Reducing Conflict 41 Short Staff

May 15, 2022

I once graded a paper written by an MBA student. She wrote, “Short staff think only inside the box.”  The unusual wording made an impact on me, and I decided to write a blog on the concept. 

Of course, she was not referring to people of lesser physical stature. She was commenting on the habitual practice of numerous organizations to run thin. These organizations have staffing levels so low that they compromise the viability of the business.

What is the “Right” Staff Level?

Knowing the “correct” level of staff is a tricky business for sure.  I have done consulting for organizations where the employees scream about their overload.  Later on, working with these same groups, people would grumble about how most people were goofing off.  In truth, most organizations get only a small fraction of the discretionary effort inherent in the workforce.

I concur with Gallup. They measured that in the average company only about 1/3 of the workers were fully engaged.   

What the Staff Says

Some leaders use the amount of screaming for more resources as a guide to hiring.  If the whining is low, they figure the organization is running too fat.  If people are complaining but toughing it out, they conclude things are about right.  If people are becoming ill and if turnover is sky high, they grudgingly agree to put on a couple more people. 

Gauging the level of staff based on the complaint level is dangerous.  If things get too thin for an extended period, the best people just leave. The Great Resignation was a classic example of how that happens.  

What About Creativity?

I thought my student’s comment on the impact that running too thin has on creativity was spot on. You can observe overworked people in numerous venues.  When workers are stretched beyond reasonable limits, there is no energy to focus on creative solutions to improve conditions.

Let’s examine a specific occupation as an example.

According to the Gallup Organization, the nursing occupation is the most-highly trusted occupation category. This was true every year since they have been measuring trust in organizations. 

Nurses have so many critical tasks that they hardly find time to eat, let alone try to figure out creative solutions to problems. Also, during the pandemic, many health care workers were putting in double shifts just to handle the load.

Asking for that level of effort only works until it impacts the viability of the health professionals. I am only singling out nurses because it is easy to observe this situation; in reality, the problem occurs in numerous types of jobs. 

Don’t Exceed the Elastic Limit of People

In an effort to improve productivity, leaders stretch their resources like a rubber band.  The problem is that if you do that, eventually you will exceed the elastic limit of the rubber, and it will permanently deform or just snap. 

In those conditions, people are going to do the requirements as best they can. They will not be very engaged in improving the conditions. They become case hardened and bitter.  When people feel abused, they go into survival mode. Continuous improvement is non-existent, so the managers get exactly what they deserve. It becomes a vicious cycle.

A Better Approach to Workforce Staffing

The antidote is to work on changing the culture so that the current workforce is producing at a multiple of their prior productivity. Work on trust rather than forcing existing people to work in a constant state of overload. It means investing in the resources you have and maybe even adding some. Continually cutting back in an effort to survive is a losing game. You may survive in the short term, but your long-term prognosis is terminal.

When I suggest to leaders that they need to invest in their culture, I often get an incredulous or outraged look in return.  “How can we possibly afford to work on our culture when everybody is already at the limit of their capability?”  Well, you cannot unless you change your attitude about how people work. Maintain the right level of resources so that you can invest in the culture. That path will ensure a better future.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Reducing Conflict 40 We Versus They

May 9, 2022

Whenever two groups are trying to work together you can often hear “we versus they” conversations.

In this article, I use the example of mergers and acquisitions, but the phenomenon applies to all situations with different groups.

After announcing a merger or acquisition, there is a period of integration while the cultures reach a new equilibrium. During this process, it is common to hear a lot of “we versus they” language coming from both groups.

If not addressed, this parochial thinking process can go on for a long time. The rhetoric undermines the benefits of the combined entity. This article highlights some ideas on how to move from a “we/they” point of view and get more quickly to “us.”

Operating as Separate Entities

Sometimes there is a setup where both organizations are supposed to go on as if they were still separate entities.  For example, when Amazon acquired Zappos they allowed Zappos to operate as if the acquisition had not occurred.  The goal was for less disruption. 

That logic may hold for a while, but eventually, the benefits of operating efficiently together will take the upper hand. Sooner or later, people are going to have to work as a team and trust one another. 

Lack of Trust

In the majority of cases, the integration is a rocky process because trust is low from the start. Getting groups to work together with one common set of processes is a journey that can take years to accomplish.

On paper, the plan usually calls for full integration in a couple of months. In reality, you can hear the “we versus they” logic for several years after the announcement.

Geographic Complications

Geographic separation tends to exacerbate the situation. For example, you would hear, “We always did it this way, but they will not let us do it.” For multinational organizations, the problem is a constant source of irritation.

Why Does it Happen

What gives rise to we/they thinking? I believe it is because people naturally fear change and try to make the inevitable changes impact the other group.  Both groups feel they have been taken over or greatly inconvenienced by the need to “do it their way.” 

