Learning the Value of Human Alignment / Collaboration with Stewart Levine (Archive)
Stewart Levine creates powerful partnerships. As a lawyer he realized fighting is ineffective in resolving problems. At AT&T he realized collaborations fail because people do not create a shared vision and a road map to results. His book Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration (Berrett-Koehler) was an Executive Book Club Selection; Featured by Executive Book Summaries and called “a marvelous book” by Dr. Stephen Covey. The Book of Agreement (Berrett-Koehler 2003) has been endorsed by many thought leaders, called more practical than the classic Getting to Yes and named one of the best books of 2003 by CEO Refresher (www.Refresher.com). He Co-Authored Collaborate 2.0. In addition to his consulting, coaching and mediation work he teaches for The American Management Association and has served on the faculty of University of California Berkeley Law School and Dominican University Graduate Business School.
- Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict Into Collaboration (Berrett-Koehler 1998, 2008)
- The Book of Agreement: 10 Essential Elements to Create the Results you Want (Berrett-Koehler 2003)
- Collaboration 2.0 (Happy About 2008)
- The Change Handbook (Berrett-Koehler 2007)
- The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Wellness (American Bar Association 2018)
More information at www.ResolutionWorks.com
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. Russell, here we are again. Week after week, we have amazing people. Yet today, this is a friend from years ago. I sent out an email asking people if they wanted to contribute to the magazine or be on the show. Immediately, Stewart Levine responded. How are things in Denver today, Russell?
Russell Dennis: It’s a little cloudy, a little bit cooler than it has been. But we are in the fall season. All is well otherwise. Welcome, Stewart. Thank you for coming.
Stewart Levine: My pleasure to be with you guys today. I will be landing in Denver early tomorrow morning and then driving up to Vail for some American Bar Association meetings. Interesting, because I have a new book called Becoming the Best Lawyer You Can Be: How to Maintain Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, and Mental Health. The American Bar Association, 27 authors, I curated it and edited it. I’m actually very excited about it.
Hugh: Look at that. Let’s back up. I’m sure there is people watching who want to know who this guy is anyway. Why don’t you tell them, Stewart?
Stewart: Thank you, Hugh. Here’s the short synopsis. I practiced law for about 10 years in a reasonably traditional number of contexts, starting off in the New Jersey Attorney General’s office. Then I got tired of fighting with people. And it was before the whole ADR, Alternative Dispute Resolution, movement came on board. So I decided to do a little career change. I spent six years inside of AT&T as they were going through huge organizational change and transformation with major law firms as my clients, not in a legal sense, but in an account representative sense.
On a parallel track, I started divorce meditation because I wanted to use the skills I had developed as a lawyer. I learned a lot about communication, about collaboration, about conflict resolution working with couples getting divorced because no one is in worse shape than that. Over time, I moved that work over into working with organizations, teens, organizational transformational cultural change work, individual coaching. For the last 30 years, that essentially is what I have been doing.
The last 10 years, I have learned a ton of teaching programs and all the soft skills, relationship skills on behalf of the American Management Association. I have done a number of collaborations over time with various other individuals, all in the organizational space. That is the short synopsis, except I have also written a couple of best-selling books. The first one is called Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration. It was endorsed by Stephen Covey. It was named one of the best business books of 1998, second edition came out in 2008. A follow-up called The Book of Agreement: 10 Essential Elements for Getting the Results You Want. That was endorsed by a number of notable people. That’s the short answer. You and I met in the context of both being on the faculty of an organization called CEO Space. It’s a pleasure to see your face again, Hugh.
Hugh: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for stepping up when I sent out that probing email. Actually, we were standing in those groups out in the lobby, and someone was addressing the group. I whipped out my draft of my workbook, Dealing with High Performance Teams, and I said, “Would you do me a favor and review this? Tell me what it’s missing.” You sent me an email saying there was nothing about agreements in here. So I asked if I could quote your book of the 10 Essential Elements of Agreements so I could give you attribution. I refer to those all the time. I send people to Amazon to get that book. It’s really a treasure.
We are speaking to people who are in the social benefit/for-purpose sector. They are clergy running a church or synagogue. They are executive directors running a for-purpose community-based organization. They are running a membership organization. I see a lot of conflict because people haven’t been really good in creating this agreement. They don’t write it down. They haven’t decided how we are going to define expectations. I would guess, we’re talking about collaboration and alignment today. I would think one tenet of alignment is to be able to have your expectations written down. Where do you start with alignment? What is the starting point?
