Conscious Business [Kofman] — Part 2: Interpersonal Commitments

This is Part 2 of a two-part series, covering some great insights from:

Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values by Fred Kofman

Part 1 focused on operational conflict resolution. Part 2 focuses on interpersonal commitments.

Elements of a properly formed request for commitment:

  • Expression — what is being requested
  • Requester — who is requesting it
  • Receiver — from whom — has to be specific.
  • Standards — measurable standards for assessment of fulfillment. Clear what? And by when?
  • Need — or desire that the requester is trying to satisfy with the request (the why?)
  • Agreement — explicitly asking for commitment to fulfill the request.

In order to accomplish W (the satisfaction of a need), I ask you to do X (a specific action) by Y (a specific time). Can you commit to that?

Pre-response checklist:

  • Do I understand what the other is asking of me?
  • Do I have the skills and resources to do it?
  • Am I convinced that those on whom I depend will deliver for me?
  • Am I willing to be held accountable for anticipating potential breakdowns?

Valid responses to a commitment request:

  • Yes, I promise
  • No, I do not commit (although I can try…)
  • I need clarification
  • I commit to respond by (a definite data)
  • I accept conditionally. I can commit to do what you ask if R (a mutually observable condition) happens. Would that work for you?
  • Let me make a counter offer. I can’t commit to doing X by Y, but I could do S by T. Would that work for you?

A productive complaint:

  • Check your intention (virtuous, rather than blame)
  • Establish appropriate context (time, place, confidentiality, emotional tone, etc.)
  • Verify the previous commitment. The risk of prosecuting someone mistakenly is higher than the risk of having them squirm out of a commitment one time.
  • Verify the failure to honor the commitment. You’re only trying to define whether the commitment was broken, not whether the breakdown was justified.
  • Inquire into what happened — hear the other’s story of what happened from his point of view
  • Evaluate the damage and express the complaint — operational, relational, and personal.
  • Request reparations and negotiate a recommitment — be honest about what will truly close the issue for you
  • Learn and prepare for the future — identify the part of the process that is weak and under which conditions and plan strategies / design mechanisms to strengthen it.

A productive apology:

  • Establish the appropriate purpose (individual context) for the apology. You goal is to repair the breakdown in coordination, trust and impeccability, and the hurt feelings.
  • Establish the appropriate context (prepare the conversation). Choose an appropriate time and place.
  • Acknowledge the previous commitment. Own your promise.
  • Acknowledge your failure to honor the commitment. Take responsibility for the non-fulfillment. Offer an explanation.
  • Inquire about the damages and apologize. Don’t argue. Acknowledge the other’s perspective.
  • Offer reparations and negotiate a recommitment. Ask the other what he needs to feel appropriately indemnified and allow him to declare the issue resolved
  • Learn and prepare for the future.
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Conscious Business [Kofman] — Part 2: Interpersonal Commitments

Conscious Business [Kofman] — Part 1: Operational Conflict Resolution


Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values by Fred Kofman

I have about half a chapter left in Fred’s Kofman’s and can already definitively say that it’s one of those rare books that I will read more than once.

In this book Fred paints a very compelling picture on how values-driven mindsets and behaviors can transform workplace culture.

The book starts off covering three key mindsets. Starting with the “responsible” mindset, (which he calls the “player” mindset) this book provides the best description I’ve seen to the “victim” vs. “responsible” distinction which I covered here. Next, the “integrity” mindset is discussed, and the benefit of favoring “process integrity” (acting in a way that’s aligned with your values) over accomplishing a specific outcome. Last, is the “humble” mindset — viewing interactions as opportunities for mutual learning rather than a competition over “who is right?”.

The bulk of the book then focuses on the application of these mindsets common day-to-day business interactions: authentic communication, constructive negotiation (conflict resolution) and coordination (managing interpersonal commitments).

