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077: Conflict Resolution for People Who Hate Conflict with Josh Mauldin

User Defenders podcast
077: Conflict Resolution for People Who Hate Conflict with Josh Mauldin

Josh Mauldin shows us how resolving conflict not only makes us better humans, but better designers. He challenges us to approach conflict with a growth mindset and the question, “What can I learn from this?” to help us become less anti-conflict and more pro-resolution. He articulates the difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict and teaches us why healthy conflict is good and even worth pursuing. He reminds us that it all comes back to empathy which does not mean agreeing with someone, but making an active effort to understand where they’re coming from. He also reveals how embracing conflict is the catalyst for building the best teams, the best products, and the best you.

Joshua Mauldin is Director of Design at Artium and an expert who speaks all over the world on conflict resolution. He is currently writing a book on the subject. He’s also written and spoken extensively about design for Smashing Magazine, O’Reilly Media, and more.

Joshua loves approaching design with as much curiosity and humanity as he can muster. Also, he’s a big fan of dogs. Cats, too. But mostly dogs.

His nickname in high school was Gumby because he could tie himself into a pretzel and jump rope with his arms.

  • How Long Have you Been Thinking About Conflict Resolution? (4:38)
  • Has Team Conflict Increased Since We’ve Gone Remote? (9:48)
  • How Can We See Past the Emoji’s? (13:53)
  • What Does Your Conflict Resolution Framework Look Like? (18:54)
  • How Does Your Cranky Conclusions Approach Work? (20:53)
  • Conflict Resolution for Leaders (28:14)
  • How Do You Address Conflict with Your Leadership? (32:08)
  • What’s the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Conflict? (35:10)
  • How Does Healthy Conflict Create Better Products? (38:28)
  • Is Agile a Double-Edged Sword When it Comes to Team Conflict? (41:20)
  • Design Superpower? (46:13)
  • What’s Your Design Kryptonite? (47:08)
  • UX Superhero Name (47:57)
  • Habit of Success (48:36)
  • Invincible Tool or Resource (49:26)
  • Best Advice (54:11)
  • Connect & Keep Up (55:44)

Josh Mauldin’s Twitter
Josh Mauldin’s Website
Conflict Resolution for People Who Hate Conflict (Josh’s Talk @ Productized 2019) [VIDEO]
Conflict Resolution for People Who Hate Conflict [ARTICLES]
Quit Social Media (TEDx Talk) [VIDEO]
Compassionate Detachment (Loving Enough to Let Go) [ARTICLE]
Healthy Conflict Gives You Wings [ARTICLE]


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Josh Mauldin + Jason Ogle video chatting for User Defenders: Podcast


Show transcript

Jason Ogle: Defenders today. I have Josh Mauldin with me. He’s a director of design at Artium presently. And he’s been speaking all over the world about conflict resolution, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today, specifically. So I’m super excited to dive in this show is about UX design and personal growth.

This is all about that second bullet point, and what I’m trying to do here on the show, because I really believe that being a great designer begins and ends with being a great human.

We’re always going to be in conflict. There’s always going to be moments and that’s just human nature. That’s life, right. So I was super excited to have Josh on here and, to learn a lot of good tools and, tips how to better resolve conflict and how we can actually use conflict to our advantage.

I’m really interested in that. So just a couple more things about Josh. He’s written for smashing magazine and he’s done videos with O’Reilly media on training, and he’s done a lot of different things with them. You love approaching design with as much curiosity and humanity as you can muster.

I really like that. That’s a really great statement, man. So, he’s also a big fan of dogs cats too, but mostly dogs. And I appreciate that. I’m with you too. Sorry. Cat people. And so this is fun. This is his fun fact that I really, this is, this really brought up an interesting visual into my mind. But his nickname in high school was Gumby, because he could tie himself into a pretzel and jump rope with his arms.

So with that welcome, officially Josh to User Defenders, I am super excited to have you on the show today.

Josh Mauldin: Thanks. Thanks. Pumped to be here and I’m definitely an equal opportunity animal petter so, I’ll pet anything once.

Jason Ogle: Okay. All right. Well, we’ll leave that there. So, So, conflict resolution. You’ve gone all in on this man. I mean, how long have you been thinking about this? How long have you been really researching around this and writing about this and you’re doing workshops now?

Josh Mauldin: Well, I’ve been playing with this idea basically since I was a kid, because I was, like my upbringing, you basically had two responses that you could give an adult. It was either yes. Ma’am or yes, sir. And if you didn’t like it, yeah. It’s tough. Really, really sorry for you.

Jason Ogle: Grew up in the South, yeah?

Josh Mauldin: Yeah.

Jason Ogle: How did I know?

Josh Mauldin: Yeah. Well, you might hear me say bless your heart once in a while, or other Southern-isms.

Jason Ogle: And not in an insulting way, right?

Josh Mauldin: Oh, definitely not. Definitely not. So that really prepared me well for being a good kid. Like I was a nice kid. I listened I didn’t act ugly as we would say in the South, but it really did not prepare me well for working with other humans, and so I was unknowingly on the search to figure out like, how the heck do I work with humans? And, I’ve really actively been researching it for probably the last seven or eight years.

I ended up getting my first consulting gig. I was dropped in the middle of a situation where we had an engineer who was treating all of the designs that we made, that the client approved, that we tested as just a suggestion.

I had a PM on the other side of things who wasn’t communicating with the team and just making decisions and committing us to engineering and design decisions that we didn’t get to weigh in on. And so felt like I was the Hulk when all the enemies, like pile on him.

