I first met ME “Liz” Strauss through her terrific blog, Successsful Blog, a daily read of mine. Her mind impressed me, her forthrightness impressed me, and her friendly and welcoming attitude impressed me. I’m thrilled she agreed to an interview about being a professional woman and navigating the waters of conflict.
Tammy: Liz, for a little context, can you tell us about your professional background and current work?
Liz: I’m an education publisher. I snuck in through the back door when no one was looking. After teaching and working as a wholesale territory rep for the Van Heusen shirt company, I decided to put my education back to work writing freelance for educational publishers, then finally took a job with one. My first job in a publishing house was as an executive editor, eventually I got to work with publishers all over the world. Now, I’m consulting for some of the businesses I used to work with and for and working with some of the individuals who used to work with and for me.
Tammy: One of the things that’s always impressed me about Successful Blog is that you speak your mind and do it in a way that’s inviting and friendly. I think that women sometimes struggle with wanting to speak up but worrying that they’ll be considered too aggressive. How do you strike a balance?
Liz: Well, let’s be clear here. I’ve always been better at doing that in writing than in person. My struggle has never been one of worrying about speaking up, but rather knowing when to let others discover the elephant in the room. I do find the secret lies somewhere within the first post that I wrote on my writing blog last July…
Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe.
I need to find more ways just to be. Not a philosophical search for existence, “to be or not to be,” but ways to set down my cares and breathe in a bit of life. My soul needs airing out now and then to fill itself up again. Unlike my body, it can’t get by on peanut butter sandwiches and milk. It needs trees, flowers, and the night sky, especially the night sky—stars to wish upon and space to let my mind wander aimlessly.
When I give my soul a little breathing room…everyone I know gets nicer.
Tammy: I love your honesty about this. Doing conflict perfectly just isn’t going to happen, but noticing and giving ourselves space to shift how we’re approaching it is the key to greater effectiveness. What conflict management skills do you think are most critical for a woman in business today?
Liz: Whew! That’s a good one. A strong understanding of oneself, empathy and respect for others, the firm belief that you always give the other person a place to stand, and an eye toward knowing that it’s the people that count at the end of the day. If you take care of the people, they will take care of the rest.
Tammy: What advice would you give women about engaging conflict effectively in a corporate setting?
Liz: Someone recently asked me what I wish I knew when I first started working I said this: It doesn’t matter how good you are, if no one wants to work with you. For conflict situations I would add that the second you feel righteous, you are wrong in some very big way. If you can only see the problem and not the other person, you need to find someone who can help you see more.
Tammy: So true, so true. A woman who mentored me years ago advised me to look for the equal human in front of me, and I’ve used that reminder for years. I think the goal is the same: Noticing the person and not just the problem…
Liz: These are the steps I wrote about recently:
Handle Yourself, Not the Apology/Problem
- Give yourself a chance to breathe.
- Slow down your thinking.
- Know the part where you are wrong.
- Gain your balance and make a plan.
- Move forward with calm and confidence.
Tammy: One topic I write about is the development of one’s own voice in conflict, that is, figuring out how to engage conflict in a way that’s authentic and effective at the same time. How did you develop your own voice in conflict, particularly in your workplace settings?
Liz: Please know that no one who’s worked with me would say I’m such a pro at this. I do my best just as we all do. A friend once stopped a guy who was handling a conflict wrong to say “Pay attention to how your body feels right now. When you feel that way, know that it’s not going good.” I’ve tried to find those kinds of feelings about my own behavior.
I learned long ago how to say these three words “I behaved badly.” Once I could say those words, I could face any conflict. I’ve always been a forgiving soul and quick to own what I did wrong. It took me a while to learn to slow down on my need to fix things right away. I’ve found that looking at the other person’s style is very important. I might need a hug, but that might be the last thing he needs or wants. Twice I’ve written my words and offered the other person a choice to read them or listen as I read. That worked nicely as both were introverts, and it got the message across complete and whole without interruption before the conversation started. I try really hard to keep my head wired to my heart. Wish I could say that I always succeed.
Tammy: Liz, if you told me you always succeeded, I’d be deeply suspicious about your level of self-awareness! No one succeeds all the time and it’s a fool’s goal to strive for perfection. I’m humbled by how hard it is just to succeed more frequently. Thanks for your frankness and words of wisdom for my readers! (Note from Tammy: Here are a few more links to some of Liz’s writing…enjoy.)