Archive for the ‘Relationship Management’ Category

Do you know when you’re getting in your own way?

stuckArticle contributed by guest author Dawn Cook.

Self awareness is a beautiful thing.  However, the challenge to acknowledge you need to increase self awareness is daunting. Most of us go along our merry way without giving thought to how we may be getting in our own way with limiting beliefs, unconscious fears or simply a lack of emotional intelligence.  How do we even begin to check in with ourselves and look for opportunities to grow?

Probably the easiest way is recognize it in others.  It’s much safer and less threatening to observe someone else’s self sabotaging behavior than to look in the mirror.  So let’s take a look at a few examples to sharpen your focus.

Joan is complimented by her client on her performance in completing a project.  Instead of accepting the compliment, she rejects it by saying it was really not a big deal.  The client makes another attempt to praise her work but she passes it off as ‘no biggie.’  The client begins to wonder if the cost of the project is commensurate with the effort required.  As they discuss her next engagement with them, the client negotiates hard for a lower price – much to Joan’s dismay.  She’s appalled that they seem to undervalue her work.

Tony emailed a colleague this morning with a request for information on a critical project.  As of this afternoon, he has still not heard back.  He proceeds to call his colleague and leave a voice mail, insisting he get the information ASAP. As the minutes roll by, Tony begins to wonder if his colleague is intentionally dogging him.  That notion angers him even more and he finds he cannot stay focused on his work because he is so agitated.

Kathryn calls to schedule a company dinner meeting at a restaurant they’ve used many times in the past.  The restaurant manager informs her that, due to the holidays, they need confirmation of the number of guests to secure the reservation for a private room.  Kathryn indicated she would not know the actual number until three days before the dinner.  The manager reiterates their requirement and Kathryn triggers.  In haste, she tells the manager she will find another restaurant.  However, at this late date, she will be hard pressed to do so.

In each of these situations, the individual was unaware how their deficit in emotional intelligence affected their reactions.  Joan lacks the self esteem to accept that she had done great work; Tony lacks empathy to understand his colleague has his own challenging time table, and Kathryn lacks impulse control to reason out a better solution in the moment.  They all got in their own way yet each of them places blame elsewhere.

The common denominator in these scenarios is the need to look within at your contribution when life throws you a curve ball. Certainly you don’t cause every bump in the road of life, but a few may have your hand print in them.  Your next step in the self awareness journey?   Simply ask yourself, “How may I have contributed to this?” and “How would my best version of myself do things differently in the future?”  If you answer honestly, you just might be amazed at how quickly you stop getting in your own way.

Thank you for reading.  Make it an EQ day!

The gift that everyone needs

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Article contributed by Amy Sargent

In many countries, this time of the year is marked by the telltale signs of people scurrying around from store to store trying to find the perfect gift for friends, family, and loved ones. And while we may fuss that this holiday season has become too commercialized, most will admit that it feels really good to give, especially when we’ve chosen a gift that is well received! Seeing the delight on someone’s face as they unwrap a present they like can warm our hearts on any cold, winter day.

But there’s a gift that many of us possess, yet, often unbeknown to us, withhold it. We’ll spend our hard-earned paychecks on new toys or colorful housewares or the latest electronic gadget for those we love, and even at times for strangers, but this particular gift is a little more difficult to part with. It doesn’t come wrapped in brown paper packages tied up with bows, and you won’t find it online or at your neighborhood retail store. Yet, it is a gift that each of us wants — and needs.

I don’t like conflict.  Not many of us do.  Whether it be with family at home, or colleagues at the office, or with strangers on our daily commute, conflict with other human beings can leave us feeling used up, empty, and numb–the very opposite of what we’re ‘supposed’ to feel this time of year. The holidays are a time for peace.  But we all know how difficult relations with each other can be at times.  How much peace are you feeling at the moment with those you interact with?  And more importantly, how much peace are you giving at the moment to those in your life?

When my kids’ dad and I divorced years ago, I can’t exactly say we were feeling the love, joy and peace of the season in our household those first few winters. There was arguing. Crying. Yelling. Disenchantment. The ending of family as we knew it left raw wounds, which would at times begin to heal over, until a word or action ripped open the flesh once again with new hurt and pain. I was angry, he was angry–we were angry.  The kids got their presents: princess dresses, Batman masks, bicycles, movies, gifts laced with all the trimmings of the holidays, yet the most vital ingredient was missing:  peace.  I remember one particular night we were dropping off the kids and the interaction between us was so bitter than I was shaking with rage.  Peace?  It just wasn’t an item in Santa’s gift bag for our family that year.

