Welcome to HEN - Transforming Conflict for our Health, Environment, Negotiation
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping the Workplace Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time! juliamenard.com
HEN arrives at the full moon -
because light transforms darkness.
Full Moon: February 14, 2014 - Year 12, Issue 2
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - Stress and Self-Awareness
Last year, I collaborated with colleague/friend Judy Zehr – a therapist with a passion for neuroscience - to co-create a product we call Stay Cool in Tough Conversations. It’s our collective wisdom on how to strengthen self-control and keep grounded in spite of conflict.
One big aha for me was when we were talking about stress. Judy has taught me a lot about the neurobiology of stress and together we’ve made many connections to how it plays out in conflict.
Bottom line: when you are stressed, you can’t handle conflict as well.
Yet, most of us – when we are feeling stress in a tough conversation, want to keep going. Somehow we think, in that stressed out state, if we could just get the other person to understand – we would solve the problem.
However, no good comes from continuing to engage when you’re stressed. In fact, there’s a great story Daniel Siegel (a psychiatrist and brain researcher) tells about how he would help couples work through their conflict.
Siegel would invite a couple to stop themselves when they noticed their tone of voice constricting or rising – or other bodily signs of stress. He would want them to take a deep breath or some other grounding technique to bring their brains back into balance before continuing on in the conversation.
Most couples could not stop themselves at first – and were not even aware that they were starting to get triggered and escalate. After a few interruptions from Siegel, however, they eventually were trained in self-control. They were able to catch themselves, stop, take some deep breaths and continue on in the conversation.
So part of interrupting the pattern of pressing on in a tough conversation is increasing our own self awareness. Because we don't know what we don't know, it can help to ask someone else to tell you if they notice you are getting triggered - at least for a while as you train yourself.
Asking someone to point out to you when you might be starting to lose your cool is a tricky endeavor, however. The last thing any of us wants is to be told we’re feeling angry! So, asking for help from someone might best be combined with a request from them for you. Together, then, you can form a type of mastermind alliance – each helping the other for a period of time to arrive at a goal.
I’ve seen this method work quite well in a work team. The members of the team all chose a few developmental goals to work on for a period of time. The rest of the team all had permission to let each other know when they noticed successes or prompts to remember. After a few months, they reassessed their goals and what support they needed.
So, remember – when triggered, take a time out!
“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”
… Abraham Maslow
2. ENVIRONMENT - The Disaster of Being Governed by the Corporations
“I was taught at an early age that taking care of land was one of the primary human responsibilities.”
… Wendell Berry
Recently, I watched a 40 minute video of Wendell Berry, an almost 80 year old poet, prophet and environmentalist – being interviewed by Bill Moyer – also 80. It was a rare glimpse into a communion between two wise elders and a pleasure to watch.
The subject matter was more difficult. It was a rich conversation, layered with Berry’s poetry, about the state of our environment and the corporate pressures causing its degradation.
Early on in the interview, Berry asks:
“What does this earth require of us – if we want to continue to live on it?”
Berry sees a conflict – a deep divide in society, between corporations and its citizens which requires tending if we are to carry out our responsibilities to the land.
A type of coal mining called “mountain top removal” that went on near his home town in Kentucky is a case in point. He and his fellow local citizens tried every method they knew of to influence his state government – including occupying the office of the Kentucky governor to call for an end to mountaintop removal.
Berry believes this is another “disaster of being governed by the corporations… that people with money are bigger and more powerful and more noticeable and count more as citizens than people without much money…. Corporations can’t act human – you can’t have a bunch of people combining into one person. It’s not physically possible to confront these people who are more immensely powerful than we are.”
He thinks what the Earth requires is for us to know her, and through the knowing, to love her. This level of knowing is not possible for a company coming into a community. Corporations need the community members – the citizens of the land who know and love her well.
Therefore, dialogue is imperative. Corporations coming into communities become either neighbours or conquerors. It all depends on how power is used. Is it power “over” or power “with”? Power “over” is a power that is abusive – it does not value connection, dialogue, listening. Power “with” values dialogue, understanding, collaboration. Through dialogue, deep divides start to close.
Social change expert Adam Kahane suggests that to master large and difficult challenges, to really make change happen, you need to balance love and power.
As Kahane says:
“Most business and political systems are characterized by an excess of power over love. So your first moves have to be love moves, to foster mutual connection and awareness. Bring together the farmers and environmentalists, the bankers and regulators, in some kind of dialogue that helps them see the interdependencies among them more clearly… But you also need to make power moves. This is generally experienced as disruptive, because it goes against the grain. … One power move is to make special interests discussable — stop pretending they don’t exist.”
Wendell Berry has done exactly that.
What are the undiscussables in your community that need dialogue to meet your responsibility to the land you live on?
3. NEGOTIATION - Encouraging the Angels of Our Better Nature
This weekend, I dived into a book I very much respect - The Angels of Our Better Nature - Why Violence has Declined by Steve Pinker.
I think it's a very important (if super long!) book. Pinker does a very thorough job of dissecting hundreds of years of data on violence in a multitude of countries. What he's discovered is what everyone interested in peace should pay attention to.
One thing that jumped out this time was in his tenth chapter - where he summarizes the trends that have impacted the precipitous decline of violence in our species.
One of them is "self-control." The fact that we were taught things like manners and well... self-control. We don't cut people's ears off anymore when we are angry with each other. Or duel each other. Or poke each other with knives. As an aside - he says the idea of handing someone a knife with the handle side first as mannerly evolved from the origins of people using knives violently at dinner. Up to the middle ages, people brought their own knives in sheaths – and they were pointy. Dinner knives were known to stab more than just meat - not that long ago.
Most interestingly, Pinker says we are not "in the clear" as a species. In some ways, this is obvious – as there is still a lot of hatred and violence in the world. Pinker says we must not take the present relatively "long peace" for granted. There are certain factors that have contributed to this relatively long stretch of peace - and those factors can still swing in either direction! That to me is motivating!
This "long peace" for our species only started after the 1960s (which were actually a time of a blip up in violence!) - and is not assured. We have forces in us that pull us toward greed, fear, dominance. And we have impulses toward peace, empathy, and self control.
As Pinker says: “A culture of honor, in which men were respected for lashing out against insults, became a culture of dignity, in which men were respected for controlling their impulses.”
So whatever we can do to continue to strengthen our self-control is a contribution to world peace. Think about that the next time you use you dinner knife.
“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”
... Lao Tzu
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training