Bill Stierle on
Managing Group Conflict
Managing conflict is a struggle for many leaders, especially those working with “volunteers.” Leaders evildoing dealing with conflict actually make things worse.
Hugh: Hey, it’s Hugh Ballou. My guest today is my dear friend Bill Stierle. He has got a lot of skillsets. I have seen him work marvelous things with groups of people that are in conflict. I have seen him get a group of people in a classroom excited about discovering things about themselves. Bill, you have a pretty diverse background. Tell folks a little bit about your background before we get into the content of leadership as a pathway to profit.
Bill: For the last 23 years, I have worked both as a business and organizational development consultant, and for 13 years of that, I have included high-conflict mediation, which is the ability to come into a room full of individuals, let’s say a city council with 250 screaming people, and I can get them to be quiet and functioning. Somewhere around 17 to 23 minutes, I will have them working together.
Hugh: Do you walk on water?
Bill: Not quite. It’s a good set of tools that is teachable and transferable.
Hugh: That’s what I want to hear about.
Bill: You can be able to get some knowledge transfer. Teaching leaders how to speak and think in this way can really make a big difference.
Hugh: All of that noise blocks our pathway to revenue. In this series, for the charities, I am encouraging them to listen to people in business about business principles. It’s a tax-exempt business that you are purposing toward the good. You throw out benefits and disbursements.
I have seen you work with people in conference calls for CEOSpace, and they identify their personality traits and preferences, and you give them colors. In the last 30 years of working with boards of churches and charities, there is a lot of conflict that is created because of the short-sightedness of the leader. We have set it up and made it worse. We are unaware of the consequences of our actions. Consequently, we don’t attract the revenue we need to build our business to serve our clients or to serve our members. Speak a little bit about what we do as leaders and what we need to do to unlock some of these things or discover some of these things to create this negative stuff in the culture.
Bill: Sure. The first thing has to do with our perspective and our perception. If we can start adjusting our perception and our perspective and then start empowering other people to have superpowers in certain ways, that could make a big difference.
Bill: Superpowers, absolutely. So if I have a CFO or Chief Financial Officer, somebody that is really focused on the finance part of it, that type of logical/analytical thinking is very different than my salesperson or Human Resources person or my volunteer coordinator in a nonprofit or my community organizer. Those are two very different kinds of thinking. I don’t want either of them to swap jobs because that doesn’t go very well. If I have someone who is very strong at organizing things and structuring things—and that might be in business a COO or Operations person, and in a nonprofit, this is the person who is the executive administrator or the organizers or the event coordinator who is really good at planning and orchestrating things and putting things in a set sequence—that person is very different from my vice president of marketing or my person that is out there broadcasting things to the world or the idea generator, the artist, the creator person, and even an entrepreneur who sits out there. Organization and creativity sit opposite. Logic and interpersonal think very opposite.
For me, what I try to get people to do is sit in the middle and learn how to speak four languages. The language would be like: Am I speaking in a very brief, clear, precise information? That appeals to that logical person. Or am I speaking in an empathy and consideration for the needs of ourselves and others? That is more like my Sales/HR person. Am I speaking in an overview or conceptual framework, or even frequent spontaneous tasks like that marketing person is doing? Or am I doing things in a step-by-step, unfolding of the topic, written schedule, action plans, consistency like my implementer? These four primary components and the one primary leader in the center can really make the wheels spin. Usually what happens is there is one person missing, so there is a flat tire. Or the leader thinks they are going to dominate the space or cover one of those spaces, and they are pulled out of the leadership position because they are in the doing position.
Hugh: That’s a big problem.
Bill: A big problem, let alone one pesky word. I am going to say it, and your audience will not want me to say it. The word is trust. It’s trusting self and then trusting others. Man, is that the Achilles heal of leadership.
Bill: Because what happens with trust is if I don’t have trust in myself, then I will say all kinds of sentences. Oh, I gotta do this more. If I don’t have trust in others, then I am going to come and cover what they are doing or oversupervise or underhire my skillset at one of those four positions. All of a sudden, if I don’t have trust with that thing, I hire somebody with less skillset to prove that I can’t trust that type of person.
Hugh: That is an invisible piece. I run across this overfunctioning, and the reciprocity of course is underfunctioning. I find leaders who hire people less than the quality they ought to just so they feel superior. My saying is if you are the smartest person on your team, you need a new team.
Bill: That’s right. The way to think about this is whatever skill you have as a leader, think about it as if you are building a professional basketball or football or sports team. What you want to do is have other skilled people in the positions to play so when you are throwing them the ball, they are able to catch it. If you are Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or other great quarterbacks, you want someone on the other end who has just as much skill as you do at their position. All of a sudden, it becomes talent transfer or playing on the same court.
