The tall, attractive and very sophisticated Fox News personality walked to her chair wearing a lime green suit. The talk show host introduced her, then said, “Greta, that’s a great suit!”
“My mother says I look like a head of lettuce in this outfit,” Greta Van Susterman said.
I didn’t hear the rest of the interview, because I was laughing too hard. That was two years ago, but the image of Greta’s gorgeous head on top of a head of lettuce has never left me. Or the idea that this highly successful, world recognized, and very conservative broadcaster was still being driven by her mom’s opinions.
Those of us who have lost our mothers might even yearn to hear their voices again. But whether our parents are alive or not, we often hear their voice in our head all the time. In my case, I remember, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” For many years, I assumed it meant don’t sweat the small stuff, remember what’s important, etc—valuable lessons. Later I figured out that the phrase also implied her unspoken motto: “Never, never engage in conflict with anyone.”
If an attempt to follow is made, it might help keep an artificial peace—for awhile. But in business, the manager who avoids conflict at all costs is not managing. Rather he/she is stirring a pot of tasks, duties and people. Constructive conflict, as Patrick Lencioni has defined so clearly, is required for creative problem-solving and generating the commitment needed for effective performance. As Lencioni makes clear, you can never get the best results if you aren’t hearing the opinions of all of your team—and that requires managed conflict.
This brings me to a question raised by many others: were/are our parents right or wrong in the advice, admonishments and corrections they gave us?
Years ago I read the book “Games Mother Never Taught You” by Betty Lehan Harragan. It left me with my jaw dropping to realize what was out there in the world that I had no awareness of—and of which my mother was totally ignorant. Then I begin to wonder: what else didn’t she know about? How did her experience shape her advice and admonishments? Maybe she wasn’t always right…
Perhaps that’s what all grown ups come to realize eventually. That might even be one definition of maturity. But then what about Greta? Why does her mother still have so much power over her? Not malicious power at all. Mom’s trying to be helpful. But most mothers have no training in effective communication skills. Few understand how to offer comments that don’t put the person on the defensive. Even if Greta’s mom had training, the comment might sound unkind to some. But what if it were said in jest. What if Greta and her mom are best friends, and that’s the way they talk to each other? I will never know, but I probably won’t lose the head of lettuce image of Greta. Somehow I don’t think it would bother Greta in the slightest.