Crucial Conversations QA

How to Handle a Company Strike

Dear Joseph,

We are headed for our first nursing strike. Employees are heartbroken at the situation. Patients and families are concerned about the quality of care with contingent workers on site, and long-term relationships are being fractured by the decision to picket or work. I continue to hope that we’ll rely on what unites us—doing work that’s important, feeling like a valuable contributor, and doing what’s best for our patients, families, employees, and community. What crucial conversations principles can help us during this difficult period?

Strike One

Dear Strike One,

I’m sorry to hear that dialogue has broken down. And I wish you a speedy resolution so that all can return to the core mission of improving the lives of all concerned. Obviously, the negotiation process will take its own course, but there is much that individual managers can do to influence both the length and tenor of that course, and the velocity of healing once the strike ends.

  1. Manage Your Story. One of the worst effects of a strike is the way it feeds divisive judgments and stories between the groups. Physical separation means you are only talking with those sympathetic to one set of interests. This is dangerous. It reinforces tribalism and animosity. If one group makes a statement in the press, the other group tends to hunt for pernicious interpretations of it. For example, public complaints about wages or work conditions are reprocessed as evidence of selfishness or dishonesty. The best thing you can do is encourage all (beginning with yourself) to make the most generous appraisal possible of others’ actions. Carefully avoid using divisive labels like “nonexempt” or “union” or “labor.” Use humanizing labels like “colleagues” or “our nursing team.” If you start to feel righteous indignation toward your striking colleagues, use that as a cue to begin challenging your own story.
  2. Disrupt Their Default Story. Don’t feed the other’s story about you. Generate disconfirming data. Realize that as difficult as it is for you to maintain a positive story about others, it is equally difficult for them to maintain one about you. All they need for you to do in order to confirm their judgments of you is nothing. Let that soak in for a moment. When others feel hurt or threatened, all they need from you in order to confirm their “villain story” about you is nothing. If you are simply impassive, disconnected, distant, you are actively offering them all they need to confirm their suspicions about your intentions and your lack of concern for them. Imagine, for example, you are sitting across from your boss. You open up in a very vulnerable way about concerns you have with her management style. The entire time she stares at you impassively. No smile. No frown. No response. What would you be thinking? In this moment of anxiety for you, you are looking for data from your boss that you are safe. And she is offering nothing. Which makes you feel . . . unsafe. That’s what is going on during a strike. If management simply maintains distance, you unwittingly confirm the worst suspicions of those who are scared and hurting. The best thing to do is commit unexpected acts of generosity. Send a kind note. Smile if you see someone in public. Take cookies to someone’s house. It isn’t a battle line if people regularly cross it. So, don’t let a line form between you and your colleagues beyond what is legally necessary.

These suggestions aren’t just key to breaching employment disputes. They are key to building the high trust communities we all want across the world. I hope you’ll show the rest of us how it’s done.


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Getting Things Done QA

How To Ensure To-Do Lists Don’t Overrun Your Life

Dear Justin,

I have always been a list maker. This has served me well over the years. I’m getting older now and find that I make lists over and over and tend to have multiple lists—on my desk, in my pockets, etc. What can I do to either organize my lists or keep just one list that has it all?

List Of Lists

Dear List of Lists,

You know you’re busy when your lists have lists—or you have sticky notes to remind yourself to look at other sticky notes.

I suspect you’re mixing up the tools you use to “capture” new inputs and the tools you use to “organize” the actions you want to take. This may be why you are losing tasks and actions on many different lists. Here are some insights to consider.

1. Have Capture Tools

You need some tools where you can capture and record ideas, tasks, commitments, insights, etc. These tools do NOT comprise a to-do list. They work more like nets. If you’re on the run and need to capture an idea you want to take action on, but don’t have the time to think about the first step or when you want to start, you need a tool to capture that idea. Capturing allows you to go on with your day and be present, and at the same time not lose track of something you may want to act on later. This “capture tool” can be a notepad, the notes app on your phone, or an email you send to yourself. Those are just a few examples. Have at least one capture tool you keep with you always.

2. Have Just a FEW Capture Tools

Most people have fifteen to twenty tools where they receive or capture inputs. They have multiple email addresses, piles o’ junk on their desk and kitchen table, a purse, a wallet, several apps, in-trays, sticky notes galore, and voicemail. With so many tools capturing inputs, it’s no wonder people drop balls and miss details. There is no way that you could remember to process all the inputs in every one of those tools on a regular basis. So, things get missed.

Try this challenge. Limit your number of capture tools to fewer than five. As you do, I promise you’ll stress less about missing things and have a clearer view of your FULL inventory of commitments. There are several ways you might reduce your number of capture tools. For example, you could automatically combine inputs (auto-forward emails from a few inboxes to one); you could direct inputs yourself to a chosen tool (after you get a business card at a conference, write a quick note on it and then email a picture of the card to yourself rather than dropping the card in a briefcase, bag, or purse only to get lost); or you could let others know where to leave inputs. As a case in point, my voicemail was once a place where people would leave inputs for me. But I rarely checked it. It was frustrating for them and stressful for me. So I changed my voicemail message to say “Hi, this is Justin. I don’t check my voicemail often, but I’m happy to help. If you could email me at ### I’ll get my attention on your request in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.” By doing this I was saying, “This voicemail inbox is not one of my chosen capture tools, but if you put your request in my chosen capture tool, I am much more likely to help you—and help you more quickly.” It was better for them and me.

3. The Right Lists

Once you’ve reduced your number of capture tools, consider your number of to-do lists. I often advise people to have as many lists as they need to reflect the complexity of their lives, but no more. I also suggest people keep lists according to context—where the action needs to happen. So you might have a list for actions that can only be completed @home, and a list of actions that can only be completed @work, or a list of things you want to buy @grocery store. For every context, have a list. Separating your to-dos this way can make life easier. To address your original concern, I would suggest keeping all these lists in one location. The lists are separate but the location singular, so you don’t have to look all over to find them. Maybe you use an app that keeps all your lists. It doesn’t mean you look at personal stuff at work. You only look at the lists related to where you are or what you need in a given moment. Consider context, then act from the corresponding list.

Bonus Tip—for those going crazy with oversized lists. One way to simplify things for yourself is to do what I call an “agreement audit.” Take a moment and write on one large sheet of paper every single agreement you’ve made (work and home). Knowing you can’t bend time and do everything in the short term, go through each task and ask yourself, “Is this something I should DO, DECLINE, or RENEGOTIATE?” Make a decision about each, then take action. If you’re skeptical of this approach, let me ask you which is worse: not doing the tasks while pretending you might, or proactively getting in front of them and working on a plan?

Bonus Video—for fun. About this time last year, my team went out and asked people to share what pressing to-dos and tasks held their attention most. The answers we received are quite funny and relatable. Enjoy the video here.

Best Regards,

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