Welcome to HEN - Transforming Conflict with our Health, Environment, Negotiation
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping Leaders Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time! juliamenard.com
HEN arrives at the full moon - because in the light - there's no darkness.
Full Moon: October 29, 2012 - Year 10, Issue 11
Table of Contents:
HEALTH - Feeling Safe
In my line of work, “feeling safe” is a fundamental consideration when navigating tough conversations. People in conflict talk about wanting to “feel safe” a lot and that need can impact participation and engagement significantly.
However, the feeling of “safety” can also be a bit of a vague term – hard to pin down and even identify. Some see safety as connected to physical safety and don’t see a role for safety in conflict situations. Others believe some people “use” safety as a shield or even weapon - to avoid getting “real” in tough conversations. If someone’s not feeling safe, the thinking goes, they won’t share what they are really thinking, feeling, or needing. If that happens, however, that can leave the one who has shared already - feeling vulnerable and mistrustful.
I came across some information on the brain recently, from David Rock’s book Your Brain at Work, that has helped me sort through this. It has real value for those wanting to increase the chances of parties engaging with you about the tough stuff to talk about.
What helped me, firstly, was to understand that our brains experience two quite distinct states – basically we are either open or closed. Even single cells in a Petri dish have this “Towards” or “Away From” states. If something toxic is put into the dish, the cell moves away and a nutrient will cause them to move towards (see epigenetics).
So, depending on which one of these states we are in determines whether we are open, curious, and willing to engage – or closed, judgmental, and resistant to sharing what’s on our minds.
When we are in the “Towards” brain state, we want to hear what the other person is saying, we tend to see the best intentions of others, and we are able to problem solve effectively. Our “Reward Circuitry” is lit up – we feel good. We are in a positive, creative, and receptive state. One could say one is “feeling safe.” This is an actual brain state – it’s not something we make up.
The second brain state is the “Threat” or “Away” state. In this state, we are shut down – we don’t want to talk with the other person, we tend to ascribe negative intentions to the other’s behaviours, trust is low, and small threats loom larger. Not a great state to problem solve in! And again – this is a brain state – it’s not a way of being that is “always” us – and it’s also not something we are necessarily making up to avoid the conversation. It’s a symptom of our brain state.
This is important to understand, because if someone is in an “Away” or “Threat” state – they do not want to talk with you – no matter how calm, centered, or “ready” you might be to talk with them!
The next piece of Rock’s research shows what impacts the “Towards” vs the “Away” states.
Based on research on mammals, Rock describes five domains of social experiences that our brains treat the same as survival issues. These five elements create strong rewards or threats in the brain and either positively or negatively impact which state we are in.
The five domains are: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. Each one of these drives or motivations impacts us on a survival level – this is what generates feelings of safety (or not). Here’s a short explanation of each:
Status – your perception of where you are to those around you. When we experience a drop in status, we experience physical pain. When we experience an increase of status, it activates the same reward circuitry as receiving a monetary reward (more so). Cameron Anderson from Berkeley showed in a study that respect from others (which comes from having high status) mattered more than money for happiness in life. That’s why apologizing to someone for one’s behaviour and “saving face” is so important in conflict situations. Are status needs a factor in your conflict? Is there a way to give the other a bit more social power or acknowledgement? Can you help the other “save face”?
Certainty – ambiguity of any kind generates a danger response. When we are not sure what the other person is thinking and do not have direct, clear communication from the other, our brain starts to make up stories about the other because we are getting fearful. And those stories are invariably more negative than the facts. A sense of certainty is deeply rewarding, in and of itself, whereas the experience of uncertainty creates further stress in the brain. Maintaining communication as much as possible and clear, concrete, behaviourally specific language is best. The clearer you are with expectations, the better.
Autonomy – when people experience a stressor and believe they have no control or no feeing of choice, levels of stress increase further. People need to see that they have choices and that their future is somewhat predictable. What have you been doing or not doing that has given the other choices (or not)? What can you do to offer more choices or recognize and acknowledge the need for autonomy more?
Relatedness – when we meet someone new, our brain is stressed until we can make some sort of connection (can be as simple as a handshake). This is because our brain has a “someone like me/friend” category and a “not like me/enemy” category. If you are in a team, this “like me/friend” category needs priming to create the bonding – or else we tend to default to the foe state – that someone is not like us. We need to connect on a human level and keep the relatedness up. It gives a whole new reason to socialize. And if you are in a virtual team, the need for this social priming increases. Or if there has been a separation (or you don’t see each other for long periods regularly) – a sustained connection when re-uniting again meets this relatedness need.
Fairness – a fair exchange activates the reward circuitry and an unfair one activates the danger response. So, it’s important to point out how something is fair and listen when someone thinks something seems unfair. Our brains think fairness is basic to survival so we need to pay attention when this comes up!
Without knowing about these five basic social needs, we can inadvertently threaten people and generate a danger response. People function at far less than their capacity when in that “threatened” state.
In order to bring out the best in people, we need to put them in a "toward" state by taking into account all five social need areas. This model spells out concretely what “feeling safe” is really all about. It also provides a yardstick to measure concrete practical ways to build more safety into our tough conversations.
If this exploration interests you, please check out the home-study e-course: Stay Cool Through Conflict by clicking here. Both my colleague, Judy Zehr, and I go into more detail about how to stay connected to yourself using the new information from neuroscience and mindfulness.
Also, check out this great article, also by David Rock: SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others.
