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Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Conflict-resolution moves hard conversations to an agreeable path. It's much easier to assume everything is fine and ignore the warning signals that relationships are fraying. As said by Patrick Lencioni, "Artificial harmony is the enemy of a great team."

What causes people to shy away from conflict? Mainly is because resolving conflict can be extremely uncomfortable. To point out a behavior that rubbed you or someone else the wrong way to a family member, coworker, or friend can be terrifying.

We're afraid of losing a relationship. A poor cultural trend is to cut ties with those you don't like. So we'll burry the issue with optimistic thoughts like, "It's no big deal," or "Maybe I just take things too personally." In the meantime, our friend repeats the negative behavior (often ignorantly) and our annoyance evolves into high levels of emotion. At that point, stand back!

So how do we structure a conversation that resolves disagreements and repairs relationships? It starts with being committed to getting all the facts before attempting to fix the problem. As a pastor, consultant, and husband, I've learned a powerful word that creates a clear image of what kind of problem in front of me:

a word of exploration ~ "What?"

You're wanting to look up a recipe for a spontaneous game night, but all the cabinets reveal are the random ingredients that are left behind from better-planned meals of the past. And one of your guests is dairy free. So you ask Siri, "What is a non-dairy recipe that's quick and easy?" And off you go to explore the culinary hacks of TikTok, Instagram, and PInterest.

"What" is the ship we embark to venture unknown territory. It's a search bar for us to type all our inquiries and receive an answer. Not only can it unveil random trivia from Wikipedia, a news source, or ESPN, but it can also reveal the cause of tension in our relationships.

A horrific problem in resolving conflict is doing so without all the information.

get all the Facts First

Unskilled communication comes from assuming what someone's problem is by our own experiences, thoughts, and ideas. Unfortunately there is only one of you, and the person you're speaking with is nothing like you.

Suppose your spouse says, "I feel like you're always somewhere else when you're with me."

You have an idea of what it means to be "somewhere else" socially. This could mean that your body language or actions demonstrate disinterest (which may or may not be true). It may also mean the other person has a desired expectation of what it looks like to be together, but for whatever reason, you're not collaborating on that ideal. A vague phrase like this has a lot of room for different interpretations! So dive deeper to get more clarity:

  • "What does it look like to be present with you from your perspective?"

  • "What are some things I'm doing or not doing that appears like I'm distant from you?"

  • "What is something we can do right now to have a present, meaningful time together?"

When we use the "What" question to gather information before trying to settle the matter, we keep the focus off our own feelings and the other person's feelings. It's tempting to turn the tables defensively to the other person, pointing out all the reasons they should be understanding of your behavior. Asking open-ended questions like, "What" shifts the focus from, "I'm not a present person to be with," to "I'm not communicating a desire to be present." Those views are worlds apart.

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.” ~ Annie Dillard

The brain isn’t great at distinguishing “maybes” and “musts”

When the alarm goes off and super-productive you jumps out of bed, you might make a to-do list of all you have to get done for the day. So you pull out your calendar and start writing the tasks:

  • Call Naomi to follow up from our last meeting

  • Balance the books

  • Send off my quarterly strategy for my team

  • Pick up dry cleaning

  • Clean out the car

  • Ship package for client so it arrives on time

  • Look into getaways options for upcoming family vacay

And there you have it! Your roadmap for a productive day. So off you go to ready yourself for success. You go to call Naomi but remembered that you forgot to send her the product info for her to review before your call. So you dig through your emails and files trying to find it and then send it off. Along the way you see some unread emails from a client who isn’t satisfied with your product. No sweat, you immediately start engaging with quality customer service.

Finally you call Naomi. During the call she reminds you about the networking event your speaking for in a week (the one which you have yet to prepare for). You feel a few nerves ice your spine. No problem, you wrote down a few talk ideas somewhere. So you spend the next couple of hours searching, drafting, and finalizing your ideas for your upcoming talk. Remembering that the dry cleaner will close soon, you race to town to pick up your clothes. You kick away the pop cans and wrappers away from the pedals and off you go.

On the way your spouse texts you with links to a couple fantastic hotels. Those deals won’t be around forever, so you spend an hour or so booking your reservation. Great! Now for that package… that is, the package that was supposed to be shipped before the mail went out (which was 2 hours ago).

Great! The one task that HAD to get done today was missed. How does this happen? Why does it seem so many of us get surprised by deadlines, product launches, meetings, or important events? Even with all the color-coating and calendar-reviewing, we still get thrown off track.

"Maybe's" and "Must's"

The reason this happens is because the calendar gets filled up with “maybes” and “musts” hanging out together. Of the seven tasks we picked from our imaginary day, only one of those were truly important. But because it was crowded out by six other lesser-important tasks, the package got lost in the mix.

