A Sea of Sameness

Have you ever noticed how most of us in the American culture fear standing out from the crowd? We try our best to fit in with the herd, to be normal. We don’t want to be too tall, too short, too fat, or too skinny. We don’t like our looks if our nose is too wide, our skin is too dark or too light. We want to blend in and not draw attention to ourselves.

Somewhere at sometime in our lives, we discovered it wasn’t safe to stand out from the crowd. Blend in and it’s safe. Bringing attention to yourself isn’t safe. Above average, below average, don’t be noticed. We are average. We want to fit in.

Oddly enough average people admire those that excel. We cheer on the successful and dream of being like them, yet we unwilling to pay the cost. Then when the successful become too successful, we turn on them. We despise them. You doubt me? Look at Michel Jackson, Walmart and Microsoft. We loved them until they were bigger than life, and then we were threatened by them. We looked for any dirt we could find on them to prove they didn’t deserve the status they had gained.

In contrast to our fascination with success, think about how we look at the less fortunate.We see the handicap, the poor, the ugly, we look the other way. We’re not comfortable with “them”. “They” look different, or act different than we do, so we don’t trust “them.” We are most comfortable with people that look like us and act like us. That’s likely a large part of the racial divide in our nation. We like sameness and we fear things that are different.

I have a theory about why we like sameness. It may start out that when we’re young, we’re picked on for being different, but I believe it’s deeper rooted than that. I believe that when average meets different, average gets uncomfortable, because average then has to question itself. Why am I different? Am I right, or are they right? Should I do more, or am I doing enough? Are my beliefs true, or are their beliefs true?

We fear different, because we don’t like the confrontation that happens in our minds. We dislike different because we are forced to confront ourselves, our actions, and our beliefs. We’re afraid that we may have to make a shift in our thinking or our behavior if we don’t like what is uncovered by confronting ourselves. It doesn’t feel good. It’s hard to change. It’s easier to hide in a sea of sameness. It’s easier not to change.

I challenge you to face your fears. Boldly surround yourself with those that are different. Embrace the discomfort of confronting who you are and why you are they way you are. Don’t settle for average. Don’t try to fit in. Be who you are. You’ll be the better person for it. You’ll be stronger for it. The world world around you will be a better place because of it.

How to Handle Conflict

I saw a posting online this week asking the question, “how to you handle conflict?” I couldn’t help but thing about some of the past jobs I’ve held. I have been fortunate enough in my career to be in a leadership role in many of the jobs I’ve held.

Somehow in the job that I had the most people reporting to me, I became the disciplinarian. I had 65 people that reported to me (4 managers and 60 hourly employees). My boss made me perform the write-ups and have the employees sign them. It was painful!

I had to work with these people every day, so the last thing I wanted to do was upset them enough to negatively impact their performance. How did I do it? In time I learned the steps that I have outlined below. By focusing on the expected future behavior and not focusing so much on the wrong behavior. So, here it is…

Advice on how to handle conflict:
1. Remain calm. Screaming will not fix things faster.
2. Don’t present yourself as superior, or better than, the person you are in conflict. No one wants to agree with someone that’s a jerk.
3. Demonstrate empathy. Try and have some sense of understanding of the opposing view.
4. Strive for a solution that serves the business and not the individuals.
5. Don’t attack or blame – what is done is over – describe the desired future behavior or outcome.
6. Never use absolute words (“you always”, “you never” etc.) – it creates a feeling of helplessness and also feels like a personal attack.
7. Treat people like they had the best intent, regardless of the results that caused the conflict.
8. Don’t stomp on people’s feelings – you’re going to see that person again.
9. Build on any agreements made during the conflict discussion.
10. Don’t part mad. You may not end the discussion with a hug, but there is no reason to end a conflict with either party having hurt feelings.

Remember, a conflict is simply two or more parties having differing views. It doesn’t always mean they are looking for different results. They may want the same end result, but have differing views on how to get the desired results.

Let me know if you find this helpful. Did I leave anything out? What do you do differently?