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: October 8, 2014 - Year 12, Issue 10
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - Hold Onto Yourself Through Conflict
This month’s HEALTH column is brought to you by my collaborator, Judy Zehr. Judy is a therapist and coach with expertise in managing stress and rewiring brains for more joy, peace and balance. We’ve collaborated on an e-course on how to apply her expertise to the subject of self management in conflict. I’ve invited her to share with us a taste of what she knows on the subject. Enjoy!
When I was an Organizational Development and Training specialist, I spent years trying to help work groups communicate more effectively and resolve conflicts in rationale ways. You are probably familiar with the kind of training I would deliver: tools such as reflective listening skills, how to determine underlying needs and concerns, and find mutually beneficial resolutions.
Fine in theory, but often the underlying conflicts were so deep and messy these simple tools seemed like band-aids for gaping wounds.
The deeper wounds tended to be unresolved, hurt feelings kept hidden or lost in layers of time, deep, repetitive conflicts and issues showing up disguised, personality differences that seemed insurmountable, all creating aggressive or chronically defensive interactions in teams.
I began to see the problem not so much as communication skill deficits, but as developmental issues -- meaning most of us, in certain situations or settings and with certain people, have a hard time behaving in wise, thoughtful, solution-focused ways. We get stuck in conflict and often don’t even recognize it.
So my question became, how do I help people grow out of the stuck nature of conflict, territorialism, perceived threats, insecurities and defensive posturing?
For the next twenty years of my career I set off trying to find some answers. Fortunately, I stumbled upon Emotional Brain Training -- EBT for short.
Although originally designed to help people “self regulate” and “rewire” their brains to minimize the effects of the stress response, (used in mental health settings to treat addiction, anxiety and depression, obesity, etc.) the tools and theory are key to understanding interpersonal conflict and how to help people evolve out of stuck interactional patterns.
The idea is pretty straightforward.
We all have five basic stress states, and we can all experience any and all of these five states throughout the day. These stress states are neurobiological — that is, they impact our thoughts, feelings and our actions.
The more moments we spend in any one of those five states, the more it becomes a familiar neural pathway in our brain, becoming what’s called an “emotional set point”. That stress state becomes our “norm”. Temperament, family history and trauma can all impact the set point we have.
Bring this to the workplace, and you end up with a recipe for complexity and difficulties in interpersonal relationships.
A brain stuck in stress can not process “good ideas” or listen carefully. Rather, the brain in stress thinks in black and white, all or nothing terms, sees things skewed, has tunnel vision, and can’t think clearly or see the big picture. When in a state of stress, empathy is out of the realm of possibility. Blaming behaviors become a signal of a stressed brain.
When we are in conflict, we are stressed. So rather than teach skills and tools, we need to help people in conflict move their brain from a lower state to a higher state. And the exciting news is, with our understanding of neuroscience and change, this now can be done with greater results than I imagined possible twenty years ago.
The key is to start with knowing your state. If you are in a lower brain state, you’ll know because your feelings will be ramped up or you’ll feel numb, powerless or disconnected. Your thoughts will be negative, critical, judging and repetitive. That’s just your brain state. It’s a transitory state and it’s “only a wire.”
Knowing you’re in a lower brain state is good information and key to “self regulation” when in conflict or stress. This is not the time to try to work through problems, for example. It’s not a time to try to get someone to see your point of view. This is a time to take care of yourself, to reconnect with yourself, so you can move through the stress, to a higher brain state, where you can discuss more clearly, have more empathy, listen and work toward mutually beneficial outcomes.
To learn more about stress states and how to move your state up, which improves all your relationships, Julia and I have developed a class. We are also working on a book to help people stay in balance in difficult conversations. You can contact us at anytime for more information. Your relationships and your communication matter!
“Traditional interventions — insight, knowledge, planning and deciding — are processed primarily by the thinking brain. Unfortunately, there is no significant relationship between what is processed by the thinking brain our most primitive human drives. That’s why you can have a Ph.D. in nutrition and an eating disorder. True transformation comes from revising the feeling brain.”