Finally, Fred touches on the topic of managing your own emotions.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the easiest of books to read. I found the writing style to be a bit verbose/long-winded at times, but in other times this level of detail is essential. In particular, there are parts of the book in which Fred uses detailed dialogues between two people to demonstrate how the interaction plays out when both sides are acting impulsively/unconsciously, when both sides are acting consciously and when only one side does so. These dialogues not only do a great job driving the key point home, they also demonstrate that even if only one side chooses to take the higher road and act consciously, the outcome is still much better compared to when both sides act impulsively.

I will be sharing the two most useful tools I got out of the book in a two part series. Part 1 below, will cover a powerful protocol for effective conflict resolution, which Fred labels as “constructive negotiations”. Part 2 will cover interpersonal commitments, which Fred labels as “impeccable coordination”.


A conflict is created as a result of three enabling conditions:

  1. Disagreement — difference of opinion
  2. Scarcity — some limitation prevents each party from obtaining what each wants independently of the other’s actions.
  3. Disputed property rights — disagreement about who has the power to allocate resources / what decision-making mechanism will be used in case of irresolvable differences

These conditions can create three types of conflicts:

  • Personal conflict — when opinions don’t affect anything beyond personal preferences, the reasonable way to proceed is to acknowledge and respect each person’s right to think what she thinks. The only way to solve a personal conflict is to “dissolve” it, demonstrating that there is no scarcity of “rightness” and “self-worth”.
  • Interpersonal conflict — we need to adopt a common set of values. Emotional domain only. Cannot just agree to disagree and go our separate ways. Need to find some common ground.
  • Operational conflict — the ultimate issue under discussion is who gets what. There is a concrete decision to be made that will have objective consequences.

Operational conflicts tend to pose challenges on thee fronts:

  • Task — disagreements about what is going on, what has led things to be the way they are, why it happened, what should happen next, and who should do what to make it happen.
  • Relationship — doubts about the way we relate to each other: are we close? Are we aligned? Can we trust each other? Can we respect each other? How do you feel about me? What should I do about you and your feeling?
  • Self– sense of identity and esteem is at risk. How am I feeling? What does this situation mean to me? What does it say about me? What will others think of me? How will that affect my well-being?

Since it is impossible to have an operational conflict without also having personal and interpersonal conflicts, it is the hardest type to resolve.

The following protocol offers an effective structure/container for successfully working to resolve such conflicts:

1. Prior to the conversation: establish your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) — worst-case scenario. The independent outcome you can guarantee for yourself if no interdependent solution works for all parties. The walk-away point.

2. Immediately prior to the conversation, get into the right mindset by adopting the following assumptions:

  • Task effectiveness — Each of us can provide significant information to the other. Our goal is to explore each other’s reasoning. I have contributed to the current situation and should explore my role it int.
  • Healthy relationship — cooperation stems from solidarity, not self-righteousness. The feelings we have for each other are fundamental to a successful conversation. We need to address everybody’s feelings with equanimity and compassion before getting to problem solving.
  • Self-integrity — the psychological stakes are high, and there is a serious identity issue at play. No simple all-or-nothing label can describe who I am. My goal is to act in alignment with my values. I need to stop all attempts to achieve self-worth through proving that I am right and the other is wrong.

3. Make sure the setting (physical environment, timing, etc) is appropriate

4. Process clarification:

  • Present the situation from a “third story” perspective that honors both positions.
  • Explain my intention to resolve the conflict constructively
  • Ask for permission to follow this structured process. Outline the steps.

5. Other person expresses, I listen:

  • Provide facts. Use specific examples.
  • Own opinions and feelings: Use self-statements. Fully own the responsibility for your emotional experience. “I” statements.
  • Recommend action
  • Ensure comprehension — “does this make sense?” “have I addressed your concerns?”
  • Accept challenges

6. You ask clarifying questions

7. You summarize the other person’s position and feelings “let me summarize to make sure that I understand”

8. Other person approves your summary (“does that sound about right?”)

9. Reverse Roles: You express, other person listens (see #5 for guidance)

10. Other person asks clarifying questions

11. Other person summarizes

12. You approve their summary

13. Dialogue — the objective is to compare opinions and find the root of differences. This is not the time to resolve anything. The focus is on reaching a deeper mutual understanding.