It’s like, they’re just coming from all sides. And I was just going home and I was a wreck, like muscles that I didn’t know could twitch were twitching. And my stomach was in knots and, you know, I stepped back and I had this moment of realization where I thought, okay, I have to do something about this. If not for myself, because this is obviously taking a toll, but I realized that because I wasn’t embracing conflict, I also, by default was not building the best product I could.

I wasn’t being the best teammate I could. And I wasn’t being the best human that I could. And I began to shift from being a more of anti conflict to pro resolution. It’s been a really interesting journey. And you know, now I’ve helped a lot of people with this framework that I’ve made.

And I’ve adapted it a bit over time as I’ve gotten verbally punched in the face a few too many times just to continue with the Hulk metaphor. I’ve refined this over time and I feel really comfortable having conflict. I might still be nervous inside, but, I know how to approach it.

And so it doesn’t scare me anymore. And one of the reasons that I continue to do this is I see this in so many other teams and so many other people, and it’s embracing conflict is the catalyst for building the best teams, the best of you and the best products.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, I fully agree with that. we’re all so different as humans. We all have different quirks. Right. And, and all it takes is just a little time with somebody for those to kind of start to emerge and that’s why love is such an important quality and characteristic because love really does suffer long. I always tell folks, if you can wait at least a year to get engaged, if you’re going to get married, I promise you, by that time, you will know all the idiosyncrasies, all the quirks on that person. And then you can go all in with a really more sound possibly sound decision.

I’ve heard this analogy too, that I thought was really interesting about kind of about conflict. And even it could be definitely framed of course, in a marriage in a committed relationship is like it’s sometimes it’s like two porcupines, it’s cold and they’re trying to snuggle and all they’re doing is like jabbing each other!

Josh Mauldin: What an image. I could dig it though. I can dig it. Yeah. Yeah. It’s I’m really happy to hear you sort of make that connection between personal relationships and relationships at work. I think that there’s a lot of commonality there. And so these like personal relationship metaphors really do carry when it comes to thinking about life at work

Jason Ogle: Yeah, well, I appreciate that, man. And you know, it’s funny like well, of course, before COVID, before we all went remote for the most part, unless we’re essential workers, right. We spent more time at work than we did at home with our families. In a way, we are married to these people, whether we said I do or not.

You have this boss, you love this boss, and he, or she is amazing. And then what happens? They move on. Either at will or at the employer’s will. And you’re like, Oh shoot, who’s coming in next. Right. It’s like a neighbor, right.

And your neighbors move. You’re like, Oh crap. I better start praying for really good neighbors because you can’t put a price. You can’t put a price on good neighbors, man. All that to say, that happens a lot. We are married in a way, in a weird way.

We’re married to the folks that we work with. Now, that’s a perfect segue, Josh, to my next question for you, because most of us are remote now, whether we like it or not, I actually particularly like it. My gas tank is I don’t have to fill it up all the time. That helps the environment. Like everybody wins kind of thing. I don’t have to keep getting repairs on my vehicle. I was driving nearly two hours a day each way for quite a while. And I liked the job, so I did it Great job was worth the drive. So, and great people, of course that’s a big part of that, but I actually really like it, but I’m curious, like, have you noticed particularly interoffice, has interoffice conflict increased or decreased since most of us have gone remote? Have you made any observations around that?

Josh Mauldin: Yeah, I’ve had a few, I’ve had quite a few conversations with folks and, yeah. The amount of conflict has gone up and it’s mostly been a function of, we’re all stuck at home. I’ve worked with folks who have, several kids in a small house and they’re naturally a little bit crankier than they would normally be if they were in a dedicated space, like an office for work.
But you know, like we don’t sleep as well as we used to. And so we’re a little crankier. And because we’re not in the presence of one another physically, we also sort of lose some fidelity to our conversations. Like, you know, if you and I were together, like I could get a much better read on your body language.

Your tone of voice, talking to you through Skype or whatever medium we use that’s digital, like there’s compression. Of the audio. And so like I’m not getting the full fidelity of your voice. And so once we start to lose that fidelity, our brain does this like weird thing, which has like been incredibly helpful in helping us survive.

You know, back when we were hunter gatherers we basically fill in the gaps with negative information and it served us for our survival, but, in 2021 it kind of gets in the way of things. And so when I lose this fidelity in this conversation with you, like, I might not have video with you.

I might only be able to talk to you through Slack. There’s just so much more room for misunderstanding. And so conflict just by its very nature is going to come out of those kinds of things. And resentment builds because you’re not always able to see what someone means like perhaps someone’s being sarcastic.

And they’re not super good at using emojis or conveying that it just hits you the wrong way.

Jason Ogle: Oh man. Yeah, the ASCII text can be so misleading from an emotional perspective. That’s why I love the convenience, man quick little bottle rockets, right? Like, I’ll tell you just what I want you to know at just the right time. Then I’m willing to tell you.

But man, there’s so much lost in translation with just seeing text. And that’s why, again, emojis do help, but not everybody uses them. Not everybody wants to use them. And that can be challenging. So I appreciate you bringing up body language and eye contact. And that was another thought that I had around this remote life that we’re all living now and working through.

And it’s been a big adjustment for many of us. You can’t require someone to turn their camera on during a Slack or a Zoom meeting you can’t force someone to do that. And that’s good.

I think that’s a respectful thing. Respect their privacy. You don’t know what’s going on. We all were working out of our homes. Some folks don’t have an extra bedroom for an isolated office. And so there’s understandably going to be a little bit of chaos behind them. And you know, and some folks are, you know, they forget that the camera’s actually on and they’re doing weird things, So there’s been a slew of. been a slew of that too. But, but back to my point about, you know, body language, like that is so important eye contact we weren’t designed to, to really relate to each other in this way. This is not the, like you mentioned, the, the hunter gathering, like the tribes, that kind of strength in a tribe.