People dig in their heels and try to subvert the changes. That attitude is tantamount to sabotage. It can sink all efforts to create the kind of efficient, homogeneous entity that the planners intended.

Starting Over

One method is to toss out the procedures for each entity. Invent joint processes that serve both organizations from the ground up. That process sounds like a fair one until you get into it. Realize that you are fighting both groups on each and every process change. It is still we versus they but with a different flavor. 

Deflecting Energy from Goals

The most significant issue with the “we versus they” attitude is that it siphons off energy away from the main goals.  Instead, people spend significant time and resources arguing over the nits of process details. The customer is left wondering what happened to the good old level of service that was the norm before the merger.

How to Avoid the Problem

What steps can leaders take to eliminate “we versus they” and get to “us” more quickly?  One method is to transplant enough people from one entity to the other that it becomes difficult to tell who are “we” and who are “they.”  That process is not always a popular one, but it does lead to a faster integration of the populations. It also enhances bench strength due to cross-training.

Another Way to Fix

One cure to the “we versus they” feeling is if another larger entity comes along and gobbles up the merged group. They are now fighting off a different “they” and quickly become the “we” together. Let me explain that a bit more so it is clear.  You have the merger of A & B.  There is significant angst because both groups feel taken over. They are trying to resolve their differences when Group C buys out the sum of A & B.  Now as if by magic, the merged A & B get along great and work to fend off the effects of the big bad C Group.

Use Better Language

One effective and inexpensive way to address the problem is for the leaders to always model the use of integrated language. They need to coach those who use oppositional language to change their pattern of speech.  Replace “them” with “us” whenever possible and do not support discussions that pit one side versus the other. 

Having both groups meet together to chart a mutual shared purpose and strategy often goes a long way toward getting to “us.”  When people put significant energy into crafting a collaborative vision, they tend to become closer as a result.

If both leaders of the prior entities are still on board heading up the combined unit, it helps to have them swap positions. That process adds to the knowledge base for bench strength and eliminates parochial thinking at the top.

In a merger or acquisition, it is wise to tackle the problem of “we/they” thinking with a conscious strategy.  If not, the journey to full integration could be a long and painful one.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is the author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind


Reducing Conflict 39 Magic Goals

May 1, 2022

Goals have the ability to create magic in our lives. A goal is a vision of the future that pulls you toward an objective. 

You can sail in a ship without a rudder, but you will have little chance of getting to an interesting place. You will just sail around aimlessly wherever the wind blows, like many people do with their lives. 

A specific goal (also called vision) of your destination creates a magic force that works to your advantage. You now have a rudder and can steer the moments of your life to keep you moving toward the goal. You have a much greater chance of reaching it. 

Oh sure, there are going to be stormy days and nights. There will be times when there is no wind at all to propel your boat. Since you have the goal, no matter what comes up, you are always heading in the right direction. That is why goals create magic in our lives.

Brian Tracy once wrote, “People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.” Problems are obstacles in the pathway, but they do not stop you; they teach you. Goals align the atoms and molecules to enhance your chances of accomplishing great things in your life.

With all of these advantages of goals, it is still a fact that most people do not have specific, written goals for their lives. They have dreams to do things, like a bucket list, but they miss the true power of goals. Here are 10 habits that can move you from hazy and wishful dreams to productive and powerful goals.

  1. Make your goals tangible

Vague goals or mental wish lists are a dime a dozen.  You may have good intentions and dreams, but to really engage the magic of goals, you simply must write them down.

  1. Goals should represent reach

Easy goals are not powerful because you can accomplish them without effort. Pie-in-the-sky goals are also not very powerful because you may see them as impossible. To be effective, goals must be difficult to accomplish, but possible to achieve with great effort. Sometimes it is helpful to have sub-goals. These goals are a little easier to attain but they form a pathway to a major change. You can create momentum and witness progress along the path. That prevents you from becoming discouraged.

  1. It is better to err on the side of too great a goal than too small

Since goals pull you in the direction you want to go, having an aggressive goal is much more valuable than an easy goal. As Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”  He actually did pretty well in his time, if you recall.

  1. Tell other people your goals

Sharing your goals with people you respect and love has a way of legitimizing them in your mind. It also helps garner a friend’s support and creativity as you work toward your goals. “I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.” (Bob Dylan said that.)

  1. Refine the goals to just a vital few

Avoid having a long shopping list of goals. One or two good goals are enough. Reason: Goals help us focus critical energy on essential tasks. If you have 15 goals for the next increment of time, you will get confused and discouraged. “One solid goal is more powerful than 10 dreams.” (I said that.)

  1. Repeat the key goals every morning and evening

Letting your goals sit idle on the shelf like a hoary old book renders them quaint, but useless. You must engage your subconscious mind continually to consider all the things you can do to pursue your goals. The best way to do that is to make a conscious affirmation in the morning and evening.

