Experiments in tinkering and thought

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How to Deal with Workplace Conflicts

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Did you ever have a co-worker that started out really nice and but then after granting them one favour, you cannot get rid of them? Do you have a supervisor or a report with whom you constantly get into arguments due to misunderstandings. We often get caught up psychologically in these kinds of problems, sometimes even physically.

Unfortunately, this is the type of situation is quite common. Fear not! There are straightforward solutions – the book Working With You is Killing Me examines a wide variety of situations at work. These include:

  • Problems due to lacking set personal boundaries
  • Conflicts with co-workers
  • Conflicts with Supervisors
  • Conflicts with subordinates

Each section describes types of situations that occur in the workplace, and then illustrates them with examples. Even though I may not have lived many of them, I have certainly had people talk to me about them. Imagine a situation where a coworker ask to use your desk phone over the lunch break one day, and from that day onward they go to your office on a regular basis to use your phone without your permission. Rather than saying somthing, many of us try to avoid conflict at all cost, thus accepting the constant stress that this entails.

Fear not! No matter the situation there are many steps that we can do to solve these situations:

1. Unhook physically
When we have a serious conflict, our blood pressure rises, our breathing quickens, we start sweating, along with a variety of other physical symptoms. The first step to solve conflicts involves disconnecting from the symptoms in the body. To do this, we need to take a deep breath, limber up, do some exercise to release some of that tension. This leads us to the next step.

2. Unhook mentally
One we have calmed the physical symptoms, now we need to try to separate mentally from the problems that were triggered at the start. The big factor here is to remember that the behaviours that trigger us are very rarely personal; other people’s behaviour are due to the circumstances they are living at the time, and their personality. Furthermore, we need to take stock of the situation: what is happening? What is our role? (e.g. letting someone use your space.) What is their role? (e.g. using my desk without explicit permission.) What are my options? (e.g. let it go on and go crazy, talk to them to put a stop to it, get a supervisor to intervene.) Actually selecting a solution then boils down to rational analysis and choice. There, the solution depends on the initial problem, but normally involves setting our own boundaries that address the problem.

3. Unhook verbally
The next step is to communicate our decision with the other person involved.

4. Unhook with business tools
This final steps is to confirm the issues communicated in step 3 either by referring to tools that are already in place (e. g. employee guidelines, or an employer’s manual), or just reiterating over the conversation and setting expectations for the future.

The crux of these steps lies in two simple ideas: 1) The best solution is most often clear with a level head, so we first need to cool down and disconnect before looking for it, and 2) other people’s behaviours are very rarely about you. I love the way Olin Miller put it: “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.

The other intuition that often comes into play in these situations is the desire to get other people to improve (or to look at it another way, to prove that they are wrong). The is rarely effective though, as self-change has to be internally motivated, and in many cases people are more prone to reinforce their beliefs rather than change them when confronted with outside forces.

So the next time you have a workplace conflict, remember: relax, disconnect and decide, then talk about it, and finish with follow-up. Do it enough, and it will become a habit that will keep your mind clear and your working days pleasant!

This article is based on the book “Working with you is killing me” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster. I bought the book on Kindle. It came recommended by Josée Blaquière, a leadership coach for a leadership and project management retreat I took recently. I did not make any money by writing the article, but make a small commission for purchases through affiliate links.

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Book Commentary – Ariana Huffington’s Thrive

Full disclosure: I rented the audiobook from the library, but was in not contacted or paid to write this. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases for the linked Amazon products.

I have recently listened to the book “Thrive” by Ariana Huffington, as read by Agapi Stassinopoulos. For those in Quebec, the audiobook is available (free!) with the Bibliothèque et Archive Nationales du Québec, which you have access to if you live in Quebec and show up at one of the locations once every two years to keep your subscription active.

As a short summary, this book is made to convince the readers that rather than seeking financial success and power, the objectives of our lives should be optimize a third metric, which is to thrive. Similarly to her book ‘The Sleep Revolution’, she breaks down the topic into several facets, which she then backs up with some science, and more prominently (at least to me), anecdotes from her own life.

