Healthy Conflict: Stop Avoiding and Start Leading with Marlene Chism [Podcast]

Posted on October 12, 2022 by Nate Regier / 0 comments
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Dr. Nathan Regier is joined by Marlene Chism to talk about conflict and drama, and how they are related to communication, compassion and accountability. High-level leaders seek Marlene’s expertise as a thought partner, advisor, or coach when going through periods of transition or change. Organizations seek Marlene’s leadership development courses to teach mid-level and senior leaders the strategic communication skills to initiate conversations, to get results, and increase accountability. Marlene is the author of four books, including Stop Workplace Drama, No Drama Leadership, Seven Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice, and her newest book, From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading. Marlene has a degree in communications from Drury University and a master’s in Human Resource Development from Webster University. She’s also an advanced practitioner in narrative coaching. So Marlene comes with a lot of credentials, and I’m sure excited to welcome you today, Marlene, to On Compassion.

What’s in This Episode

  • The genesis of Marlene’s new book, From Conflict To Courage: How to stop avoiding and start leading.

  • What is conflict, and how does it start?

  • What is drama, and how does it interfere with healthy conflict?

  • What is emotional integrity, and how is it different from emotional awareness or emotional intelligence?

  • Building conflict capacity by attending to the Inner Game, the Outer Game, and Cultural Factors

  • What’s the difference between authenticity and being true to your best self?

Healthy Conflict: Stop Avoiding and Start Leading Highlights

  • Emotional integrity is different from emotional awareness or emotional intelligence. Marlene explained that emotional awareness is about knowing your feelings. Emotional intelligence is about using them effectively in relationships, but emotional integrity means taking full ownership over your feelings, your interpretations, and your experiences, and that includes facing your dark side.

  • I might be authentic, but am I being true to my best self? Being authentic seems to be the big theme song now expressed as, “Hey, I’m telling it like it is,” or, “I’m being myself. Deal with it.” In response, Marlene asks this question, “Are you being authentic to the way you truly want to be? Is that how you want to show up?

  • The fulcrum point of change is willingness. Nothing happens without willingness. If you don’t understand this, it’s difficult to deal properly with resistance. Marlene offers terrific wisdom on how to negotiate change around willingness with specific ways to address resistance.

VOICEOVER: Are you tired of the negativity and drama? Are you trying to make a difference only to be drained by people problems? The world needs more compassion, not just more civility and empathy. We need in the trenches compassion that struggles alongside people instead of against them. We need a radically different way to engage for breakthrough results, and now here’s your host, NATE REGIER.

NATE REGIER: I am thrilled to welcome MARLENE CHISM to my podcast today. I was particularly delighted to discover her work on conflict, because so much of what she’s developed reinforces compassionate accountability. High level leaders seek Marlene’s expertise as a thought partner, advisor, or coach when going through periods of transition or change. Organizations seek Marlene’s leadership development courses to teach mid-level and senior leaders the strategic communication skills to initiate conversations, to get results, and increase accountability. Marlene is the author of four books, including Stop Workplace Drama, No Drama Leadership, Seven Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice, and her newest book, From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading. Marlene has a degree in communications from Drury University and a master’s in Human Resource Development from Webster University. She’s also an advanced practitioner in narrative coaching. So Marlene comes with a lot of credentials, and I’m sure excited to welcome you today, Marlene, to On Compassion.

MARLENE CHISM: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.

NATE REGIER: Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you, I’ll jump right in. Given where our world is right now, I can’t imagine a better time to equip leaders with conflict and accountability communication skills. Will you tell me a little bit about your work, and why you’ve chosen this particular focus?

MARLENE CHISM: This particular book came about because I had been teaching a difficult conversations course. I have one on LinkedIn Learning, and then I have an actual full day workshop, either virtually or in person, on what I call a performance conversation model. And in it it does include accountability and a structure to a conversation which has skills that can be used by themselves as well within that structure, and so that was my goal, was to write a book on that, because I’d been doing it for so long. As it turned out, long story short, unless you want to dig into the details of it, I actually got a book on conflict, and then that piece is just a chapter in the book. And so as you said, all my work is tied around conflict, drama, trying to seek inner peace. So there is a theme running through my work, and it was really hard to leave the drama out of the title and try to kind of leap out of that a little bit. So from Conflict to Courage was that book that helped me to do that.

NATE REGIER: Well, I did notice there’s drama in all of the other titles, and I love to talk about drama. I love to talk about conflict, so I think this is going to be a great conversation. So this genesis of your new book, From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading, what’s the genesis? Who is this written for? What do you hope to accomplish?