When you don’t have those things, when you lose those things, it can be really difficult. And if somebody doesn’t want to turn their camera on, you don’t really know what their face looks like. You don’t know what they’re feeling.

I’m pretty good at reading. I’m an empath and I think you are too. You’re an empath, aren’t you? I knew it. And so I just knew it.

Josh Mauldin: Takes one to know one as they say.

Jason Ogle: It does. It, all of these back to empathy, honestly, this whole journey, it all leads back to empathy, but my question really is have you found other creative ways to maybe mitigate like possibly resolving a conflict with somebody or even just like, checking up on somebody, if they’re not showing you their cards, so to speak. You get a gut feeling, especially as an empath you just kinda know when somebody’s feeling. And I think I read somewhere on something you wrote where you can actually read people’s feelings before they even know they’re feeling it.

Like I’m like, okay, this guy is an empath, you know? So tell me, tell me about, have you found other creative ways to mitigate when you can’t see somebody’s face and when you know, they’re struggling even, right. I’m not even talking about resolving conflict, but how do you encourage somebody you know, about this going through that?

Josh Mauldin: I would actually frame it as a form of conflict, like, because someone is in conflict with like saying what they’re feeling and they may not feel totally safe doing that.

Jason Ogle: Internal conflict too right?

Josh Mauldin: Dude. Yeah.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So a few things come to mind. One, I want to talk about emojis for a second Two, I want to talk about a couple of techniques to get people to open up.

So one, I thought it was great that you on your own brought up emojis because I ended up reading this study a few months ago that showed that we basically interpret smileys and like emojis in the same way that we would a normal human. And so there are some, some folks have a stigma against using emoji.

They don’t think it’s very professional, but you know, I, I think that you gotta be, you gotta be adaptable and resilient to the situation at hand. And if you’re being more remote, like use everything at your disposal to really make it safe for someone to interpret what you’re saying. A couple of other tools that come up for me to get people to open up are like, you know, you can get, I think most of us are able to tell, like, if there’s a little bit of a disconnect between what someone is saying and what they’re doing with their body or their, the tone of their voice or something like that.

And so I have this tool that I use to just add contrast to the conversation. So the general framework is, I’m not saying X I’m saying Y and that has by and large, been the thing that has corrected so many misunderstandings and that specifically, because like we, we lost all that fidelity in our conversation.

And so someone can go down this path of like, you know, you’re an absolute jerk. I’ll, I’ll try to keep my language PG 13,

Jason Ogle: It’s okay. I’ll put a little KAPOW in there if you do happen to swear. It’s okay.

Josh Mauldin: Really?!

Jason Ogle: Yeah. Like a Batman KAPOW.

Josh Mauldin: Shit.

Josh Mauldin: All right. That’s that’s the only one. That’s the only one. Yeah. So God, I just joked absolutely lost my place. Oh, so contrast. Yeah. So getting people to get realigned with what the goal of this conversation is and what you’re actually saying can be really helpful. I also think about, folks just not generally feeling safe and, if they don’t want to open up, like you’re not going to be able to make someone really open up if they don’t want to.

And I think knowing that going into the conversation can really alleviate a lot of stress because like a lot of times our mindset for conflict with one another is like, Very much framed in terms of me and not we, and it’s very much like I need to win. Like I need to get this done my way. Despite what most of us say that we want something for the greater good, like, if we’re honest with ourselves, a lot of our conflict comes from just this misalignment between what we want and what’s actually good for everyone.
Yeah. So the, the mindset of just like, you know, this is, this is the thing about us. This is a path reforging together I think is, is really, really, really important because even if you’re not able to get someone to open up in that moment, what you’ve done is you’re, you’re basically keeping the soil fertile.

Like I very much look at this, like you were you’re growing something. And soil like, there are a lot of metaphors for, for life and work and burnout and things like that and this, but, yeah, if you’re able to just like, keep the soil fertile, keep it watered, sometime something’s going to sprout up and you’re going to be able to like attend to it.
So you gotta play the long game, I guess is what I’m saying.

Jason Ogle: I really liked the, gardening analogy too. It just makes so much sense. I’ve been married for 21 years. You could say my marriage is legal drinking age now. And that’s my dad, my dad joke. I know you’ve got several up your sleeve. I’d like to see if we can catch one before our time is up here.

Josh Mauldin: I’m more of a “Faux Pa” at this point because I don’t kids.

Jason Ogle: That’s fair.

Josh Mauldin: Do you get, do you have a rim shot sound effect that you also put in?

Jason Ogle: I do now so, but yeah, the reality is is that if I, if I didn’t treat my marriage like a garden, I wouldn’t be married still. I mean, that’s just the reality. If it was just all about me trying to get what I want and not listening to my wife, not, not compromising.

Right. Not partnering with her. It wouldn’t last long, and that’s the reality of it. There’s so many parallels to our office relationships to our marriages and to just friendships, everything. Right. This, that’s why I love this topic. I love that we’re talking about this. You came up with a, a resolution a conflict resolution framework, and I want to know kind of how you came up with this and if you can even highlight what that looks like, what’s that framework look like.

Josh Mauldin: Yeah, the framework is really a lot like a pyramid. It’s got four big levels at the bottom is psychological safety. And that was actually something that I did not realize initially that needed to be there. But the longer that I spent then researching and understanding and talking to people about conflict so much of it stems from the fact that we don’t feel psychologically safe with one another.

I can’t really have like an effective resolution to something if I don’t feel safe with you. Cause like I’m not going to open up to you. So that’s underpinning everything that we do. And the next level on top of that is facts. I know that we live in a world of alternative facts now, but let’s talk about the non alternative, the alternative to the alternatives.

