Crowning Communications
May 152017

“Sometimes I think I’m in a conversation with 6 people, when I am talking with my co-worker” a coaching client said to me the other day. There can be and often are many voices that want to be heard in a difficult conversation between 2 people.

We have as much of the conversation in our head with our own critical voice as with the other person’s critical voice, the voice of the boss, the co-worker’s voice and possibly a bunch more voices, such as those of our parents, siblings and friends.

In the previous blogpost we explored the dynamic of the interactions we have with our inner self, our state of being, thoughts, feelings and awareness (or lack thereof) of the relationship with ourselves. We identified that dynamic as “Self with Self.”

Let’s now have a closer look at the dynamic between us and the other in the challenging interaction: “Self with the Other.”

An excellent communicator continually pays attention to what the other says with words and without words. What each of us does or says in that tough situation is impacting the other. Understanding and awareness of that impact is key to working things out together.

Below I share 5 key aspects of effectively managing “yourself with others” in difficult conversations:

The second dynamic: “Self with other” in your toughest conversation

1.The Power of Acknowledgement

When we acknowledge the other person’s experience by stating out loud what we understand their experience to be, thus we make a much-needed connection with the other in the difficult situation. In an acknowledgment of experiences, the other person feels heard by you, which, in turn, opens the channel for you to be heard as well.

2. Stop “Silverlining”; Use Empathy

Acknowledgment is the gateway to empathy. Empathy is not equal to sympathy. Empathy connects people, while sympathy separates us from the other, because sympathy is a reflection about self and not about the other. (” I am so sorry for you”). We show empathy by expressing deep understanding of what the other person is going through, without “silverlining”  (“At least you’re still working there…”) or judging the other’s experience.

3. Know the roller coaster (of emotions)

When strong emotions come up for the other in the conversation, it is important to be alert and aware of how these emotions trigger us and could make us less resourceful in our responses. How constructive are you with expressing emotions between you and the other? When the other withdraws from the conversation, do you withdraw or get angry?

4. Take down the walls

When we feel defensiveness coming up at what the other is saying, we are no longer listening. We are then caught up in our own response. The other is merely expressing their experience of what is going on. When we become defensive we are actually “leaving” the tough interaction and going “somewhere else.” The result is disconnection and often more conflict. When we experience the other attacking us, however, it may be appropriate, in our own defense, to acknowledge that a boundary was crossed. Assertively stating that this is not how we want to be treated may help the other become aware of their destructive behavior.

5. Postpone judgment by asking questions

Last but not least, I encourage you stay open, postpone your judgment and get in the mode of asking questions, based on genuine curiosity. Only when we put our judgment aside, can we be totally present with the other person and with ourselves. That is genuine attention; a true gift. And it’s just one less voice to deal with.

More Resources for You: 
WEBINAR: In case you’ve missed it here is the recording of a webinar I conducted last Spring: “Key Strategies for Taking the “Difficult” out of Difficult Conversations.”

> CARD SET: Little Upsides assist you to get to know yourself better in difficult situations with others. A colorful card set with 50 quotes and questions to dig a little deeper and set a constructive tone for your interactions.
May 152017

Entering a difficult conversation is as tricky as being out on the ocean on a sailboat in a thunderstorm. I have done both and avoided both when I could. The unexpected wind changes would make my boat rock and each lightning bolt could send a shock of electricity through the boat that would make my hair stand up straight. That is exactly how it felt for a long time when I had to engage into a tough conversation.

Just like with sailing, I picked up skills over the years to navigate through the difficult conversations in my life, managing the lightning bolts caused by emotions and gaining more courage and new skills to bring the conversation into calmer water.

Will there ever be a moment that tough conversations will be easy? I don’t know. What I do know is that we can keep practicing. Overtime we become more confident, comfortable and skilled at it. It’s a life long learning process and we want to keep practicing.