MARLENE CHISM: It was written for any leader who sees conflict as a problem, whether that’s a middle level, high level executive, in between, someone that wants to be a leader, and the reason the subtitle is about avoiding is that I started seeing this pattern probably six or seven years ago. I started noticing that every major problem, whether it was litigation, whatever was going on, if you could trace it back, it was traced back to a conversation that should have happened but didn’t. In other words, a leader might move someone to a different department, and then that created its own ripple effect of, “That’s not fair, why do they get to work together, or, “I’m not being included.” Whatever the assumption was or the interpretation was of these avoidance tendencies that was causing the problem, or even firing someone saying, “Well, I’m just going to wait. I’ve documented three times, so now I can fire.” That’s really rooted also in avoidance.

MARLENE CHISM: And so everything that I saw was rooted in avoidance, and I’ve come up with a way to say avoidance shows up in different ways. And if we can find an easy way to talk about that and identify our own patterns, then we can start to change the way that we have conversations with each other.

NATE REGIER: Well, that’s a really powerful realization or discovery that you made that behind most problems is a conversation that should have happened, but it didn’t. Before we dive into a little bit about how you view conflict, and what’s going on with people, could you share a little bit about how you’ve structured the book to try to accomplish your goal?

MARLENE CHISM: Yeah. You mean how I divided up the chapters or…

NATE REGIER: Yeah, like take us through the way the book is written, or how you set it up. What’s the journey that a reader can expect?

MARLENE CHISM: I’ve set it up to where usually at the beginning of each chapter, there’s some sort of a case study written in a very informal way, just like, “Here’s Alicia was afraid of this,” or, “Bob was dealing with that.” It’s written from a perspective of real life leaders at different levels, and what they were going through. So I’m using that at the beginning to frame the issue, and so when I’m talking about my chapter on emotional integrity, I think I’m talking about a father and son that worked together in a construction business, and how their dynamics were as a family business and as two separate entities where one was more blue collar, my way or the highway, it’s my expertise. The other one was more educated and more strategic, and so the way that they fought with each other and really making people look at our patterns around anger.

NATE REGIER: Well, I do really like the way that the book is very practical. It’s very easy to read, and I know readers will be able to see themselves in these day-to-day situations that many of us are dealing with. I want to explore a little bit with you how you define conflict, and what conflict is, because there’s a couple things. One thing you’ve said is that there’s no conflict unless there’s an inner conflict, and you’ve also said conflict isn’t the problem, so let’s start with how do you define conflict?

MARLENE CHISM: Right. I started working with a way to define conflict that would take our personal fears out of it, because normally we see conflict as win-lose, or you’ve done something wrong, or I’m right, you’re wrong, a battle. And if you look it up in the dictionary, you see those really dramatic definitions of conflict. So I just started thinking about it as opposing drives, desires, and demands. So if you say, “Well, this person, instead of them being my enemy, let me just take that away for a minute, and I don’t even see a person, I just see two arrows. There’s one going one way, and one going the other, so that they have different drives, desires, and demands.” We have to stay out of judgment on that and say, “Well, that’s wrong. They shouldn’t have that desire. They shouldn’t have that demand.” We have to just say, “They have a different desire, drive and demand, and I have to get curious about that.”

MARLENE CHISM: So for example, if two business unit managers are arguing over budget, and you get into a fight, and you become enemies, you can step back and say, “They’re not the enemy. There’s drives, desires, and demands that I don’t understand as well as my own drives, desires, and demands that they don’t understand.” So that takes it out of that personal. It lets you get a little perspective and to start practicing that view of conflict, so that it’s not quite so scary. So that’s the way I define it, and then I say that conflict is not the problem. Mismanagement is the problem. When we think that conflict is about the situation, or when we think it’s about this other person doing something, it’s not that those facts don’t exist. Perhaps they do. The observable behaviors, the facts, the situation.

MARLENE CHISM: However, it’s not that that’s causing the problem. It’s how I respond, react, and deal with it. So if I react to it by avoiding, or if I react to it by getting aggressive, calling people names on social media, the conflict itself was not really the problem. It was how I expressed and experienced it. So that’s those two concepts together. And then the other concept that there is no conflict unless there’s an inner conflict. I realized that I think maybe during a meditation or something that I was doing where I was really digging deep about something going on in my own life, and I got to looking at where I avoided. I typically get aggressive, so I’m more on that spectrum, and we can talk about that later. It’s something I’ve really worked on, but what is it that’s creating this desire to say something, but then I don’t, and then I let it blow up because it got too intense?

MARLENE CHISM: And I started realizing that the only reason we don’t have conversations that seem difficult is because we first have an inner conflict about the situation. In other words, I may need to speak to you about something, but I’m afraid of your reaction, or we’ve got a deal we’re getting ready to put together, and I don’t want to lose that deal, so I’m just going to wait till we get through that, and I’m going to tell myself that we’re all adults, and it’s all going to be better later, but I always say if there’s drama in the boat, there’s going to be drama on the island. That usually it doesn’t just resolve itself. So I know that my own inner conflict, and I jokingly say, “I can have conflict without anyone else in the room,” and it shows up as, “Should I or shouldn’t I? Yeah, but then they’re going to say this.”