So that, that next level is facts. You’re talking about those things that are observable. Like if you were, if you had a security camera that was like, overlooking your situation, like, what would it see? And those sorts of it’s like showing your homework on a math assignment, they’re going to show how you got to the next stage, which is conclusions.

When you talked over me three times in that meeting, it made me feel like you didn’t respect me in the same way that you respected. Jim, and you can also say at the very top of that pyramid, because this is a dialogue is others’ input. Like you want to see how they’re seeing it because you only see your side of the story.

You don’t hear it from their perspective. And having that back and forth really helps you get to the bottom of what the issue is.

Jason Ogle: I read a couple of your blogs recently, if you have, you’ve been writing about this you mentioned The cranky conclusions one. I, I thought that was really an interesting, perspective. Can you touch on that a little bit too, kind of how that works?

Josh Mauldin: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, the, the way that I like to approach this as like, I want to see, what’s the worst thing that somebody could say about me, or like, how are they going to say that I contributed to this situation and this really primes your brain to be empathetic with the other person, because you are literally putting yourself in their position.

And it can help in a lot of ways. One way is that if you’re scared that this conversation is really going to get weird and like go sideways, You can lead off in your conversation with something from your cranky conclusions. Like you’re going to say that I’m a diva, that I’m not a team player and that I only care about what’s best for me.

And it’s a, it’s a way of sort of short circuiting. Some of those like pathways that we tend to take when we might feel threatened. So it’s, it’s a, it’s like a Swiss army knife. I know you can, you can use a server different ways. I like to use it before I have a conversation with someone just so I can understand, like, okay, what are they seeing?

How are they seeing it? How might they be seeing it? And it came sort of helped me tune my approach. I’m very analytical and pragmatic about these things.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, I know. And that’s why I love that you’re talking about this because you’ve obviously thought a lot about it. And you’ve had a lot of situations where you’ve been able to practice this and with success. And so I liked that the one thought I had and I’ll play advocate for a second. I’ll I’ll I’ll challenge.

Just one aspect of this where you say. It’s sort of like leading in with the, I know I’m gonna sound like an a-hole right now, but you know, like I’m not trying to be, it’s really, you know, it’s like, I’m not trying to be an a-hole anytime that somebody says that, like, I know that you question their motive.

So how do you, right. Have you heard that? Like, how do you navigate

Josh Mauldin: my gosh.

Jason Ogle: Anytime somebody says I’m not trying to be something and then they follow it up with what they’re trying to tell you, your human instincts, especially if you were very high in emotional intelligence, you’re like, okay, you’re you’re going to be an eight.

You’re going to come off as an a-hole right now. But is this softening the blow? Tell me more about that.

Josh Mauldin: I I’ve definitely experienced the, like, I’m not racist, but So it’s, it’s it’s very much like an apology that has a but in it, it’s like, I’m sorry, but but negates, everything that comes after it. And so I specifically try to avoid using things like but I’m going to talk to you about this.

It’s it’s very much framed in terms of like, Hey, I think you’re going to think this. I need you to hear me out though. And it’s, it’s a very small thing that you can do and how you talk to someone that signals a great deal about where you’re coming from and what your intentions are, and those tiny words like, but, or, and those can, really get trippy and make you seem inauthentic an a-hole, as you

Jason Ogle: Two words, you never want to say in your relationship, in your working relationship, whatever relationship, you never want to go to somebody and say, you always, and you never, never say never. It’s such a limiting belief, it gives the person no perceived room for growth.

And it’s like, well, if I always do something and if I never do something, well, then I guess you’ve just kind of canceled out any opportunity for growth that I might have as an individual. And it shuts them down. It strips away the pillar, the foundation of your con your conflict resolution framework, which is psychological safety.

You’ve just effectively stripped out the foundation that the whole pyramid has crumbled. Now this point,

Josh Mauldin: Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. When you, when you do things like that it really does undermine safety because what you’re doing is you’re passing a judgment. And the magic thing for conflict resolution is to be able to be aware of what you’re feeling and what conclusions you’re drawing, but not letting them be set in stone.

It’s more about observing and being mindful of where you are, and also having a separate mind for like, okay, this is where the situation is. This is what I’m seeing. This is what I’m hearing. This is what I’m feeling. I thought it was really interesting that you talked about limiting beliefs because how we frame something really affects the outcome.

I remember reading about a study that was done at the university of Rochester for students taking their final exams and the people who had framed it positively, like I’m going to try and earn an A on this versus the people who framed it negatively. You know, I don’t want to fail. The interesting result of this was that the students who framed their situation as positive did as good as the negative students did bad. So it just, it it’s, it’s wild. Like just how much having like a growth mindset and a discovery mindset in conversations in life and work can really change a lot of outcomes. And, you know, if you’re looking at conflict from this negative standpoint, like, Oh my God, why do I have to do this? This dude again, here he goes like, you’re obviously going to be approaching that from a much different perspective than like, okay, what can I learn from this?

How can we move forward together? Like, just looking for those little paths is it’s kinda like a fun little like explorer thing for your brain. You get to like find new places and, Right, right, right, right.

Jason Ogle: That’s cool. Yeah, I like that. And I was thinking about leadership too. Like this, this might be a conversation that leaders may want to really prick up their ears if you will, too, as we kind of start to dive into this, because as we were talking about always and never, and you know, honestly like a leader that says that to their people is not a good leader, frankly, first and foremost is not a good leader, does not have their people’s best interests in mind is not a servant leader for sure.
Has a big ego, most likely. And as we know, your ego is not your amigo. So, I was

Josh Mauldin: I saw that on a t-shirt once.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, didn’t you? so a better way to say, and I think I did read this in one of your in one of your blogs as well.