As you restate your goals daily, you call up the power of the universe. That power helps you align your thoughts and actions to be consistent with your goals. This magic power allows a magnet-like attraction that draws you toward the things you seek. 

  1. Form a group of people who understand and agree with your goals

Unless your goal is to be a hermit, you are better off with a Mastermind Group helping you. The concept of a Mastermind Group came from Napoleon Hill as he prepared his philosophy called “The Science of Personal Achievement.” 

  1. Celebrate the small steps along the way

Achieving a challenging goal is often a lot of work. For most people, the work involved in achieving a worthy goal is often tedious and unpleasant. Winners gladly engage in the effort because the smell of success is so alluring.

It is wise to celebrate the baby steps on the way toward your goal. Celebration helps remind you why you are subjecting yourself to all the work in the first place.

  1. Enjoy the ride

The ride is really the prize. Most people think the achievement is the big deal, and they are often surprised to find out that the magic was during the struggle.

  1. Look back with pride

Look over your shoulder to see how far you have come. The progress is often slow enough that you do not even recognize it: like watching a child grow up. You need to remind yourself of what is really happening.

The best way I have found to do this is to list my accomplishments each year. I typically do that on New Year’s Eve. I am often blown away with the things that were accomplished that I never would have thought possible. The vast majority of them were enabled by my following the steps above.

Could I have done better?  Of course! Did I do better than I thought possible?  You betcha! Am I energized to do better next year?  Just throw down the puck, and watch me go.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Reducing Conflict 38 Prevent Social Loafing

April 24, 2022

“Social loafing” is a name given to the phenomenon where one or more people fail to pull their fair share of the load.

We see evidence of it in every aspect of our lives from family slackers who leave messes for others to clean up, to sports teams where some players like to skip practice, to hospitals where some staff work at their own pace even when most people are maxed out.

Reason for Team Stress

In a work setting, social loafing is one of the biggest reasons for team stress. I contend it is a rare team that does not experience some form of social loafing, and it creates ill will among the group every time.

 Some people will have issues that prevent them from contributing as much as others.  The issues may be legitimate, like a death in the family, or a chronic health condition, or it may be that the person is just lazy.  Since the load is never completely equal, those who pull more than their fair share become resentful of those who get equal credit but fail to do equal work.

Example from Education Setting

I do a lot of teaching in the online environment. Students have individual assignments and team assignments (usually papers to write) where several remote individuals must do a lot of work on a project.

Students come into the team environment with good intentions assuming all students will do their fair share of the work, but inevitably one or two people will fall behind the pace and hold the team back. 

This condition results in the other members having to scramble to get the paper finished at the last minute because one student did not do his assigned part.  That infuriates the other students, because their grades on the team paper may be lower than expected. 

In every single team, there is this same problem to some degree. Occasionally it is hard to detect due to a particular set of individuals, but even there I see signs of stress when one student procrastinates a bit and leaves the others waiting and wondering.

The cure is so simple. If we spell out a strategy and agreement for working together including a penalty for goofing off specifically at the start, then the stress goes away and performance improves.

Suppose the team agrees that all team members will submit their draft of the paper three days before it is due, to allow time for editing and clean up.  Now comes the critical element. 

The team agrees that if one member does not comply with the agreed timing, his name will not be on the team paper, and he will receive no points for the assignment. That is a very stiff penalty because it will immediately lower the final grade for a course for that student by one letter grade. 

By agreeing on a specific consequence at the start of the course (when everyone has good intentions) then the social loafing rarely occurs. Reason: The would-be slacker has already agreed to accept the dreaded consequence, so there is no doubt about what will happen to him if he fails to meet expectations. 

If he tests the system and finds he got no points for the assignment, he cannot cry foul. He already signed off on the consequence.  The result is that he never does it again.

Teams in Different Settings

The most common place to observe social loafing is in a team setting at work. If some members of the team are not pulling their fair share of the load, there is going to be conflict. In this instance, having an agreed-upon penalty can drastically cut down on the frequency of the problem occurring.

This theory is more difficult to employ if the team is all volunteers.  In these groups, people are stepping up to volunteer their time and talent for a cause. Coming up with a penalty for social loafing in these groups is tricky because if there is conflict, the volunteer can just drop out. In this situation, perhaps the upfront agreement might include having the volunteer find a back-up for when other life priorities make it impossible to carry the load.   

There is a cure

The trick is to create an agreement at the start that everyone will pull his or her share of the load. People usually buy into the concept at the start of a team: after all, fair is fair.  It is only after the team gets going that life happens and the slackers surface.  Good intentions at the start of an activity are necessary but not sufficient to prevent social loafing.