Peace can only come about when we are able to get along well with those around us. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a ‘people person’, it’s almost impossible to avoid interactions with others, and it’s these interactions that greatly affect our ability to experience peace. Believe me, I understand how certain circumstances can cause our relationships to be strained, to say the least, but unless we develop healthy conflict management skills, and interpersonal skills, both key components of emotional intelligence, even when there are valid reasons for the controversy, our ability to experience peace– and give peace — will be stifled.

Is there anyone in your life who’s robbing you of your peace?  Or, more importantly, is there anyone from whom you are stealing it? Maybe it’s a coworker who drives you nuts, or pushes your buttons, or…. you name it … whatever it is they do that’s causing you distress. Maybe it’s a family member that hurt you a long time ago in an angry argument.  Maybe it’s the guy who just pulled out in front of you at the intersection. Whomever it is, how does it feel?  If your reaction is anything like mine, the sick pit in your stomach when you think of the person or interact with them is enough to dampen the brightest of holiday spirits.

Forgiveness is often thought of to be a religious term, but it is helpful in bringing about peace to all, no matter what religion, belief system, or god you serve.  A quick internet search of the word ‘forgive’ leads you to this definition: “To stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.”  But I like the second definition that comes up even more so:  “To cancel a debt.”  Cancel means to cross it out, delete it, to let it go. It is inevitable that when in relationship there will be cause for offense. But it’s our choice to let go of the punishment that we feel they deserve for their bad behavior.  It’s a gift that we all possess and have the ability to give, and it’s our choice whether to give it — or not. And while not offering it is definitely an option, we’ve all heard the famous quote by Marianne Williamson:   “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.”

My years of holding on to resentments tainted my joy, and it was no one’s fault but my own. Sure, I could blame my ex for the unrest, but in actuality it was me who was refusing to offer the olive branch of peace. It took several years, but when I was finally ready to cancel the debt I felt my he owed, it was only then that peace could begin to seep back into my life. Hurtful words became just a little less hurtful. Unrealistic expectations of each other were put to rest, and oddly, a sense of respect for each other began appear, faintly at first, like the first twinkling star at dusk. Although these moments in the beginning were few and far between, it soon became more and normal to treat each other decently. It was as if we were tentatively exchanging little trinkets of peace, like stocking stuffers, and as we rebuilt trust, the gifts became more substantial, valuable, and frequent. I’d compliment him on his parenting skills, he’d thank me for teaching the girls to sing.  He’d offer to pay for something extra, then I’d do the same next time an expense came around. It wasn’t easy, and I struggled with extending kindness when the list of his wrongs always seemed to be much longer than the rights. But I found it hard to maintain a hardened heart when he’d offer a kind word, and visa versa. Sure, we’d often backslide, but for the most part we could tell our relationship was moving to a healthier place. Long story short, just last week, we were attending one of our kids’ choir events, and stopped into local coffee shop beforehand, and all sat together and shared coffee, and actually got along.  No arguing, no hurtful digs, no unkind words. We even laughed a bit and snapped a group photo.  What a different scene than from those early days of conflict. Will he ever be my best friend again?  Most likely not. I don’t think I’d even want that. But we have been able to finally lay down the years of bitterness and begin to again experience the love (well, “like” may be more accurate!), peace, and joy that Christmas carolers croon about.

Forgiveness. It’s gift that we all possess, but one that can be hard to give, especially when we can justify the reasons someone doesn’t deserve it. Offering forgiveness is much easier said than done — but know it can be done and can lead to the peace we all desire, deep down. Who will you offer this gift to this season?

 

Coaching Toward Freedom

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Article contributed by Amy Sargent

 

Hurdles. Obstacles. Hang-ups. Shadows.

Many of us are aware of the things that slow us down in life, that keep us caged up. Some we can put a name to and others remain obscure. But whether they take the form of an event from the past, or a discouraging thought, a looming dread, or a fear of the unknown, or — fill in the blank — we all have issues, like bars on a prison cell, that prevent us from living the life we dream of. Oh, the joy if we could be set free from these chains that seem to continually prevent us from moving ahead!

