Do you have a thin skin or a thick skin? When there are problems, do things just bounce off you? Or do you ruminate over what has been said… particularly if it was a bit harsh? People having difficult talks come from all sorts of dispositions and starting points.

I’ve worked a lot with business people, resolving divisive people-related conflicts that clog up efforts, interfere with collaboration, build antagonistic camps, and generally foul up the works. Why did I work so much with businesses? Because they have the funds for this sort of thing, and it’s where the issues are profound enough that they just have to be dealt with. In business there is also a clear, overall aim or purpose that supersedes any interpersonal squabble. People have to keep the customer satisfied, deliver the goods… because that’s how profits are made, and profits are the lifeblood of business.

Now, what I find is interesting is that business people – particularly the heads of businesses – tend to be very thick skinned. They tend to move on quickly, and don’t let things bother them. As a result, they may not be as sensitive to what’s going on around them. That’s not a given of course, but generally, I find that they act quicker, are more decisive, and can be less affected by questions or conflict. 

When dealing with people who have conflicts, we are often meeting people with very different sensitivities. For instance, people who are very creative, and who take careful notice of what’s around them, will react to the emotional displays of others… they are people with thinner skins. People with thicker skins won’t let such emotional displays bother them very much. They just get on with the program. They may just not understand if or when sensitive people have been affected by what’s coming at them.

So when we get involved in any kind of discussion, we have to carefully consider the other – to  assess, try hard to understand. We have to appreciate the differences between ourselves and other people. Are they thicker skinned? Are we thinner skinned? Or vice versa? Whatever we find, when having a serious conversation about a problem, we have to go beyond the surface. We can allow the superb structure laid out in Fixing Fractures to neutralize difference, so we can go to the heart of the matter and address a tragic break.