As a management consultant, executive coach, and facilitator, Liz Kislik has three decades of experience helping organizations break through barriers to develop high performing leaders and workforces. She is also a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes, as well as a TEDx speaker on Why There’s So Much Conflict at Work and What You Can Do to Fix It.
In this episode of Leading Learning – recorded in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis – Celisa talks with Liz about the idea of conflict—good and bad conflict and how to encourage the good while limiting the bad. They also discuss ways to improve the customer (or learner) experience and learner engagement, what to consider when selling and marketing in times of crisis, and suggestions for reducing stress through self-care.
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Read the Show Notes
[00:18] – A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Celisa interviews Liz Kislik.
[01:32] – You might consider the reflection questions below on your own after listening to an episode, and/or you might pull the team together, using part or all of the podcast episode for a group discussion.
- Liz talks about the importance of tone and timing when selling and marketing during a crisis. Depending on when you listen to this episode, look at what you’re doing or what you did in terms of marketing and selling during the COVID-19 crisis. Where did you get tone and timing right? Where did you miss? What might you take from this crisis to prepare you better for marketing and selling in a future crisis?
- Liz points out that the COVID-19 crisis has had a huge impact on how learning and teaching are happening in K12 and higher ed. What lessons from this broader context might you apply to improve your learning business?
(Note that this relates to our previous podcast episode where we discussed implications of the current moment for the future of online learning.)
[02:57] – Introduction to Liz and some additional background about her work.
Good Conflict vs. Bad Conflict
[03:56] – You make the point that conflict can sometimes be healthy and productive. What’s the difference between good conflict and bad conflict?
Liz discusses how we’re raised to think conflict is bad and how kids are told they shouldn’t fight with each other (not just hit). She says what we call conflict is really the kind of conflict that ends up looking like it could be damaging—could hurt people, could be upsetting, is uncontrolled, and uncontrollable.
When in many ways, conflict is really just about a difference between two things and you have to figure out if you can do something about it or not.
Liz notes we all have things like calendar conflicts all the time and we don’t think of them as deeply insulting, rather we think, how can I make that work? So it’s the frame of reference.
If the conflict is just differences and our assumption is that there is going to be a way to work them out, then it creates a way to raise differences to the surface, put them on the table, have everybody examine them, and come up with stronger options together than we might have separately just sticking to our positions.
[06:03] – How do we get less bad conflict and more good conflict in our organizations?
Liz talks about how the more obvious and easier-to-get-to answers are about things like relationship and communication. This is because a stronger relationship, a trusting and trusted relationship, creates a kind of bank account of positive feelings and mutuality of interest. And when you have to take something out of that account and use it because you’re in conflict, the relationship isn’t actually at risk.
And when you feel better about somebody else, you’re less likely to go into an attack-like situation and instead more likely just to raise the issue (as you would with something like a calendar conflict). So Liz says you can feel ok about the person or group that you’re in conflict with and just know you need to work the thing out.
When it comes to reducing bad conflict, Liz notes that part of the reason why bad conflict exists is when we as individuals feel less like there is something we can do about it on our own. In some ways our autonomy feels impinged upon or we feel that we have less control and because of that, we often start off more resistant. And where this is more likely to come up is when we already have an experience of there being a problem present.
Liz mentions the TEDx talk she did about conflict at work, why there’s so much it, and what you can do to fix it. In it, she discusses the underlying structures, historical facts, cultural norms—all of these things that we don’t necessarily name but that are very likely to be holding a sense of conflict in place.
She explains that being able to uncover those and bring them back up to the surface where we can work on them (because we have a good relationship and because we speak kindly, compassionately, and professionally to each other) allows us to shed a little sunlight and fresh air on the conflict. It’s in the basement and in the dark that these things start to feel negative.
[09:37] – When you talked about bad conflict and how it can often come when there’s this sense of feeling disempowered/loss of autonomy, it made me think of the learning context. Particularly what Malcolm Knowles, the father of andragogy talks about regarding how adults want to feel autonomous and in control of their learning. (See our related resource, An Essential Guide to Andragogy for Learning Businesses.) So it’s interesting to think of that idea of good conflict/bad conflict potentially within that learning context as well.
Liz says we are the same wherever we are. We want to be whoever we are. So whether we’re conscious that it’s a learning experience—and everything is a learning experience— it’s a question of whether we frame it that way.
