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: April 4, 2015 - Year 13, Issue 4
Table of Contents:

1. HEALTH - Conflict and Disconnection

As some of you know, Judy Zehr and I have been working on an e-book together which we are calling “Hold On To Yourself – Through Difficult Conversations.” This month, I am including an excerpt from Chapter 3. We’d love to hear your feedback! Enjoy!

As social mammals, we are wired for connection. Like other social mammals, our primitive neurobiology is wired to be in balance and safety when we feel like we have a safe place in our “tribe”, when we feel safely connected to others and part of a community.
If our place feels threatened, or if it feels like we might not belong anymore or are about to be left out of the tribe, or if we feel like others are disconnecting from us with disagreement, judgment, rejection or anger, it can trigger our most primitive stress responses. This stress response is causing us to disconnect. This disconnection stimulates more stress for both us and the other person as we move further and further apart in conflict. 
Conflict and disconnection are symbiotically connected.
When those stressful moments and times arise, your brain’s priority becomes survival. These are the times you easily move into survival-based relationship patterns. These are patterns that arise as a result of us feeling that disconnection in conflict. We learn these behavioral patterns in childhood, and they can get repeated throughout our important relationships. 
There are two basic survival-based relationship patterns: the drive to merge (becoming too close, losing connection with self) and the drive to distance (pushing away and losing connection with the other). 
If you tend to merge or distance (or both) in tough conversations, then learning to create a stronger, healthier boundary will help you stay close and connected, but safe within your own skin and true to yourself and your message. 
Here’s a closer description of merging and distancing. See if either or both of these tendencies fit for you. Once you have a better sense of your survival-based relationship pattern, you will be able to notice which one comes up for you in stress.
When conversations heat up your boundaries get very thin. You tend to get anxious. You focus on how the other person feels and what you need to do to please them or help them feel better. It feels threatening, not safe, to have someone near you unhappy or upset.
You lose track of how you feel and what you need around others. You adapt yourself to take care of others in order to relieve stress. You morph, camouflage, discount or lose yourself in order to make them happy or resolve the tension. You are hyper-alert to others’ feelings, and learn how to take care of or try to change others so you can feel safe.
When you merge you are trying to get your value, security, love, and safety from someone else. You try to fix, manipulate or control them so that they think well of you or aren’t angry, disappointed or rejecting.
When conversations heat up your boundaries get very thick. You become focused on how you feel, what you need and your own inner dialogue. You lose touch with how the other person feels and what they need. You can’t really hear their thoughts, ideas or feelings. You are too busy over-focusing on yourself — your own thoughts, feelings, needs. 
When you distance you tend to put up walls, judge, get angry or disengage. You get righteous, knowing you are “right” and they are “wrong”. You discount them. You stop listening and get over-focused on your message and your need. 
You might shut down, numb out, give up or hide out. You learned to get your safety by creating distance between yourself and others. You learned to disengage when conflict happens, to put up a wall, or check out.
Merging Practice
If you tend to merge, take a deep breath and see if you can move your attention back to your own body and your own experience. How are you feeling? What are you needing? As you practice noticing that your attention is “over there” and you bring it back “over here”, you are thickening your boundary, or that safe space between you and the other person. 
Distancing Practice
If you tend to distance when conflicts erupt, then take a deep breath and move your attention to the other person, asking yourself, “How is this person feeling right now? What might they need?” If you distance, you learned to create safety by cutting off from the other person and hiding behind a big thick wall of a boundary. Trying to connect with compassion and empathy with the other person will thin that wall down so you can stay present and connected.
Holding on to Yourself
Holding on to yourself in tough conversations requires self-differentiation, or being able to stay securely attached and connected to yourself, feeling safety and security from within, so that no matter what is going on in the outer world you can listen attentively, express yourself clearly, and come to healthy outcomes in conflicts. 
“Differentiation means the capacity to be an 'I' while remaining connected.”
…  Edwin Friedman

2. ENVIRONMENT - Seagull Syndrome

I woke up the other morning to a news story on the radio about a fisheries expert talking about herring stocks in our oceans. He sounded very clear, very sure, very expert. He was talking about how scientists had arrived at their calculations for how much herring there were and how to predict their population. At one point, the radio host mentioned that some First Nations seem to have a different opinion. The expert reiterated his own point - that the scientists know.