What is freedom anyway?  Merriman Webster defines it like this:

  1. The absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
  2. The quality or state of being exempt or released from an oppressive burden
  3. Boldness of conception or execution

(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/freedom)

Is there anything in life you do out of necessity, or because you feel like you have no choice?  Are you currently experiencing any heavy burdens you’d like to be released from? Do you wish you had a little more boldness in creating a new idea or carrying one out?  Dr. Gary Wood, psychologist, life coach and author, says this:

“Coaching should be all about helping people to live a life of freedom.”

Working with a social and emotional intelligence coach can help you begin to take steps toward a freedom you’ve not yet experienced. Or better yet, becoming a social and emotional intelligence coach can enable you to help others do just that! Imagine learning how to help others become more self-aware, then showing them how to manage their behavior based upon that newfound self-awareness, empowering them to be free to make the behavior changes they’ve been longing for. Imagine setting others free from relationship woes by teaching them to learn how to tune into the emotions of those around them, and understand how navigate and manage those relationships toward health.

Consider becoming a social and emotional intelligence coach to lead others toward the freedom of living out who they truly are to the best of their abilities.

The ins and outs of integrity

integrityArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I tried to lie once.

I had decided to take my three kids skiing, and was stressing about spending the money.  As we approached the ticket window, plodding along in ski boots and bundled in winter coats, hats, and gloves, I noticed on the sign that children under the age of five were free.  My youngest had just turned five a few weeks back, and I realized I could save $35 by pawning her off as a four-year old!   She was small for her age, I rationalized, and will hardly ski anyway — it would be fine. However when I got up to the ticket counter, and told the attendant I needed two child tickets (for my older two) and “this one’s free,” pointing to her, he assertively smiled and said, “Great, what’s her birth date?”

I panicked.  Should I add a year to her year of birth to take one away?  Wait–she is five now — so I go down a year — no — up a year — oh, why didn’t I listen better in math?! I blurted out a date and he replied, nodding, with a comical look on his face, “Yeah, that would make her seven!”

He caught me in my lie.  I sheepishly paid the full price for her ticket and walked away in shame.  Worse than my flushed cheeks, my three little kids witnessed “mommy’s temporary memory loss” which obviously wasn’t that at all.  Later they asked me why I’d lied, and I told them I wanted to save money, and my middle child said, “But that wouldn’t be fair to others who have to pay, would it?” She had me there.  Was my attempt to twist the truth really worth the $35?  A few months later, my little one asked me something, and when I answered, she responded, “Is that true or is that like when you tried to tell that man I was four.” Ugh.  What seemed like such a small thing actually turned into a much bigger hurdle for me to overcome in establishing trust with my kids again.  And while living in integrity is much more than not telling a little white lie now and then, what comes out of our mouth is a reflection of who we are. Albert Einstein said it well,

 “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Our integrity (or lack of) defines whether or not we are someone who can be relied upon, trusted, and believed.  Do you lie often or do you mostly tell the truth?  I say mostly because a research study was published in 2002 by Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts, who discovered that most people lie every day. The study showed that 60% of people aren’t able to have a ten minute conversation without telling at least one lie, and those in the Pinocchio category tend to tell two to three lies in the same ten minute period! (http://mentalfloss.com/article/30609/60-people-cant-go-10-minutes-without-lying)

I know, we’d like to think that we are the ones who fall into the 40%, but listen to closely to yourself in your next conversation.  Did you stretch the truth — just a little bit?  Mention a few extra details that didn’t exactly take place to get an extra laugh?  Not tell the whole story leading the listener to believe something about you that just isn’t quite accurate?

Integrity is defined by most as the quality of being honest and possessing strong moral principles. And it’s our integrity — especially when we’re in a leadership role — that establishes a sense of trust and reliability from those we work with. Integrity is a key competency of emotional intelligence and truth-telling is just one of the factors that make up one’s integrity.  Barbara De Angelis, relationship and personal growth advisor, puts it this way:

“Living with integrity means:  Not settling for less than what you know  you deserve in your relationships.  Asking for what you want and need from others.  Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension.  Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values.  Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”

Take this short quiz to see if you are living in integrity.  Ask yourself and answer with a yes or no:

  • Do I always follow through on my commitments?
  • Do I know my values and live by them at all times?
  • Do I accept accountability for my actions, even if they “get me in trouble”?
  • Do I take a stand for what I believe is right, even in the face of opposition?
  • Do I give credit to those who deserve it?
  • Do I treat all people with respect, not only to their face, but behind their back?
  • Do I attempt to obey the ‘spirit of the law’ (the whys behind it) as opposed to just the letter of the law?
  • Do I do the right thing when no one is looking?