NATE REGIER: [inaudible 00:09:26].

MARLENE CHISM: And the conversation hasn’t even happened, and I’m already in conflict and telling stories about what might happen.

NATE REGIER: Thank you for unpacking that and sharing that. There’s a couple just really important things I’d like to highlight, and one of them is that people are afraid of conflict. We have negative associations with it, and your definition helps take the personalization out of it, helps it not have to be so scary, and just see it for what it is, and I appreciate that, because I’m a big believer that conflict is actually really important. It’s part of being human. It’s part of being different. It’s part of caring. If we didn’t have drives, desires, and demands, we wouldn’t care. And so I appreciate that, and also how you mention that there’s always stuff going on inside, and that we have to attend to that and deal with that. So you talked about the conflict isn’t the problem, but mismanagement is the problem. So is that what drama is, is the mismanagement of conflict?

MARLENE CHISM: Well, the way that I define drama, and I know you’re a big fan, and your work is built on the Drama Triangle. I’m a big fan of Dr. Karpman’s work as well, but I’ve taken some of his concepts and evolved it for my own use in my own way, but how I define drama in my other books is any obstacle to peace or prosperity. So the visual with that is there’s a boat, and there’s an island. We’re always trying to get from point A to point B. Point B is peace and prosperity. There’s only a couple of reasons we want something. We think we’re going to expand, or we think we’re going to get relief from something. It’s avoid pain [inaudible 00:10:56] pleasure. So peace and prosperity, we think this will resolve something, or we think it’ll give us something to grow.

MARLENE CHISM: And so drama is the shark. So the shark is between the boat and the island. So drama is any obstacle to peace and prosperity, and when we see another person as an obstacle, that becomes our drama. And so the argument can be a drama. The distraction can be a drama, but whatever stands in the way of us achieving or getting our drive, desire, and demand, that becomes drama for us.

NATE REGIER: Got it. Got it. Well, your book is about building the capacity to do conflict in a healthy way to be able to negotiate that. What is involved in building conflict capacity?

MARLENE CHISM: Conflict [inaudible 00:11:38].

NATE REGIER: And by the way… Sorry, but by the way, before I let you answer, I just want to emphasize how much I appreciate this concept of conflict capacity, because I’m getting tired of conflict styles, and the reason is because that’s great we all have conflict styles, but regardless of our style, we still have to be able to have the capacity to do conflict. And so styles might help us understand, but it doesn’t give us a free pass to not do anything about it.

MARLENE CHISM: Well, human beings love to have the quick answer. If I understand that all these things, whether it’s DISC or whether it’s Myers-Briggs, I’m not going to debate whether that is something I agree with or not. It helps you to understand yourself, but unfortunately we hide behind it. Well, I’m a high D, so therefore I’m just being authentic, and you have to adapt to me. And you know what? You’re an S, so I’m going to walk on eggshells because you won’t understand if I get directive. We manipulate instead of build relationships. So I like what you’re saying that these conflict styles, there’s a lot to memorize there, and what I say is that you’ve got plenty of work to do without trying to change other people. I have plenty of work to do on myself without worrying about what style your conflict is or trying to [inaudible 00:12:46] and change myself, and then become even more frustrated, and then blame you for that.

MARLENE CHISM: So to me, I just look at how can I… I was telling a real aggressive CEO the other day that said, “We are what we are.” He said, “We’re born into our culture and our circumstances, and we’re wired and programmed.” And I said, “True, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have more tools in the toolbox.” True, perhaps, but they’ve proven that the brain has plasticity. We can grow, we can shift, we can change it, and even now they’re questioning whether or not personality is permanent. So there’s a lot of new information coming out on all of that, and it’s fine, but we all to put things in a box and say, “This is how it is,” versus, “What about me? How can I expand?” Because really I used to be afraid of working with real high level, high D aggressive type of people. I kind of felt intimidated like they wouldn’t listen, or they were so loud, and I’m that way to some people.

MARLENE CHISM: Some people think I’m that way depending on where they are. So it’s all on a spectrum, and in my mind, that’s my experience to get to grow, and expand, and to say, “Can I just say that’s just the way they are, and that’s fine the way they are? What do I need to do to represent myself, speak my truth for the purpose of getting to the island, so to speak, so that we can align?” So I look at it more as personal responsibility than worrying about labeling everybody, and taking all these personality tests, and thinking that that’s going to solve the problem.

NATE REGIER: Yeah. Well, solving the problem it sounds like means developing new skills, and so what is involved in building conflict capacity?

