The High Road

be successful and to triumph, collaboration is required. If we hope to invoke change, if we hope to inspire we need to respect the other side of the fence and adopt the ability to see the world through different lenses

No one will ever have the full story, the complete view.

Collaboration is founded on a bedrock of respect.

John Baldoni writes in Grace: A Leader’s Guide to A Better Us,

“Our culture has become more coarsened. The rancor in our political system, fueled as it is by people who do not want to listen to one another, paralyzes so much of our public discourse.”

Every single story you read, TV broadcast you consume, tweet you skim is hindered by biases.

We need to understand the world and our reality is not binary.

Personal biases, political affiliations, anger, stress, anxiety, passion, sadness, memories, experiences and insights, each drastically influencing how we interpret the world and make decisions.

Ziad Abdelnour wrote in Start-Up Saboteurs: How Incompetence, Ego, and Small Thinking Prevent True Wealth Creationm.

Listening is the single most important life skill in professional and personal relationships. Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” It’s sad but true: Most people have their own agenda and are too busy talking (or waiting to talk) to listen to you attentively. If you, unlike most people, can truly listen with empathy, then people will like you — and eventually help you get what you want.

When we incorrectly assume that we know all facts and have a handle on all things, we immediately focus on the “other” as antagonists in our own story. We disable dialogue and put up walls that defy, logic, reason and understanding in hopes of maintaining a fact-defying us vs. them dichotomy.

Instead of assuming that the other is an assault on us, start to ask the question why.

Why have they taken that stance?

Why have they done that?

Why have they said that?

Why do they believe that?

Why did that come to that conclusion and make that choice?

When approaching these conflicts, turned conversations adopt the strategy of assuming positive intent.

As Julie Peterson outlines in The Trust Factor,

As you discuss the possible reasons with a mind-set of assuming
positive intent, you open up the conversation for real solutions because you
allow individuals to address the circumstances without having to defend
themselves. Their energy is no longer spent on defense and survival.

We must assume that others are motivated by positive intentions. As former CEO and Chairman of Aetna Ron Williams advocates, positive intent. He writes in Learning to Lead that assuming positive intent is an…

“empowering strategy that disarms defensiveness and turns potential enemies into allies. If there’s something that will make you feel really good to say — something you are itching to say — don’t say it. Blowing up in the face of provocation is a way of losing power, not of claiming it.”

In the heat of the moment, assume we have to remember that assuming positive intent is not the defacto response to conflict.

We are not wired to see the positive and to avoid conflict. We are wired to focus on the negative, dive head first into conflict and incorporate all of those biases (personal biases, political affiliations, anger, stress, anxiety, passion, sadness, memories, experiences and insights), in our biological response to conflict derived from a fight or flight response.

We have to circumvent our biological drivers to use the positive intent strategy, start difficult conversations and ultimately drive collaboration.

The ability to start conversations with positive intent allows us to uncover misunderstandings and miscommunications and start interactions with empathy and thoughtfulness. Although not every person adopts positive intent, we must focus on how we react to situations, not how they react.

Although this is easier said than done, as we can all agree it’s easier to give respect when respect is received and it’s harder to give it when it’s not. This response requires us to exercise that thoughtfulness and empathy in a way that circumvents our innate response.

We take the high road.

Craig E. Runde, the Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics at Eckerd College puts it simply in Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader.

When people take the high road by using constructive responses, conflicts often take on the problem-solving qualities associated with task conflict. Creativity is enhanced, and decision-making quality is improved. Participants become more committed to implementing solutions because they have been involved and engaged in resolving issues. In addition, relationships and morale are improved when people collaborate effectively. Negative emotions recede, and positive ones take their place.

We always are taught to take the high road, however the actual action items required to follow this path are usually lost on us.

Let’s understand that the high road is to assume positive intent.

The high road is to fight innate reactions and resort to an us vs. them dichotomies.

The high road is empathy, awareness and understanding.

The high road is collaboration and communication.

The high road is what we need.

That’s true leadership.

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