If you can answer yes to these questions, then you are well on your way to being a person of high integrity.  Now, turn to a friend or colleague and ask them to answer the same questions about you.  Are their findings the same as yours?

If you came up with “sometimes”, or even a few no’s, then good news!, you’re now seeing the areas of your integrity that could use some work.  The first step in building more integrity is to truly know your own personal values.  What is really important to you? Take some time to write them down, in any order.  Then go back, and circle the ones that are most valuable to you. Prioritize them.

Now, take a good look at your day-to-day life.  Are you living out these values? An easy way to find this out is to look at your calendar app and notice if the things you’re spending your time doing are matching up with the values you circled.  If you’re seeing a miss between your highest values and how you’re spending your time, then it’s time to lay out a personal action plan to remedy this.  Note in which situations are the conflicts most often arising (be specific — in meetings with your boss, or when you are working alone at home, or when you are out making new business connections, or when you feel nervous, etc.).  You may begin to see a trend as to the specific situations that challenge your integrity.  Recognizing these moments as ‘trigger points’ can help you prepare beforehand to make a stronger attempt to live out your values when the situation arises.

Finally, think, “What is one action I could take, today, when in that situation, to make a shift toward living out my values?” Then get out there and give it a try.  As with most things, practice makes perfect.

Since that fateful day at the ski ticket window, I have been much more conscious of speaking the truth, even if I fear the retributions…and even if it costs me a little extra money.  As a side note, I’ve also taken some time to brush up on my math skills, just in case I stumble along my walk towards integrity again in the future.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity.  Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”  — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Mindfulness: the cure for the ‘checklist life’

Article contributed by guest author Fern Weis

Go here, do that, make the calls, pay the bills, quantify, measure, check it off. Are you living the checklist life?

“Who me? I don’t have time for this!” You may think that a week before school starts is the wrong time to hear this message.  In fact, it’s the perfect time. As you gear up for highly structured days, running your kids here and there, supervising them, meals, homework, your own job, and everything else it takes to run a family and a household, consider how stressful it all is. How can you include some peaceful, mindful time in your day? It’s not optional anymore, not if you want to be more patient, healthy and creative.

I don’t believe we are supposed to be always doing; arranging our calendar so we can fit in just one more thing; attaching a measurement to everything we do. When was the last time you really paid attention to where you are without thinking about the outcome or checking it off your to-do list?

My family has a little vacation home in the Poconos. We don’t come up nearly enough, but I’ll take what I can get. Time seems to stand still here and I embrace spending my days reading, talking, eating meals on the porch. I can’t seem to do that at home without feeling guilty about it, but up here it works.

This morning I took the dog for a walk, and also set my phone app to track time and distance. (It’s one tool I have to motivate me to get the exercise.) Mid-walk I was so tempted to check it. How far had I walked? Had I hit the 30-minute mark yet?

You can’t know (well, maybe you can) the self-control it took to not give in to that impulse. You may consider this a non-issue, but in a world where we’ve come to expect instant information and gratification, it’s a big deal to resist. I consciously shifted my focus to the sounds of the crickets and the wind in the trees, and to noticing my surroundings. It took an effort to make it about the experience, rather than about accomplishing something. I arrived home more relaxed, and with less of the chatter that clutters my brain. Mindfulness works.

The more structure and stress, the more you need these moments. Whether you call it balance, self-care or calm, mindfulness will give you a much-needed break from the checklist life. Here are a few ways to get started:

     1) Meditation. (I can hear the groans. Please, keep reading.) I was resistant to it, too, until someone helped me understand that meditation isn’t something you have to do for an hour, and it isn’t about completely clearing your mind.

Meditation helps me shift my attention away from my thoughts and onto my breath. That mind-chatter can be constant, draining, anxiety-producing. Meditation, even for a minute or two, changes that energy.

Check out The Mindfulness App 1 & 2 to get started. It has guided and silent meditations, from 3 to 30 minutes. You can read about the other features yourself. No pressure, just the gift of a few quiet minutes.