MARLENE CHISM: The three things that I’ve put together with three overlapping circles, I guess a Venn diagram, would be there’s the outer skills, the outer game, and a lot of… If a company does develop individuals, it will always be on the outer game. It’ll be the skill sets. They’ll watch LinkedIn videos. They’ll have workshops. They’ll do those evaluations and whatnot, the soft skills training. And that is great to a point, but I often say, “We all know the answer in a workshop.” In fact, I see like I’ve done these five different programs on LinkedIn learning, and I love my learners. They write to me and say, “This changed my life and all this.” However, did you just take it, and get the certification, and show that, and you think that an hour’s worth of training has given you all the answers, or are you taking those skills and practicing this one skill this week, reviewing it again, and practicing another, because that’s the inner game?

MARLENE CHISM: So the outer game is I have the knowledge, and I understand you say it this way, and you speak to the positive and not to the negative, and you ask for what you want instead of blame other people. Those are concepts, and mindsets, and skill sets that you can gain by having awareness about it, and normally we are aware of what other people do wrong instead of what we do wrong. And so the second part is the inner game, which is my own desire, awareness, deliberate practice, emotional integrity, everything that’s my spiritual inner journey about how I want to show up a leader, and how I test that in life. That inner game, if that’s missing, the skills will only go so far, because there’ll be an underlying energy that people feel when you try that one statement that’s supposed to work every time. They’ll hear your sarcasm. They’ll see your discounting.

MARLENE CHISM: So you have to have this presence and awareness, and I call it this spiritual quality, and I don’t know anything else to call it other than a consciousness, a self-awareness, a mindfulness of how you want to show up as a leader, so that’s the inner game. Then there’s the culture, and the culture is the environment. It’s how the executives behave. It’s the standard norms, and it’s everything that affects how we do business, the customers that we serve, the way that we survive on the inside, work together on the inside to survive on the outside. So culture is really going to determine in part at least, a big part, in how capable you’re going to become in a certain department or industry, because you might be a perfect leader for one type of organization, but not for another, depending on your own values.

MARLENE CHISM: So if the leaders are like, “We’re Stepford wives here. We’ve all got the same kumbaya and embrace conflict, because that’s who we are, and what that means, we don’t use the word performance, because that’s going to really… We want to be about this collaborative.” When you’ve got that kind of an idealistic framework at the top, and they hire a thought leader to come in and change things, it’s not going to work. It’s just not going to work.

NATE REGIER: Yeah. I thank you. So you’re talking about the outer game of kind of talking the talk and knowing the stuff, the inner game of really that kind of spiritual attitude and then the culture, which are all the systems and process that help that work. We’re big on mindset, and we actually discovered over the years that it seemed like people in training either could really run with the material and the tools, and really apply them, or they seemed to just keep hitting a wall, and it seemed to do with mindset, and it was all the inner game that you’re talking about is when things are not right on the inside, you can work hard, but it just doesn’t really translate.

MARLENE CHISM: It doesn’t and personal responsibility is a big part of that. I know that’s a big part of your work as well because of the Drama Triangle, but I see that lacking so much, and you’ve got to adopt a mindset that I am responsible for my experience, even if you did something. I’m still responsible for my experience, my interpretation, my actions afterwards, and you are responsible for yours, and we are co-creators, but in the end, I have choice. And that’s really a lot of my work is based on that foundation, because I find that looking at people as a victim just simply does not work in an organization.

NATE REGIER: Yeah, yeah. And I like to say that no matter what happened before, I’m 100% responsible for what I do next.


NATE REGIER: And that’s it. No more, no less, and it seems like a lot of conflict gets mismanaged when we lose track of who’s responsible for what. Are there any particular patterns you’ve seen? Because I really am about this, and I was going to ask you about this responsibility for kind of our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviors. Are there any patterns you see where we maybe misunderstand our responsibility, and it starts to morph into bad things?

MARLENE CHISM: Yes, I think that we don’t fully understand responsibility, because we don’t think about it enough. We think about what other people aren’t doing to be responsible. That’s so easy to see, “Oh, well, they’ve got money for tattoos and cigarettes, but they’re asking for a handout.” You know what I’m saying?

NATE REGIER: Yeah, yeah.

MARLENE CHISM: It’s like we’re so fast to judge other people’s values, and behaviors, and whatnot, and we never think to look inward like, “What part did I own on this? Where did I not step up? Where was I even not aware?” And that’s still my responsibility to be aware. It was a mistake. I have a concept in the book about balancing choice and responsibility, and that’s something that came to me early on where I started to see that the more responsibility you have, the more choices you should have, and the more choices and freedoms you get, the more responsibility you have to take to equal that out. And I don’t think we understand that as a society at all.

MARLENE CHISM: And if you look at even getting a driver’s license, when you get a driver’s license, that does not mean that you can just go out, and race, and drag race, and not have insurance. I mean, you’re going to have to turn your car in probably at midnight with your [inaudible 00:19:51] who are going to have to get your insurance. You’re going to have to drive the speed limit. There’s responsibility on the other end of that freedom, and we don’t understand that sometimes.