Having a specific penalty associated with failure to perform up to good intentions is an effective way to prevent social loafing or deal with it when it happens.  Try it in your group and see how this simple step is like a miracle for better teamwork.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Reducing Conflict 37 Micromanagement or Harassment

April 17, 2022

Two words that get used a lot these days are micromanagement and harassment. The two concepts come from different sources, but they converge in the extreme case.  This article dissects the two concepts and provides some guidance for managers who, despite their good intentions, often end up causing problems.

What is Harassment

Harassment is the abusive behavior toward another person that has its roots in a desire to annoy or hurt the other individual in some way. The practice is normally intentional, although it is possible for a person to harass other people without being aware it is happening.

Except in the rare extreme cases, the manifestation of harassment exists first in the opinion of the person who is being harassed.  If I will not let you get to me no matter what you do, then you are not going to be successful at harassing me.

In fact, I may get a perverse pleasure out of thwarting your attempts to bother me: a kind of reverse harassment.  On the other hand, you may be such a sensitive individual that the mere thought of any person walking into the room sends you into a flight of panic: a kind of self-harassment called paranoia.

The Impact of Harassment

We are all aware of the destructive nature of harassment that evokes anything from mild discomfort all the way to suicide.  The distress is amplified if the person being harassed believes he or she cannot escape and has to endure continual suffering. 

The Origins of Micromanagement

Micromanagement doesn’t stem from sinister motives. To the contrary, it is normally the desire of a manager, or person in charge of getting things done, who wants things to go well but is misguided in the best way to accomplish the task. It reminds me of my favorite Star Trek Quote when Mr. Spock says, “It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.” 

The micromanager is not trying to annoy the victim (usually) but only trying to get things done according to his or her definition of how to accomplish the objective. In the process, of course, the victim has to endure the constant meddling that feels very much like harassment.

The Antidote to Micromanagement

We are all aware of the antidote for micromanagement, which is for the manager to set the objective and some broad guidelines and then back off to let the individual figure out the details on how to get the job done.  Unfortunately, a little concept called “trust” is missing, so the manager does not believe the individual is capable of getting the job done without constant supervision. It is the lack of trust that is the root cause of most micromanagement. 

We deal with the manifestations of micromanagement to some degree in most work settings. It is only the most extreme high trust environments where managers are willing to actually stand by and let subordinates do things wrong in order to learn what does not work.

Where Micromanagement is Beneficial

Managers would rather intervene and at least suggest that holding the soldering iron by the pointed end might not be the best method.  I use that extreme case because the motive of the manager in this case is to prevent the employee from doing bodily harm. What could be more noble than that?  Often what feels like micromanagement to the employee is for the benefit of the employee.

The grey area between good intentions and oppressive hovering is playing out in the workplace every hour of every day.  Managers find their own equilibrium, and employees either complain (or not) behind the break room doors. 

When Micromanagement becomes Harassment

The extreme case, where managers tell people how to do their work for the sport of always getting it done their way, crosses the line into harassment.  Even if the conscious objective is to get the job done right, the spirit with which the manager directs every movement is debilitating.

To break the cycle of micromanagement and/or harassment, the manager needs to recognize that there is a better way to get results. If he or she continues to believe the muscle approach is the best way to get compliance, then grudging compliance is what will happen.

The problem is that in today’s competitive environment, mere compliance is a formula for extinction. Any organization needs full engagement of the people in it to survive long term.

The first step is some education on how numerous organizations are reaping the benefits of full engagement. Once that point is made it is necessary to have the obstinate manager take a good long look in the mirror. 

The Benefits of an Improved Culture

Numerous studies have shown that the benefit of an improved culture is higher engagement and productivity. As a consultant, I would ask the micromanager if he or she would enjoy seeing something like a 100% improvement in productivity.  It is quite possible, but only once the manager recognizes the real enemy of better performance is the one staring back in the mirror. If a leader does not desire a vast improvement in performance, then there is not likely to be a cure for the micromanagement.

Aim for higher Trust

The antidote for micromanagement is to create a culture of higher trust.  In this environment, the manager would be less likely to be overly directive. Also, in a culture of high trust, if the manager is pushing too much the employee would feel encouraged to politely ask that person to back off and give a little breathing room. 

There is no harassing behavior on either side, and the job gets done efficiently and correctly. Everybody wins, and nobody gets hurt. It all depends on the level of trust the leader is capable of creating in the organization. The word create is the key concept here, because trust does not happen unless leaders enable it with their behaviors (and even words).  


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Reducing Conflict 36 Changing Attitudes

April 11, 2022

We have all heard the sayings about attitude. I am sure that every parent of every child has uttered the phrase “you need to change your attitude” numerous times.  

From the pulpit or the schoolroom to the boardroom, and even to the barroom, you can hear things like:

  • What governs your happiness in life is not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you.
  • You must approach people with an attitude of gratitude.
  • The most important word that governs your success in life is attitude.
  • To change your life for the better, change your attitude about life.
  • A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.
  • Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.
  • If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.