The expert’s presentation seemed to be missing a few essential points:
  1. We all need each other’s perspectives to make informed decisions. In my business of conflict transformation, I’ve seen this again and again. When people make decisions without enough information, it often leads to more assumptions, mistakes, conflict. When people go slow to go fast, however, taking the time to understand each other, good decisions follow. Without taking the First Nations data into account, any decision about herring stocks are not accurate. 
  2. When I went up to Bella Bella years ago, one thing that shook me to my bones was how long people lived in the same place. How long have you lived where you do presently Five years? Ten? Twenty? Maybe your whole life? I’ve lived on my street for 17 years. I’d say I know the street fairly well. I notice when for sale signs go up. I notice when my neighbour’s dog is barking a lot because she’s working all day. I notice if a car drives up that doesn’t look familiar. I notice many things that someone who doesn’t know my street wouldn’t know. You wouldn’t know which cars belong and which don’t – or which houses just went up for sale. How is it any different for those who have lived on the same land for 14,000 + years. This is a figure I cannot even fathom. Can you? I would venture to say their knowledge of the land and fish stocks would trump any tools we have cooked up so much more recently. Their voice needs to be an equal player at the table of deciding on such matters, if not the paramount one. 
If this interests you, check out a recent news clip on the herring issue in Bella Bella. Keep in mind the two points above as you watch. This perspective on our First Nations applies in every community on earth.
“The problem with politicians getting to know the issues in indigenous townships is that we tend to suffer from what Aboriginal people call the ‘seagull syndrome’ – we fly in, scratch around and fly out.” 
… Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia

3. NEGOTIATION - In Praise of Civility

Christine Porath and Christine Pearson are two academics who have been studying incivility at work for over a decade. They’ve surveyed several thousand managers and employees from a diverse range of organizations about responses to perceived incivility at work. They asked about behaviours like spreading rumours, excluding teammates from networks, texting during meetings, showing little interest in another’s opinion and blaming language. 

Some key learning is that people were a lot more impacted by these little and big incivilities than anyone had thought. Some of the impacts included:
  • 30% less likely to feel vital and energetic
  • 47% intentionally decreased their time at work
  • 66% said their performance declined
  • 78% said their commitment to the organization declined
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident
They also discovered that 60% of the time, bad behavior flowed from the top.

Most interesting, although effects were worse than anticipated, with organizations losing profits and people, much of this was going undetected as most people kept the impacts hidden.

To better understand what was behind reduced performance, these two academics conducted experiments using word puzzles and brainstorming activities which showed that those who witnessed incivility performed 20% worse on the word puzzles and produced nearly 30% fewer ideas in brainstorming tasks. Witnesses to incivility were also less likely to help – even when the experimenter had no apparent connection to the uncivil participant. Only 25% of those who witnessed incivility volunteered to help, as compared to 51% who didn’t witness incivility.

Their research affirms a powerful experience I had recently in what makes for healthy group dynamics. I was taking a course in Group Process and as part of the course, we were asked to form groups and stay together over the course of a few months – the length of the academic term. I choose my group quite carefully, noting a small group standing together in a circle. As I came up, the circle parted and allowed for me to enter.

The fact that they were standing in a circle told me that they might be forming in a harmonious way. Have you ever noticed people standing around in circles? It happens more than you might realize. I notice them. Teachers. 
Kids. Janitorial Staff. People relaxing seem to stand around in circles.

The fact that they parted, making way for me to join their circle as I walked up, also said a lot about how they were treating people. They welcomed me.

Our group ended up being five people, one of the smallest in the class. We may very well have also had the most polite group. We said a lot of pleases, thank yous and after you. Each group needed to present its process at the end of the class, and we joked about having “Polite Wars.” We did a skit where we were all standing in (another) circle around a hot tub (dressed as vegetables!) – and each inviting the other to enter the tub first: Oh – after you! No, no, please – after you! A bit like this.

Although there is some literature that talks about the perils of keeping things too superficial and avoiding conflict, there was something deeply satisfying and engaging about our kindnesses with each other.

There is a profound difference between superficiality and civility. According to Porath and Pearson, it starts with setting norms that are based on valuing each other and diversity. In our group, fairly early on, we introduced a diversity tool called Six Hat Thinking. This allowed us to each recognize strengths in the other and tolerate differences.

Porath and Pearson also recommend teaching civil demeanor through building competencies such as listening, conflict resolution, negotiation, dealing with difficult people, stress management and giving and receiving feedback. They even tell of organizations that teach their customers their expectations for respect. They also advocate tying civil behavior to performance reviews and career advancement.

“Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.” 
… Pier Massimo Forni


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

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Or check out "Stay Cool Through Hot Conversations", another e-course co-created by Judy Zehr and myself.


Marla Sloan and Clare Sprowell have crafted a beautiful looking and elegantly working process to help people engage conflict kinaesthetically! This “Mediator in a Box" is a tool people can use to practice having those difficult conversations. It was originally designed to help two people resolve their own conflicts together and has been tested to do just that.

If you are curious about what they are offering, you can check out Mediator in a Box

I’d love to hear if you buy it and what you think!

“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication.” 
… Stephen Covey

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