Stewart: Sure. Just to frame this, what I always say to people is you can pay me now or pay me later. If you pay me now, you’ll pay me a lot less. Essentially what that means is spend a little time on the front end, making sure you have alignment, making sure you have shared expectations. Otherwise, the root of conflict is when people have different understandings of what they are doing together, and they have a different sense of metrics in terms of how we are going to measure whether or not we were successful. Critical piece is spending time on the front end. The Book of Agreement contains about 30 models of agreements for getting to a place of alignment. Those ten elements are actually so good I put them on the back of my business card. It’s not like I’m trying to keep any secrets. I am happy to give them away.
You start off by having a conversation. What is our intent and vision? In other words, what are we doing together? What’s our intent and vision? By the way, as a little aside, most legal agreements are something that I refer to as agreements for protection. What if this goes wrong, and what if that goes wrong? There is not a huge amount of time spent on what we are trying to achieve here. That was the perspective that I took. What is our intent and vision?
What is the role that each one of us is going to play? In other words, what is each party or person responsible for?
What are the specific promises that each person makes? In other words, what is each person going to do to bring that vision into reality? How are they going to contribute?
What is the value that each person receives? Why? Because if people don’t receive, if they are not getting value out of any form of collaboration, they will stop contributing. They will stop performing.
Metrics. How will you measure whether or not you were successful? Get it to a place of objectivity.
Concerns and fears. People often have concerns and fears that they don’t want to talk about. They are shy. What I like to do is put this in the model. No, this is something you have to talk about.
Renegotiation. The idea that when we begin, we know what we know, but we don’t know what we don’t know. As we work together, moving down the road, we discover things, and we constantly need to be mindful of renegotiating that agreement to make sure we are back in a place of alignment.
Consequences or benefits. What’s at stake here? What’s really at stake in this collaboration for the individuals involved, for the organization, for the community that is being served in the world of nonprofit and benefit organizations?
Conflict resolution. We know that things happen. How are we going to resolve the conflicts and differences when they come up?
After you have talked about those nine things, you look at the other person or the group and go, Yes or no. This is a project that I am engaged with. What I like to say is if you got good alignment, you don’t have to worry about loose panels flapping off the rocket ship that you are trying to get to take off.
I’m not sure where that came from. A little feedback from the universe. That’s okay. The last element, number ten, is agreement and trust. Are we aligned? This is what is essential to do at the front end. People who start to use this and discover it think it’s like sliced bread. It’s just amazing, the simple ten element model, what it can create and what it can save you in the long run.
Hugh: Absolutely. I call it paying the upfront price. You quoted the oil filter pay me now or pay me later. That’s a great commercial. It’s so true. It’s the price upfront is far cheaper. That’s a brilliant model. What happens when you get to #10 is you really know that you have an agreement.
Stewart: You know you have an agreement, or you know you don’t, which is of equal value. You know that Okay, this is, we’re not in alignment. I don’t think we can get to alignment. This is not a good project to work on together.
Hugh: I don’t know if you know I do lots of group board meetings and staff meetings. I am fundamentally a music connector who helps build ensembles, which is synergy in group interaction. In the South, y’all can tell I’m in the South, we say none of us is as smart as all of us. How do you get the best collective thinking without going into groupthink? My answer to that is we teach people how to build consensus. I find most people confuse consensus and compromise when they are the exact opposite. A consensus is a win-win, and compromise is lose-lose. What dawns on me as you are describing that model which I have read so many times is that prompts people to talk in a different way, discover new things, and come to some sort of consensus that whether we can work together or we can’t. Is consensus part of alignment?
Stewart: Absolutely. Consensus is essentially alignment. I’m glad you mentioned the word “compromise.” You said it exactly correctly, Hugh. Compromise means to lose-lose. People giving up what’s important to them. Consensus is we are all in agreement, we are all in alignment, we are all moving forward toward the same things with the same end result in mind.
Hugh: It’s very misunderstood. What setting it is. A corporate setting, a boardroom, or anything like that. I think it’s really misunderstood. It’s important that we can build that synergy if we are going to work together as teams. Why is alignment essential in today’s world? Why don’t you go to D.C. and teach them? You can skip that second part.