Beyond the Catchy Phrases

After a while, these platitudes lose their meaning due to oversaturation. For this article, I wanted to dig beyond the catchy phrases and get back to what attitude really is and how we all can do a better job of controlling our own and coaching others to improve theirs.

When circumstances or other forces prevent us from experiencing life in a way that makes the most sense to us, we often turn sour and develop what is known as a bad attitude.  This becomes manifest in numerous familiar ways from pouting, to doubting, to shouting, and even to clouting.

The Secret to a Better Attitude

Is there a universal secret that can help people keep a more positive attitude most of the time?  Let me share two extremes. I know a woman who wears a pin with ruby slippers on it. She is like a ray of sunshine who is on a constant crusade to spread as much cheer as she can with everyone. 

Does she ever have a bad day? I’ll bet she does, but I have never seen her really down.  She lives in a very nice world, even when some people are not very nice to her. 

I ran into another woman in a hair salon this past week. I went into a strange place because I had some time to kill. The woman spoke in a constant stream of babble. She literally could not stop talking at all. Every phrase she uttered was negative. For her, the world is the pits, and she endures a steady stream of evil. I marvel over these two extremes. Ask yourself seriously, where on the scale between these two extremes do you reside most of the time?

Not Talking About Severe Psychological Problems

I need to make a distinction here between the majority of people who have some control over their thoughts and the few people who have deep psychological problems based on disease or prior traumas. There are people who feel they must lash back at the world because of what they have endured. 

Perhaps it was some kind of physical or mental abuse when they were a child. Perhaps there was a total betrayal by a trusted loved one.  For these people, trying to alter their mental state by thinking positive thoughts might further repress some gremlins that need to come out with professional help.

For the majority of folks, even though we have some issues to resolve, learning to have a more positive attitude could be a major step forward in terms of leading a happier life. 

We Have the Power to Choose

The greatest power God gave us is the power to choose.  I learned that from Lou Holtz 25 years ago in a video entitled Do Right.  What Lou meant is that the choice is ours where we exist on the scale of attitude. 

Why do so many people choose to dwell on the negative side of life? Is it because they enjoy being miserable?  I think not. I believe if a person realizes there is a more enjoyable place to dwell, he or she will do the inner work necessary to gravitate toward it.

The reason many people live in misery is because they simply do not know (or fail to remember) that they have the power to change their condition. It is there all the time if they will only recognize and use the power.  In the song “Already Gone” by The Eagles, is a profound lyric: “So often times it happens, we all live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key.”

If you push the concept to the extreme, it can be comical.  I am reminded of the final scene in the movie The Life of Brian where a couple dozen men are tied to crosses as they are being crucified.  They started whistling and singing a cheerful song, “Always look on the bright side of life.”

What trick of the mind can we use to remember the power we have over our thoughts?  It is simple. We need to deal with root issues and then train our brains to think in a different pattern.

Habitual thought patterns can be changed simply by replacing bad thoughts with good ones consistently for about a month. That is long enough to reprogram our brain to overcome a lifetime of negative attitudes and thoughts. There is a simple process that is guaranteed to work if we will remember to use it consistently.

Process to Change Your Attitude

Step 1 – Catch yourself having a negative thought. This is the part where most people fail. They simply do not recognize they are having negative thoughts, so no correction is possible.  Through the power of this article, you now have the gift (if you chose to use it) of catching the negative thought next time you have one. Use that power!

Step 2 – Replace the negative thought with a positive one.  Mechanically reject the negative thought and figure out a way to turn it to an advantage. Napoleon Hill had a great technique for doing this. He posited that every bad situation contained the seed of an equivalent benefit.  When something negative happened, rather than lamenting, he would fix his energy on finding the seed of the equivalent benefit. With practice, it is possible to do this nearly all of the time, as long as you are not being crucified.

Step 3 – You must praise yourself for rejecting the bad thought and replacing it with a good one.  Why?  Because the road to changing a lifetime of negativity is long and hard. You need encouragement along the way to recognize that you are literally reinventing your entire self through the power of your mind.

One might think this is impossible objectively, but you are accomplishing it. I read a joke that it is great to be a youth because you do not have the experience to know that it is physically impossible to do what you are doing.

Every time you praise yourself for taking the initiative to change your attitude, you make the next life-changing attitude adjustment easier to make.  Thus, you can begin to form a habit of changing the way you think. Presto, a month later the world will see a new and much more positive you.

The good news is that this three-step process takes no time out of your busy day. It costs absolutely nothing to do it. Nobody even needs to know you are doing it, and yet it can literally transform the only thing in life that really counts: the quality of your life.


