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How to Make Everyone in a Group Wrong or Bad

I went to middle and high schools that partnered with the Youth Performing Arts School in my hometown, and I have several friends in the entertainment industry. I also worked as a minor league hockey executive and agent for several years, and I live in New York City (“NYC”). This exposes me to a lot of people who work (at least part-time) in jobs that appear to be a lot more fun than our nine-to-five (or 7 AM to 9 PM) occupations. When I got into the businesses that support those occupations, I admittedly had unrealistic views of the glamour I would experience. I did everything from unclog toilets at the stadium to reconnect lost children with their drunk parents on the concourse and wear a disgustingly smelly bird costume when our regular mascot was not available. It wasn’t glamorous, and a teenage friend at the time made more per hour working at McDonald’s than I made with my bachelor’s degree. As an agent, I made even less and ultimately chose to focus solely on my law career after a few players I worked for months to get in tryout camps showed up out-of-shape and unprepared. I’ve been asked many times to get back into the sports and entertainment industries, and each time I have made steps in that direction, I have had some regrets.

I could easily make everyone in these industries out to be self-absorbed manipulators, dreamers, sexists, or jerks. Yet I have cultivated some of my most loyal friendships from my work in hockey. I have a weekly masterminding call with a coach who worked with me. I can call one of the trainers who worked with me and have a conversation like we were never apart. One of the players I represented has visited and stayed with me three times in NYC–twice with his mom. Others, I am still in touch with through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other ways. They are among the best people I have ever known.

Nevertheless, I can counter these relationships and stories with the employees who would often come to work late because the early morning start times were inconvenient for people who liked to stay up (often drinking) to 3 AM. Or the one who contacted my bookkeeper to change the payroll dates to something more convenient for him. Or the people I have given free services to, promoted or otherwise volunteered to support in small ways and was suddenly treated like an employee who was supposed to be on call instead of running her own law practice or having a life.

When I am being pulled on by several such people at once, I can start to believe everyone in a certain category is like they are. That’s how human brains work by default. We look for commonalities among these perpetrators and try to label all of the ones we think might be the same way so we can steer clear of or protect ourselves from them in the future. In theory, that would keep us safe, but because these broad generalizations and assumptions fail to recognize individual characteristics and our unique abilities to adapt ineffective behavior when we become aware of it, the result is probably more loss of opportunity than freedom from harm.

I can’t imagine my life without my diverse group of friends and family members. If I had believed that I could only trust my family (which at the time wasn’t doing a great job of keeping me safe), I might not have begun a friendship that has lasted more than 33 years and gets better all of the time. If I had accepted that all men are bad and unreliable, I would not have an amazing partnership with a wonderful man. In short, I would have missed out on a lot. For this reason, I am taking a look at the conflict I have with a few people in my life who just happen to also work in the entertainment industry.

STEP ONE: DEFINE THE CONFLICT.

I disagree with these people about my obligation to be on call for them.

STEP TWO: IDENTIFY THE INTERESTS.

When I got into these relationships, I wanted to assist with a few small issues. I often thought I would complete one task and be done. I also expected mutuality, but I apparently didn’t express that clearly. It seems that our definitions of mutuality and partnership are different. Unlike entertainment professionals volunteering to perform tasks for free so they build relationships in the industry and work their way to greater opportunities there, I am most interested in solving problems and empowering the people around me to build their conflict resolution skills. I don’t want to be an entertainer, nor do I see myself representing entertainers or athletes again–beyond my capacity as paid legal advisor.

STEP THREE: PLAY WITH THE POSSIBILITIES.

If I could have these current conflicts (recognizing that I can’t lump them all together now or in the future) resolve in any way possible, I would not have to ask for mutuality and partnership. I really hate having to ask people to be “considerate”–to consider me, my schedule, my wants, or my needs. (Oh. There’s that ugly issue again.)

STEP FOUR: CREATE THE FUTURE.

Okay. I’m probably not going to get what I want without asking for it. The actions I need to take are now pretty clear.

  1. I will not return one person’s call just because he told me to. I have other things I need to do today, and I will see him later this evening. There is no emergency that will cause physical or bodily harm if I don’t call him before I see him. If there is, I hope he will call 911 instead of me! I’ll arrive a bit early, and we can address whatever he wants in person.
  2. I will not call a second person just because he told me to. (I notice that neither gave any indication of what they wanted or asked. Both were commands, which make me feel like a trained animal. I wonder if I would get a treat for being a good dog. We won’t know this time.) He and I have a call scheduled in a couple of days, and there is likewise no emergency I could address that would not be handled best by 911.
  3. I will have a chat with a third person who tends to call me when she needs or wants something from me. As with all of them, I need to set clearer boundaries and learn their expectations. We have been operating without these, which has everyone re-acting rather than acting consistently with our actual agreements among each other.

STEP FIVE: STAY ON PARR.

It’s awesome to see that there is nothing wrong. We just aren’t communicating effectively, and I’m feeling guilty that I am not meeting expectations: a) I didn’t actually know about, b) am not 100% sure are what I think they are and c) certainly didn’t openly agree to. It’s time to end this nonsense and have great relationships with three great people.

(Yes. It’s really that easy to set aside your biases and create relationships that work. Take responsibility. Then, take action. And stay on PARR: Plan, Act, Revise, Repeat).

Nance L. Schick, Esq. is an attorney, mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City. She is the founder of The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick, where she and her team of employees, vendors, and strategic partners deconstruct conflict and re-create it as opportunity, using a holistic, integrative approach. Nance resolves conflict and cultivates leaders, using her EEOC training, as well as her proprietary Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, which is described in more detail in her first book, DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master. She is also an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (2013 Pitch Competition finalist).