Hugh: You have uncovered some amazing topics that we could talk about for hours. This is a short snippet. We will have a course around this we are going to offer through SynerVision. I see that leaders create all of this noise, and they set up problems, the wrong people in the wrong places. When you are talking about that, what I was thinking of is the dream of having a French chef, a British butler, or a German mechanic, and the nightmare is having the English cook, the German butler, and the French mechanic. You put the wrong people in the wrong slots. How often do we do that? We spend all the time and energy unraveling the problem or micromanaging the things when we really can’t go for the gold. This is not about the greed of money. This is about having enough fuel to run the car. We built this great car, and we need to get to this destination, which is achieving our vision and mission.
Bill: Yes, getting to the point of energy exchange, getting to the point of taking our product or service and exchanging it with their energy. I am providing you with something that is natural, giving, and you are providing something back to me, natural. What this means is that the value exchange is something we can both agree upon and enjoy about. Now the transfer has a lot of value.
This is the one I really like. This little metaphor is fun. Does Serena Williams want to play tennis with me? The answer would be never. No, they don’t. why? Because they have skill, and I don’t. I’m not going to ask them to go play tennis because quite frankly they would not want to play tennis with me. There is no challenge. I am the wrong person on the wrong court. Why then do we hire a person to come on the court that has less skill than us and then hit the ball to them and then complain about them not hitting the ball back?
Hugh: That happens as leaders.
Bill: Over and over again. That is called projection. I think that you’re better at that thing than I am. I don’t know if you are or not, but I think that you are more organized than me, therefore I am going to hire you for that position.
Hugh: You just did that for your business. You got somebody to come on and help you with that organization piece.
Bill: I am adding one to my team, and I have to vet and then revet, interview and then reinterview. What I do is if I am in a hiring process or if I am designing something, because I have done this for car dealerships, is I start with the performance evaluation first before I ever hire somebody. What do I want to see them perform in the first six months? Then I write the job description. The job description matches the performance evaluation. Then I write the interview questions that matches the job description that matches the performance evaluation.
Hugh: We should start with the end in mind.
Bill: Start with the end in mind. Then I write the ad for the job.
Bill: One HR person said, “I get 250 resumes from this ad I put up. They are all people that when I sort through this, I get the wrong people.” I say to write the ad for the real job based on the performance evaluation because you want them here six months later. This is what they are going to look like. The primary element of this customer service job is to answer phones. The secondary is they are going to listen to a sick person speak because it was a health care product, and this sick person is going to tell them a story somewhere around 15 minutes, maybe 12. Then you are going to offer them some things during this process because this health care product is really valuable to them. You are going to be listening to them on the phone and then make an offer and then close the sale or ask them what to do net.
Hugh: This is so helpful.
Bill: Instead of 250 resumes, she got 17. She was able to hire four of the seventeen. She was not sifting through the pile of bad resumes hoping this one was going to work. She already knew the person had an agreement. I am going to be on the phone for 15 minutes per client. I am going to talk to 21 people a day for 15 minutes each. I am going to make some offerings. Then they are going to buy or not buy.
Hugh: This is where it starts. I know you and I have interviewed people at this conference over the years. I am going to hire this person because I resonate with them, I like them.
Bill: Oh God.
Hugh: I am going to put people on my board because I like them.
Hugh: It’s a disaster from the beginning. That’s a factor at the end. If you hate them, you don’t want them in your space. That is the last one. All of these things are so valuable. We are so much aligned in that. That is where leaders begin to set up a problem that costs them a huge amount of money. I talked to Jeff Magee in this series, and he referred to the Gallup poll that said 56% of corporate employees are disengaged, and 16% are actively disengaged. That is 70% combined, and that is costing the workplace $500 billion. I said to him that we don’t have stats for the charity market, but I bet you that 90% of the workplace is underfunctioning. I have just come off a 19-city tour doing leadership empowerment, which is about strategy and recruiting and building boards. The #1 issue that they are dealing with in all of these cities—social entrepreneurs, clergy, nonexecutive directors, and small business entrepreneurs—is burnout. #2 is team underfunctioning. Those are both set up by the leader. Third is lack of sufficient revenue.
Bill: Let’s talk about how the brain works on those three items.
Bill: The brain works and the way it is set up is this. The front part of our brain is where we have logic and functioning. This part of the brain has 400,000 neural connections per micron. It’s the newer part of our brain, and it occupies 40% of our headspace approximately. Back here, the limbic part of our brain has 4.3 million connections, and it is where emotion and safekeeping and habit are. What is important about this is it is a 10:1 ratio. One here, logic and future thinking. Ten here. This sentence rings true.