     2) Focus on the task at hand. This is a technique borrowed from Family Recovery Resources. Its original purpose was to help people when they are ‘flooded’ by intense emotions, and it can work just as well for our purposes.

It’s pretty simple. Notice what your hands are doing, and pay attention to the experience. If you are washing the dishes you may notice, “I’m squeezing dish liquid onto the sponge. I’m turning on the water, and putting the sponge under the running water. The water runs over my hand. It is warm and smooth. I rub the plate with the soapy sponge…” and so on.

Take the focus off of just ‘getting through’ the task so you can move on to the next thing. Experience it. Be mindful and in the present moment.  Again, it’s a way to ease the stress of all that fills your day.

     3) Add a couple of minutes to your shower and let your mind wander. Many people report that the lack of distractions and the warm water are not only relaxing, they spark creativity!   (I know this works.)

     4) Pay attention to details and the natural world around you. Look at the brushstrokes in a painting; notice the patterns in wood furniture; be aware of the tastes and textures of your food; or contemplate the clouds. Give yourself a break from the to-do list, just for a few minutes.  You will feel refreshed.

There are many ways to be mindful. If you want to be more peaceful and patient and reduce the mad rush of life, try one of the suggestions above, or do your own search for mindfulness methods. Which one will you try?

I love to hear what you do, or are going to try, to take a break from the checklist life.  Share your best tips below.

Who should I choose to lead?

handsinairArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

When looking to fill a managerial position, promoting a reliable, hard-working employee seems to make sense, and happens often.  We think, “She’s such a good staff member and consistently completes her projects with expertise – she’s the obvious choice to lead our team”

But the gulf between being a doer and a leader can be vast, especially if the individual lacks social and emotional intelligence – specifically, the competency of coaching and mentoring others.

A Gallup study released in 2015 found that approximately 50% of the surveyed employees left a job to get away from their manager. The impact of this kind of turnover on a company’s bottom line can be staggering, leading us to conclude that it is imperative to get the right person into leadership roles.

How can you spot someone who has this ability to lead— one who can sense the team’s capabilities and give them the tools and experiences that will help them develop to their fullest potential? Keep an eye out for these three telltale qualities:

  • They take time to learn about and get to know their coworkers. They have a good grasp of the personal goals of those around them, and understand the hurdles that may be preventing him/her from reaching them.
  • They show a genuine interest in helping their colleagues improve their performance and at times have provided solid support and direction when needed.
  • They demonstrate on a regular basis that they clearly recognize both the strengths and blind spots in their teammates, yet treat each individual with the same amount of respect.

To put it succinctly, I’ve modified Brian Tracy’s quote below, substituting the word “managers” for “people”:

“Successful people [managers] are always looking for opportunities to help others.  Unsuccessful people [managers] are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’” – Brian Tracy

So what qualities are yellow flags when choosing a manager? Someone who may potentially struggle as a leader probably doesn’t like to delegate and believes that individually, they can do the best job. They are restless in meetings, especially when collaboration is necessary. They are annoyed at having to share details of their personal work projects with others and don’t enjoy communicating the details with teammates. They may resent having to receive and give feedback and only do it when necessary (at performance reviews, for example). They find it a waste to time to connect with their colleagues on a personal level and most likely don’t know the names of their teammates’ spouses, children, and pets. Time spent with coworkers after-hours is minimal. They are feared more than liked and others do not naturally turn to them to share struggles, doubts, or missteps.

Just because an employee is coming up short in the area of coaching and mentoring others, though, doesn’t mean you should write him/her out of your managerial prospect book forever. Social and emotional intelligence can be learned, and with the help of a trained coach, a solid self-assessment—and a willingness to learn – an individual can begin to develop and hone his/her interpersonal skills and move toward a managerial mindset.  And if you’ve got the skills, consider setting aside time to mentor him/her toward growth by modeling both in and out of the workplace what good coaching and mentoring looks like.  Benjamin Franklin summed up the value of coaching and mentoring others like this: “The greatest good you can do another is not just share your riches, but reveal to him his own.”

Taking the time needed to put the right manager in place will have positive long-term effects on your organization.  In an article in Forbes.com, contributor Amy Rees Anderson puts it like this:

 “When good leadership is in place in a company, it can be felt throughout the entire organization…The result of good leadership is high morale, good employee retention, and sustainable long-term success.” 

