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!

HEN arrives at the full moon - 
because light transforms darkness.   

Full Moon: June 23, 2013 - Year 11, Issue 6
Table of Contents:

HEALTH - It's Nice to Ripen

I came across a tree recently that I fell in love with instantly! The Kohekohe tree. Lives only in New Zealand, and epitomizes, to me, what growing older is really all about.

The tree generally takes a long time to flower – it doesn’t even flower every year but every second year. Also, it doesn’t bloom in the springtime, but in early wintertime – traditionally the time of growing older in our imagery. Lastly, even after it blooms and after the pollination of the flowers have occurred, the fruit still takes a further 15 months to ripen.

These slow moving qualities speak to me of the the treasure that can await us later in life, if we choose to see growing older that way. 

We can be like these living entities – having a beautiful fruitful awakening after a long time waiting.

This picture is the final product of the ripening fruit of the Kohekohe tree.

What I see in this image, and in our aging, is a hard exterior - withered, wrinkled, weather-beaten. Yet, this exterior hides a powerful interior metamorphosis. A juicy interior waiting to ripen!

There truly is a new birth that can occur as we age – if we believe it – if we see it. This birthing could not even have been imagined at the stage of a flowerless tree.

This is the promise of growing older. My Uncle David used to say: “I only wish you will be lucky enough to get to my age.” 

Me too!

And to close off, here is a lovely blog post I came across about a 90 year old so full of life. Enjoy!

"It's sad to grow old, but nice to ripen."
… Brigitte Bardot

ENVIRONMENT - Water Justice

Conflicts arising over environmental issues will continue to increase over the years. I find it helpful to pay attention to these conflicts, to see what can be learned. We’ll need as many lessons as we can muster in the coming years and decades in how to engage conflicts productively and transform them from stuck places into opportunities for recognition and growth.

The conflict that’s caught my attention this month is one over water. The participants are Neslte Canada and two non-profit groups - a local conservation group Wellington Water Watcher and the national Council of Canadians. 

When observing conflict dynamics, one of the questions I ask myself is: What is the crux of the issue? That is - what is “really” going on? 

This step in analyzing a conflict is like stepping back from a painting to try to see its “gestalt.” It’s a fluid process and goes through iterations. Sometimes I think I know what the issue is, but when I put it out there, it changes. New information arises that causes me to rethink and refine the original parameters of what I thought the conflict was about. We also call this “framing the issue” in conflict-speak.

In this situation, at first go, the issue frame could be that the “public” (as represented by the two groups) wants to limit how much water can be taken from the local watershed and Nestle Canada wants to continue to be able to access the water without legislated restrictions. So, what to do about the watershed water consumption, let’s say.

Another piece of analyzing conflict, is to separate any personal attacks and commentary on the character of the people involved from the “facts.” It’s also about separating the “facts” from anyone’s interpretations of those facts.

I put “facts” in parentheses because even finding facts is fraught with bias. Which facts are we looking at? Are those the facts at all? Who is the source for the facts?

Here is how one source - the University of Waterloo’s Engineering Newspaper (June 12,  2013 edition) reports a piece of the facts:

“Currently, Nestle has a permit to take 1.1 million litres of water per day from the Hillsburgh, Ontario watershed for its bottled water operations. Hillsburgh is a small town 50km northwest from Brampton. Unfortunately, other communities rely on the same aquifer as Nestle for residential water needs. Guelph, for example, is 80% to 90% reliant on groundwater.”

Even in these “facts” – lies the little word “unfortunately." "Unfortunately" is an opinion. It sets our thinking in a certain direction. I happen to whole-heartedly agree with that opinion, but that is beside the fact (so to speak).

Another piece of attempting to analyze conflict is to be aware of our biases (of which we all come with a multitude of).

Further facts I understand are that Nestle has appealed the provincial government’s attempt to put a restriction on their consumption (with the argument that they do voluntarily comply to requests to reduce water consumption in times of drought).

The province, in the face of the appeal, decided to drop the requirement. Although I cannot know what the motivation was of the government, it certainly does mean they do not need to engage in a costly legal wrangle with Nestle’s.

The two non-profit groups have appealed that decision and begun a public lobbying campaign to change the government's mind.

Once we have some sense of the facts – the next principal to apply is to “get curious.” This is a higher-order principal guiding most of the discovery stage of conflict transformation. This principle helps us be open to what each party might really be saying and perhaps what they want to say (their higher purposes). 