Our 3-pound brains are impressive computers. Despite all of its capability, it often blurs the lines between “musts” and “maybes” when it looks at a to-do list. Combined with our desire for a path with the least amount of resistance, the mind zones in on the easiest tasks instead of the more important ones. We sacrifice what matters most to the things that matter least.

If the traditional to-do on a calendar is insufficient for us to prioritize our time, how do we plan our days?

Right now you have appointments, commitments, and scheduled events that are “musts.” This means that life in some fashion will collapse should any one of these be overlooked. Cancelling any of those musts will result in damaging relationships, financial loss, put your health at risk, a black eye for your company, or some other major consequence. These all need a place for you to track and manage — a sacred place where no lesser task will dim the light of their importance. That place is your calendar.

When the Persians ruled the world in 550BC, they utilized a strict legal code to provide stability to the growing empire. A law would be proposed and submitted to the king to place his royal seal of approval. Once this was done, the law was considered to be unchangeable. Even the king did not have the power to rescind a previous law.

The calendar must be treated as a law book that should be considered unchangeable for the most part. These musts make up the foundation you build your life on, and removing any of them will bring the roof down. In a world where we have a single device for multiple uses such as smartphones, tablets, computers, or even watches, it may seem counterintuitive to keep musts in a sacred place. And yet in my work as a productivity coach, I frequently see people frazzled and bent out of shape because they try keeping everything together and manage to get nothing done!

Essentially, anything with a clock should get a spot in the calendar. Appointments, meetings, project deadlines, travel itineraries, and even reminders. The hand winding the clock shouldn’t be you, but you and someone else. For example, you may want to go on a vacation at the end of the summer. You know your family needs one to recharge from a stressful season. But unless you booked a hotel somewhere, agreed on a date with your spouse, cleared time off with your job, or included any other human being in the decision-making process, the vacation is just a maybe.

You can have the “maybes” too

Even though a calendar is sacred territory for the musts, you are allowed (and should) keep track of the maybes. Those familiar with GTD (Getting Things Done by David Allen) would classify these tasks and projects on a Someday/Maybe list. Build a collection of the things you’d like to do or even should do, but still lack a clock running on them. Productivity authors and coaches encourage people to review these maybes on a frequent basis, either once a week or at least once a month.

Other lists you can keep are a Hold list for tasks waiting on someone or something else before you can complete it. A Today list or Next Action list can keep track of the very next tasks that are necessary to move the ball forward. Have all the lists you desire, but keep them away from the calendar as much as possible!

Keeping musts and maybes separate helps them thrive

Productivity is one of two crossbeams by which we move through life. By productivity, I mean the management of our time and resources to complete the tasks and projects we commit ourselves to. At the core of productivity is the calendar, which is both the windshield and review mirror of our lives. It helps us see what’s coming up next and where we’ve been.

The second crossbeam is Purpose, which refers to the reason why we’re living in the first place. Behind your work, your relationships, your habits, and your interests are a lot of WHY’s. These “WHY’s” are puzzle pieces that you can fit together to see an overall purpose for living.

The musts and maybes of our lives are waters flowing from two streams — productivity and purpose. The things you’d like to do with your life are areas of purpose you wish to explore and discover. It’s the realm of creativity. And some of the musts that float in our hearts find their way to fertile ground, where they sprout into something stronger than a maybe. Now it’s become a must!

Take for example someone who wants to explore Paris one day. Thoughts of visiting France, seeing the Eiffel Tower, and savoring the culinary empire of the world captivates the imagination. But no language courses have been purchased. No hotels booked in Paris. No flights scheduled for takeoff. This idea is only a maybe.

One day our French-loving soul is hanging out with a friend who also wants to visit France. As they both share their dreams, those maybes get excited — so much so that on a whim, one of you pulls out a laptop and you both book a place to stay in Paris! Your flight leaves in 2 months. Now this maybe has because a must, because there is something to lose if it doesn’t happen: you disappoint a friend, lose money on the reservation, or experience regret of not following through.

A lot of other musts will spring up: setting aside time to pack, take a language course, contact your phone carrier, etc. Since these all have been hallowed by a deadline, they must be carefully tracked on a calendar or a good task-manager. They can’t remain stashed away in your scrapbook or left to chill in a filing cabinet somewhere.

Keeping the musts on a calendar and the maybes in some kind of archive allows you to live at the intersection of Productivity and Purpose. You won’t have to live at the mercy of your commitments (which results in burnout) and you won’t have to feel disconnected from enjoying life for what it is (resulting in depression).

Time-management is more about life-management than anything else.

How to implement this idea

Block off an hour or so to take a 12-week glance at your calendar. If you see any to-dos that have virtually no risk (in other words, they’re maybes) migrate them to a list of their own (A Someday/Maybe list, notebook, or filing cabinet).