Free webinar on social and emotional intelligence

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Join us on Monday, June 27th, at 5pm Eastern Time (U.S.), for an informative 30 minute introduction to social and emotional intelligence! Learn what it is and how it is vital to our relationships, both at home and at the office. Each participant will have the opportunity to complete a free Social + Emotional Intelligence Profile (SEIP)® to determine your own strengths and areas of growth — including a 40-page downloadable report.

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Free Webinar on Social + Emotional Intelligence
Monday, June 27th, 2016
5-5:30pm ET
www.the-isei.com | info@the-isei.com | 303-325-5176

Pass the honey, honey

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Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’ve been thinking a lot on perspective, maintaining a positive mindset, and being thankful lately– and thanks to a friend’s thought-provoking blog this morning on the art of remembering–realize that a key to staying positive is reminding ourselves of the good in our lives, in the midst of rough times. It’s not easy to do. We all have our stressors that cause us to lose perspective. What are yours? Mine are finances — when those are on shaky ground, I quickly and easily forget all the good things going on in my world. For some of us it is health, or parenting struggles, or being single, or ____ (fill in the blank). It’s not that these issues aren’t real, tough, and painful, because they are, but should they trump all other good things in our life?

And our addiction to social media doesn’t help.  It’s easy if we’re not careful to come down with the Grass Is Greener Syndrome, a life-sucking disease that causes anger, victimization, jealousy, and depression.

Sometimes we need a little help with our realistic optimism, a competency of emotional intelligence. I know I forget far too easily and quickly all the good things going on in my life when a crisis arises, and the encouraging words of a friend (or stranger even) are all it takes to help me find perspective again. When we get blinded by stress and struggles, often those around us can still see clearly, better than we can ourselves.

That being said, I want to encourage you to take a moment today and share with someone one positive thing you like or appreciate about their life on their FB wall, LinkedIn profile, in a text, or a phone call — or imagine this — face to face. You may think, “Ah, they already know that” — but you never know if this is a day they need a little encouragement, or, they may just not see what you see.

Keeping a positive perspective is a key to life satisfaction and your words may be just the sugar someone needs today. There is so much truth in this proverb: “Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” And I think that applies both to the receiver and the giver of kind words.

“When you encourage others, you in the process are encouraged because you’re making a commitment and difference in that person’s life. Encouragement really does make a difference.” –Zig Ziglar

So spread a little honey today! You words may turn around someone’s world today, and you may be surprised at another’s positive perspective on your own life.

How is your conflict resolve working for you?

scarlettArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I often get accused of being passive-aggressive when it comes to resolving conflict. And I don’t deny it. Well, at least not the entire accusation. When conflict arises, I am passive but I am not aggressive. I’m not a yeller, I don’t explode, and I’ve never thrown things or slapped someone in the face like they do so promptly (and somehow seemingly consequence-free) in the movies. Remember when Scarlett threw the vase at Rhett? (Me either, it was a little before my time, but I’ve heard about it.)  When in conflict I tend to camp out in Wayne Dyer’s mindset when he said, “Conflict cannot survive without your participation.” But my lack of vase-throwing does not elevate me above those who do. My passiveness is equally hurtful and unhelpful in conflict resolve. It drives people nuts, especially those who tend to be competitive or controlling. Heck, it drives me nuts! Why can’t I just voice my opinion, yell a little, and get mad?!

Just a few weeks ago I received a phone call from someone carrying quite a bit of pent-up anger directed toward me. (These are rare, mind you, lest you think I’m a high-conflict sort of person). She was upset, to say the least, and I could hear a shaky anger in her voice. She became quite vocal, asked me questions but answered them herself, and even threw out a bit of name-calling.

I know her words probably should have riled me up, but they didn’t. When she reached her peak of spewing, I sensed the blank expression on my face and could actually feel a cloud of grey, emotionless fog creeping into my bones. I wasn’t tuning her out. I actually heard her quite nicely (because she was very loud at that point), and think I understood where she was coming from. It’s just that she’s someone who gets angry often, at many people, and I’ve learned to separate her stress from my stress. She gets upset but that doesn’t mean I have to get upset. Nevertheless–my passiveness, though it may protect my heart in moments such as these, actually escalated her anger and didn’t help with the conflict resolution one bit.