Stewart: I want to go back a second, and I will come to your question. I want to punctuate this point, Hugh. What also happens in the process of having this conversation is you start to develop a real deeper relationship. I don’t mean an intimate personal relationship; I mean a working relationship. And as we all know, when you have relationship with people you are working with, it’s much easier to resolve differences, which will inherently come up. The only reason people end up in lawsuits is when relationships break down. That’s the only time they resort to those 100-page agreements that attorneys prepare, when the relationship breaks down. Otherwise, they work it out; they want to keep working together.
Having said that, why is this more important in today’s world? I think it’s more important in today’s world because we have a lot less face-to-face interaction. So much of what we’re doing transactionally is virtual. In those kinds of situations, it’s easier to be a jerk. And people don’t consciously spend time to build relationships. This is a way to do it. That’s one piece.
The second piece is it’s too costly when things break down. When you end up in conflict and any kind of lawsuits or legal process, you can’t afford it. You can’t afford to waste that time removing so quick.
Three is if you look out at the world, it seems that there is a movement toward a much more values-based business and organizational culture. Much more. Because people realize what goes around comes around. You can’t treat transactions as a one-shot deal. We have to be more relational and values-based. Even the millennial generation coming up, for them, it’s real important to be part of a mission-driven organization, whatever that mission happens to be. To frame for-profit missions as having a “missionary” value. Business organizations in some sense are becoming a place where people get in culture. Business, nonprofits, in that context, it’s where we spend so much time. Bringing values and alignment into that are critical.
Probably more than you wanted to hear. To go back to that other question about Washington D.C., about 10 years ago, I was actually doing a two-day program for the Federal Executive Institute, which is run out of the Treasury Department. I had about 75 people for two days. At the end of the program, a bunch of Navy officers came up to me in white uniforms and said, “You need to go down the block and teach those guys in Congress.” Bottom line is, I don’t know if you remember those old jokes, “How many blanks does it take to change a light bulb?” How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but it’s got to want to change. The guys in D.C., I use guys generically, they don’t seem to want to change. They are sitting in some old cultural model, and that’s why the rating in D.C. of the folks that we elect as representatives and our employees, the ratings are so incredibly low.
Hugh: They are. We are shaped by the culture that we have experienced and the culture we have been injected into. We don’t have to accept that. I can’t imagine what it’s like on the inside. Some of the large companies and some of the large churches I have served have a culture. You refer to this topic of conflict. Before we leave the alignment and agreement piece, what I have experienced when people have those kinds of conversations. By the way, another piece Russell and I present and attend is the Business Acceleration Summit with your cheerleader Shannon Gronich, who studied your program with you. She uses it quite well. In going through that process, there is a transformation that happens with people’s perspective, even those who want to change. There is a substantive transformation that happens. Give us the story. Am I right? Does that happen with people exploring those options? If so, is there an example without giving away names of the kind of transformation that happens when people can have a different kind of conversation?
Stewart: It creates connection. Connectivity. To me, human connectivity is the key to productivity. That sounds like a rhyme. Connectivity is the key to productivity. It is. If you think about high performance teams, what was it about the teams that made them great? The human relationships. The high levels of trust. When you create alignment, that is naturally going to happen. For religious organizations, go back to the words of Christ. Wherever two or more of you are gathered, there is one. When you create alignment and connection, you create a different kind of energy. It’s there. It’s there.
One other thing I wanted to say about this, Hugh. You mentioned the word “culture.” I do cultural transformation work. People often ask for that. It’s a very amorphous concept. When you think about what is culture in an organization, culture is actually held in relationships. Relationships are a function of agreements, implicit and explicit. I say if we can make our agreements explicit, we can change the culture. By having agreements with how we will be with each other, how we will treat each other. I have done this in many organizations over time. It always comes up value-based because people use their highest aspirations when they are creating these kinds of agreements. Culture. Huge piece.
Hugh: Let’s focus in a minute. As a conductor, I create high performance cultures in choirs and orchestras. If you are familiar, the person at the front influences others. I have a lot of leaders say, “I want other people to change.” I point out, “That ain’t gonna happen unless you change.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with the work of Murray Bowen, the psychiatrist who has a whole leadership methodology. Bowen’s wisdom is if you want to change people on your team, you change yourself, and they reflect that. What you are talking about is the vulnerability of the leader willing to open their brains to something new.