14. Do we need to agree? (are there practical consequences? if no — stop here)

15. Find the underlying interests — What do you really want? A position is an explicit demand that each speaker brings to the negotiation. An interest is the desire or need lying at the root of the position. We need to go beyond our incompatible positions to discover our more compatible deeper interests. “What would you get through X that is even more important to you than X itself?” / “Why is X important to you?”. Keep answering the question until the answer shifts from being about external needs to being about internal needs.

16. Brainstorm solutions

17. Negotiate and select

18. Reach outcome consensus (agreeing about what to do) OR

19. Reach processes consensus — if we cannot agree on what to do, default to an agreed upon decision-making process (typically: authority)

20. “We have explained to each other how we see the situation and what we think would be the best way to address it, and we have checked that we all understand each other. We have explored our needs and concerns and tried to reach a solution that we can all agree on. Unfortunately, this issue is difficult and ambiguous enough that intelligent, well-intended people like us cannot resolve it unanimously”

21. ”I’d like to ask for your support in allowing me to make a decision. I’m ultimately accountable for this decisions, and although I cannot be sure that I’m right, I believe that this is the best course of action under the circumstances”.

22. Avoid the End Run — no one-sided escalations

23. Commit to implement / pursue BATNA

24. Evaluate and learn

25. Celebrate constructively negotiating the conflict

Conscious Business [Kofman] — Part 1: Operational Conflict Resolution

Cooperation, Coordination, Collaboration [Keast]

Collaborating & Connecting: Different Modes by Robyn Keast

Cooperation, coordination and collaboration are terms that are often times used interchangeably to describe the way people work together.

In fact, if you’ll Google these terms (like I did), you’re likely to find contradicting and overlapping definitions.

Interestingly, our friends in the government and non-profits sectors seem to have done the most thoughtful work around coming up with consistent and distinct definitions for these terms. While the original context is aiming to define the way organizations can work together, tweaking the definitions to apply for a more personal context is pretty straight forward.

I in my (re?)search, I came across two useful definitions. The most useful one is the one provided by Robyn Keast and captured in the image above. Keast explains the difference between the three terms by calling out changes across several attributes / dimensions: connection and trust, communication and information sharing, goals, resources, power, commitment and accountability, relational timeframe and risk/reward. All of which, are just as relevant in a more personal context.

The second useful definition is the one provided by Collaboration for Impact and captured in this diagram:

To an extent, it’s a consistent, but zoomed out view of Keast’s definition, putting cooperation, coordination and collaboration on a broader spectrum. The pithy descriptions make it easier to get the big picture and key differences but some of the nuances are lost.

Hope you find these as useful as I have.

Cooperation, Coordination, Collaboration [Keast]

Advise the Rider, Steer the Elephant and Shape the Path [Heath]

Photo credit: Paul Van Slembrouck

The rider, the elephant and the path are the guiding metaphors in

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Dan & Chip Heath

As described in the beautiful illustration above, the rider refers to our rational brain, the elephant refers to our emotional brain. The book focuses on behavior change and the key thesis is that most behavior change efforts fail because they are focused only at the rider. But if the change effort spooks the elephant, the rider has very little control over its movement…

They then suggest a three-part strategy, addressing the rider, the elephant and the path:

Direct The Rider

  •  Follow The Bright Spots. Investigate what’s working and clone it.
  • Script The Critical Moves. Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors.
  • Point To The Destination. Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.

Motivate The Elephant

  • Find The Feeling. Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.
  • Shrink The Change. Break down the change until it no longer spooks the elephant.
  • Grow Your People. Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset.