And when your articles about set of saying, you know, you, you’re always late to the meeting, right? Like say, you know, Hey, I noticed that the last three meetings you’ve been late. Is there something, is there something going on that I can help with? Right. So it, what it does is it, it still allows room for growth, right?

It doesn’t, it doesn’t come at the person with a limiting belief of like, you’re never going to get this right. Right. And, and that’s crushing. That’s really crushing. And it, again, strips the psychological safety, but Frame it better. If you’re a leader and you’re approaching issues, you’re approaching conflict this way.

Please stop. All right, please try to have some higher emotional intelligence. have deeper empathy for your folks that you can address things. The point is you can address important issues without crushing somebody’s soul. And without making them feel like there’s just no room for growth.

And there’s something called the Pygmalion Effect. that I think is perfect. in this context, it’s the meaning of it is the expectation of those around you establish your own personal rules and expectations. And that’s especially for leaders. Like that’s, that’s an actual psychological effect that scientists have studied.

I think it’s really important as a leader to always leave room for growth for your people and to serve them. Be a servant leader because they’re going, I promise you, it’s going to affect their performance. If you’re, you’re trying to get better performance out of your people approaching it.

That way is not the way, because there you have the Pygmalion effect, the expectations of those around you establish your own personal rules and expectations. So always expect high things. You can, you can put some pressure on your people to perform better without being an a-hole.

Josh Mauldin: Absolutely. I, I remember writing something not too long ago. That’s that was around like a good manager skill set, includes the ability to listen, be quiet and listen, shut up and listen. Seriously, be quiet. They probably already know the answer. I need to talk it out. It’s it’s it’s thanks. Yeah, it’s just really interesting.

Like, you know, we. We’re taught to solve problems. And that’s part of like the script that we tend to follow. And when you get to leadership, you really have to make those adjustments. And, and not think like that, you know, my advice to leaders would be that there’s this interesting thing called the self-determination theory, which came to prominence in the eighties.

But basically we have several basic psychological needs and there are three that have application directly to work in conflict. And it’s, you know, autonomy, which is like, I choose to do these things competence, I can do these things and belonging, which is like, I’m a part of this thing. And so when these, these three things get crushed those were the things that lead to your team burning out, not trusting you.

Because those unreasonable expectations and like, you don’t have that good mindset as a leader.

Jason Ogle: Definitely, now in dealing with conflict with your leadership, that’s really hard. As serving under somebody. And there’s, I don’t know if there’s one reason or another. There’s some major conflict. What are the best ways to deal with. Conflict with your leadership, right? If you have an issue, like you need to address it, like, what are the best ways to do that while still practicing self preservation of what does Mike Monteiro say, staying alive is not a soft skill.

Josh Mauldin: Man, that guy can turn a phrase that’s that’s for sure. Yeah, it’s you don’t want to have any career limiting moves when you talk to leadership. Yeah, I, I learned a lot about this. Some of the things that really stick out to me about this is this notion of having compassionate detachment and we’ll get into that in a second.

But the other thing is when you’re having conflict with leadership it’s best to one acknowledge, respect for their position and that you might not see everything two let them know that you’re not just there for your own benefit to further your own agenda. And three try and work it out with them, like let them know what’s going on and how it’s affecting the business.

If you have a leader who’s changing their mind at the last minute, like, Oh, actually we need to add this new signup flow. I like this other button color better. And you know, it’s, it’s right before you, you ship your product. If this happens a few times, you can go to your leader and say, can we find a way to get you involved earlier because what’s happening now is that we’ve got the team’s morale is getting crushed.

We’re wasting, excuse me, I wouldn’t use that term. It’s, it’s costing a lot of extra money and a lot of extra churn. How do you think we should proceed? And that’s where this idea of compassionate detachment comes in, where you go in and you make your best case. And then you lead it cause you’re not responsible for the ultimate outcome.

I’ve learned that as a human that’s a very healthy thing. And too, like I’ve also learned that as just a consultant and a designer I’ve been able to give my full self to a project and sometimes it doesn’t go the way that I think it’s going to go. But you know, the only thing I can really control is the input.

I can’t always control the output. And just knowing that has been really freeing and letting me advocate for what I think is the best for the users for the business and leave it in the hands of other folks. sometimes they’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes they’re going to bump their heads.

My goal is just to be there when they fall down, pick them up, turn them around and let them go.

Jason Ogle: So not all conflict is unhealthy, in fact, there is such a thing as healthy conflict and, I think maybe we could all use a little bit more of that. I feel like everything, I mean, only have to do is flip on the news for a few seconds and then you’ll see a lot of unhealthy conflict.

It’s a crazy world. So I mean, we need, we all need more of this. We all need to learn how to resolve conflict in a, in a more healthy way. So can you help us understand what healthy conflict looks like and why we should in fact pursue it more?

Josh Mauldin: Yeah. I tend to look at healthy conflict as a way of building a better relationship, building a better product. And to contrast that we’ve got the unhealthy conflict, which is the like verbal abuse, can be physical abuse basically things which actively harm you emotionally or physically like that kind of conflict.

Is not healthy. We want to get out of that. We want to be safe. You know, that can also mean like the unhealthy conflict can be you’ve got folks who are yelling at you. Folks are gaslighting. You, those things are extremely unhealthy, but the healthy kind is, for the benefit of the collective, it’s for the benefit of your relationship.