Whether we think of it as a learning experience or whether we think of it as the tasks we have to do to get our job done that day, we all want to have a say in how it’s going to go.
And we don’t like it when we can’t get our way. Sometimes not getting our way is alright with us if we can see that there’s a higher good or that we will get our turn later, or the kinds of things that reassure us that we are valued and valuable as human beings, as professional people, as instructors, etc.
But when we are not confident in that or feel that whoever we see as our opponent does not acknowledge that, that puts you back in the feeling of bad conflict.
Improving the Customer (Learner) Experience
[11:30] – Improving the customer experience is something you help organizations with, and for our listeners learner experience is front of mind, and learner experience is a bit of a buzz word these days. What suggestions do you have for how to go about improving the customer experience in the learning context, when the customer is a learner?
Liz recommends the first rule is to go where they are because if you don’t know exactly what they need to learn, what that means to them, and how they think about it, you can’t even invite them to come along to where you are.
Too often, whether its workshops or self-paced learning, there are a variety of learning tools that seem to assume that the learner is ready right now for the material as you have it and that they’re just going to jump right in with both feet, smiling and ready to take everything you’ve got.
And Liz points out we all know from our experience, that’s not how most people show up every day. There’s things on their mind and now they feel forced to take whatever you’ve got.
As a funny example, Liz shares how she’s learned that there must be some classes requiring learners to watch her TEDx talk and people have commented that they don’t like that.
It may not matter if you really have the answers learners need if they don’t want to get them from you.
Liz also discusses how design thinking can be helpful for this because of the empathetic research that is necessary to understand the participant, and then the prototyping/piloting that helps you practice what you’re trying to deliver to make sure it will actually work for people who are in your audience.
See our recent episode about design thinking, Learning Design Thinking with Carol Hamilton.
Liz adds that even if we know our learners, it’s very easy to think about them in the aggregate when we’re doing development. And it’s really crucial to really separate out who the individuals are and to think about them as real people.
Implications of Selling in a Crisis
[16:10] –We are currently in the middle of the pandemic as COVID-19 is really beginning to deeply impact the U.S. as well as other countries. And sometimes the implications of selling, like our learning businesses need to, and making sure these educational offerings they have available are out there as a resource to these learners, but it can almost end up feeling a little crass sometimes in times of crisis to continue selling. What are your thoughts on that?
Liz talks about her personal experience feeling flooded with emails and stresses there is an issue of timing that’s important, as well as tone. And for people who don’t have the same responsibilities they normally would, she says now is a great time for learning (something our listeners can provide). But being able to identify who these people are is very hard—there’s always a risk of catching too many people in that net.
She says we’re probably very much in the ramp up of how bad conditions are going to be here, given there isn’t that much testing going on yet (at the time of the interview). So from now until we know we’re at the real crisis point, Liz emphasizes that tone is incredibly important, particularly in subject lines.
When sending out messages, it’s important that the first line of approach be how concerned you are about your audiences and that you want to be helpful, showing that you are caring, as opposed to flogging product.
It’s also important to think about the ways you say they can reach you and that your system is robust enough that you can ensure the follow-up of whatever you’re offering. The tone straight through needs to be that you’re here to help and support (and humor is ok), while maybe offering some ways to help them get through this tough time and be ready when they do have to get back to work.
For anybody in sales and marketing, Liz recommends that whatever you are planning to try, first try it out on a loved one who isn’t in your field so they can be real and honest with you about what they think.
Fostering Engagement in Learners
[21:57] – Employee engagement is an area of expertise for you. For our listeners, learner engagement is big area of focus—how to get and keep learners engaged. What advice do you have for how to foster engagement in learners?
Liz says in a lot of ways this is related to the idea of the learning experience and going where they are. The first thing is to give them what they need when they need it because a major part of engagement is whether now is the right time for the learner to be learning what you’re teaching them. And she explains that timing is really important as well.
Regarding the relevance of it, Liz talks about personalizing or customizing as much as is possible given whatever your platform is. And allowing the learners to be able to do a little bit at a time means they’re more likely to be engaged then if there is a big chunk they have to do all at once. Because in today’s world—even if we weren’t dealing with a crisis—it’s very hard for people to get a long, sustained, unbroken chunk of time.