Stewart: Jim Kouzes, favorite leadership consultant, and his partner Barry Posner. Talk about as one of the key elements of leadership modeling the way. That is a validation of what you just said. Modeling the way. Change yourself. Show others how you want them to be. Critical piece.
Stewart: Amen. It’s interesting. I did a project for a state government agency a few years ago. You asked for an example. They were implementing a new fiscal system to the entire state. It was coming out of the controller’s office. You can imagine the political, the legacy systems. It was a group of professional accountants who were charged with the pilot program. I got a call from someone who had seen me present about 10 years ago for the Project Management Institutes in the Greater Bay Area of San Francisco, which is where I am. I got in there and used the models that we’re talking about to get to the bottom of what conflicts were between the various units and to create an agreement about how it was that these folks were going to move forward with the level of human alignment to get this first pilot off the ground and in the implementation off the ground. It’s amazing what these ten elements of agreement can do. It’s a systematic way of creating an activity, alignment, a shift in culture, how to get humans hooked up and connected.
Hugh: I’m coming back. We are champions of transformational leadership. That is a transformational mindset here of people being aware. I think what happens when I have seen leaders go through steps like which you are proposing, there is a transformation of their knowledge and their being. They see the world differently when they start having conversations.
Stewart: I call that mindset “resolutionary thinking.” Resolutionary thinking. Mindset is certainly something that I talk about. As a matter of fact, in my first book, when Stephen Covey endorsed it, he actually said, “The mindset and the skillset are just terrific.”
Hugh: Love it. I have been hogging all the time here. I want to give Russell a chance. He listens. Russell, I notice Stewart doesn’t miss a lick. He comes back to my questions even though I forgot I asked them. Real clarity of thought here. Russell, what are you hearing? Before we switch over to talking about conflict, do you have any observations or questions on this powerful part Stewart is bringing to us?
Russell: Thinking about alignment, it starts with ourselves. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that’s why you wrote this book: to talk about internal alignment. We all have that. When we recognize that need to align ourselves internally, then we get along better with others. What is critical to this alignment and approaching this process in this manner it stops any problems before they start. People don’t do business with entities; people do business with people. If we are not aligned or on the same page, it won’t work very well. I really appreciate all of the things that I see. This is a book I keep for myself. I have used it to put agreements together that I put together for people I do business with so that we can create a good set of expectations. We don’t want to have problems later. Although this book has been around for a while, people don’t seem to be as proactive as they could be. You look at your typical agreement, and it’s written in legalese. We don’t want to duck for cover. We want to work together and solve some problems. I love your approach in that way.
Stewart: It’s interesting, Russell. Having practiced law for ten years, I saw all these legal books that their lawyers put their names in. In some ways, when I wrote The Book of Agreement, it was my antidote to that kind of agreement. The legal agreements I call agreements of protection. My agreements I call agreements for results. They help you get to that place you want to. Thank you. Thank you. To validate your point, this whole notion of being aligned internally, having some level of clarity, having some level of emotional intelligence, mindfulness, call it being awake, call it religion, religious people having a level of Christ consciousness, all these things are critical to being able to engage effectively with others. In some ways, having yourself out of the way a bit so that you can listen to the needs and wants of others, which is the only place you get connectivity. When I talk about listening skills, I say that listening is a skill that has you show up as a great communicator, and it’s one of the few things you can do unilaterally. You don’t need anyone else’s cooperation. All you have to do is drop your concerns and be in service to the other to find out what it is they are talking about. That is the foundational piece to create real connectivity.
Hugh: Russell, do you have a question you are noodling on here?
Russell: No, I was thinking about what the great problem is. A lot of us internally make assumptions. When you make assumptions, the expectations build upon that, which is what leads to conflict. I have heard people define expectations as pre-planned resentment. People don’t come to the table. They sit down, they sign an agreement, they assume that the other side knows what it is they want and what those expectations are, and there is a lot of legalese without getting to the meat and potatoes of assumptions.
Stewart: Russell, one of the mantras when I was practicing law was when you would come to a resolution of the case, the mantra was, “If everybody is unhappy, then you have a good settlement.” I just scratched my head the first time I heard that and said, “No, there has to be a better way than this.” This is the perfect transition if you want to talk about conflict for a bit. The whole notion of resolving conflict is about when I say getting to resolution, not having an agreement everybody is unhappy with. You haven’t resolved anything.