I typically look at it like, what’s going to further our goals and what’s going to detract from our goals as like healthy versus unhealthy

Jason Ogle: Yeah. That makes sense. you can almost frame this in a way of you have cancer, but your doctor doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. So they’re going to, you know, I don’t, I know that this would really mess up their day to tell them, and I’m sorry. I apologize. I know that’s a very serious subject.

I’m not trying to make light of that at all, but the reality is is that your doctor, if you have cancer by God, you want your doctor to tell you as soon as possible, as soon as they possibly know. And I think that that’s sort of a way to look at the healthy conflict, the healthy tension, even, because we need that and we need to push each other, especially in a team, we need to push each other.

If we really care about our teammates, we’ll want to do that, we’ll want to, try to do some nudges that are, that are, Hey, I know you can do better than this. That’s hard to say as a leader, it’s hard to say to your people, like, it’s just not good enough. I know you can frame it.

And I know you can do better. I feel like that that’s, we need a little more healthy conflict. I think we need to, we need a little more grit too all of us. We need a little more grit because we’re not seeing our full potential right now. I believe that. I have kids, I have a lot of them, as you know. I fear somewhat for their generation growing up because I just feel like that even with technology, as much as I love it, it’s sort of an enabler for us to not be gritty.

It’s sort of an enabler for us to not do hard things. And I think the hard things can make us better humans quite often. And again, healthy conflict approaching an issue in love. Truth in love is always the best way. But I, I just, I guess I’m just trying to say, it’s important for us to pursue a healthy conflict and also to have empathy for each other, because empathy is not agreeing with the other person, it’s trying to understand where they’re coming from. And I think we could really use a lot more of that in this day and age personally.

Josh Mauldin: Wow. Yeah. I don’t think I could have said that bit better. Yeah, empathy is really just the magic sauce for conflict resolution. You want to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you don’t have to agree with it, but you want to see what they’re seeing and you can’t really have an effective outcome if you’re not listening to the other person, and what is empathy? If not listening?

Jason Ogle: Yeah. Well said. So before we get into the super seven, I do want to talk about product because there’s a lot of designers listening, it’s UX design and personal growth. So how does healthy conflict make a better product? I know you’ve got some stories and I know you’ve got some, some good tips on, on how that works. So I’d love to hear that before we jump into your, the super seven here,

Josh Mauldin: Yeah. Yeah. So as far as how this relates to building products I recall working with an architect as a UX architect on a signup flow, and we both had very different opinions on what we should do. My opinion was let’s delay sign up as long as possible, just so that we can get people in, get them looking around the the other person had this view that it should be.
W a S locking them out until they sign up or sign in. And we just, we went back and forth about it and we just kept butting heads. And finally, I pulled out this tool that I learned from Cap Watkins while he was at Etsy. And it was called the sliding scale of giving a, a KAPOW and so basically you’re like, you know, how strongly do I feel about this?

And so I stepped back and I was like, okay, where are you on the sliding scale? And I said that I was an eight. And they said that they were a seven. And so we just decided to settle it that way. We went with delaying signup so that we could get people to look around A few weeks later, we were talking about how we should, I should ask for people’s emails, too, get them to sign up for our newsletters and the back and forth happened.

Then they pulled out the where you out on the sliding scale. And I was much lower on it. And so we decided that we would roll their way. So the more that you can just like push and gently poke each other. Look you mentioned earlier, you know, I th I think you can do better.

Like, I think we can do better. I think we should iterate on this a little bit. Can we go down this rabbit hole for like 10 minutes? Because I feel like there’s something there that kind of mindset can be really transformational for building good products. Like so often. We’re focused on just achieving this goal.

Like I want to get a 10% lift in subscribers. I want 20% more in referral links. It’s, it’s almost like being a horse and just having those blinders on and just like running towards the goal. And I think if we can sit with a problem, we can poke at it with someone and go back and forth about it for awhile.

We’ll find all these little neat connections that we can make and bring together to form like this much more customized tailored solution for something. And you can’t get there if you’re not sitting with the problem and having healthy conflict with someone about it.

Jason Ogle: Yeah. Fully agree. Agile, not to get off on a rabbit trail here. Okay. Cause I, I do want to get into your super seven, but has agile been a, somewhat of a double-edged sword in this you think? I just gotta get, I gotta ship this code by this, by this two week sprint.

Right. I gotta ship this code. I gotta, and the designers, like I always gotta be ahead. Oh crap. This sucks. This, this, I don’t like this design, but I got to ship it because I got to stay ahead of the developers. Has it been a bit of a double-edged sword in a way, do you think?

Josh Mauldin: Yeah, this framework is that I work on is a framework just like Agile. And you ran into problems when you blindly follow it. Like I’m from the South. I have a great recipe for biscuits. The secret is the flour that we use, but if if I take that recipe and make it in North Carolina, I’m going to have some amazing biscuits.

But if I go visit you in Colorado Springs, which has a much higher elevation, my biscuits are not going to do well. And so, you know, I need to make sure that everything is tailored to the environment. And the way that, that relates back to the, to Agile is the more you blindly follow something, the harder it’s going to be to do the right thing.

And, you know, checklists are easy. But if you think about things in terms of a toolbox, it unlocks a lot for you. And I think that Agile is, has really not been a great place for design, basically what we’ve had to do is we’ve had to add another track on top of the delivery track, where we do research and stuff.

And I think that it’s like design has just been bolted on and it doesn’t leave a lot of room for designers to really contribute because you have your backlog and your engineers who are so driven to like, alright, we have this story. We’re can deliver this story at all costs. Yeah, you absolutely have to have that. Yeah. And I, I definitely don’t want to downplay that. Like Agile has, has been really helpful for getting people to find ways of shipping things very quickly. I don’t have to defend Agile. There’s a lot of great things about

Jason Ogle: Right. And involving the customer along the way, which is great. These are all great things.

