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Can Washington Avoid Childlike Rants?

Conflict resolution tips for your job...and for Washington

Are you also cringing at the latest Washington wrangling and wondering, “Can’t we all just get along?”

I’m seeing some parallel behaviors between toddlers and authority figures—including those on Capitol Hill. As you may know, I call them “TOTs” or Terrible Office Tyrants, and every mortal is capable of this behavior during stress or frustration.

The difference is that when a toddler is stubborn, bullying, demanding, whiny, territorial, lying or throws tantrums—parents can intervene and there’s usually no potential for a global meltdown. The core human and childlike behavior affecting powerful adults in and out of the office has never been more evident and far-reaching as it is during the current crisis in Washington.

I remain hopeful, however. And for anyone experiencing similar conflict to the national scene at the office, here are some conflict resolution tips that can help in or outside of work. The behaviors that they apply to are listed below. P.S. Do these toddler traits look familiar regarding our current situation in Washington?”

1. Stubbornness

2. Territorialism

3. Tantrums

4. Bullying

5. Ignoring

6. Demanding

7. Whining

8. Self-centeredness

9. Fantasy World

10. Lying

11. Endless questioning

12. Fickleness

Mitigating Conflict at your Job (and in Washington)

1. Set the Stage for a Win-Win. Stubbornness can be mitigated, whether with a small child, boss, co-worker or a high-powered American politician - by realizing that whether two or 52, no one wants to lose face. Diplomacy can only happen if both sides realize that they can both appear winners. There is usually NO winner, unless both sides decide to win together.

2. Offer Many Choices. Whether you’re exasperated with a Terrible Two toddler, subordinate or a political dignitary who’s ready to throw a tantrum, you cannot start off with “It’s my way or the highway. The more options you put on the table at a meeting, the better the chances of getting resolve. And that also means being open to new, real-time options during your discussions.

3. Choose Your Words Carefully. A war of words never helped solve a battle. No matter your age, you want to be heard intently. Your response should be devoid of emotion and not drift, e.g., “I appreciate and respect your view. I’d like you to consider a compromise on that particular point that could benefit both sides,” is a lot more palatable and productive than, “That is not possible; we’d rather chew glass than capitulate on that!” Watch for words like “you,” “I,” “should or shouldn’t” and avoid accusatory tones: How you package your argument can easily trump the content of the disagreement itself.

4. Pick Your Battles. Just as you can’t instantly and completely reform an out-of-control, frustrated tot, you must be clear on your hierarchy of needs. Know what you realistically believe could be an acceptable outcome. You wouldn’t tell Johnny, “There’s no way you’re getting that cookie unless you eat your string beans. Oh, and by the way, put away your toys right NOW, or no more play dates!”

5. Use “C.A.L.M.” As demonstrated in a “parody of the powerful” via a toddler-in-suits video —during any difficult negotiation, it often takes “C.A.L.M.” to cool things down:

Communicate. Do it honestly, openly and frequently;

Anticipate. Go into the conversation with an understanding of the hot buttons and how to mitigate them;

Levity. This is one of the best tension breakers. For example, while no one is expecting a bi-partisan joke-a-thon any time soon, laughter could open a path for better dialogue. Example opener for Washington: “My 10-year old son read a headline yesterday and asked, ‘Daddy, why not bring everyone cupcakes?!'”—and lastly:

Manage. Take the high road, give the “opponent” a chance to respond, remember Aretha Franklin’s famed song, RESPECT, be a role model, stay calm and use positive and very diplomatic negative reinforcement. Example: “I value your very flexible approach on that point; does anyone want to comment before I chime in?”

Threats, outbursts and competitiveness can be rampant whether you try to break up a sandbox brawl at work, in a schoolyard, or when you watch a political speech. But a little humanity and humility can go a long way for both sides—and in this case, for the entire planet.

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