Going back to our initial discussion, you compromised, and you ended up in a lose-lose situation to be able to move forward. You killed a relationship. You have killed what may have been an opportunity for real productivity.
Hugh: Amazing. This fictitious topic of conflict in the workplace. Why don’t you give us a perspective? How do you define conflict?
Stewart: An important distinction in this conversation initially is differences versus conflict. Differences as we all know are a good thing. This leads to diversity in opinion, better solution, innovation, creativity. Difference is different perspectives. A good thing.
Now, conflict arises when people become committed to being right, when their egos take over, and their way or the highway, or my way is the right way, or I have the truth here. That is when they get emotionally attached. That emotional attachment is what I call conflict. Difference is a good thing. Conflict is emotional attachment.
Where that leads to in terms of thinking about conflict, it’s never about who is going to get the corner office. It’s about the individual’s emotional attachment. If you really want to resolve the conflict, and I learned this early on doing divorce meditation, deal with the emotion first, whatever that happens to be. Give people the opportunity to vent and get that emotion out of their system. Then, whatever they were fighting about, it almost seems silly. When people have the opportunity to talk about the emotion that was hanging them up.
Or another way of looking at that is you can think of conflict as oppositional. People are gripped in emotion. If we were all emotionally mature and evolved, when something was not working, you could just say to each other, “This isn’t working, is it?” We both go, “No, it’s not.” Where do we want to go together? Where do we want to go together in the future? As opposed to processing this conflict, let’s create a new agreement. Whatever we think we have by way of agreement is not working. Let’s create a new one prospectively for where we want to go together from this point forward. Otherwise, we keep dragging the baggage and the cost of conflict with us moment to moment, and the cash register is raining on that cost. So that’s a frame, a way to think about it.
Yeah, operating on assumptions and crossed expectations is the greatest cause of conflict in organizations. Greatest cause of conflict. Hugh, you look like you want to say something.
Hugh: I do find it pretty much in any organization. It’s more prevalent when people aren’t willing or able to confront the facts. We have spun confront to be a toxic thing when it really means with your front. What I also learned in studying the work of Murray Bowen is that you approach conflict directly and calmly and factually. If you got your agreement form, we have got the renegotiation piece in there. We don’t think we can do that. We have made a plan, so we have to work the plan. Wait a minute. Something is wrong. This renegotiation piece, it would occur to me is a part of way to move through conflict.
Stewart: Critical piece. Just to validate this notion about confronting. Intel, which has been a pretty successful organization over the years, they actually characterize their culture as one of constructive confrontation, constructive conversation. We tackle what is off in terms of alignment. We want to be in that place of getting back to alignment. The renegotiation is that piece. As you know, people sometimes get attached to being right or their way, especially when the clarity of expectation was not set correctly at the front end with a good, solid agreement of the kind I might help facilitate or the kind that you use.
Hugh: Back to the relationship piece. What I find happens, and we had a guest a couple months ago from Australia who has a brilliant tool called the Conversations game. People are able to take down a mask and talk about things they really didn’t think they would talk about. People who were enemies asked each other for their phone numbers. Part of it is disarming people by leading them into having conversations of substance rather than the ones we think we ought to have. We learn about the other person. There is this relationship building. That is what is so good about my definition of consensus: an agreement that is worked out in a group process, but is backed by relationship. If you have gone through your agreement, your tenth point is you are in agreement because you know each other by then. Speak to the relationship piece of this moving through conflict. We write the agreement; how do we keep it active instead of a piece of paper we file away?
Stewart: Great. First of all, it’s not 100 pages. It’s probably two or three. As you see from all the agreements in the book.
Two, in terms of the relationship piece, people do get emotional. We have different perspectives. We have different observations. We have different feelings because we are unique individual biological machines. We get emotional. Our emotions get triggered. You need to give people the context in which they have the opportunity to get those up and out of their system. In my conversational model for resolving conflict, there are two ways in which that is done. One, people get to tell their stories about the situation, which is a narrative, an open-ended question.