Three Dynamic Dimensions in Tough Conversations

I have learned that there are 3 dynamic dimensions to a difficult conversation, in which we focus on managing ourselves within ourselves, ourselves with others, and ourselves with the process. The challenge and art is to keep the focus on all three dynamics at the same time when we are going through the waves of a tough conversation.

“Self with self” is where relationship mastery starts. When we are unaware of the impact of our internal judgments, biases, emotions, beliefs and assumptions, we act mindlessly and a difficult conversation will continue to be difficult.

Managing ourselves with mindfulness, self-love, and understanding is impacting how we are showing up in these challenging interactions. Here are 5 key tips about how to show up as your best self in a tough exchange, while keeping an eye on “self with self. ”

1.Establish a mindfulness practice for yourself

This could be meditation, yoga, breathing, nature walks, or any practice that helps you get in touch with what is going on inside of you

2.Know your resources 

When we are thrown off balance by our own emotions such as anger or judgments we need to find a way to get back to our “resourceful” self. What are some of the resources you have available? (E.g. music, journaling, a time out, etc.)

3.Mind your language (your inner chatter)

The ways we talk to ourselves influence our relationship with ourselves and consequently with others. How we “language” our experience is incredibly impactful and meaningful.

4.Self-awareness leads to healthy relationship management

When we know ourselves well, our strengths and limitations, we know how to manage ourselves in difficult situations.

5.Become Present

The moment we start thinking about how we are going to respond to the other, we are no longer present with the other and we stop listening. Instead, listen deeply and trust that you have the best response at your fingertips, when the other person has finished speaking.

More Resources for You: 
> WEBINAR: In case you’ve missed it here is the recording of a webinar I conducted last Spring: Key Strategies to taking the “Difficult” out of Difficult Conversations.

“Key Strategies for Taking the “Difficult” out of Difficult Conversations.”

> CARD SET: Little Upsides assist you to get to know yourself better in difficult situations with others. A colorful card set with 50 quotes and questions to dig a little deeper and set a constructive tone for your interactions.
Apr 172017

One evening in February this year I found myself unexpectedly watching the famous Placido Domingo perform live in the State Opera House in Vienna, Austria. To my surprise I had manifested a ticket to a sold out Romeo and Juliet Opera in this romantic corner of the world. It was quite the experience!

What actually brought me to Europe was a global client I have been working with over the past few months.  I was asked to design and deliver a training program for a global team with communication and intercultural challenges. With parts of the team in Portland, The Netherlands and Czech Republic, I delivered the training in both English and Dutch.

Challenges for Virtual Teams

What I found out while working with these teams is that some of the challenges of any virtual team are language and tone, cultural differences and time zones.

With the American team we’ve identified challenges such as the seemingly slow decision making process of the Dutch team, which is based on a historical model of consensus. The straightforward language and time zone barriers with the teams in Europe were a concern as well for this global team with English as the operating language.

Knowing both the Dutch and American culture well, I could help the Dutch understand how to communicate with more consideration for cultural context, less direct, with a little more diplomacy if they wanted to get anything done by the American team. Sugarcoating is not the strongest skill for the Dutch!

For the Czech team the topic of creating trust and rapport was important and we’ve explored these topics in depth together.

I found that the top three challenges for virtual teams are:

  1. Too much reliance on email without using other tools to connect;
  2. Absence of collegiality;
  3. Challenging to manage conflict in virtual teams across cultures.

Next time I would love to share in detail with you my 3 key tips for working successfully, minimizing conflict and improving intercultural understanding with other team members in different locations, either locally or globally.

Creating Engaged Virtual Teams

As a result of this work I have added the 1-day workshop “Creating Engaged Virtual Teams” to my services. Contact me when your virtual team is ready to create a more inspired, engaged and effective experience.

Jun 202016

Fine, whatever.

Click here to listen to the Podcast: “The Workplace Problem Nobody Will Talk About”


Whether it’s the office note-leaver or the backhanded compliment master, everyone has witnessed passive aggressive behavior in the workplace.