Josh Mauldin: Yes, absolutely. Does that answer your

Jason Ogle: Yeah. I think so. Yeah. It’s just that, that was more of a personal rant. Like I. I love it. I love it. And I hate it at the same time. It’s so it’s such a conflict. Because you, you want the product as a designer, you want the product to reflect the, your, the precision that you put into like the, the front end. There’s always that tug of war with design and engineering. And, and so like, there’s a whole conflict there. Like maybe that’s could be your next blog, Josh. Okay. We’ll leave it there.

Josh Mauldin: Yeah,

Jason Ogle: I’ll publish it on the User Defenders: Publication

Josh Mauldin: That, that sounds good. Just the title would be let’s hang out with your engineer. That’s that’s the title?

Jason Ogle: I

Josh Mauldin: Cause where the magic is.

Jason Ogle: Yes, absolutely. I love it. We love our engineers, so I love the collaboration. I love it. I’m in, I’m in a really good place right now where the engineering team, like they really we’ve proven the value of design and that’s sometimes, maybe one of the reasons why there is so much conflict with designers and engineers is because maybe we designers haven’t proven yet the value of design.

So, thankfully we’ve been able to do that. I give a lot of credit to my manager. He’s just, he’s awesome, man. He’s just, he’s really brought UX into the foreground of where, what we’re doing and there’s a lot more respect this mutual respect. You want respect? You give respect. It’s neat. It’s interesting how that works.

Josh Mauldin: Yeah. Like the, the best things that I’ve found the best solutions that I’ve found come from me, spending time with engineers and PMs, like engineers have built the, you know, menus and tab bars and like cool interactions, tons of times and tons of different projects. And so that experience can really save you.

And it’s just personally very rewarding for me when I get to work through something with an engineer and they’re like, Hey, actually, if we did this, it would save several API calls and still get you what you need. And, the best engineers are going to be empathetic towards designing the best designers are going to be empathetic towards engineering and PM.

Jason Ogle: Yes. Yes. Amen. It’s it’s again, it’s the superhero analogy works. The justice league. Couldn’t do it with one superhero, neither could the Avengers. So we’re, we’re equal opportunity with DC and Marvel here.

Josh Mauldin: Are you are you, are you a Snyder cut fan or is it like you are the original Justice League? Like, do you have a favorite?

Jason Ogle: I’ll be honest. I haven’t seen the movie yet. So I’m a Marvel guy. I’ll be out of my Marvel. I’m all about Wolverine. If you could tell by my facial hair

Josh Mauldin: I just, I needed to see the sideburns just to be sure.

Jason Ogle: Ah, yeah. So anyway, yeah, I it’s, I appreciate that. And I know that there’s a lot of value there in that, and again Defenders, if you want respect, give respect, if you want trust, give trust.

Alright. Let’s jump into your Super Seven. My friend. What is your UX Superpower?

Josh Mauldin: I’m really good at observing and listening. I’ve as we mentioned earlier, I’ve been known to sense when someone is feeling something before they realize it

Jason Ogle: That’s a great superpower. It really is. It can not be. I really don’t believe that empathy is something you’re either born with or without, I believe you can grow your empathy, just like any other skill. One quick tip on how Defenders can grow a little more in that area, just to kind of, you’re gaining more of a superpower that you have, because I know you have honed it.
You’ve worked on it. You know, I notice there’s, there’s some inherent things, too. We’re all products of our environments, our upbringings, but if you had one tip for the Defenders to help grow and gain that superpower more, what would you say?

Josh Mauldin: Think the best thing you can do if you want to grow, this is to just sit back and listen and suspend your judgment.

Jason Ogle: Oh, that’s good, man. I like that. Awesome.

Conversely, what’s your UX Kryptonite?

Josh Mauldin: Information overload. No question. If you talk at me for five minutes straight, my brain is going to shut down because I try to process everything that someone says, and if it’s too much, my brain is like, nah, I’m good. I’m going to go. I’m going to go sit over there for a little while and not work.

Jason Ogle: Oh, man. I can identify with that Kryptonite man. It’s, it’s hard. We’re we’re we live in an information age and I love it and I hate it. We’re bombarded so much with information. Somebody’s got my email address and now I get spam all the time and now I got to spend several hours setting up filters in Gmail. It was just like, ah, come on.

I know you have an interesting UX superhero name. I kind of teased it early on. And so I want to ask you now, what would your UX superhero name be?

Josh Mauldin: I spent a lot of time thinking about this and it came up with Captain Psionic and a psionic like, the word is just relating to the practical use of psychic powers. And so if I were to just take the things that I do, the listening and the empathy and things like that, like if I took it to superhero levels, that’s what it would be.

Jason Ogle: I like that, man. That’s fun.

So habits are really important, as we talk about personal growth, as we talk about conflict resolution and being the best humans we can be, what is one habit that you believe contributes to your success?

Josh Mauldin: Listening to my intuition. We get so caught up in process and following a script listening to data that we forget to listen to ourselves. And the more we can listen to ourselves, the more we can contribute authentically and fully to the things that we’re working on.

Jason Ogle: Yeah. Listening. I’ve heard that several times in this interview. Listening to others and then now you’re like, listen to yourself too. I really liked that because it’s just a well-rounded thing. You’re not going to be able to listen well to others unless you first listen to yourself. Right?

Josh Mauldin: Yeah, absolutely.

Jason Ogle: That’s cool. Well, how’s it called takeaway.

So what would be your most invincible UX resource or tool you would recommend to our listeners?