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved through understanding.” … Albert Einstein
ENVIRONMENT - Community Conversations
"A country can be influential in the world by the size of its heart and the breadth of its mind, and that's the role Canada can play,"
… Pierre Trudeau, former Prime Minister of Canada
A colleague of mine said recently that the world seems harsher to her than she remembered from years ago.
That wouldn’t surprise me, with increasing environmental and economic strife. Stress has a way of bringing out the more primitive and fear-based parts of us.
The environmental issues we face seem to be mounting – whether it’s more extreme weather, crop failures, rising food and energy costs, lost natural spaces, lands, species or decreasing air, soil, water quality. These things take a toll. It’s no longer a time to “hope” we can avert ecological problems – we are in it!
What do we need to do to move forward despite (or with) our collective stressed out states?
Mostly, I believe, we need “relatedness” – to be kinder. We need each other more than ever. And we need to be deliberate about this. We are like any other social mammal – when we believe we are threatened, we get afraid, we get narrow, we get mean.
We need to intentionally use our conscious mind (our “thinking brain”) to keep coming back to compassion, forgiveness (for ourselves and others), and appreciation for each other and our own contributions.
Our capacity to leverage our diversity, creativity, and collective wisdom depends on engaging in sustained dialogue in our communities around common desirable futures. Diversity doesn’t just happen – inclusion needs to be deliberately planned and designed into community conversations.
Ann Dale is the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Community Development at Royal Roads University. Her research is contributing to the building of new models of community engagement and learning around “sustainable development issues” that affect the long-term health and viability of communities.
She sees dialogue – or “Community Conversations” - as the key to moving forward. Here’s a short video on her vision.
“What I dare to believe is that men and women everywhere will come to understand that no individual, no government, no nation is capable of living in isolation, or of pursuing policies inconsistent with the interests—both present and future—of others.”
… Pierre Elliot Trudeau
NEGOTIATION - The Observer Effect
My 15 year old created and ran an interesting experiment in her high school psychology class recently. She asked 10 of her fellow students to come out to interview a friend of hers from another school. The friend was a stranger to these 10 students, but my daughter said she needed their help with her psych test – because she needed people who didn’t know her friend to do a short 2 minute interview.
Unbeknownst to these 10 students, my daughter’s friend “Caroline” was actually a childhood friend whose name and identity was not what was presented. My daughter had prepared 4 different “back stories” about “Caroline” to tell the 10 students.
Just before each student would go in for their “interview” with Caroline – my daughter would pull that person aside and told each one privately one of the back stories. Some people were told “Caroline” was a loner at her own school, lacking friends. A few others were told “Caroline’s” mother had just died of cancer. A few were told Caroline was very popular in her own school with many friends and the last few were told Caroline was a bully in her school and had been expelled in her past.
As each student did their interview, my daughter’s friend acted the same – using the very same script word for word with each person and being purposely cold and distant – even a bit sarcastic.
The results were fascinating!
The students who were told the information that Caroline had trouble making friends at school all said they would befriend her. All people who were told Caroline was a bully said they would definitely not want to be her friend. One student came up to my daughter and said she herself had had a friend like that (she was told Caroline didn’t have any friends) – you just need to get to know her. People who were told Caroline’s mother had died recently of cancer and those who were told she had no friends - rated her higher on likeability than those told she was a bully or popular.
What are we to make of these results?
In my work, I am often told “back stories” before meeting people in conflict and I have developed a filter to be careful about pre-judging before I meet the person. When I try to keep open, I find the way I was told the person “is” – is not how I see them. Of course, I don’t have the same history, nor a solidified back story. However, I do believe this simple act of seeing the person for more than what I’ve been told about them – opens them up too.
It is as if my observation of them as something “more than” their back story allows other parts of them to be seen. They can ‘become” more of who they are instead of staying stuck in the reductionist view some may have of them.
One could call the story we bring in our minds about the other person the “Observer Effect.”
In quantum physics, there is something called the “Observer Effect.” It states that through the very act of watching, the observer affects what they are watching – at least watching very small things. One study (reported in Nature Magazine Vol. 391, pp. 871-874) showed how researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science conducted an experiment demonstrating a beam of electrons being affected by the act of being observed. The greater the amount of "watching," the greater the observer's influence on what actually took place.
So, the next time you are told a story about someone, ask yourself if this is something you have seen with your own eyes or is this someone else’s reality of the person? Remember that there are many points of view on things – not just how I see it, or you see it. There is also how the other person sees it – maybe even how an admired peacemaker would see it. Remember the Observer Effect and see if you can step back and separate out what you are observing from the story you are making up about what you are seeing!
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." … Albert Einstein
Local WORKSHOPS in Victoria on Tough Conversations:
Available for organizations and individuals in Victoria, BC
NEXT WORKSHOP: Saturday, November 24, 2012. If you'd like to register, please send me an email.
Most people loathe conflict. I know - I used to be one of them!
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?
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.
Getting Out of Your Own Way
Separating Fact from Fiction
Linking Feelings to Needs
INDIVIDUALIZED TRAINING (TELE-COACHING) - TOUGH CONVERSATIONS
Some of my favourite clients are managers and other people-oriented leaders who value relationships highly and have figured out if they put attention into their
relationships, they will get big dividends out!
In fact, managers spend 25 percent to 40 percent of their time attempting to resolve conflict (Washington Business Journal) - yet most leaders receive minimal - or no - training on how to resolve conflicts collaboratively.
If you'd like to enrich some of your relationships at work - whether with peers, clients, or your own boss, consider coaching. I would love to support you in strengthening your key relationships at work.
If you would like to set up a time to talk about your needs in this area, just email me with "Coaching" in the subject line.
"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods." … Albert Einstein