The amazing thing about this technique is that you can teach it to others rather easily. The idea is so simple it can be understood in a five-minute discussion, yet the benefits are so powerful it can make a huge difference in the life of the other person.  I recommend you try this method of self-improvement for a month and experience the benefits.  Once you do, then help some people who are miserable to improve their lot in life by applying this process.


Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

Reducing Conflict 35 Group Punishment

April 3, 2022

If you have siblings, you remember the drill very well. Your mother comes in and says, “Who knocked over the lamp in the living room?”  Of course, nobody knows.  She looks around at the children, and each of them is playing dumb.  Since she cannot determine whom to blame, she announces the punishment, “then none of you will get dessert for the rest of the week.” 

Group Punishment is Common

Group punishments for the sins of a single individual are more common than we think. It happens in the military on a daily basis.  If nobody owns up to a misdeed, the entire platoon is penalized with the same punishment as the single guilty soldier would have received.

The logic is that one person really is guilty, and the remaining people are guilty of covering up for him, so everyone suffers equally. The leverage is that it puts peer pressure on the guilty person to ‘fess up. In some cases, the ploy works, but in others the group solidarity is strong. In the end, the group will find other ways to punish the guilty individual that are not always obvious.

Governmental Group Punishment

In our society, government has a similar tendency to punish the masses for the sins of the few.  It has led to numerous infringements on privacy, like red-light cameras, the TSA ordeal we all undergo when trying to get on a plane, gun control, and countless other well-meaning laws and policies that are meant to save the many from the excesses of the few.

Here is another example of the government punishing everyone for the sins of a few.  Every publicly-owned company must spend large sums of time and money for financial record keeping, audit software, and personnel in order to comply with the Sarbanes Oxley Act. This extra cost is a direct result of some high-profile unethical corporate abuses by a few corporations a couple decades ago. All publicly-owned companies suffer for the prior sins of a few defective organizations and their leaders.  This suffering is a lot more than meets the eye, because organizations outside the USA are not saddled with a Sarbanes Oxley Act, and have a competitive cost advantage.

Organizations Use the Same Logic

You can see the same pattern in organizations. The boss notices that an individual is leaving work early a couple times a week, so he issues a reminder of hours of work for the whole organization. This leads one cynical employee to blow a bugle at quitting time to let people know when it is time to go home. 

When trust is broken, it is natural to want to fix the problem, but we need to ask what price we pay when so many aspects of daily life are regimented and good people are forced to pay for the actions of others. Does it make people want to be less accountable for their own actions? Does it demotivate them by stifling creative instincts? Does it discourage them from taking risks? Is it fair?


I think of what the world would be like if we did not have a tendency to punish the many for the actions of a few. What would happen if we encouraged personal responsibility and building trust and transparency by reinforcing candor? It would be a different world for sure.

When you ask your children who broke the lamp in the other room, one of them would say, “I did, Mommy, and I am sorry.”  It would be a kinder, gentler world with far fewer dumb rules we have to follow because a few unscrupulous people cannot be trusted to do the right things.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 



Reducing Conflict 34 Murders and Apparitions

March 28, 2022

Most business people call them Mergers and Acquisitions (M&As), but my wife calls them Murders and Apparitions. M&As are supposed to make things better, but far too often they create ghosts that spirit away trust or lead to outright “companycide.”

I got so interested in the topic that I wrote a whole book on the topic entitled, Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change and wrote a series of blog posts on M&A.

Astonishing Failure Rate

For those who have not studied the subject, the failure rate of M&As typically runs between 50% and 80%. Don’t believe me?  Look it up! Of course, that statistic depends on how you define failure. A “failure” does not always mean dissolving the merger or selling the acquisition.

Generally, people refer to an M&A failure when organizations have preconceived expectations from a merger or acquisition that fail to occur within 2-3 years after the event. M&A failures are common, but it is not because the lawyers, accountants, and managers of the entities do a poor job with the mechanical parts of the action.

The negotiations, due diligence, formal papers, tax considerations, asset valuation, and other tangible things are taught in the business schools and are normally done pretty well. What invariably destroys an M&A is a failure to merge the cultures of the two entities into an effective blended culture.


Many things are murdered in a typical merger or acquisition.  First, the prior culture of both groups disappears. What emerges often is unsatisfactory to both groups of people.

It is amazing to interview people in the throes of an M&A because often people in both groups believe they got the shaft and the other group received the lion’s share of benefits. When a culture is murdered, motivation usually disappears. People appear lost, walking around like zombies, not knowing if they even have a job, let alone exactly what that job might be.

Another fatality is customer service.  While most people in both groups are in disarray, the customer assumes second place. This problem can take years to sort out; meanwhile, customers are less loyal. Survival for each employee becomes paramount. The customers do not care at all about the merger or its success; the customers just want high quality products on time and at the expected price. They expect rapid and friendly service if something goes wrong, but they find it hard even to contact people, let alone get swift answers to technical problems.

