painful situation with their boss? 

Yours was how to get them to move on when they are stuck? 

You know to start with theirs. 

And of course you hope they get that they have a choice to communicate directly or not, (because often, until they do communicate, like in this situation, their boss has no idea of their grievance!) 

They may give you a quizzical light-bulb look and say something like, 

“You are right, I suppose we have to talk!” 

So they talk. 

And let’s say they resolve their issues in a manner of speaking. 

But when the employee comes back next month you know they didn’t really. 

And of course, now it’s much worse. 

So you read them the riot act!!! 


You start with empathy. 

You listen.

You acknowledge. 

You reflect back feelings and needs. 

And when they say, 

“So I tried talking . . . you see nothing helps . . . What should I do now?” 

You tell them they have a choice. 

That they can continue to pursue the resolution of their difference through external communication practices and even possibly with the support of you as a mediator. 

But that there is another choice. 

It is one of two ways that people are able to move on from the pain of the past. 

One is through true deep emotional acknowledgement of the truth of their experience by the other person. 

It may include a sincere apology. 

When this happens the transformation within a particular relationship can be profound. 

But when there is no acknowledgment, most humans get stuck. 

It is hard, when we have been hurt by another, with whom you are in relationship and they don’t acknowledge the truth of the impact of their behavior, notwithstanding their intent. 

Even mediation as a process that supports the resolution of conflict, has limits. 

It is no panacea. 

So what about that other way? 

I call it the internal path of conflict resolution. 

It is also known as the path of forgiveness. 

When we forgive, we let go of resentments. 

We don't need an apology. 

At its essence, as my friend and colleague Eileen Barker suggests, forgiveness is a decision to let go of the past and to tell a new story about what occurred. 

Paradoxically we grow from our inner inquiry. 

But how? 

One of the leading pioneers in research into forgiveness is Stanford’s Fred Luskin. 

He points out, that when we forgive, we invert the grievance process. 

When we grieve we take it personally and blame others for how we are feeling. 

We tell ourselves a story in which we are the victim. 

We hold them accountable for our peace of mind. 

When we forgive, we undo this grievance process. 

Instead of taking things personally, we recognize that things happen. 

But that these things are seldom as problematic as our own reaction. 

So when we forgive, we take responsibility for our own feelings. 

We learn our lessons and we retell our story, no longer as a victim, but as a navigator with a deeper understanding of the significance of the event to our lives. 

Remember, the questions. 

Yours was how to get them to move on when they are stuck? 

Theirs: What they should do to address the painful situation with their boss? 

Forgiveness is one of two ways we move on. 

The other is through heartfelt acknowledgement of emotional truth through communication with the other if necessary with the support of you as a mediator. 

Seems like the same answer works for both questions. 

What do you think?

July 03, 2015

What exactly is a challenging relationship?

“Sometimes people behave badly on purpose, but often we just lose touch with who we are.” Sharon Salzberg

The question of how best to deal with relationship challenges in our life is not new!

And as Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness at Work, notes; ‘bad behavior’ can be as a result of intentional malice but most often is not.

When we perceive ourselves to be on the receiving end of what we label as ‘bad’ or challenging behavior, we are often judgmental of both the behavior and the motive (intent) of the other.

It is not uncommon for there to be blame.

And it is also not uncommon for us to also lose touch with who we are.

Just as much as the other who acted ‘badly’ may have lost touch with themselves.

That seems to be the difficulty. That as much as we want to control our external world to secure inner peace we find that there is much going on within us that is also part of the challenging mix!

So then, what exactly is a challenging relationship?

Very simply, a challenging relationship is one that you have concluded is challenging!

In other words the test is subjective and very personal.

It means that your difficult person may be liked by many. You may or may not be the only one bothered. And, you may be shocked to find that others – using this same subjective test - find you challenging at times!

This subjective approach is intentional. It avoids ‘typing’ and excessive labeling in which the identification of qualities justify a diagnosis or ‘type’.

See, for example, the book “How People Tick: A Guide to Over 50 Types of Difficult People and How to Handle Them” by Mike Leibling. How anyone can remember all the 50 different types of difficult people or indeed what to do for each is beyond me.

At the end of the day, you will know if you are at peace or not. And if your perception is that the relationship is in any way;

  • Threatening not safe
  • Negative not positive
  • Difficult not easy
  • Defensive not open
  • Hostile not friendly
  • Confusing not clear
  • Draining not energizing
  • Toxic not healthy

Then you have a challenging relationship!

Now, I hasten to add that this conclusion does not entitle you to blame or do any of the other things that will make the situation worse.

But at least you won’t get stuck arguing about whether the behavior or attitude meets the definition of challenging behavior. Or which type it is! Or what to do assuming you have the correct type!

There are 10 things that I have identified that are guaranteed to make things worse. One is labelling and typing.

Another is blame!

When things turn out differently to what we hoped and we are disappointed and even angry because our needs are not being met, we often blame the proverbial other for what went wrong.

The benefit is that we may get sympathy and care. Sometimes shared outrage! And as long as the focus of blame is more external on the other or the environment, we can avoid our own feelings of pain and responsibility. Remember, our part in the challenging mix!

When we blame we make a judgment and hold the other person responsible for a situation from the past based on our perception and interpretation of the facts. As the authors of Difficult Conversations (Stone, Patton, Heen) say, “blame is about judging and looking backwards.”

Blame elicits defensiveness. It reduces the likelihood of learning about what is really causing the difficulty or from doing anything helpful about it.

A blame conversation is not the only conversation humans can have when things go wrong. I will always be grateful to Stone, Patton and Heen who revealed a worthy process alternative: a contribution conversation.

“A contribution conversation is about understanding and looks forward.”

Instead of asking whose fault is it, we openly ask how we each contributed to the situation in question:

What is my contribution to the situation?

What did we each do?

What can we learn?

Instead of defensiveness and concealment that prevents learning when we take the blame route, we discover through our candid revealing that we can learn from our individual and collective mistakes.

Here’s how the two approaches look side to side. Where the blame cycle grows and leads to more of the same challenge, the contribution conversation is balancing and reduces the problem.


We all experience challenging relationships and as the wise Sharon Salzberg cautions - most of the time it is from good folk, like you and me, losing touch with who we really are.