NATE REGIER: Right now, I’m working with an organization, and we’ve had these conversations about people that have an administrative role or a leadership position, and it may not be full time, but they do have some administrative positions, and it seems like there’s maybe lots of responsibility but very little choice, and there’s not really a true understanding or training about how those two go together, and what does it really mean to do this role. So I appreciate you highlighting that. You mentioned emotional integrity before, and I would love to hear a little bit more about that. It was one of my favorite concepts in the book.

MARLENE CHISM: Thank you [inaudible 00:20:39].

NATE REGIER: Will you unpack emotional integrity, and why this is so important during conflict?

MARLENE CHISM: Yes. I have a belief that most of us aren’t really aware or honest about what we feel, and therefore we do blame, and we fail to take responsibility. It’s so hard to take ownership of your dark side, and your jealousy, your resentments. It’s always easier to let that energy come out in someone else’s fault, and especially if you have power it’s easy to do, because you have power to do it. But emotional integrity, I make a distinction between that and emotional awareness or an emotional intelligence. I mean, emotional awareness is you have to have that in order to have either one. You’ve got to be aware of this is how I feel. I feel anger, and it’s I’m experiencing it this way in my body, so feelings and emotions.

MARLENE CHISM: And then the second part of… or so that’s emotional awareness. Emotional intelligence is I’m smart. I kind of know how to use my emotions, and I know how to talk to someone, but integrity is that I’m going to take ownership that I’m the one who feels anger. I’m the one who has resentment. Yes, they behaved inappropriately, and there can be facts around that based on the law, based on the agreements, whatever, but I take ownership that this is how I’m experiencing and interpreting this. And I have found, by the way, if you change your interpretation, you change your experience, but that’s another story. So take ownership.

NATE REGIER: Yep. Yep. Well, Einstein said, “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.”

MARLENE CHISM: It’s so true. It’s so true.

NATE REGIER: So it’s absolutely true. Yeah.

MARLENE CHISM: Yeah. So take ownership of your experience. This is what I’m experiencing. This is what I’m perceiving. I’m not saying it’s the facts or the truth, but it’s what I’m experiencing. So I’m taking ownership of it. Maybe three other people don’t see it that way, but this is what I’m experiencing. Then it’s like I got to face my dark side. My dark side is I’d like revenge. My dark side is I can’t wait till the next time to be sarcastic, to put you in your place and show you where you’re doing the same thing. We all have these dark sides that we’re real embarrassed about, but the truth is everybody has it. You never get rid of that, unless you’re a monk, and you’re just sitting in a cave by yourself. If you’re around other people, you’re going to get triggered. You’re going to grow. So just face your dark side, and then represent yourself.

MARLENE CHISM: And this is the biggest one, because if we’re in a conflict, if I can say, “I’m really feeling angry right now, so I want to take 15 minutes, or I want to talk about it again tomorrow. I’m still in the conversation. I’m not shutting it down, but I need to gather my thoughts. I’m tired. I haven’t had food,” whatever. So just representing yourself about what’s going on like, “I’m feeling confused as we’re talking through this,” or I was telling a person that was seeking some work for me, I said, “When I hear you say what you want me to do, I feel very heavy, and it feels overwhelming.” And she went, “Oh.” And I said, “Because the technology part of it it’s like I would have to have such a learning curve, and it’s not that I’m not interested in working.” She goes, “Oh, no, we would do the technology.”

MARLENE CHISM: So just by me representing myself of I want this, but I feel heavy, and I don’t want to pretend that I’m going to take this just because it’s a lot of money, perhaps. I want to be honest about what is required of me, because then it’ll be a great relationship, and we’ll be in the flow of it. So just representing yourself, and I also see how this helps in an organization. I wrote an article on my LinkedIn newsletter about stop playing power of attorney. And what I mean by that is I don’t get to speak for everybody else like, “Hey, everybody believes that this is the wrong way to go,” or, “Three people are really upset about…” No, let those three people come into the room and take ownership or let me tell you that I don’t like it. Maybe others do, but I’m going to be honest about it. I don’t like it.

NATE REGIER: The devil has enough advocates, right? We don’t need it to take… Yeah.


NATE REGIER: I love that. Well, I want to go back to something you said, before we get too far from it, about claiming my experience, and so often I think there’s so many common phrases that we hear that reinforce that we’re blaming other people for our feelings. Even something as simple as, “How did that make you feel,” or, “You made me angry,” or, “You really ticked me off,” or, “That really triggered me,” those statements, those turns of phrases actually imply that I’m not responsible for my feelings.