Another thing about customization is whether the learners are more likely to be engaged if they’re working on something alone or in a group, even if everybody is doing it individually.
Liz says there can be great value harnessing the power of peers in keeping people engaged. Even if your learners are not collocated but there are ways you can use things like social media or Slack (if it’s in a larger organization) so that they are talking to each other, that will very often help engage a group of disparate people in the same way we talk about what we’ve seen on Netflix. And this goes to the relationship to the learner.
Something that happens to seldom is whether we go back to the learners to allow them the chance to talk about how well the materials or content worked for them and what they still need. We’re so well aware that people learn differently but we often don’t actually check to see if our current methodology was really successful. And not just filling out a questionnaire—I mean really going back and getting their comments about which parts worked and didn’t work for them, what they’d still like to see—and then committing to doing something about that.
[26:55] – As you and I are talking, the world seems even crazier than normal, as we struggle to deal with COVID-19 and its many implications. I know many folks are feeling stressed and stretched. How can we self-manage and self-care, in general and in trying times?
Liz connects this to her earlier point about autonomy and control because these have been wrested from us. She says there’s a whole grab-bag of things you can do, all of which will work for some people, none of which will work for everybody. But all of these things are a way of getting back some modicum of feeling that you’re in control, at least of yourself.
And the first place you have that is your body. So anything people can do to recognize that they are not just their anxious thoughts running around in their heads but that they are still connected to the real world.
Liz tells her clients all the time to “feel their feet in their shoes” because when you tune into your sensory impressions, it stops the anxious chatter in your brain for just a second and this can help calm you to go on to the next thing.
It could be feeling parts of your body or even looking at something carefully (anything nearby) and thinking about what you see that you don’t in the normal course of the day. This separates you from whatever’s been causing you stress and helps bring you back to consciousness.
Liz adds there are lots of other ways and many possibilities that have to do with other people—checking in with other people even if you’re now working by yourself. Or if you’re in the position to help someone else and leave something for someone who can’t get out is really valuable and will make you really happy.
Another thing we often say we shouldn’t do but Liz says is actually useful in times right now is to compartmentalize. She recommends that you worry or note and acknowledge your fears but then say to yourself that you won’t worry about that again until a later time.
[32:26] – What’s going on these days that most excites you?
Liz shares how she thinks we learn from everything so now is an amazing moment because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of teaching children or what’s going to work for distance learning in a whole new way. She’s fascinated to see what’s going to happen and how we will then suddenly shift into adapting those things into what becomes the normal course.
One of the things she’s really hopeful about has to do with how all of the homeschooling we all are doing is going to force us to look at learning in a whole variety of ways.
Because in effect, we have a whole new cadre of untrained teachers who are going to have to be teaching. Liz is really interested to see how we can embed emotional intelligence into what we now think of as learning methods and technologies in a much more conscious way that she bets will help do what she mentioned earlier—go to where the learner is.
She also discusses artificial intelligence and where that might play a role. She wants that to be very much personalized/customized and not a new aggregated view of humans that forced them, but a way to invite people and really excite them about what they need to learn.
[35:09] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Liz admits that parenting has been her most rigorous learning experience because it’s so multifaceted and she’s used the lessons her kids have taught her in her work. She talks about what a blessing it’s been to have had the opportunity to work with them at all different stages of life and how in each one there are different learning opportunities for her as the parent.
[36:45] – How to connect with Liz and/or learn more:
- Website: https://lizkislik.com
- Liz’s eBook: How to Resolve Interpersonal Conflicts: Successful Approaches to Conflict That Strengthen Your Business
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lizkislik
- Liz’s TEDx talk: https://youtu.be/2l-AOBz69KU
[38:10] – Wrap-Up
- Depending on when you listen to this episode, look at what at what you’re doing or what you did in terms of marketing and selling during the COVID-19 crisis. Where did you get tone and timing right? Where did you miss? What might you take from this crisis to prepare you better for marketing and selling in a future crisis?
- The COVID-19 crisis has had a huge impact on how learning and teaching are happening in K12 and higher ed. What lessons from this broader context might you apply to improve your learning business?
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[40:21] – Sign off
- Implications of the Current Moment for the Future of Online Learning
- Learning Design Thinking with Carol Hamilton
- Hard Conversations and the Multigenerational Workplace with Jennifer Abrams