Tag Archives: conflict resolution

Listening, self-expression, flexibility – three keys to effective interaction with others


By Elisabeth Goodman, 7th January 2020

Quote from: Francesca Gino’s “Cracking the code of sustained collaboration”, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 2019, p.72-81

As we begin a new year, and a new decade, finding ways that we can get on better  with each other at work, in our families, and in all spheres of life has got to be a good thing!

Francesca Gino’s article with her great tips for effective collaboration came out just at the end of last year.  For me they come down to three key concepts:

  1. Listen to really understand the other person’s perspective
  2. Clearly express your own needs and intentions to help others understand what they are
  3. Be prepared to be flexible and adapt to achieve an outcome that works as well as possible for others as well as yourself

Listen to really understand the other person’s perspective

As Francesca Gino points out, there is a lot of emphasis in academia and in business on being able to talk: to make a good impression, to get our points across in meetings, to give effective presentations.

But listening is what makes all the difference to having effective discussions with others.  If we take the time to listen, ask open questions, allow the other person the space and time for reflection, we will better understand their perspective.  The quality of discussion will be some much better.

We can learn to listen empathetically: picking up on their tone and body language for underlying emotions, and communicating our understanding of the other’s perspective and situation.  (This is different from sympathy – we are not required to enter into the same emotional state!)

clearly express your own needs and intentions

A lot of tension, misunderstanding and conflict comes from not wanting to say what we really think or feel. Or we expect others to guess what might be going on with us and then get frustrated or annoyed when they don’t.

So we can develop our skills in expressing what we think and feel, and what outcomes we want, in a way that is respectful of the other person.

Likewise, we can learn to provide feedback, positive and constructive, in a way that is objective, specific and focuses on the other person’s behaviour rather than their personality.

be prepared to be flexible and adapt..

This is all about seeking ‘win-win’ outcomes as opposed to being in a competitive mindset.

We can work on the basis that the other person’s ideas and perspectives will always have some value, and we can look at ways of building on them.

Saying ‘and’ rather than ‘but’ is a very simple although sometimes surprisingly difficult small step towards this mindset.

Francesca Gina also suggests that leaders and managers can learn to follow as well as to lead as another way to cultivate flexibility.  This requires humility for instance in recognising that others might sometimes have better information or insights for making decisions. It also requires trust for instance in being able to delegate rather than seeking to keep control.

conclusion

This is, for me, an excellent collection of tips that leaders and managers can explore as they develop their own, and their team members’ skills in 2020 and beyond.

The tips resonate well with the coaching skills that we share on RiverRhee’s management and leadership courses, and with previous blogs on dealing with difficult situations, people and conflict.

See for example:

Conflict is the “lifeblood of high performing organisations”

Re-building working relationships with emotional intelligence

The manager as coach: creating an environment that is conducive to thinking

What to do when the difficult person is your boss?

Notes

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Finding that ‘sweet spot’ for collaboration


By Elisabeth Goodman, 3rd April 2019

The five positions of conflict

Illustration from RiverRhee’s training on Assertiveness and on Dealing with Difficult Situations

Exploring ways to find the “sweet spot” in collaborating with others is a particularly salient topic in the current political climate.  Thomas Kilmann’s model is an excellent guide on how to do this, which we illustrate in RiverRhee’s training on Assertiveness, and in our management training on Dealing with Difficult Situations, with a story about two sisters sharing their last orange.

Thomas Kilmann’s model teaches us about the importance of having open conversations, and of deploying our best listening skills to understand what is most important to the other person.  The idea is to find some common ground which may lead to a solution (the “sweet spot”) that might be even better than mere compromise. In the case of the sisters, they discover that they want the orange for different purposes, and so are able to share it in a way that meets both their needs – the zest for one, the juice for the other.

The story about the orange is of course extremely simple compared to some of the issues facing us today, and especially where there are more than two people involved!  However, the principles may still be relevant.

So it was with great interest that I read Lisa B. Kwan’s article in the March-April 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review on “The Collaboration Blind Spot”, pp.67-73.  The author explores what can happen in cross-group initiatives, and how to address the defensive behaviours that might arise.

(By the way, you might recognise, as I did, that both the behaviours and the ways to address them can apply to individuals involved in one-to-one collaborations with each other.)

Defensive behaviours demonstrated in cross-group collaboration initiatives

Lisa Kwan reminds us that if we are seeing or experiencing defensive behaviour between groups, the chances are that they are feeling threatened in some way.

She lists the kinds of behaviour typically demonstrated as:

  • Overt territorial assertions: “we’re in charge here”, “their opinion does not matter”
  • Overt attacks on others: public criticism of the other group
  • Power plays: calling high-profile meetings and excluding the other group from them
  • Covert blocking behaviours: making the other group’s work so difficult that they can’t play their part in the collaboration
  • Covert manipulation of boundaries: framing the other group’s expertise in such a way as to over-emphasise one’s own group’s strengths, or the other group’s so-called weaknesses

Threats to identity – purpose, roles and responsibilities

Lisa Kwan categorises the threats that lead to this defensive behaviour under three fairly closely related headings, the first of which is identity.

A group may feel that there is a threat to their on-going ‘reason for being’ as a result of the collaboration.  Will their role disappear?

A leader can address this by being very (even publicly) clear about:

  • the purpose of the collaboration
  • the reason why he or she has asked these particular groups to collaborate
  • the very clear differences in the roles that they can each bring to bear to the discussion
  • his or her expectations of what is in or out of scope in terms of the nature of the discussion and the outcome

If appropriate, the leader could also grant the individual groups greater ownership of roles not associated with the collaboration in question.

Threats to legitimacy – value and reputation

This threat is to do with the groups’ and the parent organisation’s perception of the value that they bring.

