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By Starshine Roshell |

Conflict, Control & Commitment: Q&A with Fred Kofman

Fred Kofman

Leadership coach Fred Kofman has a way of making profound, game-changing concepts sound so simple that you wonder why you didn’t think of them yourself.

“I’m just reminding people of what they already know,” says Kofman, who’s worked with execs from Google to Microsoft to GM. “That’s why they feel at home with the ideas—like with an old friend.”

Author of the book Conscious Business and vice president of LinkedIn, he shares his world-class listening, negotiation and relationship-building tips in the new Lynda.com course Fred Kofman on Managing Conflict.

With a PhD in economics from UC Berkeley and a Teacher of the Year award from MIT, Kofman helps organizations incorporate honesty, integrity and respect into their business decisions and corporate cultures.

Here he tells us about the two biggest mistakes he sees businesspeople make—and the time he struggled to follow his own advice …

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Q. Your career zigzagged from the hard numbers of economics and accounting to the soft skills of relationships and respect. Does that seem an unlikely path—or does it make all the sense in the world?

A. Economics is not about numbers but about value. Human beings are first and foremost moral beings. It is imperative for us to act “right” or in accordance with a certain code of justice in order to be happy.

So I feel that I’m still working on the same problem that fascinated me when I was studying economics: How do we cooperate to create a better world for all of us?


Q. What makes your ideas so fascinating—and fresh—to the business world?

A. They’re common sense, but not common practice. They’re surprisingly simple to understand, yet quite difficult to implement.

Although they appear rationally obvious, they are emotionally challenging; they require a maturity that few people develop without training.


Q. What are the biggest mistakes you see businesspeople making in their interactions with colleagues and clients—the critical errors you run into time and again?

A. First, trying to control others, claiming that they are right and whoever disagrees with them is wrong, and undermining any different point of view with arguments or leading questions before really understanding what’s correct and valuable in what the other is trying to say. This destroys relationships and prevents any sort of collaboration.

Second, being incredibly sloppy about making and fulfilling commitments, as well as holding others accountable for their commitments. Our word is our bond, yet very few people consider that business commitments are really personal promises. And when people default on these promises, they are compromising their integrity, destroying trust, and hurting efficiency.


Q. As you mention in your Lynda.com course, you live and breathe your own lessons in conflict management. Tell us about a time when you followed your own advice.

A. My son was about to choose colleges and was considering studying economics and business—or painting. I won’t deny I had my own preference.

I spoke with him extensively about his options, and my view of the pros and cons, but I really, really, really tried very hard to speak to him as I would speak to a beloved friend. I stopped myself from trying to control him or exert pressure on him.

He chose painting and is now at the Rhode Island School of Design, doing very well.

I always said I wanted to educate my kids to be autonomous and live their own lives. Well, I had to take my own advice and support him in his choice.

Watch Fred Kofman on Managing Conflict on Lynda.com.


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