I’m struck this week with a barrage of “kindness” stories. The word has been popping up throughout my world like a “message,” so I thought I’d run with it.
This famous saying of Dr. Wayne Dyer is a favorite of mine: “If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”
In her book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown says that “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
I’ve just finished Amanda Ripley’s book High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out. (I listen to audio books while driving, and I plan to listen to this one again… it’s that good. I highly recommend it.)
In High Conflict, Ripley analyzes some common “high-conflict” situations. Political angst (think angry parents at school board meetings today, or Donald Trump). Gang warfare in Chicago. Divorce mediation. Situations where the environment has devolved to an “us vs. them” impasse.
When considering these three authors/thought-leaders, I’ve wrestled with how they all connect.
A quick catchup on some of my theories. When operating in our Knower/Judger (K/J) persona—i.e., when we “know”—we’re not susceptible to new information and so can’t really learn anything new. When we’re in the other persona—the state I call “Learner/Researcher”—we have set our “knowledge” about a certain issue aside and opened up for new data to either confirm our knowledge or appropriately alter it to our perceptions. Click on the links for more in-depth discussions if you’re curious enough.
So… K/J reacts based on their locked-in understanding of things. (We do this so we can quickly judge appropriate reactions.) L/R does pretty much the opposite of K/J—they are open to new data and having their perceptions challenged, even altered. I’m hoping you can identify times in your life when you have been both of these. My coaching revolves around being able to identify when your K/J is getting in the way of what you really want. But that’s a different article or even coaching intervention.
Ripley makes a claim, and I’m good with it, that all humans want to be understood and not excluded.
When I’m in my K/J while interacting with another, and my K/J and their K/J understanding don’t match, we disagree. When it becomes important for us both to be right, then the disagreement starts escalating toward conflict.
I maintain that until one of the two antagonists backs down, the conversation / argument / screaming match eventually progresses to the point where one of the two combatants dies. Somebody has to switch off the K/J fuel that feeds the fire.
I feel that as long as the only thing I can say to your K/J point of view is “you’re wrong,” then that will likely be the only thing you can say to me. And we’re headed for high conflict.
Can you see this in gang turf wars? Divorces? The current political environment? The problem you had with your direct report just yesterday?
The hero in Ripley’s book is an attorney, Gary Friedman, who abandoned the conflict-centric world of legal negotiations and created a niche business of mediating divorces. His style of mediation depends heavily on his clients’ ability to remain in their respective L/R personas, understanding each other’s needs and including their perceptions in the solutions. Only when they start judging each other and gravitate toward the “us vs. them” realm do things fall off the road. And Gary has ways of getting them back on. That’s his talent.
In an unusual twist of fate, Gary runs for and is elected to a local political office. In this world his mediation ability seems switched to “off” and he blindly runs into local political hornets’ nests. And he doesn’t see it happening. He claims to not be “understood” in his role and finds himself excluded from council proceedings. “I only did this to help.” Which just further entrenches his “we” position. I’ll stop there. It’s an excellent book.
My point here is that Ripley’s idea of being understood and included seems to be a big part of being kind along with being clear. I can stop the debate and say “I want to understand how you’re approaching this. Can you help me get there?” That’s kind. And it’s asking for clarity, which is also kind. It also includes you in a dialog (versus a shouting match), which is also kind.
The goal of the book, and indeed this article, is not to eliminate all conflict. Conflict is a necessity in our lives. It’s my position that good conflict yields good results (when mediated or executed from the L/R personas). Bad conflict (high conflict) can be dangerous, unproductive, and potentially deadly. You choose. Kind?