Erica Pinsky



The Power of Possibility


Did you know that over 95% of workplace disputes can be resolved within the first 3 – 5 days of occurrence - if someone makes a choice to speak up.


The problem is that the vast majority of us don’t make that choice.  Research shows that individuals on the receiving end of disrespect at work generally make the choice to avoid; to ignore; to, as I refer to it, “put up and shut up.”  That choice often leads to one of these outcomes: the employee goes off on a medical (stress) leave and/or quits his/her job.


Given that it would be beneficial for both employees and the organizations they work for if more people made a choice to speak up, a number of years ago I developed a presentation entitled Speak Up: Speak Out – Personal Power and Respect at Work.  Speak Up examines the choices we make when dealing with workplace conflict, including conflicts that can be defined as harassment and bullying.  The objective is to inform and inspire the audience to make a different choice – a choice to step into their power and speak up with respect.


The presentation is structured around the factors that contribute to the choice to “put up and shut up”: power, fear and skill.  I share strategies that allow participants to gain awareness about these factors and shift habitual behaviours that may not be serving them or supporting success at work.


Recently I had the opportunity to develop a new training session for a client for whom I had already delivered multiple sessions of Speak Up: Speak Out.  The client was interested in having a session that focused more specifically on the skill piece – the how of respectful communication.  We chose the title Conquer Conflict – Step into Your Power and Resolve with Respect.


A couple of weeks prior to the first delivery date, I travelled to Las Vegas to attend a business development event with Lisa Sasevich, the Queen of Sales Conversion.  Ms. Sasevich, whom I interviewed last fall for Canadian Small Business Week, built a multi-million dollar business in four short years.  She shares her systems and  formula for success with other “heart centered entrepreneurs” in her live events, on line offerings and products.


Throughout the 3 day event, Ms. Sasevich showed us, gave us examples of, and shared ideas about what might be possible for us in our businesses.  On the trip home, as I imagined all of the new products, strategies and initiatives I could develop and implement to support growth in my business, I began to appreciate how transformative it can be when one is really open to what might be possible, when one chooses to believe that a certain outcome can in fact happen.


It occurred to me that Ms. Sasevich had allowed me to discover the Power of Possibility.


I noticed during the event that I have all kinds of defense mechanisms, excuses and reasons that are almost like auto-responders – that won’t work for me because…, I can’t do that because….


At some point during those 3 days I started getting curious about those auto-responders.  I realized that in fact those were simply excuses that allowed me to avoid stepping out of my comfort zone, taking a risk, playing bigger, increasing my sphere of influence and achieving a greater level of success.  I realized that these auto-responders supported a whole host of beliefs around what I thought might be possible for me.


I realized that accepting the possibility of any outcome is the first step to achieving that outcome. Now of course, one might not achieve it.


Possibility is not probability.  It is not certainty.  However it is more than hope.


Hoping that something can be achieved is very different from accepting the possibility that something can be achieved.  Possibility speaks to vision, to imagination, to belief, to faith and intention.


As I resumed preparing for my upcoming Conquer Conflict workshop I had an insight about the choice we make to “put up and shut up,” as well as what might be contributing to the resignation stage in the conflict cycle.  At some point, when conflict goes on and is not resolved, we simply give up, we accept that this conflict is not going to be resolved and we become resigned to having to live with it.


I have always been curious about the choices we make in conflict.  It is clear that the choice to give up, like our choice to “put up and shut up” is one that does not serve or support us.  It is a choice that contributes to a whole host of undesirable personal and organizational outcomes.  It has become clear to me that one of the reasons so many of us make such choices is because we fail to access the Power of Possibility.


I talk about power in every presentation I give.  I talk about our relationship to our own power, about the sources of our power.  I always talk about how, regardless of circumstances, we always retain one critically important source of our power – our Power of Choice.


What I now appreciate, however, is that if we aren’t open to the possibility that a conflict can be resolved, the possibility that we can learn to speak up with respect, the possibility that behaviour can change, the possibility that a toxic relationship can be rebuilt, the possibility that the status quo can shift, we probably won’t choose to step into our power and speak up with respect.


I mean, what would motivate us to make that choice, if our underlying belief is it would be pointless to do so because there is no possibility that our choice to speak up will make any difference.


I often hear from workplace leaders and HR professionals that one of the most challenging situations they face is when an employee comes to speak to them about a problem but frames it as “I don’t want you to do anything about it.”  If the employee is asked to share the reason they don’t want that leader to “do anything about it” two things generally emerge – fear that it will make things worse and a sense that whatever is done won’t make any difference.  The possibility of resolution, of improvement in the working relationship,  is often inconceivable for that employee, in all likelihood because the conflict has gone on for so long that they are at the resignation stage.  They have, in effect, given up.


Workplace leaders– managers, supervisors, HR professionals and union reps, are typically the first point of contact in organizational complaint processes.  As I always say when speaking to, or working with these leaders, their task is not to resolve the issue for the employee.  It is not to, as I frame it, be the hero who rides in to save the day.  Rather it is about facilitating a conversation that will empower and support that employee to be the hero or heroine of his/her own story: to structure the conversation so that the employee is inspired, motivated and supported to step into their power and take action.


What leaders can choose to do is to be curious about both the fear the employee perceives, as well as their belief that taking action won’t make any difference.  A leader can help an employee to question that belief and assist them to appreciate that a different outcome is possible.  In doing so, that leader can inspire and empower that employee to choose to be part of the solution to their problem or conflict.


A very effective way to do that is by sharing a “happy ending” story, a story of a similar situation that had a positive outcome.  I often share stories of “bully bosses” who shifted their behaviours, or stories of long standing conflicts that were able to be resolved.  I now realize that I was in fact helping my clients to see what might be possible.


One of the characteristics that makes Lisa Sasevich such a powerful and influential leader is her ability to inspires others to action by sharing her experience and vision of what is possible.


Assisting an employee to believe that resolution is possible might prove to be one of the most valuable tools in a leaders’ tool kit.  Why wait?  The next conversation you have may be an opportunity to access the Power of Possibility.

 available as a PODCAST

"Our company recently implemented a Respectful Workplace training program. While researching and developing the program I discovered Erica’s book Road to Respect: Path to Profit. After reading it I realized that the information and guidance contained in the book would provide real value to our organization, so I distributed copies to the entire leadership team. For those organizations committed to building a respectful workplace, Road to Respect: Path to Profit is a must read."

Pauline Johnson
Envirotest Canada