But why does it happen? And what can we do about it?

In a talk with Brandon Laws of Xenium HR, I go over some of these issues with regards to passive aggressive behavior in the workplace.

In the Podcast, we discuss how to spot it, why it happens and how it can impact the workplace. Finally, we go over some ways you can manage your passive aggressive employees to create a more positive workplace.

May 052016

Enjoy this Webinar! If you like what you’ve learned, please share with others!

Mar 292016

It is the nasty note about the shared refrigerator that is dirty… Or that one report your colleague keeps “forgetting” to finish for you or the “yes” or “no” answers to an open-ended question. The behaviors of a passive aggressive are killing the joy in the workplace.

I used to work with a woman who was a skillfully passive aggressive. I often asked myself: “What am I doing wrong?” when she gave me the silent treatment or made rude comments “under her breath.” I felt like I was walking on eggshells all day, and I probably was doing something wrong. Sounds like a familiar struggle?

What am I doing wrong?

In order to know what we are doing “wrong” it is important to understand passive aggressive behavior.  The bottom line is that passive aggressiveness is easier to resort to than assertive behavior. Passive aggressive people don’t typically have the courage to speak up. The message that they are sending with their often non-verbal aggression is: “I am afraid of your response, when I respond to what you say, because your response might hurt me.” Passive aggressive people know very well how to drive others away, because the truth sometimes hurts too much to face it. They are simply protecting themselves.

Actually, there is no foundation for truth in the relationship with a passive aggressive, because it lacks authenticity. As a result there is no trust, no respect, no relationship, which is often the safest and, unfortunately, most lonely place to be for a passive aggressive.

How can we help a passive aggressive person come out of their protective shell and start building a relationship based on trust and respect?

Once you’ve noticed a pattern of passive aggressive behavior with someone, you want to avoid doing something “wrong.” This doesn’t mean that you are responsible for their behavior that often comes from old hurt.

It means that, with some effort, we can avoid being the trigger for their behavior by for example constantly confronting them about their behavior, wanting to rescue or coach them, provoking conflict, or making them openly ridiculous for their “nobody understands me anyway” attitude.

Evaluate your own behavior in the situation

“How did I contribute to the conflict or what actions did I take to escalate the passive aggressive responses?”

Once you realize that your passive aggressive colleague doesn’t feel listened to or think they don’t have a voice, you can solicit their input by speaking directly with them. Be honest, direct, listen and focus the conversation on the real issue. Let them know that you are there to listen and that you want to understand them.  Stay calm in the conversation, take ownership for your feelings and most importantly, don’t reciprocate the passive aggressive behaviors by storming off. Stay in the dialogue!

Although you can’t change a person and it is not your role to heal the fear and past hurt that a passive aggressive is carrying, dealing with a passive aggressive person in a constructive way is possible. It takes time, patience and consistently demonstrating constructive behavior in challenging situations.

Mar 032016

Little Upsides

The cranky lady at the cash register, the difficult and critical colleague, the controlling boss…they all have something in common and it’s not what you think.

I have worked with some, what I thought of as real difficult people, in my years in Human Resources and later in my business.

Over the years I’ve learned that difficult people don’t exist.

I only experience them as difficult!

What is going on here?

We want to separate the behavior from the person when we talk about “difficult”. That must sound like an open door statement for most of you. And how often do we forget?

We label someone who interrupts us as rude, someone who is not having eye contact as shy and someone who needs to think about what they are going to say as indecisive. All they did was sharing their idea passionately, before you finished your sentence, checking in with their emotions while looking away and being thoughtful about their answer, hence the pause.

So let’s talk about the “difficult” behaviors!

The people we label as difficult are those that use different strategies to meet their needs; strategies that are different than the ones you or I would use and thus we don’t recognize them as effective.

These strategies spring from a well of basic human needs we are trying to meet. We all have these needs such as appreciation, love, and acknowledgement for our presence in the room or in this world.