Shape The Path

  • Tweak The Environment. When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation.
  • Build Habits. When behavior is habitual, it’s “free” and doesn’t tax the Rider. Look for ways to encourage habits.
  • Rally The Herd. Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.

It’s probably been 5 years since I read Switch. I found myself thinking about the rider/elephant/path metaphor recently from a different lens — the lens of organizational design.

Many organizational design strategies suffer from the same myopia as the conventional behavior change strategies — being overly focused on the rider, the rational mind, and forgetting to account for the two other critical elements — the elephant and the path.

What would it look like to design organizations and human systems with the rider/elephant/path metaphor at their core?

One interesting difference between a behavior change strategy and an organizational design strategy, is that since the former is focused on the conditions of the system at the time of the specific desired behavior change, it therefore views the relationship between the rider and the elephant as fixed. In an organizational design strategy, we design for a continuous stream of interactions, and therefore can, and I would argue should, view the relationship between the rider and the elephant as dynamic. We can design with an intention to influence that relationship.

The strategy can therefore be formulated with a longer view in mind:

Grow the Rider, Tame the Elephant, Shape the Path

Advise the Rider, Steer the Elephant and Shape the Path [Heath]

Deconstructive Communication [Kagan & Lahey]

What do you see? Old woman? Or young woman?

This is another gold nugget from Kagan & Lahey’s How the way we talk can change the way we work: seven languages for transformation, which I briefly mentioned here.

I remembered finding the notion of “deconstructive communication” to be a pretty interesting idea while reading the book, but it really hit home for me in the last couple of weeks: a colleague was sharing with me some really difficult feedback and as he was sharing it with me, I was feeling a great deal of discomfort. It was not until several hours after the conversation that I realized that a lot of my discomfort stemmed not from the feedback itself, but from the way it was shared with me.

So what are we talking about here? 

The distinction between “constructive criticism” and “destructive criticism” is a well accepted one. Constructive and destructive criticism differ on several attributes. Criticism that is specific, supportive, solution-oriented, and timely is often described as constructive criticism; while criticism that is vague, blames the person, threatening and pessimistic if often described as destructive criticism.

Sharing criticism using constructive framing and language is considered a “best practice”. Even the words chosen to make this distinction make it clear that constructive = good, destructive = bad. Pretty straight forward, right?

But what if constructive criticism also has its challenges?

If we dig one level deeper, and consider the big underlying assumptions of both constructive and destructive feedback, we’ll find that they have a lot in common.

They both assume that the person receiving the criticism is doing something wrong and the person providing it is “setting them straight”.

They both assume that the person proving the criticism “knows the trust” and is now sharing it with the ignorant receiver.

They both assume that the interaction should be transactional and mostly one sided: the job of the person sharing the criticism is the provide it, and the job of the person receiving the criticism is to (gracefully) accept it.

Is there an alternative? 

There is. This is what deconstructive communication is all about. Deconstructive communication aims to level the playing field of the dialogue, working under a different set of big underlying assumptions.

It assumes that there is some merit in both perspectives and both perspectives may not be accurate.

It assumes that there may be more than one legitimate interpretation to behaviors.

It assumes that both parties have something to learn from the interaction, and the only we to do so, is through a two-way conversation.

Constructive Communication vs. Deconstructive Communication

Here’s a good summary of the main differences between the two:

Which one should I use?

I would not go as far as to say that constructive communication is bad, and deconstructive communication is good. There are likely some situations in which the assumptions underlying constructive communication are rather accurate. If you choose to use constructive communication, do so while making explicit decision to choosing over deconstructive communication, given the accuracy of its underlying assumptions.

But more often than not, I suspect that the assumptions underlying deconstructive communication are more accurate.

Using deconstructive communication is hard, and requires an even more challenging adaptation period. I am nowhere near mastering it myself. Yet. But anyone who succeeds in modifying the default way in which they engage in conflict from constructive to deconstructive is unlocking a whole other level of personal learning and growth.

Deconstructive Communication [Kagan & Lahey]