I will preface the next part with two things: I know of the Huffington post, and occasionally read articles on their site, but was not so familiar with Ms. Huffington until I read The Sleep Revolution recently. Furthermore, I have only listened to a few audiobooks, but one of them was a Brandon Sanderson Novel by Graphic Audio, which set a very high bar for future audiobooks in my mind.

The first thing that really struck me as I began listening to the audiobook was the Greek accent of the narrator, which is Ms Huffington’s sister, as it turns out. I quickly got accustomed to it, and it is a quite pleasant voice, though somewhat monotone by parts.

As for the actual content of the book, it is rife with much wisdom that I have been hearing more often in recent times: rather than trying to succeed for the sake of succeeding, live the moment and do what you are good at and enjoy, and this will in turn produce excellence and success as byproducts. This also brings to mind the concept of turning the flywheel by Jim Collins (which I have yet to read).

She focusing on four main pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. These boil down to taking the time to enjoy your life, digest events as they occur to gain perspective, and give of yourself to others. She cites several studies that support the thesis of the book.

It is very satisfying to hear how she develops each point, but I cannot help but think it is only because my views align with hers. I would be interested to do some digging for research that shows the contrary (i.e. that focusing only on work is better.) I am aware of a few interesting articles on the topic, but have not taken the time to fully comb the literature.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the book, but it did not seem groundbreaking enough to me to really recommend to others. Someone like me that already believes firmly in work-life balance will perhaps be a bit more convinced of it, but a workaholic is liable to see it as some esoteric baloney and ignore it. If you want to hear (or read) some interesting statistics, and hear many stories from a wise Greeh Yaya, give it a read and you may learn a few things.

Affiliate link for the book:
Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder
Other books referred to in the article:
The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time
Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great

Photo by Matthew Bowden from FreeImages

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University Research and Startup Commercialization – from a Graduate Student’s Perspective

My most recent area of interest has been business, entrepreneurship, and startups. My experiences have mostly been in university chemistry departments, which may or may not translate to other disciplines. Furthermore, these opinions stem mostly from my impressions more so than hard facts, but I’m always open to discussion and other perspectives.

Since I started my doctorate at Université de Montréal, my project has been aimed at moving the project to a stage that could feasibly be commercialised, in addition to the more fundamental side of the research. Though there is a small area of overlap between commercial and academic end goals, research with this dual objective can be difficult to manage. Continue reading

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Onigiri – Japanese Rice Balls

I first encountered these beauties when I was on my way back to Tokyo from Kyoto. I was about to go take the nozomi train and wanted


Onigiri while waiting for the train.

to grab a bite on the go. Most of the convenient store (or supermarket) food over there ranged from decent quality all the way to good quality. I did not really encounter any bad food in Japan. That is not to say that absolutely everything was to my taste, but when it was not, it was not a matter of quality, it was just that I did not like the taste.

As far as I can tell, onigiri simply means rice balls Continue reading

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Steak Frites

Today we tackle a classic.  I am not going to claim that it is an improvement, or the best version ever, but I did have some fun trying variations around the batter used for making the fries.  For the steak, I usually try to go as simple as possible and let the meat speak as it should.

So I wanted to get fries that were ideally crispy and flavourful. Generally speaking, when I have made fries that are simply fried, or even double fried, they would end up crisp for a very short time, generally about 5-10 minutes, and then become moist.  Some of the best crispy fries that I have had were very crispy and nicely flavoured, over at Poulet Bronzé, strangely enough Sushi Saint Jean also had delicious fries (but terrible everything else).  So to get them to be crispy, we need to batter them, and I experimented a bit with some batter.

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Stuffed Peppercorn Squash with Cheese

I am going to start off by saying that I have worked through most of the apples we picked, and even if we still had some, I am tired of making apple recipes.  I still want to try making an apple soufflé at some point, but for now I will be content with just my chocolate soufflés (I have been basing them on this recipe, but the techniques seem to vary from one source to another… more experiments to do).  Regardless, all these sweet recipes are making me (and those around me) fat, so time to experiment with some savoury recipes.

This was a recipe that is mostly based on something my mother used to do.  It is a delicious mix of peppercorn squash and a meaty tomato sauce, all topped off with a grilled cheese layer.  For the moment, not much experimenting has been done (apart from having made it before), but I got a few ideas for variations on it to try out in the future.

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