The more I can keep curious about what might be motivating each party in a conflict, the more I look for, and discover, underlying beliefs and values driving the behaviours.

I decided to do a bit of research on one side of the debate to start. I chose the side I had a reaction to: the corporation’s argument.

There seems to be quite a bit of misinformation about what Nestle actually said and what they believe. This is hard to pin down of course as it’s a big corporation. However, the main public spokesperson seems to be their Chariman and former CEO Peter Brabeck.

Some of the citations I found said Brabeck said just a few months ago (in April 2013) that “access to water should not be a pubic right.” It was apparently in opposition to a United Nations Resolution (Resolution 64/292) passed by the General Assembly in 2010 recognizing the human right to water and sanitation.

That statement would, of course, increase mistrust.

However, digging a bit deeper, it seems he said that statement in a video in 2005, that went viral. He has since said, repeatedly, that this statement was taken out of context and not what he meant.

Here is what he says recently on his blog:

“I am not in favour of privatising public water supply – I am in favour of efficient management of all uses of water … Water is a human right. I just say: not all water we use, i.e., neither the water to fill a swimming pool, the water to water the lawn nor the water wash your car.”

On the other side of the debate, people are clear that this is a question of policy: corporations should not own water supplies because it is a human right.

Although Brabeck says he doesn’t think water should be “privatised” - he is not advocate for public ownership of the water supply:

“What really matters are that water supply schemes – whoever the owner might be – are managed in a way that there is enough money generated for maintenance and expansion to those who do not have a tap at home. At Nestlé, we are advocating better regulation to reduce waste and ensure everyone can access a clean safe supply.”

At some point, one of the blog contributors asks why Nestle just doesn’t stop making bottled water. Brabeck’s answer brings us back to another belief – leave it to the individual to decide:

“What I want to say: we sell bottled water from natural springs as a choice to consumers, and we think that very often it is a healthy choice. And let me repeat it, if consumers do not want bottled water, we fully respect the choice. However if they want such water from time to time, you should also respect their wish to do so. We do, and will continue to sell bottled water.”

I am sure if I put research into the other side of the argument (the one I “agree” with), things would become increasingly complex. 

So what is to be learned from looking at this conflict?

For me, it comes back to my core belief: more dialogue is needed. As Einstein said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." Through sharing points of view, we start to build a better understanding of each other’s deeper viewpoints and new ideas for solutions emerge.

In that spirit, I decided to leave a post on Mr. Brabeck’s blog myself. It needs to be vetted by their moderator, so don’t know if it’ll get posted. But it made me feel like I was doing something! 

Click here for the blog.

Having said that, there needs to be a careful dialogue – being “wholly trustworthy, not wholly trusting” – another maxim in my field. While writing this article, a friend of mine sent around another article about corporation orientation to natural resources. 

Have a read of this one – and - keep smart!

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”
… Aldo Leopold

NEGOTIATION - 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

For any of you who work in teams, Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a must read.

I recently had the opportunity to work with his model and have seen the elegance of it. I will describe it for you. Let me know if you see your team – or other teams you’ve know of - in this description!

Lencioni starts off by saying that the root cause, and foundational reason, for any dysfunctional team – is the lack of trust. 

If there is no trust, people tend to put up defenses – so there is a lot of “invulnerability.” To me, this first dysfunction is totally intuitive and I have found it helpful to make it the first place I look when reviewing the health of a team. 

Lencioni goes on to name 4 more implications stemming from a lack of trust and proliferation of invulnerability on a team. 

The second implication of not having trust on the team, is that people are hesitant to share their differences or “true” opinions. Lencioni calls this a fear of conflict – as he sees productive conflict as necessary to bring out multiple points of view (as do I!).   

The result of a fear of conflict is “articifical harmony.” Perhaps you’ve seen that on your team – people appear to get along but really don’t. There may be politeness or cool aloofness, but it’s not real. Whole cultures can have this method of dealing with conflict – it’s really not dealing with conflict! It’s one big conflict avoidant team (or workplace) – valuing harmony over authenticity.

If there is little trust, and people are afraid to be authentic and speak their mind, the third dysfunction that flows from this is a lack of commitment. 

Again, this makes intuitive sense – if I am not going to tell you what I’m really thinking or feeling, I won’t buy in to what is going on. I don’t agree but I don’t tell the others about it. Therefore, I haven’t had a chance to work through the difference and arrive at a place that makes sense to me. So I won’t really commit. 