I have always carried a bit of guilt about my lack of Scarlett-ness when it comes to conflict resolve because so many people have told me it’s not healthy. Well-meaning friends have actually chided me to show my anger, to punch something! Passiveness is my own brand of avoidance, I’ll admit. But sometimes it really seems to work to de-escalate a situation. Yet other times, like on the recent phone call, it just makes things worse…which leaves me not feeling so great about my problem solving skills.

So is avoidance good or bad?! I only recently learned, from the work of Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in 1974, creators of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to assess an individual’s behavior in conflict, that there are different approaches to resolving conflict and each approach is correctdepending upon the moment. The 5 Conflict Resolution Styles they came up with are:

  • Competing
  • Compromise
  • Avoidance
  • Collaboration
  • Accommodation

Who would’ve known?  I’ve always thought there was one best practice to resolving conflict, and knew I didn’t have it. I figured I just needed to be more assertive. And the thing is, I do. At times. But sometimes, I need to be more accommodating. And other times, a little more compromising would do the trick. It’s not that one way is any better or worse than another way –it’s just a matter of figuring out WHICH method is most appropriate for the situation at hand.

So how do we know when to use which style of conflict management? Authors of  the book Competence in Interpersonal Conflict, William Cupach and Daniel Canary, said this,

“There is little value in preparing a cookbook of recipes for conflict success. The effects of conflict interaction depend directly on what the participants do mentally with conflict behaviors – that is, how they process and interpret those behaviors.”

Regrettably there’s not an easy formula to use, an ‘input = output’. I’d love to tell you that when this happens, do this, and when that happens, do that, but these things called human beings are involved in interpersonal conflict.  Living, breathing, feeling humans with erratic behavior, differing backgrounds and all levels of maturity and ability to manage their own emotions. Not to mention what you bring to the table. And when these feelings clash in passionate discourse, the ability to choose the correct conflict management style can be difficult to say the least. We have to use social and emotional intelligence – the ability to read, in the moment, our own emotions and those of others, and manage them appropriately. In the moment. That’s the hard part. Because in the heat of the moment is when it’s extremely difficult to exercise any kind of control, but in the heat of the moment is when we need to use social and emotional intelligence the most!

And we all have our go-to, preferred style when it comes to managing conflict. What’s yours?  Know that this is normal. We develop it based upon our past experiences of what has worked – and what hasn’t, even from our early childhood. We also learn our style based upon the corporate culture in which we work. For example, in your office, how is conflict typically resolved? Are there frequent blow-ups? Does your manager immediately call a meeting? Do certain coworkers avoid other coworkers? Sometimes we tend to go with the flow of ‘how things are’ in our work environments and adopt those styles as our own. As well, we can learn our own style of conflict resolve based upon observing others and seeing what works (and doesn’t work) for them.

No matter your current style of conflict resolve, it doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself to learn a new way of operating. Phyllis Bottome, a British novelist, put it this way:

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties:  You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself meeting them.”

Since most conflicts that arise can’t exactly be altered, as they’ve already taken place, our choice is how we alter ourselves to meet them.

Learning to use each of these styles, depending upon the situation, will increase our interpersonal effectiveness and ability to work well with others. Let’s look at the 5 styles to 1-see which best describes you and 2-learn when using this style is most effective:

The Competitor.  You are assertive and aggressive, and tend to dominate disagreements. You demonstrate little concern for the opinion of others. While this method can be hurtful and stifling to the other parties involved, the Competitor is vital in situations where decisiveness is necessary. Emergencies in which quick action is needed cry out for the Competitor, often when the issue requires an unpopular action.

The Compromiser.  You are cooperative and assertive and act as a bridge between team members. You are agreeable to both sides of the conflict and can see the benefits of both viewpoints. The danger in this is that you are seen as not having a firm set of values, and at times you may not even recognize what you stand for. But the Compromiser is very beneficial to situations where a temporary settlement is called for on issues that are more complex, or when you need to find short-term solutions for the benefit of the relationship.

The Avoider.  You (me) can easily shrug off conflict. You refuse to engage in heated arguments, never let your temper rise and quickly disconnect from the other person’s viewpoint. Though this style can delay problem-resolve, and if overused breeds a lack of empathy, it is helpful when there are more pressing matters to tackle to keep everyone focused on what is important.  The Avoider can ‘turn down the heat’, (you’ve heard the saying it takes two to tumble) and slow things down so all of the information needed to resolve the conflict can be gathered.

