Together, In Arms

When we name a conflict well, it becomes solvable.

Q: What if we recognized the Great Resignation as the Great I Am? What if just people are moving into their Onlyness and turning away from the workplaces that don’t have room for them? 

Q: I’ve been watching the Great Resignation with interest, and I think I’m experiencing something different. Is it a Great Reflection? Or maybe a Great Contemplation? Or a Great Reconsideration? I’m a knowledge worker, a professional who did fine during the pandemic by all financial standards. I couldn’t spend any money, and I kept earning a lot. But I am asking myself a question or two that I’ve never asked before. The biggest of which is whether the culture of work—where work is, well, everything—is something I want to belong to. I certainly don’t want to end up like Done. I’m not alone in this, am I?

Q:  Remember back to the toilet paper shortage in early 2020? I remember freaking out and spending hours and hours going from store to store to make sure I had “enough.” (I still have some from that supply run!) And that carried over to other things.  How there are not enough jobs, good work, and caring at work. I’m a leader of a 10-person team, and I’ve been clinging to my job even though it’s deeply unsatisfying. My boss couldn’t care less about me as a person. And though I care, I don’t even want to ask how my team feels because I don’t think I could do anything about it. I found myself reading Done’s note and thinking, this is who I’ll be in 10 years. I feel like I see my not-so-enough future. I know you want us to be better than this, to be fully alive. But what you ask, a Great Reset of sorts, seems like another planet. 

Dear RecognizedReflecting, and Remembering –

I am connecting your three notes because you seem to be asking the same question. 

Recognized, you’re thinking of how to flip the Great Resignation story, so it centers correctly. Reflecting, you are asking new questions but wondering if doing so will lead you away from your peeps/pack/tribe, which is to say you worry you’ll be alone. And, Remembering, you seem to be reminding us to celebrate what we do have, but you also appear, I dunno, resigned to things staying the same shitty. I take it as a sign that you want an alternative scenario from the not-enough-ness by writing to me. 

You’re each asking—albeit, in different ways—how do we make sense of the shitshow that is this particular moment?


Crisis, however painful, can be productive. Which is to say, a crisis can change us. Or maybe it’s more than that? Crisis does change us. Not all at once, of course. But, as we let it. It can cause us to appreciate what is still good and worth celebrating. It can cause us to ask better questions. And it can cause us to recognize new truths. 

But, in the middle of a crisis, it’s hard to orient. Let alone, navigate. So how do we make sense in the middle of all the crazy?

It’s a big question. 

And what comes to mind is an idea from one of my favorite management thinkers, Mary Parker Follett:

“One test of our organization is not IF you have a conflict for that is the essence of life, but knowing what the nature of the conflict IS.”

If a conflict is denied, she’d have said, we lose the friction that causes us to make things better. If conflict is misunderstood, it’s so easy to feel like the choice is limited to one party “winning” at the cost of another party compromising. Name the conflict effectively, though, and you can get people working together to solve that conflict. 

Naming a conflict helps us not just to make sense of it but maybe even to solve it. 

After all, when we know what we’re fighting about, we know who we’re fighting for. 


Sounds obvious, right? 

But it’s not. 

Not for me, anyway. I mostly don’t know what I think and what to make of things until I’ve sat with it for a while.

Let’s take the situation of Done in my last column, Cranes in the Sky. You’ll remember how she had worked for 20 years at a law firm? She had slept in the building during the big superstorms. She had worked double-time during the pandemic.  She was fried. Beyond that. Exhausted. Depleted. And no wonder. She kept giving and giving and wasn’t getting the rest, care, or support she needed. 

And so she shared her crisis and asked, how does this nightmare change

My first instinct was to say to her, choose yourself here. But that would have said the conflict was within her. Indeed, she wasn’t advocating well for her needs, but it’s probably just as true her social setting wasn’t letting her. 

If I had said she needed to fix the situation herself, it made her the hero of the story. But it also made her the villain, in a way. Saying it was her fault that things suck.

Which felt off to me. When so many others face the same dynamic. 

So I sat with it some more. 

Even thinking maybe the conflict was with her boss, how they’re treating her wrong. That would make the bossman the villain and her the hero by getting outta that job. Voila, triumph.  

Yet, I’ve never found that brand of antagonism very useful. (Fun sometimes, but not useful). As I reread the note, it didn’t seem like the harm was sociopathic or anything. Done’s boss/team seemed to be doing the best they could. (Plus, I was convinced that if she did leave, she’d end up in a new place that would treat her much the same!)

So I kept thinking of some way to name the conflict to put everyone on the same side of the table. 

Us facing a problem. Us. Against it. 

And that’s how I ended up naming the management framework of “high-impact players.” Using a checklist from Liz Wiseman’s latest book praising HIP’s, we applied it to Done’s situation: 

  • Taking on challenging assignments? Yep.
  • Anticipating and meeting the needs of the business? Absolutely. 
  • Delivering for the company? Yep-a-doodle. 
  • Doing it over and over again? For 20 years. 
  • So the boss man can come to count on you? Check.

Looking at that list, I pointed out how the construct of HIP’s (high-impact players) ENSURES that the business needs are served, yet it leaves to CHANCE that the one delivering that value is equally well-served.  

It denies the measure of respect and worth due to each of us. Onlyness. Because Onlyness is about centering that distinct spot in the world where only one stands.

What I didn’t write in that column but thought about a lot? 

How damaging this mindset of the HIP is. Because what—at first glance—looks like progressive management (anyone can succeed, if they work hard enough!) actually progresses the oppression of many workers. 

(And just so you know, I am not telling you something I didn’t already tell Liz in person.) 

I share all this backstory to show how I came to make sense of Done’s question. 

When we name the conflict effectively, we can get people working together to solve that. So it’s not yours or mine, but ours

Because for workplaces to be fully alive? The goal is to fix the game, not hate the players


Helpful, I hope? 

Whenever I’m trying to make sense of things, I find it helps remember something, how everyone is just doing the best we all can. It’s more often the structures and systems we’re operating in that are making us do crappy things. We have far too many outdated metrics and specific management frameworks that, well, don’t work. 

It’s why memes like this exist all over the web.

It’s why we need to rethink things. To challenge convention. It’s also why I write: to learn as I answer your questions and share what I see with you. So that, if it’s on point, you’ll see it too. So much so that you can’t unsee it. And, maybe, you’ll send the column to a friend or bud at work and be like, I feel this. And then you’ll have that bud with whom you can discuss it and maybe even find the words and courage to create change at work. 

You might say:

These columns I’m linking to?  They are just part of what has been created in this last year and a half of writing. Nearly every column I’ve come to see is about an existing management framework, metric, or model that limits us, stops us from being fully alive at work. 

I hadn’t put that together until writing this column, so you’ve helped me see anew to make sense of things too. 

I am ever so grateful to be doing this work with you and for you. Thanks for writing your questions. 

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