Death also comes swiftly to teamwork. In most situations there will be future job cuts. This realization pits people against each other. One can observe all kinds of backstabbing activities or even outright sabotage. Sometimes cliques will emerge where groups are openly combative in the mad scramble for ultimate survival. All of these symptoms leave the merged unit less competitive.


There are numerous factors that, while not deathlike, will seem to be ghostly or somehow haunted. A good example is the development of people. Prior to the merger or acquisition, both entities have concrete development plans for most employees.

Many merged organizations put development programs on hold because nobody knows who the survivors are going to be. It takes a long time after the full integration to get back to a documented and well-understood plan for developing people.

Another apparition is communications. It turns out that during normal times, poor communication is the number one or number two complaint for most employees. Imagine how communication suffers when managers become preoccupied with putting out fires and there are no real answers to logical questions. The lack of solid information generally adds both time and cost to the process, which lowers the chances of success.

A third apparition is the spirit of the employees. Since the ultimate blended culture is going to be somewhat different than either of the two initial cultures, people quickly become discouraged. Therefore, during an extended period, there really is no definable culture for the organization. This condition exacerbates the problems.

A final example of an apparition is the role of HR. The HR departments of both the pre-merged entities were functioning as highly taxed groups struggling to keep up.  In the merged configuration, HR has about three times the load of critical work at a time when many of the HR staff do not know if their own jobs are secure. The service level of HR appears ghostly to most employees because HR is in no condition to provide basic services, let alone meet the significantly enhanced challenges. 

How to Do Better

During a time of trying to integrate two entities into one culture, there are a multitude of problems and issues. The managers who dreamed up the merger did not anticipate a large percentage of these issues. During the negotiation, leaders were fixated on the mechanical aspects of the deal. Defining and planning an integrated culture was an afterthought.

Once the M&A became public knowledge, then senior leaders went to work figuring out the culture of the combined unit. If leaders would give equal billing to the culture work upfront before announcing the deal, then most of the issues could be resolved soon after day one.


With all the problems outlined above, it is no wonder people are extremely wary of mergers and acquisitions. It takes exceptional leadership to prevent chaos and loss of market share when organizations go through these major upheavals.

The secret sauce is to anticipate the organizational and people issues ahead of time and take corrective actions shortly after making the announcement. The fact that some M&As do succeed is a testament to the skill and fortitude of the people involved in the successful ventures.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 33 Workload

March 20, 2022

One of the biggest sources of conflict has to do with workload. Most people recognize how hard they are working and imagine (they would say observe) that other people are not putting forth the same effort. This perceived inequity is the most common cause of conflict at work.

Habitual Problem?

Do you have far too much work to do than any human being can achieve on a daily basis?  Is this a habitual problem at your place of work?  If so, then join the club of millions of workers who feel that way.

I view the workload issue like a rubber band. In good times, the rubber band is slack, and people have a comfortable workload that has peaks of stretch and some slack times. As the economy gets tighter, or as staffing levels become more problematical, the rubber band of resources gets stretched tighter and tighter until it nearly snaps. In some cases, it actually does snap, and people break down from the load and stress. We’ve seen that a lot recently.

The other phenomenon is that when you stretch anything beyond its elastic limit, then its ability to snap back to a normal relaxed state is lost. If you take a rubber band and hold it fully stretched long enough, then it will not go back to a fully relaxed state. We also see this happening as we hold people at the snapping point so long that they simply have forgotten how it feels to have a reasonable workload. There is no ability to increase capacity, yet in a time where there is a little slack, they cannot relax to enjoy it.

Other Side of the Coin

There is a flip side to this argument. I have witnessed people who are constantly complaining about the crushing load and that they simply cannot accomplish everything on their plate, but if you watch them, they really do have many opportunities to conserve time and change their situation for the better. I know many people who spend an average of 2-3 hours a day on the phone and in face-to-face bitch sessions with others. The primary topic is usually how there is simply not enough time to get their work done. Hmmm.

There needs to be some form of balance. A person cannot continually work at maximum capacity without running out of gas.

When talking with managers, they will tell me that they do not have enough resources to make ends meet. The habitual statement is “I simply need more people to do the work,”  yet when I get these same managers together to talk about how they can make improvements, they readily tell me they are frustrated because too many people are goofing off and not applying themselves as they should. Hmmm again. 

Low Productivity

I believe the average company in the USA obtains less than 50% of the potential from their workforce on a regular basis. That figure is generous, based on many studies. There seems to be a disconnect between how people perceive their load and the actual state of being overloaded. That is not true in every single case, of course. There are situations where the overload is genuine. This is particularly true in the era of the pandemic when staffing levels in many industries are way too thin.

