In Say NO by Default Derek Sivers tells a story about Steve Jobs privately presenting the then-new iTunes Music Store to an independent record label group. People in the room kept asking whether iTunes had certain features and when certain other features would be added. Jobs finally said, “Wait wait — put your hands down. Listen: I know you have a thousand ideas for all the cool features iTunes could have. So do we. But we don’t want a thousand features. That would be ugly. Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying no to all but the most crucial features.”
As I muse about a recurring comment I’ve heard during my many years of teaching conflict resolution and negotiation, the Jobs story feels particularly relevant. Jen, a student in my Interpersonal Conflict course a few years ago put it this way while pointing to a text we’d just read: “I love this book. It’s got so much in it for me to think about! But I know I won’t remember it all when I need it most. I just can’t keep track of that much advice.”
So many books and teachings about negotiation and conflict resolution, even those that resonate deeply, have too much information, too much to remember, too many things that are difficult to keep in mind in the charged atmosphere of a conflict.
Like software that gets larger and more complex with each version, approaches to conflict resolution also suffer from feature creep and bloat. Those of us in the field see conflict in all its richness, humans in all their complexity, and problem solving as a tapestry woven of a thousand threads. It can be overwhelming. We can get overwhelming.
I’m interested in distilling conflict down to its essence, to a small number of habits that are both easy to remember and incredibly powerful for getting conflict unstuck.
Venture capitalist and Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki has said that people in organizations need a guidepost, an outline to help them wake up each day knowing why they want to go to work. I think people in conflict need guideposts too, something short and sweet to rely on so they know with each difficult conversation why they’re there. Kregg, a grad student in one of my classes, put it this way: “When I’m frustrated I need something really simple to latch onto, not a long recipe of possibilities to try.”
Most of us already know how to complexify our conflicts and relationships, so why do more of the same? Let’s do something different together. That’s what I’m aiming to do in my second book, which I’m knee deep in now.
What do you think about that? I’d love your thoughts, so please leave a comment below with your reaction (if you’re reading this in email, click on the article title to be taken to the web page with the comment box). Thank you!
By the way, the June edition of Business NH Magazine includes an article about difficult conversations in the workplace. I’m delighted to have been interviewed for the article. If you’re a business owner in NH and subscribe to the magazine, I hope you’ll read “We Need to Talk.”