… Laurel Mellin
2. ENVIRONMENT - Efficient Governments
Last month, I was thinking about the 6th extinction – ours. I asked who is negotiating and speaking out for our land and for our animals. I suggested that the non-profit sector does and our indigenous population does.
Then I had an interesting exchange from someone within government. This person pointed out that there are many people who work within the public sector who care and work tirelessly to be advocates for the health of our environment and for the stewardship of public lands as well. Yet, as in so many sectors, budgets are often restricted and workloads often exceed capacity.
I wanted to take a moment and thank every public service person I’ve ever met who has shown me their heart. There are many of you out there! Whether you are in municipal, provincial or federal government positions – you serve our greater interests. To do your job well, you must hold not only the public’s point of view the best you can, but other stakeholders who can range from an indigenous interest group to an oil and gas company. Throughout it all, you must show a diligent demonstration of support, first and foremost, for us – the public you serve. A hard job and not one we generally thank you for. It’s not popular to thank those who work in government. And I want to. Thank you! Hats off!
“Whenever you have an efficient government, you have a dictatorship.”
… Harry S. Truman, Lecture at Columbia University, 28 April, 1959
3. NEGOTIATION - Conflict Competent Leaders
I started my Masters in Dispute Resolution a few weeks ago at the University of Victoria. One of the benefits is meeting young, talented people with lots to say about, and contribute to, our field. One such individual is Julie Czeck, a fellow student in the Masters program and a restorative justice practitioner. Julie recently shared with me a paper of hers she did on conflict and leadership. I asked if I could share a shortened version of her paper with you. It’s a fascinating read! And, if you wanted to dig in a bit deeper, her paper is about 4 pages and available as a link at the end of this article. Enjoy!
Leadership that holds conflict resolution at its core has the ability to catalyze a positive cultural shift in the way conflict is perceived.
However, transforming conflicts into opportunities requires conflict competence.
In recent decades there has been a paradigm shift in how leaders and conflict resolution specialists are perceived. Both of these roles can now be described using the metaphor of a coach: one who guides and supports the advancement of mutual discovery. It is important for organizations to have conflict competent leaders. Poorly managed conflict has the potential to tax an organization in the form of wasted time, decreased productivity, turnover, and lawsuits, among other things.
Through skillful navigation, conflict can be harnessed to produce positive outcomes such as innovation and improved decision-making. Whether the outcome is productive or destructive depends on how the leader manages the situation.
Given that managers spend up to a quarter of their time managing conflict, providing them with the opportunities to acquire and correctly apply conflict management skills will reinforce their leadership effectiveness and thereby contribute organizational effectiveness.
Research has shown that a leader’s behavior in conflict not only has ramifications for the given situation but also has an impact on the conflict culture of the organization. For example, a collaborative style of management will likely influence a collaborative culture of dealing with conflict in the organization. By modeling appropriate behaviors for addressing conflict, leaders have an impact on the organization’s conflict culture.
Conflict competent leaders believe that the highest quality decisions result from careful analysis in conflict situations. To be able to choose an appropriate response to conflict, leaders first must understand its origins. Analysis involves gathering information and exploring the varying levels on which the conflict is occurring. Given that conflict is inevitable, leaders who acquire conflict resolution skills position themselves to experience the positive opportunities conflict can offer.
While there are many qualities that encompass good leaders, some of the central ones include their ability to model the way for their followers, foster collaboration, and inspire a shared vision. The discourse on transformational leadership has demonstrated how such characteristics foster an atmosphere of collaboration, which is favorable for conflict resolution. Yet, this collaborative environment is not enough, leaders must also have the skills to diagnose conflict and respond to it.
A conflict competent leader then, is one who enhances their leadership effectiveness by acquiring and applying conflict resolution skills in their efforts to promote the pursuit of common organizational goals.
“When we talk to executives and managers who attend our programs, they almost always say that they have never formally learned how to handle conflict either in school or during their career.”
Runde, C.E. & Flanagan, T.A.
To read Julie’s full paper, click here.
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training