NATE REGIER: I don’t know if the listeners picked up on how carefully you chose your words when you said, “I feel heavy,” and then you said, “Because here’s how I interpret what’s happening. Here’s my experience.” It’s not, “You’re stressing me out with this interview, but I’m feeling heavy.” So I think it’s very careful ways that we say things to reinforce, so we are in charge of our feelings.

MARLENE CHISM: Yeah, and once we start doing that, we notice all the time when others don’t.

NATE REGIER: Oh, yeah.

MARLENE CHISM: And then we notice when we don’t. I’m not always that perfect. I make mistakes here. I say, “You’re making me so mad.” And then I’ll go, “Well, I’m angry because of this, and this is how interpreted it. And so was that what you meant it to be?” And then we can really have a dialogue about that.

NATE REGIER: One of my favorite, I’m reading Brené Brown’s book now, Atlas of the Heart. I recommend it for anybody that’s into this business, but I think she’s the one that talks about this idea of the story I’m telling myself is, and I love that, because that’s really you have to own your stuff when you start a sentence that way, because three people could experience the very same thing, tell three different stories, and come to three different emotions about it. So the second half of your book is so good, it’s so easy to understand, and it’s so practical for here’s how to have tough conversations. And there’s a million models and books out there about conversations, but what I like about yours, and I guess I like it because I’m kind of into this, is it’s not a prescription. It’s not, “Say this, say this.”

NATE REGIER: It’s really a blueprint with strategies, and that’s so much more helpful than a prescription. And rather than getting into the details, I want to leave that for people to read your book, From Conflict to Courage. I’m going to hold it up. From Conflict to Courage, yes, build your conflict capacity. So I could not agree more, and we’ll put information in the show notes, but rather than getting all into that, I want to lift out a couple juicy morsels, and we have maybe five or 10 minutes left, so I want to get into a few, and then give you a chance to finish with if there’s a few things you really want to be sure we know. The danger of justification, feeling justified is such a pervasive human need, and you talk a little bit about how this gets in the way of healthy, productive conflict. Will you say something more about that?

MARLENE CHISM: Well, one of the ways I think we justify, I always say “Anger is not the truth, but it’s the fuel that can get you there.” We say, “Well, look, I’m just being a straight shooter. I’m a high D, I’m a D on the DISC. [inaudible 00:27:11]”

NATE REGIER: I’m just telling it like it is.

MARLENE CHISM: “I’m just saying though I’m a straight shooter. I don’t know BS. There’s no drama here, right? And after all, I’m just being authentic. And if you don’t like it, that’s kind of your problem. I’m just being authentic.” So the, “I’m just being authentic,” is becoming a real big theme song right now across the whole world, just I got to be me. And so this is my question, so is that the way you want to be? Is that how you want to show up? Because I’m authentic in many ways. I’ve got the three year old part of myself that wants my way. I’ve got the sarcastic part of me that can put someone down in five seconds, and that’s being authentic too, but am I authentic to that, or am I authentic to the part of me that’s the higher self, that wants to grow, that wants to show up in a certain way, that wants to expand, that wants to be more habitual in what I’ve created intentionally?

MARLENE CHISM: So that’s fine if that’s what you want to be authentic to, then what you’re saying is, “I can’t grow. I’m mean. I’m rude, I’m a high D. This survey says so. I’m a squirrel. I’m a rat. I’m a dog, whatever, and I’m going to be this way because this has got to be me.”

NATE REGIER: Deal with it. Yeah, yeah. I’ve often challenged leaders or people that are learning new tools to don’t confuse discomfort with inauthenticity. Discomfort just means you’re learning and growing. It doesn’t mean you’re not being you, but if you’re just doing what’s comfortable and when it comes naturally, and you think that’s the same as authenticity, maybe you’re not pushing yourself enough. Maybe there’s some room for growth.

MARLENE CHISM: Yeah, that’s a great insight. In fact, one of the things I tell people is that with awareness comes aversion. The more self-aware you become, you’re horrified that that’s how I showed up, and others see it that way, and that was a wart on my face, and I didn’t know it was there. So with awareness comes aversion. Just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean…

NATE REGIER: It’s not good for you. Okay. Marlene, willingness and the magic question. I love this. What a wonderful new tool to deal with resistance, and I’ve been using it.


NATE REGIER: I’ve been using it in coaching. Oh, yeah. And it’s fantastic, and I’ve used it on myself, and it’s a great way to not get locked into a power struggle when we’re going through a change process. Will you share just briefly kind of what this is about and share an example of how it works?

MARLENE CHISM: Yes. So there’s an idea in the book I’ve been working with for a very long time, and the idea is that there’s a place where change happens, and if you don’t understand that place energetically as a mindset, as an energy, so to speak, if you don’t understand that, you can be fooled into thinking someone is willing to go along, or that they’re changing when in fact they’re debating you at every turn, and you don’t see it. And the place where change happens I call the fulcrum point of change, and that fulcrum point of change is willingness. And the idea is that nothing happens without willingness, not any kind of change.