Watch how weird this one is. If the person has any conflict, or if language is not integrated, what happens is emotion and habit always wins over logic and future thinking. Always. Because this is like an elephant, and this is like a rider sitting on top with a little stick. The elephant goes wherever it wants to in regards to habit. This is why our rider can say the following sentence: You know what my New Year’s Resolution is? I am going to lose ten pounds in the next two months. As soon as we go to the New Year’s party and we walk by the cookies, the elephant, the emotion and the habit, has the cookie in our mouth before we know it. Now the cookie is in our mouth, and this is what our brain does. It goes up to our language center and says, “I will start tomorrow.” It rationalizes what the elephant did.
In leadership, one of the things that is so valuable in dealing with this rider/elephant is the following sentence: Small messages, a handful of peanuts, to get the rider motivated. Do not tell your individuals the big picture as much. Tell them: Here is what I think we are going to be doing in the next week. Here is what I would like to see accomplished. Small messages. No explanation. Reduce problem solving.
Hugh: These are extremely valuable.
Bill: Reduce problem solving. Use more empathy, compassion. Small messages to the rider. Handful of peanuts. It will be really great when we can get this thing completed this week. Imagine what it will be like. Handful of peanuts.
Hugh: You have hit on some really important topics. You have been a contributor to the magazine, and we have also put a Blogroll article. Hopefully you will give us more. We are creating some content pieces on these topics. I am going to strongarm you to get you to do one of those. This is introducing several topics that we can have. Members of the community will get these webinars at a discount. They are open to others, but because members are part of the community, there are extra benefits. Synervisionleadership.org is where that is. How can people find out more about what you do?
Bill: The best place is on my website corporateculturedevelopment.com. There are several videos and information there. My phone number is (310) 433-8380.
Hugh: Bill Stierle, corporateculturedevelopment.com. I make it a habit of hanging around smart people. I look better when I am next to smart people. Having more hair doesn’t hurt either.
This is in a series of interviews for social entrepreneurs. Thank you for taking time out of this conference to do it. As we close this out, what is the thought for people to have in their mind? What tip do you have for them to empower themselves to do some thinking before they get into some of these traps?
Bill: The first thing is to notice when you are on the gerbil wheel, when you are saying or setting the same intentions over and over again. That is how you notice the elephant is running the show. The elephant is running the show because it’s familiar, because it’s a habit, because it looks bigger and harder to change and do something new. The brain works best when it does it in small messages and has small achievable pieces and then small choices. Gosh, I see that cookie, but I am picking this thing over here. Or not right now, I am just going to put it aside for a second and go over here and do this.
What winds up happening is these small messages nurture the elephant into a new habit. When we are nurturing the habit, we are laying down the pathway to change inside our own consciousness. We are actively making it safe for the elephant to walk down the new path. Why doesn’t the elephant walk down the new path? It has some beliefs and thoughts about it: the belief and thought about money, the belief and thought about standing out, the belief and thought of worrying about new responsibilities, the belief and thought that I am going to have more anxiety and nerves. The mouse is the thought. It can be on the road, but remember, when your elephant is moving, the mouse doesn’t want to hang around and be underneath the foot of that elephant. But the brain doesn’t know that. It keeps going for pattern, habit, validation, safety. Even trauma patterns get stuck here, to the habit or safekeeping part of the brain. It could be the smallest sentence.
Hugh: Your thinking directs your results.
Bill: Results and word selection make a huge difference. Word selection can give the power to the other person in leadership. Word selection can hold the power back on your side. That robs them of their own leadership, that deflates motivation on their own side, just by word selection. Gosh that sounds really good.
Hugh: We have to watch what comes out of our mouths.
Bill: Pretty much. You can have the thought of it and actually move the thought. I remember doing a workshop for 35 Buddhist monks where I was teaching them how to speak and use language to be mindful. If you think about that, what did you just say? The conflict mediator is coming into this group of monks and is teaching them how to use language. Yeah, they were great in their own space and talent of meditating, but as soon as you come out, language comes back.
Hugh: You just identified multiple ways that leaders tie up knots, and we cut the energy that takes us to receiving the revenue that we need. I have identified about ten subsets of webinars that should come out of this.
Bill Stierle, you’re a good man. You’re really good at what you do. I’m happy to be your friend. Thank you for sharing with this wonderful audience today.
Bill: It’s a joy to be here. I’m glad I can contribute, and any way I can be of support.
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