We want to belong and be part of the community we live and work in and if we don’t get that need met we often become uncertain, angry, aggressive or “difficult”.

Our human needs are universal. The strategies we use to meet those needs are different, not difficult.


© 2015 Crowning Communications LLC, Berry Kruijning. All rights reserved.

What does this blogpost bring up for you? Please post it in the comments below!

I’ve designed a card set with uplifting quotes for people going through a rough time in a relationship, in conflict or just in life in general and called them Little Upsides ™. I regularly share my thoughts and beliefs behind these Little Upsides here on my blog.

Here is what a client wrote me recently about Little Upsides: “Just got your card set. Thank you so much. I love these…I pulled a few out randomly, and my colleague and I both couldn’t believe how pertinent they are – to work, home, personal…life! Wow, you’ve nailed it.” L.A.

Find more information on tips how to use Little Upsides here.

Nov 022015

FullSizeRender (1)

How knowing the source of your anger can heal your relationships.

You know the feeling. When things get difficult, angry outbursts often lead to more confrontation or withdrawal. Anger can be productive, think of activists, or it can be destructive, and we have unfortunately enough examples of that lately.

It’s not the anger, but what lies underneath the anger that we need to look at and become aware of in order to keep the peace at work and at home.

Years ago, I was a full-time working single mom with two little kids, juggling work-life balance and often feeling overwhelmed and guilty towards them. I regularly felt angry and directed my anger sometimes towards my kids or other family members who happen to be close by. Deep down inside I always knew I wasn’t angry with my kids. I knew there was something else going on that provoked my anger, but never could put my finger on it.

I discovered overtime that we are either angry with ourselves, because we made a mistake, feel overwhelmed, ashamed or attacked in a situation or we are angry at someone else. This other person did or said something that impacts us in a hurtful way.

I’ve heard anger sometimes referred to as a secondary emotion. I would like you think about it as anger being like the Tsunami after an earthquake hit us under the surface. When we find out what the earthquake was about, we can address these underlying vulnerabilities and the Tsunami calms down.

To examine the earthquake, here are 2 questions I want you to ask yourself:

1.  What did I feel first before I got angry?

Let’s say it is sadness that you felt first, or fear.

2. Then ask yourself: “What was my thought, just before I felt the sadness that caused my Tsunami of anger?”

A thought always precedes an emotion and so you can dig deeper into the cause of the earthquake. First we experience something, we form a thought or a belief (conscious or unconscious) that provokes a feeling that may lead to anger.

How would your relationships be improved, if you consistently express your feelings of sadness, shame, and frustration before you have an angry outburst? So you are angry, what are you really feeling beneath the anger?

What does this blogpost bring up for you? Please post it in the comments below!

I’ve designed a card set with uplifting quotes for people going through a rough time in a relationship, in conflict or just in life in general and called them Little Upsides ™. I regularly share my thoughts and beliefs behind these Little Upsides here on my blog.

Here is what a client wrote me recently about Little Upsides: “Just got your card set.  Thank you so much.  I love these…I pulled a few out randomly, and my colleague and I both couldn’t believe how pertinent they are – to work, home, personal…life!  Wow, you’ve nailed it.” L.A.

More information on tips how to use Little Upsides here.

Aug 032015

Do you remember the first few weeks in your new job?

Were you the one asking all the questions? Or did you dive in and give your opinion of how the job supposed to be done? Either way points out our individual strengths and the way we cope and manage tension in a situation.

I remember my first few weeks at my very first HR job in the United States, when everything and everyone was new, I felt insecure about how to do certain things, what certain words meant and was slow and thoughtful at first when making decisions in my new position.

I asked a lot of questions, so much that it drove my co-workers nuts. We regularly ended up in an argument with misunderstandings, irritations, feelings of resentment and angry looks. By asking questions and listening, I learn and analyze new situations, interact with people, solve problems and make decisions.