MARLENE CHISM: So when you’re in a conversation with someone and you say, “I need you to increase your sales 3% by calling 25 more people this month,” when they say, “Well, I’ll try, but it’s going to be hard,” that tells you right there, there’s resistance, and there’s going to be an excuse on the other end of it. So you’ve got to listen for what the obstacle is, so I hate that thing. “There is no try,” Yoda said. I mean, there’s effort. We try [inaudible 00:30:22] don’t. But instead of quoting Yoda, so my statement is you acknowledge the magic phrase is, “Would you be willing?”

MARLENE CHISM: So when someone says, “Well, I’ll try, but it’ll be hard.” “Yes, I know it may be difficult. Would you be willing to go for it anyway?” “Well, it’s not really so much as difficult, it’s that it’s going to really take some extra time, about three more hours.” “I understand. Are you willing to put in the three extra hours?” “Well, it may not really be that. It’s just that I’ve got babysitting issues that happen, and I’m going to have to figure out a new…” “Oh, would you be willing to get the new babysitter?”

MARLENE CHISM: So I give different techniques in the book for either overcoming the objection or reducing it down, and willingness, the testing for willingness, this isn’t to say that it’s going to change it or make someone go, “Sure. I’m willing.” It’s to say, “If I asked you, would you be willing to switch to Zoom,” then if I make a lot of excuses, it means I’m not really willing. I’m going to find barriers.

NATE REGIER: This is a great section, a great section for coaches. I really was thinking about anybody who’s negotiating change with people and wonderful. I often distinguish when we’re teaching these skills about the difference between asking someone if they can and asking them if they will. And so often it’s common for us to say, “Can you help me with this,” or how about this one, “Have you had time to look at that email I sent three weeks ago?” And I want to say, “Oh, I had three weeks of time.” The real question is, “Did I look at the email?” And so we kind of move around this, and it really is a different question to say, “Will you do this,” versus, “Can you?”

MARLENE CHISM: Would you be willing? Would you be willing?

NATE REGIER: Yeah, fantastic.

MARLENE CHISM: Because it’s really hard to say, “No.” It’s hard to say, “No,” and what I want to say to people too is that a strong, “No,” is not necessarily resistance. It can be clarity. No, [inaudible 00:32:08]. If I have the choice, and I say, “No,” there’s a consequence perhaps, but if I say, “No,” that is not necessarily resistance just because you experience it as resistance, right?

NATE REGIER: Just because I didn’t get what I want. But what I also appreciate is when people want things, and they are willing, they go to great lengths, they’re incredibly creative, and so I think it’s also an accountability question to say, “If you’re not willing, I’m not going to judge you for that. I just need to know, because if you’re putting a lot of energy into not doing it right now with all of the excuses, if you’re willing, my guess is you’ll put just as much energy into solving it. So as long as we kind of know where we stand.”

MARLENE CHISM: Because it creates agreement. That creates agreement, and that like what you said, then you follow up with accountability, because when someone says they’re willing, is there a date to it? Is there a time attached? What are the goals? And then at that point you have those conversations to see if there was follow through.

NATE REGIER: Yeah. So your book doesn’t mention compassion specifically, but I’m a huge fan of it, and I see the thread throughout the whole book. Our definition of compassion is demonstrating that people are valuable, capable, and responsible in every interaction, and that seems to be a lot of what you’re teaching leaders to do during conflict is through this conversation, make sure that we never stray from the fact that we’re both valuable, we are both capable, and we are both responsible. I’m curious, what’s your perspective on that?

MARLENE CHISM: You’re exactly right, because the more I get to know myself, and I see my own dark side and my flaws, and when I get my intention as a leader to show up in a certain way and not justify my bad behavior, when I am so clear on how I’m going to show up, and I’m so clear that when I have to talk with you that I’m there to support you instead of find ways to document so I can fire, if I can clean up the negative emotional lack of integrity around all of that, then we can have a real conversation. So it really is very much grounded in the two rules, I guess. It’s really grounded in seeing people for what they can bring, and who they really are versus all the distractions and drama that you’re seeing when you’re angry with them. Yeah, it’s full of compassion.

NATE REGIER: Well, anyone who has listened this far has experienced your wit, your incredible clarity, and can tell how much you have thought through these things and tried to separate the wheat from the chaff. And when you say, “Oh, I can be sarcastic. I can do this.” I was like, “Yeah, I can see all those sides of you. I think you’d be a lot of fun to hang out with after hours.” But also I can tell you’ve done a lot of work on yourself to round those edges and also take responsibility for those things, and I see that coming through in the book. Your book is not just a bunch of prescriptions. It’s not just another someone taking a stab at something. This truly is a practical, practical toolkit, and I’ve brought up some of the themes that resonated with me. I’m kind of selfish that way. It’s my podcast, but this is your book. It’s your baby, and I’m curious, are there any other sections or significant things that you want to be sure to lift up where this book really closes a gap?

