How to grow from conflict: Respect, second chances, and diversity of ideas

The origin of the word 'respect' comes from the Latin verb 'respicere', which means to take another look back at something or someone. Here's how to restore respect after conflict.

Angie McArthur: Often I hear, “I don’t want to be around that person because I don’t trust them anymore.” And so my question to them—and I’ve seen this at the very top of some of the largest companies, globally—is: what caused that trust to break down? And we each interpret even that word “trust” differently. And so you have to break it down into behaviors. So when you’re trying to reconnect with someone, it means going back to what initially caused that break to happen and question your bias on many levels, including how you envision the break down in trust to happen. And I think it’s the word “respect”—actually the root of it—means the ability to see one as if for the first time again.

And I think we have to all challenge ourselves to know that because someone was difficult in one situation or even multiple situations it doesn’t mean they’re going to be difficult forever. That we’re constantly working on this ability that we all have, and this necessity we all have to connect, and maybe there’s multitudes of other things going on, but to constantly come back to that place of, “Okay, what do I need right now, here in this moment, to build connection with this person?”

Jennifer Brown: That’s such good advice. I would add: forgiveness is powerful. I’d say second and third and fourth chances, and I agree with you that people change. So how somebody was in a particular context or situation might not have been their best self. There may have been intervening circumstances. So I don’t think we can—can we ever really say that “someone is this way with me and I know that it’s a fact”? I’ve really learned that there’s no door that’s ever really closed— unless I think it is, and sometimes I’m wrong. Many times I’m wrong about that. So I do really challenge myself to look at every situation and person anew as often as I can. And sometimes that includes forgiveness, it includes the acknowledgement that maybe your opinion about what happened is a subjective one, and may not be the reality.

Angie McArthur: Yes, and it comes back to, always: the more certain we are, the more stuck we will remain. So if I am certain a person is a certain way, shows up a certain thing, that creates this, you know—it creates certainty. So again, it’s shifting from certainty to discovery. And I’m not saying this is easy. It’s difficult.

I’ve been in some of the literally toughest conversations with people where someone is so—what we literally would say is absolutely closed-minded. Like it doesn’t matter what I say or do, they are of that opinion. They are so certain.In that moment you do need to ask yourself: How do I want to leave this conversation? I know I have enough self-respect and respect for the work of diversity and inclusion that I want to leave this person with, ‘I hear where you are coming from and I hope one day you will be able to listen to where I’m coming from.’You know, so it’s always that question: how do you want to leave that conversation, with that sense of self-respect? That's ultimately what is so important. You can’t change people in that moment. But you can respect yourself and you can at least have them have the experience of being respected. They may not be able to show the same to you, but we have to be willing to be okay that we don’t agree, but it doesn’t mean we disrespect one another or have to disconnect.Because until we can bridge and find these places where we can connect, where our differences lie will eventually hopefully be the places we can bridge. Not right out the door; we may have to connect on other things first.

The name of my company is Professional Thinking Partners and that is a very specific way in which we can all start bridging diversity, is invite thinking partners into your life who are as different from you as you can possibly imagine. Call them. Ask them: “Here’s a problem I’m facing. How would you approach it?” You know, we talked earlier about mentorship and sponsorship; I love creating thinking partnerships with the people who are the most different than me because that perspective, you know—that’s a way that we can also start to build these bridges.

Jennifer Brown: Thank you so much. Fascinating.

It's all too easy to develop a grudge, and let one bad experience inform how you view a person going forward. But as leadership expert Angie McArthur says, "The more certain we are, the more stuck we will remain." A moment of broken trust can compound into a closed mind, but to loosen up that knot, revisit the experience and ask yourself: how subjective is your narrative of the events? What was going on in your life at the time—and what may have been going on in theirs? "You can’t change people," says McArthur, "...but you can respect yourself and you can at least let them have the experience of being respected." When you start to see conflict as a diversity of ideas rather than targeted opposition, it becomes an enormous opportunity for growth and perspective taking. Here, McArthur speaks with diversity and inclusion expert Jennifer Brown about taking stock of past disagreements and mining them for growth opportunities. This live conversation was part of a recent New York panel on diversity, inclusion, and collaboration at work. Angie McArthur is the co-author of Reconcilable Differences: Connecting in a Disconnected World.


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The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

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Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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