On the other hand, I’ve also worked with people who tell you what is right or wrong and what to do. They speak in statements and directives. Do you know someone who interacts this way?

Well, that drives me nuts.

The point of this story is that people have different, readily observable, behaviors in the presence of others, which are also called “Social Styles”. Social Styles is a research-based model designed in the 1960’s by Bolton, refined over the past 50 years and still used to understand differences and to uncover the source of interpersonal conflict and strengthen collaboration. This way of looking at human interactions refers to several dimensions in straightforward individual behaviors in the interactions with others.

In my example I shared with you one of these dimensions is the spectrum of asking questions on one end and speaking in statements on the other. This so called Ask/Tell spectrum refers to the degree to which we perceive the other’s behavior as an attempt to influence the thoughts and actions of those around him/her.

The difference between my co-worker and I was, that I was on one end of the Ask/Tell spectrum of taking up space in interactions with others: I asked questions and listened, I gave a lot of space.  My co-worker was on the other side of the spectrum of taking up space in interactions: speaking in statements and directives, and not taking much time to listen, making quick decisions. Either side of the spectrum has its strengths and weaknesses, obviously.

There are 4 distinct Social Styles that we can recognize in our co-workers. Not understanding each other’s Social Style causes conflict in the workplace, without really understanding what pushes our buttons and where the conflict comes from.

Successful are the people who know how to move from one style to the other, depending of whom they are interacting with. They know how to meet their own needs, cope and manage tension in the environment effectively, while building bridges between the different styles.

A better understanding of others’ Social Style and knowing how to adjust to the style of others helps us establish rapport and trust more easily with people who are on the other side of the spectrum. We become effective leaders, communicators and collaborators.

The Ask/Tell spectrum is just a small part of the Social Styles model. Join me for a comprehensive workshop, “Build Bridges, Not Boxes: The Leadership Essentials of Communication and Collaboration” at the end of July to find out what your Social Style is, learn how to recognize other styles and how to move between styles to create stronger work relationships and minimize conflict.

Feb 112015

Have you ever started a campfire that ended up being this annoying smoking pile of wood? It was a struggle to keep it going, because you’ve used wet fire starters or choked it with big blocks of wood? Well, I have. In all the years of camping, I’ve learned that it depends on what I do at the start of a campfire if it turns into a cozy fire or a smoking hell. Well, this may sound simple, but the same goes for conflict!

You have to understand one thing about conflict. Conflict is a dynamic process with a beginning, middle and end. Just like a campfire. Although we usually don’t get that warm feeling about conflict that we have when we think of a campfire.

A conflict typically starts with one particular event: the spark that starts the fire. Someone says or does something that triggers a reaction from us. We either choose to feed the fire with our destructive impulsive reactions such as an external confrontation or an outburst. Or we keep our response inside and let negative feelings fester, depending on our style and preference.

An alternative is to choose a response that is more constructive from the beginning, such as reaching out or listening to understand the others point of view. The more constructive our response is to the triggering event, the smaller the chance that a conflict escalates.

Just like with a campfire, how a conflict develops depends strongly on what we feed it in the beginning. Of course, this is as far as the metaphor with campfire works, because conflict is so much more complex. We want the conflict to resolve as soon as possible and we want the campfire to keep going. Either way, the events that occur early in the process and our behavior at the beginning of conflict are especially important for how the conflict unfolds. It’s up to you how you choose to respond to that initial spark.

What do you know about your own behavior at the onset of conflict? Are you choosing to feed the fire with destructive responses right from the start? Or are you helping to put out the fire with constructive behaviors that foster connection and mutual understanding? Have you seen a difference in the way conflict develops in your life, depending on which responses you chose?

If you find it hard not to react to that initial spark, try to stop, breathe and take a moment to think about the best response. Just observe your initial reaction, and don’t take any action yet until you know it’s a constructive one that helps in resolving the issue.