Lisa Kwan suggests that the answer here lies in publicly re-asserting:

  • why each group was created in the first place
  • the value that they have brought in the past – to the organisation as a whole
  • the value that is anticipated they will bring to the collaboration
  • the critical role that they play or will play

Threats to control – decision-making and autonomy

A collaborative initiative may threaten a group’s sense of control, decision-making or autonomy.

A potential solution involves:

  1. Identifying the broad topics, processes, products, services, equipment etc. and general decisions involved.
  2. Defining which of these each group is responsible for: their “landmark” categories
  3. Defining which of these require shared, uncertain or ambiguous control
  4. Identifying where there might be an overlap between the “landmark” categories, and the shared ones – this is where they might be a “control threat”
  5. Exploring ways to reduce this threat – or acknowledging it and perhaps finding ways to offset it by giving the relevant group greater control over some new area

Conclusion – reminders for leaders and those involved in potential conflict situations

Lisa Kwan’s article represents the results of eight years of research, including six years of doctoral research.  She has observed cross-group collaboration in global companies, and conducted extensive interviews.  Her conclusions certainly resonate with what I have more informally observed and I think provide invaluable insight for leaders, as well as for individuals involved in conflict situations.

Lisa Kwan suggests that leaders should “check for their blind spots” when asking groups to collaborate to pick up and act upon the potential behavioural risks involved.

I believe that her advice could help both leaders and individuals find the “sweet spot” for collaboration!

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

 

 

Conflict is “the lifeblood of high performing organisations”


By Elisabeth Goodman, 28th April 2018

I’ve just been reading booklet number 10: Conflict Management, in the “Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman et al.

The authors have some powerful insights on the benefits of conflict and how to address or facilitate it constructively, both as an individual participant, and as a team leader.

The benefits of conflict

George Kolrieser is the originator of the quote in the title of this blog: conflict is the “lifeblood of high performing organisations”.

He and Amy Gallo give a great overview of the benefits that conflict can bring to groups as well as to individuals.  Their views are a confirmation of why “storming” is such a vital step in the stages of team development.

Stages of team development_Elisabeth Goodman

Stages of team development, adapted from Tuckman

Conflict is the result of the discussions and disagreements that arise from diverse points of view.

For a group, when conflict is handled effectively, people will have the courage to speak up, take risks and listen to and consider other’s perspectives.  In such a climate, conflict will generate energy, creativity, change, improved performance, innovation and a more strongly bonded team.

For individuals who accept conflict as something positive, it will give them:

  • better results – because they are considering others’ viewpoints
  • learning and development – through self-reflection on their reactions to conflict as well as understanding of others’
  • improved relationships – through being open to conflict, and the strength they gain each time they respond positively to it
  • job satisfaction – through not feeling worried or stressed about conflict at work

“Put the fish on the table”

This metaphor is also supplied by George Kolrieser.  It comes from Sicily, where fishermen will lay their catch out on a table and deal with all the messy preparation of it together. (The opposite metaphor would be to let the fish rot under the table.)

catania160

“Put the fish on the table” – photo from http://galenf.com/Sicily/catania160.jpg

In this situation, as George Kolrieser describes, the people involved are openly raising and discussing the issues involved.  They are seeking a win:win resolution, without aggression or hostility.

This approach to conflict resolution is founded on achieving a common goal, or, as Richard Boyatzis puts it, an “overarching objective”.

The people involved are able to feel and demonstrate respect for each other – although they don’t have to like each other!

How individuals can address conflict

The following approach is my take on those described in the booklet by Amy Gallo, George Pitagorsky and Matthew Lippincott.

Addressing conflict

  1. Be self-aware.  This is about taking time to assess how you are feeling: your emotional response to the situation; stepping-back.
  2. Adjust your mindset. Considering the conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem; one where you can help others as well as yourself.
  3. Consider the other’s perspectives.  Show your interest in what they have to say; ask diplomatic questions; empathise; treat it as a learning opportunity.  Be aware that the organisational context may have some bearing on their perspective.
  4. Prepare your response.  Think about what the common goal might be.  Choose an appropriate time and place to have the discussion.
  5. Achieve closure.  Make sure that both parties reach agreement on a decision and on the resultant action, and that they follow-through.

Amy Gallo has some additional useful tips on how an individual can help themselves by unloading their emotions before having a discussion – perhaps with a ‘neutral’ third party.  They can also practise the discussion with a third party.  And of course it’s important to know when to take time out to deal with your emotions and calm down.

How leaders can facilitate conflict resolution

George Kolrieser’s “secure base leadership” concept is about providing individuals with both a safe and challenging environment to work within.  This applies to how they help their team members deal with conflict, as well as to day-to-day management.

Leaders can create a climate for positive conflict by:

  1. Positively promoting the differences within the team
  2. Helping people to get to know each other in a deeper way (which is why face-to-face team building activities are so valuable)
  3. Encouraging and supporting people to speak up
  4. Personally accepting conflict, risk-taking and failure as promoters of growth

They can facilitate discussions to deal with conflict by:

  1. Recognising when conflict is happening, and acting on it early
  2. Learning to put their own emotions aside (keeping their emotions “under wraps”)
  3. Tuning in to what the individuals are experiencing emotionally, their ideas and perspectives
  4. Facilitating the conversation – using all the strategies described for the individual in the section above

Conclusion

Dealing with conflict is not easy!  So much of it is learning to separate automatic emotional responses from the issues involved.  Those issues may be to do with the relationship of the ‘protagonists’ and/or with a particular topic.

However, like just about anything in life, the more we learn to deal with conflict, the more we will learn about ourselves and others, and the better we will get at reaping the associated benefits!

And sometimes… it may just be about choosing the battles we want to fight, as well as when and how to do so…

Notes

About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.