This lack of commitment results in ambiguity. Some people are committing – and they think everyone is on board. But really – everyone is not – and you might hear about it later as confused messages or gossip or resistance.

So if you don’t have trust on your team, and you don’t have productive conflict, you don’t have commitment – what follows from there?

Lencioni says the fourth dysfunction is a lack of accountability. Because we haven’t really agreed and committed to what the goals are, we can’t really hold each other accountable to them. 

Lencioni calls the result of this dysfunction  “low standards.” This term can be misleading, as no team wants to see itself as having low standards. However, when team members cannot remind each other of their higher standards and help each other uphold them, it seems inevitable that lower standards will result.

This brings us to Lencioni’s last dysfunction – an inattention to results. This is something I see time and again as a mediator called into the workplace. With so much conflict going on, it’s very difficult to focus on the higher goals and results. Lencioni says what happens instead is people get invested in what’s best for their own area (“silo” mentalities or status for their own area) or for their own careers (“ego”). 

Does any of this ring true in any of your teams?

I love Lencioni’s suggestion for moving forward. Since his model suggests dysfunction in a team starts with trust, he recommends investing time into getting to know each other as the first step in re-stating trust within a team.

This isn’t a general team-building exercise where people go into the woods, hold hands, and sing songs together (though I suppose that could be useful to some teams!).  Lenccioni suggests the place to start is the basics. 

A team serious in wanting to strengthen trust would take one or two days away from the office to get to know each other in very specific ways. The first suggestion, starting slow, is to share a few small bits of personal history with each other – things like where you were born, how many siblings you had, what your birth order was. 

This is exactly what we did as a team and it seemed a very good place to start. That kind of exercise might take half an hour maximum – depending on the number of team members. 

That’s another thing Lencioni has a definite opinion on though – teams should not be more than 6 or 8 members max (for lots of reasons he outlines in this books). 

After a fairly safe trust building exercise, the next step would be sharing some information through a personality test – like Myers-Briggs, or DISC or Thomas-Kilmann Inventory – or some combination. Taking time to have the team share the results of these kind of tests gives each other permission to be different. It also starts to give the team a vocabulary for how to talk with each other about the “unmentionables.” 

With the Thomas-Kilmann Inventory for example, people share what their personal conflict styles are – whether it be a competing style, accommodating, avoiding, compromising, or collaborating (or some combination).

Together with the sharing of one’s differences, team members also start to share what they see as their top strengths and weaknesses. In this way, the team starts to orient towards how each member can contribute to the team and how each member has certain weaknesses – that they know they have, and know they need to work on.

The culmination of this trust-building work, is for team members to tell each other what they each see as the other’s top strength and weakness. Then each team member is invited to choose one (or a few) strengths and weaknesses to build and develop over the next 9 months or so. This is recorded and referred to in the upcoming months.

Setting some time aside to work with your team to get to know each other better will not solve all team conflicts. Having said that, in a “bottom-line” and “results-oriented” culture, it’s the relationship piece that tends to suffer. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of the first step in how to deal with a lack of trust in teams. Remember, there are many ways to deal with a lack of trust. What I find most valuable in Lencioni’s work, is that he points us there to look!

“Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.”
…Warren Bemis 


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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training

I love to inject more collaboration into the workplace! If you think I might be able to help you realize that vision - please contact me. Tell me what you need and let's see how I can best assist you!

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  • Does conflict make you break out in a sweat?
  • When it doesn’t go well, can you feel a tension so thick you can cut it with a knife?
Most people loathe conflict.  I know - I used to be one of them!

But, through years of practice, and study, and working in the field as a professional mediator, trainer and conflict coach – I’ve seen the power in conflict – both to damage and enhance relationship.
It’s all in how you approach it!

I pride myself on creating a learning experience that is relaxed, safe, and relevant. Whether it's sharing self-management tips, discussing hot button issues or describing how to bring up a tough topic, there's no shortage of conversation topics.
Most importantly, this workshop offers a practical model for how to start and sustain a collaborative conversation. It incorporates interpersonal communication concepts from Interest-based Negotiation, Non-Violent Communication, and Clear Leadership.

Topics include:

  • Getting Out of Your Own Way
  • Separating Fact from Fiction
  • Linking Feelings to Needs

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“God brings men into deep waters, not to drown them, but to cleanse them”. 
… John Aughey

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