Then there is a specific set of questions to move people down a little bit deeper, to make sure what is tied up on the inside actually comes out. It’s almost like there is not the truth of what the stories the people hold is, but you need to give them the opportunity to get it out and clear it a bit so then they can resume the positive relationship moving forward in the future. I saw this with couples, which is where I learned, and the emotions do not run so high in organizations. But I saw couples get out of them and given the opportunity to realize, Oh, that was my husband. That was my wife. That was my partner. That was my mate. That was my lover. How have I gotten to the point where I have created them as such a monster by the noise in my own head? They were doing the best they could. That’s what most people realize in this process. The other person was not intentionally trying to be hurtful, but they were trying to do the best they can. We all know we are living in a very fast-paced soup that the military of all places, the U.S. military, has defined as we live in a VUCA environment. It is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. This is the soup we are trying to transact in. People get to see and realize they were doing the best that they could now, so what is our relationship going forward?
Hugh: This is so synergistic with what we teach, isn’t it, Russell?
Russell: I thought so. Very much so. As we move through this process, it’s taking the You statements out of what you say to people. That’s critical. This is a place, and I know that when you talk about marketing, people want to address You statements and talk about the value for the people you are serving. When it comes to conflict though, You statements can escalate it. It’s backing away from those things and really setting a frame where people want to cooperate, they want to resolve things, and they don’t want to make it personal. There is a skill, and we will probably address it in the personal skills, that for separated people from behavior or from statements. That is critical to creating a place where you got an environment or friend where you want to come to agreement.
Stewart: Critical. We have all seen it where you have major breakdowns on a business side, and people realize, Geez, there is too much profit here. We have to make this work. I did a program a number of years ago for a nonprofit private adoption agency. It was a partnership between a county child welfare agency and this adoption agency. What the adoption agency did is they got kids who were considered unadoptable up to speed so they could be placed in permanent homes. The consequences for a kid being emancipated when they are still in foster care and don’t have permanent adoptive care are huge. I got Masters in Social Work on both sides, and it was almost like central casting. I am working in a room where I have posters of the kids all around. The bottom line was I kept trying to get them to realize, and they got it, that working together is absolutely essential because there is a larger benefit here. People realize that. To have a programmatic way of moving through the difference in conflict. My goal was to get it so that it wasn’t just an agreement on the surface, but people would have a context in which to cleanse that emotion. They would resolve that emotion. That emotion wouldn’t linger going forward. As they could actually have real alignment. The technical term I would use is there was no longer any chatter.
Hugh: As you are working through this, you referred to some skills. Stewart, what are the critical interpersonal skills that one must pay attention to and embrace?
Stewart: This whole area of emotional intelligence, which has become a buzz word these days. Self-knowledge, having some knowledge of who you are and self-awareness. What’s going on inside of you at any moment in time. Self-regulation. Capacity to manage your own behavior and your own emotion. Self-motivation. Knowledge of what’s important to you, which is like a strategic element of emotional intelligence. Empathy. Care and concern for others. I go back to my electronic signature. People use it all the time. It’s a couplet from Longfellow, “If you knew the secret history of those you would like to punish, you would find a sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all in your hostility.” Very powerful. Standing in another’s shoes. And the skills of speaking from the I perspective or I statements, as Russell mentioned earlier. Listening skills as a critical skill. Being able to appreciate and understand that the operating system of the human biological machine over there is different than the operating system in this human biological machine. Not good or bad, it’s just the way it is. Trying to be more audience-centric in our conversation. Think about who it is we are speaking to. Otherwise, we are just talking to ourselves. So those are probably the most critical pieces.
Hugh: Many leaders aren’t aware of the impact and influence they have in the culture. Self-awareness is something that I see a lot of leaders struggle with. You probably serve as a confidential advisor to leaders. We call it different things. I choose not to use the word “coach” or :consultant.” It’s around that mentoring/coaching/consulting people, and helping people discover some of these blind spots. What is your opinion on successful leaders having an advisor of some sort?
Stewart: It’s critical because leaders are working alone. If they are at the top of the pyramid, or as Max Dupree would say, at the bottom of the pyramid, I am here to serve everybody else. But essentially, it’s in all literature that leaders are working alone. To have someone they can confide in and talk about their own insecurities, it’s a critical piece. The self-awareness is- When I am teaching, I always say my goal is to become a more audience-centric, emotionally intelligent, conscious communicator, when I am teaching communications skills. By conscious communicator, you thought through in some ways the impact of what you are saying and doing on other people.
