Recall the questions we are addressing in challenging situations or tough negotiations:

– What is the person’s position or belief?
– Why are they taking that position?
– How can I connect with or engage them to move them from that position?
– Can I/we find a satisfactory solution, compromise or alternative?

In my previous blog, I talked about the idea of “meeting them where they are” and provided a couple examples to illustrate this. The second concept in dealing with challenging (people) situations is more guidance on the last two questions. Once you understand where the individual(s) are coming from and why they believe what they believe, sometimes you may have to decide what you are willing to give up or compromise. This is often difficult because we believe that our way/belief/approach is best and/or right. This is where the concept of flex vs. core comes in handy. I learned of this from my co-instructor in the cultural competence training, who came across the concept in a TEDTalk by Julia Middleton (Here’s the LINK.) In the talk, Ms. Middleton explains that everyone has a core part and a flex part. The core part are your values, principles and beliefs – those things that make you who you are. The more consistent you are about what is your core, the more people trust you. The “flex” part of you are those things that are, well, just the opposite – those things that you don’t need to “dig in” on and refuse to adapt a different position.

We can look at the “flex” and “core” in the two examples I shared in my last blog:

For the statistician working with legal experts, their core was using a valid statistical approach. In their mind, there was a best statistical approach but they were smart enough to understand that a good approach was better than no approach. In this situation, one part of the statistician’s core was using a valid statistical approach. They were not going to compromise on that. The “flex” part was their willingness to consider and ultimately agree on an alternative statistical approach.

In the second example, the flex for me was the location of the meeting with the supervisor. You can imagine there were going to be some locations I would not agree on, but as long as it was a reputable restaurant, I was all in. What I was not willing to flex was my need for information in the groups that I managed. I needed to be able to understand projects, assure timelines were being met, and assess workloads & resource needs.

I have one final thought on working with challenging people, or for that matter any person, that will always help and that is curiosity. Being curious about people and their projects at all times can provide insights that may help avoid challenging situations. Curiosity can help you understand the “flex” and “core” of others to avoid potential conflict. I was meeting with a colleague who had just taken responsibility for a new organization – an organization that, from my group’s perspective, was not meeting their work responsibilities. I had received a lot of unsolicited feedback and was asked if I would share it with my colleague. After we exchanged pleasantries, I asked them about their new organization and how they assessed the situation they were now in. It became very clear that they were aware of challenges but were “circling the wagons” and would not respond well to any criticism of their new organization. My curiosity saved me from creating a “difficult situation” that may have damaged my relationship with this colleague. I wisely saved my feedback for another opportunity.

To summarize the challenging people/challenging situation topic:
– Meet people where they are, and then try to move them
– Know your “flex” and “core”
– Be curious with people and projects