MARLENE CHISM:  Wow. Huh. I would say I love the topic of identity, leadership identity, and I know you must because of your background, and you’re a psychologist. Psychiatrist, psychologist, right?

NATE REGIER: Psychologist. Yeah.

MARLENE CHISM: A psychologist. I love studying about identity, because when we see ourselves differently, we are different, and we behave differently, and identity drives behavior. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Dr. Benjamin Hardy, but he has a book called Personality Isn’t Permanent. It’s quite life changing, actually, even as old as I am, because I started looking at things that I was not happy about, even at this point in my life, in my sixties, and he’s talking about identity. And so I started playing with the question, “What identity would I have to have to be experiencing this?” And from that, I saw beliefs I had about age, about marriage, about all these things that were kind of obstacles for me, but they were just under the radar, just a general sense of unhappiness.

MARLENE CHISM: So I really loved the idea that identity drives behavior, and if a leader does not, if you promote someone, and they don’t have a chance to work on their identity before they become a leader, they’re going to struggle for a number of years, because they’re going to try to become a best friend or a hero kind of leader, because they don’t know what leadership means, so unless you have a definition for that. So I always just tell people to play with your identity, try on different ways of being, and see what resonates, and see what expands you. So identity is a big, big idea for me.

NATE REGIER: I’m glad you brought that up. I actually had that as one of the questions if we had time, and there is a great section of the book that identifies three leadership identities and so important, so important. And you mentioned that our leadership identity determines our behavior, and I would add that our behavior then reinforces our identity, and so if we can’t see behavior change, it’s probably because our identity is being justified over and over and needs to change. Wow, wonderful stuff, and the book is fantastic, Marlene. Check Marlene out for the different resources you provide, and we’ll put a lot of those in the show notes. Any final words of wisdom or encouragement that you’d like to share with people out there dealing with conflict?

MARLENE CHISM: Yeah, I would say work on yourself and also seek clarity. This thread goes through all my books that in all drama there’s always a lack of clarity. And in much conflict, there’s a lack of clarity, and so I say just because you have a lack of clarity doesn’t mean that you have drama, but if you have drama, I guarantee there’s a lack of clarity, whether it’s on processes, procedures, rules, roles, priorities. So seek that to start dissecting where the conflict is. You can almost always find an element that leads to lack of clarity.

NATE REGIER: Well, a rising tide raises all ships, and the more of us that are out there trying to teach good conflict skills, we need it so bad in our world right now. So thank you, Marlene, for what you’re doing. Thanks for who you are. Thanks for the tremendous work, and research, and experience that you have put into this book and to your whole career. Thanks again. How can people reach you if they’d like to learn more?

MARLENE CHISM: They can find me on LinkedIn. It’s MARLENE CHISM. If you follow me, you’ll know when I go live, and you can see my articles and so on. Then on my website at, and of course, From Conflict to Courage you can get on Amazon.

NATE REGIER: Fantastic. Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading. Fantastic. Marlene, thank you so much. I hope our listeners appreciate this or enjoy this as much as I did.

MARLENE CHISM: Well, I appreciate it. I just bought your book, and I’ve been reading it too, so great minds think alike.

NATE REGIER: All right. All right. Thank you.

MARLENE CHISM: Thank you, bye-bye.

NATE REGIER: Well, how fun was that? Here are my top three key takeaways from a great conversation with MARLENE CHISM. First of all, emotional integrity is different from emotional awareness or emotional intelligence. Marlene explained that emotional awareness is about knowing your feelings. Emotional intelligence is about using them effectively in relationships, but emotional integrity means taking full ownership over your feelings, your interpretations, and your experiences, and that includes facing your dark side. Second key takeaway is that I might be authentic, but am I being true to my best self? Being authentic seems to be the big theme song now expressed as, “Hey, I’m telling it like it is,” or, “I’m being myself. Deal with it.” In response, Marlene asks this question, “Are you being authentic to the way you truly want to be? Is that how you want to show up?” The third key takeaway is that the fulcrum point of change is willingness. Nothing happens without willingness. If you don’t understand this, it’s difficult to deal properly with resistance. Marlene offers terrific wisdom on how to negotiate change around willingness with specific ways to address resistance.

VOICEOVER: I hope you enjoyed this episode of On Compassion with Dr. Nate. If you found new hope or guidance for your life, will you share it with your tribe? If you know someone who could be a great guest, please let us know. Are you ready for a practical way to bring more compassion to your organization? We have a solution. Visit Check out the show notes for links and contact information, and remember to subscribe, rate, and give a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening. Until next time, keep your compassion mindset engaged.

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