Higher Engagement

One way to mitigate this problem is a thing called engagement, and the road to achieve engagement is paved with trust.  Without trust, workers will not reach anywhere near their potential because they will not really be engaged in the work. Numerous studies show that the productivity of high trust groups is several times higher than the productivity of low trust groups. If you want to have people be able to tolerate the stretch of the rubber band that is so common these days, then work on developing a culture of higher trust.

Trust in many organizations is low now due to the way people have been treated during the pandemic.  Smart leaders know the way back to a sustainable way of operating means reestablishing and maintaining trust with workers. Employees at all levels need to feel like their company has their best interest as part of the equation.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Reducing Conflict 32 Accurate Communication

March 14, 2022

It is not surprising how a high percentage of conflict results from a lack of accurate communication.

Most of us have played the campfire game where a bunch of kids sit around the fire and whisper a message from one to the other. It never fails that the message coming out at the end bears little resemblance to the original message.

The same kind of phenomenon is going on when two people try to communicate. There are many steps in the communication process, each of which might represent an individual cub scout sitting around the fire. Here are ten steps that happen each time we say something to someone else face to face. Recognize also that the problem gets amplified in a virtual world:

The Actual Process

  1. I have a thought that I want to convey to you.
  2. I decide how I am going to convey that message to you with my choice of words.
  3. I send the message according to my interpretation of how my words will translate my true intent. (I will discuss tone and body language below.)
  4. The information goes out from me through the air in sound waves.
  5. You then pick up some portion of those waves depending on your level of attention and your physical ability to receive them. You never get them all.
  6. You process the information based on your interest in what I am saying and your current level of distraction. Keep in mind that when most people are “listening” the majority of their mental attention is on preparing to speak.
  7. You make an interpretation of the information based on your biases and filters about how you perceive the world and what you were expecting me to say.
  8. You make a decision on how to translate the input into reaction thought patterns in your brain.
  9. You make a determination about what you are going to do with the information.
  10. You then give some external reaction, comment, or action based on your thoughts.

In each of these steps, there is the potential for tiny modifications of the original thought. Each modification may seem insignificant, but just as in the case with the campfire game, if you add up all of the minute changes, the final meaning may be quite different from the original one.

Remote Communication is Worse

Adding the complexities of remote communication makes the problem much worse because the body language not always robust or intermittent sound. The most common phrase on Zoom is, “You’re on mute.”

If the communication is reasonably good, then the thought in my head would arrive in your head roughly intact. If one step in the process modifies the input slightly, the starting point for the next step will be different, and a significant distortion in the final received message is likely.

Tone of Voice and Body Language

When you add in the infinite variety of signals included in tone of voice and body language, the complexity goes up exponentially. The complexity involved in getting the words right is a significant challenge, but studies show that the words contain only a tiny fraction of the meaning we get. 

In 1967, Albert Mehrabian’s experiments showed that when talking about feelings or emotions face to face, only about 7% of the meaning comes from the words we use.  The remaining 93% of the content is in the tone of voice and body language.

 If I say to you, “You couldn’t have been any better in that meeting this morning,” the message you will receive is highly dependent on my voice inflection and body language. The same words can have very different, even opposite, meanings.

Body language is so complex because we send signals on many different levels subconsciously. The meaning you get will depend on my skill at accurately projecting the intent behind the communication and also your skill at picking up the signals and decoding them correctly.

Cultural Differences

There may be cultural differences as well that can make the interpretation even more complex. That is why knowledge of and appreciation for the complexities of body language are essential for good communication.

When you consider the complexity of this process, it is not shocking that a fair percentage of meaning in direct communication does not even hit the target area, let alone accomplish a bulls-eye. I think it is amazing that we get as close as we do. 

Avoid the Blame Game

When miscommunication happens, it is a natural reaction to become frustrated and even angry. We may jump to conclusions about the worthiness of our partner in communication.

We say things like, “You are not speaking so I can understand your message,” or “You never listen to me,” or “You just don’t pay attention to what I am saying.”  All of these scapegoat expressions may make us feel better by putting the blame on the other person, but they do not identify or rectify the root cause. 

When message content becomes garbled, we need a signal that the inevitable straying off message has occurred.  It is not necessarily the fault of either person. It just may take more than one attempt to communicate a message. 

Verify Important Messages

To mitigate the problem, we need to patiently verify the message internalized is the same as the message sent.  That takes a verification step, either verbally or with body language.  Since the original communicator is 100% sure of what he or she thinks happened, it seems redundant to go through a verification ritual, but it is really necessary, especially for important messages.


When communicating with another person, keep in mind the complex process that is going on.  Use your powers of observation to detect possible visual or verbal cues that the communication did not work as intended. Try not to blame the other person, because the truth is, it is a system problem, and you are also part of the system. Work on improving your own system both on the sending side and the receiving side.  

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.