Josh Mauldin: I would recommend deep work by Cal Newport, mostly because of what we spoke about earlier, we’re in this high information world, we’re constantly bombarded by things and that constant bombardment makes it really difficult for us to focus and do the valuable work, which our trade and our craft needs.

And so this book is going to make a solid case for why this focus time is important and it helps identify ways of doing deep work that are going to work for you. It is again, not a checklist or things to follow and you’ll have amazing deep work, it’s more about like what works for you and it helps you get to the bottom of that.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, I second that recommendation Defenders. That’s one of my favorite books, honestly. And you make me want to go back and read it again because. I’ve I’ve kind of forgotten some of the, the techniques and the tips and stuff that he’s put out there. But one of the ones that, that I do remember real vividly was the shutdown routine, right?

Like it’s, it’s kinda corny. It seems kind of corny and cheesy, but again, it’s all about priming, right? We were talking about this earlier, like our mindset and how we frame something, right. If I love what he says, he says at the end of the day, when he’s done doing his deep work, done doing his research.

And by the way, Cal Newport is not on social media. If that says anything about his level of concentration and the deep work that he’s able to do, there’s something there. I haven’t been able to quit yet. He’s got, in fact, he’s got a Ted talk. Have you seen this Ted talk Josh

Josh Mauldin: No,

Jason Ogle: his, his Ted talk I’ll link to it in the show notes.

He says, quit social media. That’s the name of his Ted talk? It’s, it’s fascinating. But yeah, one of his techniques is at the end of the day, you know how, when you shut your computer down, it’ll just like, say shutting down. Right. And that’s, that’s a cue. That’s a cue. Like, okay, my computer is shut that.

Not, not many of us shut our computers down probably enough, but I just, we close our little clamshell here, but he does this mental thing where he says out loud, he says, at the end of the day, he turns this computer off. And then he says to himself, shut down, complete. And it’s like a trigger. It’s like a cue that he’s primed his brain to go, okay, I’m done.

I am not thinking about work anymore. I am not going to be distracted by work anymore. I’m going to focus on whatever else I need to do my family or right. Whatever it is it’s not work anymore. And it’s just another kind of neat little technique. And again, that may not be directly related to deep work, but I promise you if he can shut his brain down, like, like we can shut our computers down related to work.

And if we can all do that, which we can then guess what we’re going to have a more focused evening with our family, a nice dinner or whatever we’re going to maybe accomplish something else we need to do around the house. And then, and then we’re going to feel accomplished to start that next day. It does help our deep work to do shutdown complete.

Josh Mauldin: it, it really does. And speaking to how this book helps you figure out what works for you. I’ve been doing that daily shutdown. I started doing some writing you know, here are the things I accomplished, here’s how I felt, here’s what I’m thinking about, but, I ended up changing it because I got really tired of looking at screens and I found this voice transcription tool called Otter.

And so at 4:45 every day, I get a push notification that’s like, it’s time for your daily shutdown. And so what I do is I pull up the app and I talk about the things I’ve done that day, the things I want to do the next day, how I’m feeling. And it helps me really like empty my brain. And if I ever need to refer back to the notes, it’s transcribed. So it’s a way that feels very natural to me, and I noticed that when I write a lot, I tend to edit as I write until I get my own head about it. So this helps me get it out more effectively.

Jason Ogle: That’s a cool tip. That could be your UX resource or tool as well. Otter.

Josh Mauldin: Yeah, Otter’s great, dude.

Jason Ogle: That sounds cool. I liked that, but you’re right. As when we write, we self edit and it, it takes away from what we really were trying to say in the first place. And I love the, the quote, “Write now, blush later” isn’t that good?

Josh Mauldin: I like that.

Jason Ogle: It’s and so I think that that’s a good way to write now and blush later.

Josh Mauldin: It really is. It’s worked for me. Your mileage may vary.

Jason Ogle: All right. Awesome. Josh, this is my last question for you. I want to ask you Josh and you’ve given so much, but what’s your best advice for aspiring UX superheroes?

Josh Mauldin: Practice compassionate detachment. this is a longer discussion, but the short version is that if we really want to truly do our best work we have to realize that we don’t have final control over the outcome. And once you realize that, it’s so freeing and you’re able to contribute to a project in the best fullest possible way.

A very short version of that is if you went to look it up, it’s a Zen principle. I actually didn’t know that when I wrote those words, there’s a lot that you can learn just by Googling compassionate detachment. It’s not a term that I have that’s original.

Jason Ogle: I appreciate that. I’ll link to it as well. So Josh, this is like I said, this has been amazing. This has been really valuable. This is a great professional skill. It’s a great life skill. This is just important all around. We’re always going to be collaborating, relating, mingling. We’re always going to be around other human beings, and that’s good. We need each other, we need our tribe, for our mental health and for it’s just every way.

The best way to have successful relationships is to learn how to resolve conflict, because it’s gonna, it’s not a matter of, if it’s a matter of when it’s going to happen in any long lasting, healthy relationship. I promise you at the core, there’s a really strong conflict resolution foundation. So this has been amazing. Josh, thank you again so much before I let you go. Can you tell our Defenders how to best connect and to keep up with you?

Josh Mauldin: Yeah. On social media, despite Cal Newport’s recommendation you can find me on Twitter. I’m @JoshuaMauldin and I’m also at

Jason Ogle: Awesome. Well, thanks again, Josh so much. And yeah. keep doing what you’re doing. Keep researching this, keep getting the word out. I really believe that especially the more we kind of continue to acclimate to this new normal, I hate that phrase, but it is what it is, the more we’re going to need these tools and tactics to really be successful in life and in our careers.
So thank you again, my friend and last but not least, I just want to say fight on my friend.

Josh Mauldin: Fight on.

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