Now do a brain dump of all the things that HAVE to get done in the next 4 weeks. If you need inspiration, you can glance at your email inbox, paper tray, or messages to be reminded of commitments you already made. If any of these obligations have a deadline that will result in great damage if unfinished, put them on your calendar. You can also put reminders on certain days if you wish as well if you wish.

Review the maybes and musts in about a week (More on this in Chapter 5) to keep your life at the intersection of Productivity and Purpose.

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lives a hero named You. And your dreams were stolen. From the throne room of Daunting Task Castle, the evil tyrant called Procrastination keeps your Dreams locked up in his chest. Each day he mocks them and tries to convince you of how hopeless you are in achieving them.

Countless times the two of you have clashed swords, but Procrastination would always leave you bruised and bloodied on the field of battle.

But one day, you encounter a wise old wizard. "A hero's true strength relies on more than great Dreams," he says. "A hero also needs the right resources." He then gives you a map that reveals the location of various Resources needed for your final battle.

With newfound hope, You embark on your quest.

The first weapon You acquire is a powerful sword of Specific Goals. This blade slices through the fog of confusion and uncertainty, allowing You to focus on the Daunting Task at hand.

Now you need a shield. So you apprentice yourself to the master swordsman called Time Management. As a reward for your faithfulness and hard work, he rewards you with a shield.

"This shield," says Time Management, "will protect you from Procrastination's poisonous darts of distraction and confusion."

Now off to the dwarves. After helping them prepare a broken well, they reward your kind service with the hammer called “Task-Breaker”. The craftsman who made it proudly raises it high. “Daunting Task Castle has thick walls that seem impossible to break through,” he says. “But Task-Breaker is strong enough to crush those high and heavy walls into small, manageable pieces. You’ll have no problem getting through.”

Realizing you still need an edge over Procrastination's weapon of Self-Doubt, you explore the caves. And by luck, you find the amulet called Celebrations. In previous battles, Procrastination often threw Self-Doubt at you when you weren’t ready. This snake would sink its venomous fangs into your heart. You would feel so weak and discouraged that you were easily defeated.

But Self-Doubt is no match for Celebrations. Should the snake manage to bite you once again, all you have to do is remember the past victories you've won. The amulet then creates a warm, encouraging aura so powerful that the venom can’t poison your strength.

As you prepare yourself for the final battle, you are joined by a Loyal Friend. Procrastination prides himself on defeating lone wolves. When he sees you with a Loyal Friend who believes in you and helps fight your battles, Procrastination will be caught off guard.

Now you’re ready. You approach Daunting Task Castle with your Resources. The gate opens as Procrastination rides toward you on his horse, sword drawn. His face is full of arrogance. “This time, I’ll deliver a wound making it impossible for you to rise up from the battlefield.”

As he approaches, you draw your Sword of Specific Goals. Its bright light makes it impossible for Procrastination to rely on the fog of confusion to catch you unawares.

You strike first and hear a shriek. Procrastination is both awed and incensed at your new-found skills from Time Management. And no matter how many times he strikes with his disorganization and distractions, your master’s shield keeps you completely unharmed.

“Self-Doubt,” cries Procrastination. “Attack!”

Out comes the black, ugly snake of Self-Doubt. He patiently waits for an opportunity to strike. In a flash, his fangs sink into your heart and you cry in pain. You feel discouragement and failure seep into your heart.

But you look down and remember your amulet of Celebrations. Immediately you remind yourself of all the past victories you won to get to this final battle. The amulet begins to glow its warm, encouraging aura that not only stops the poison, but makes you more powerful than ever.

With Loyal Friend fighting alongside you, Procrastination begins to feel outmatched. He jumps to his horse and retreats to Daunting Task Castle, quickly closing the gates behind him. “You may have outwitted me,” he spits from behind the bars. “But your Dreams are still mine. And no matter how hard you try, you will never achieve them.”

You are about to feel helpless when you look at your belt and see the hammer. Sheathing your sword, you take out Task-Breaker and take a swing at Daunting Task Castle. The whole castle and even the ground shakes.

You strike again.

The iron gates crumble to dust and the walls start to crack.

You strike again.

Procrastination is horrified. The walls of Daunting Castle he bragged about to all begin to fall apart into smaller, more manageable chunks.

In the midst of all the ruin sits the treasure chest containing your Dreams. You step forward, and for the first time put your hands on what you’ve chased after your entire life.

You then turn to deal the final strike to Procrastination, but he has disappeared. Out in the Great Unknown, he has begun plotting his revenge to steal your Dreams once again.

In the meantime, you return home with Loyal Friend as you reflect on the knowledge you learned on your quest. And it’s with that knowledge you begin to live the life of your Dreams.

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