Another one I left out is nonverbal. The awareness of your nonverbal skills. As we all know, so much of our communication, somewhere between 60-90% is nonverbal. To be aware that people are picking up messages from you. To be mindful about the presence that you bring. It’s so important. Always having two-way communication, or as I like to say, communication happens when you establish shared meaning. Broadcasting messages is not communication. It’s broadcasting messages. There is a big difference. Communication is when you have a back and forth, at least to a shared meaning and a common understanding.
Hugh: It is a lost art in some places. We are in a high-tech world where people send out data assuming that is communication. I appreciate your reframing of that. In 31 years of working with groups, the subject of communication always comes out, lack thereof. It’s like when Barry used to say is you perceive happiness, it eludes you. It’s almost the same with communication. When you focus on communication, it eludes you, when really it’s a byproduct of building relationships and being clear on our agreements, our purposes, our expectations. Within your strategy and implementation of your strategy, communication happens. You have demonstrated in this call today really good listening skills. That is top in being a conductor. We impact the culture by what we do, and the visual part is huge. One of the trainers of conductors says, “What they see is what you get.” The impact we have in that self-awareness is a huge one. I appreciate that list of skills. Good leaders are always working on those, aren’t they?
Stewart: Always. It’s the whole notion of lifelong learning. After each interaction, you have the level of mindfulness to do a self-assessment. How did I do? How might have I been better at doing that? It’s always about creating relationships. Always. Always.
One of the things I wanted to say in terms of the context you guys operate in, the religious and nonprofit organizations, in those institutions, it takes an additional degree of focus to some sense. Why? Because people have a different sense of self. By that I mean there is some element of—and I don’t say this in a negative way—righteousness. We are engaging and working on a good cause. We are working for something positive and of value. When it comes to interpersonal relationships, that righteousness can have a tendency to get in the way, which I am sure you have experienced over time. This is where these skills become important in those contexts.
There is something else I wanted to say in response to what you said, Hugh. It left my mind. The thought drifted off into the universe. Maybe it will come back before we’re done.
Hugh: I am very fond of people who can encapsulate things. As I am thinking through all of what you’re talking about, the leader impacts people. We’re anxious. It spreads throughout the community. Richard Rohr, author and founder of OFM, says, “Hurting people hurt people. Transformed people transform people.” It would occur to me working through the system that you have created, which is not really difficult, but is pretty profound in its simplicity and directness and the impact that it has.
Stewart: It’s really interesting. I was just working with a group of senior scientists. I knew they would love this. This whole model I am talking about I have it drawn down to half a page schematic. Each one of the critical elements. As I like to say with so many things in this area, all of the things we are talking about are simple, but not easy. Simple to understand. This is not rocket science, but it’s not easy to do. There is the one-page-
Hugh: Cycle of Resolution. What book is that in?
Stewart: It’s in Getting to Resolution. Page 248.
Hugh: You can find out more about Stewart at ResolutionWorks.com. I would imagine your books are listed somewhere on your website, and possibly on Amazon as well.
Stewart: Both of those places.
Hugh: I will give you a chance to have a parting thought with people. What would you like to leave people with? Russell will close out this interview.
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Stewart, what would you like to leave people with?
Stewart: The importance of relationships. The book Getting to Resolution might have been called Getting to Relationship. That is the critical piece. Alignment, moving through differences and conflict, always back to that place of relationship. That is where productivity comes from. That is where creating value comes from. Critical piece. It only happens as a result of, Russell pointed out, being centered in yourself, having alignment within yourself, and then when you have that foundation, you can use all the tools and techniques I talked about to connect with others.
I wanted to thank both of you for the wonderful quality of your presence in this interview. My pleasure to contribute to the community you guys are serving.
Russell: Thank you. Folks, take a trip over to ResolutionWorks.com. There is lots of material here. The principles are powerful. The power is in the simplicity. It’s not easy. What separates what Stewart is doing from a lot of other things out there that you see is that it’s not just dealing with situations or agreements in and of themselves, but it’s creating a framework where we can talk to one another and continue to have open conversations together to keep things on track. We are all different. We will not agree on every little thing. If we have a process where we honor one another, the breakouts will disappear. That’s a wonderful thing.
Hugh: Thank you, guys. Such wonderful material. Stewart Levine, again, a pleasure to be with you.
Stewart: My pleasure to be back in connection, Hugh. Thank you for inviting me.