The Collaborator.  You are a good listener and like the Compromiser, able to cooperate and assert your opinions simultaneously; however, you actively seek to find a resolution so both sides win. You can be taken advantage of by more assertive team members, but this style is crucial when the objective is to integrate differing points of view and keep the team intact.

The Accommodator.  Harmony and cooperation are important to you. You are willing to put aside your own needs out of concern for the others and for the sake of the team. Though you tend to resist changes that are inevitable, this style is valuable when it is important to keep the peace or elevate positivity. Being accommodating is a good style to use when you realize you are wrong, or need to be the voice of reason. The Accommodator’s influence has a long reach and when conflict comes up again down the road,  teammates remember that you were willing to see things from a different point of view.

So there you go. Easy as pie, huh? Just pick the right style for the right situation and you’re set!  We all know it is easier said than done, and learning to navigate conflict resolve with ease can take a lifetime. But we may as well get busy figuring this out, as conflict is a part of being human. Saul Alinsky, community organizer and writer, sums it up with this:

 ”Conflict is a part of life. Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”

Conflict is not going away. But learning to deal with it in a healthier, more productive style can be learned. And the rewards of learning how to use the correct style of conflict management for the right occasion will bring us the gift of healthier, stronger interpersonal relationships.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” – Richard Bach

Resonant leaders practice conversations that inspire

CEO meeting with team of business associates

Article contributed by guest author Gordon Sanderson.

Research shows that consistently high performing organisations engage strongly with their people in a way that opens them up to greater connection, better cognitive ability and behavior that gets results. Their leaders look to build capability by focusing on strengths and what’s possible rather than weaknesses and compliance. We can gain insights into why this is so by considering how the brain responds to communication.

In response to a perceived threat or reward, or in response to change, the brain moves people toward an “approach” behavior or “avoidance” behavior. It either stimulates a stress response from our emotional brain, through the release of the stress hormone cortisol, or stimulates a positive state by stimulating the prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning part of our brain.

What we say and how we say it influences this. When a person perceives a threat in the shape of criticism, disregard, threat to status, independence, or lack of control, it induces an action in the brain that raises stress levels and reduces cognitive functioning. This result is avoidance behavior. The person withdraws to avoid more stress and in turn loses touch with their constructive self. In contrast, comments that arouse a positive emotional state increase cognitive functioning that allows a person to be at their best, open to new ideas, critical thinking, and engagement in positive change.

Leaders who inspire people use language that opens people up. They appeal to a person’s vision, their strengths and talents, what’s possible for them. They tend to ask questions of the other person rather than telling them “how it should be done”.

Five Tips for more inspirational conversations:

1-Ask questions that open up to vision.

Asking these questions keep people open to possibilities, curiosity and the ability to look at a problem constructively with a solution in mind rather than in an emotional way, which is not forward focused.

2-Acknowledge people for “who they are being”.

It’s easy to acknowledge someone for what they have done but to recognise them for the character that they are showing, connects at a deeper level. You have to be really watching and empathise with a person to genuinely get in touch with who they are being.It is a gift to the other person to acknowledge this and a powerful way of connecting.  Rather than, “you did a great job with that” try a statement that acknowledges the character they showed, such as: “You showed a lot of persistence to get that through” or “that took a lot of courage”. An additional note:  You cannot authentically acknowledge someone at this deeper level without having empathy.  Empathy requires presence, and presence in turn is a form of mindfulness, a stress reducer.  There is a term described by Dr. Richard E. Boyatzis of Case Western University in the United States  “executive renewal”, meaning that certain experiences invoke the renewal process  from stress in the body.  One of these experiences is empathy, and this is because you cannot be truly mindful and stressed at the same time.  Intentionally practicing empathy is one method of getting in touch with executive renewal.

3-Focus on the solution/outcome, not the problem.

Remaining solution orientated connects more with an outcome and allows a problem to be considered in a different way. Research shows that most meetings get bogged down in the problem and the detail. This is because the meeting loses sight of the objective, or never articulates it in the first place. Consequently the problem is all that is discussed. The result is long, unproductive meetings. Try, for example, “The objective of this meeting is to define a set of actions that will take this issue forward towards completion”. Get people to agree to the objective and commit to the outcome and then facilitate to that outcome.

4-Ask, don’t tell.

Ask questions that inspire rather than use statements that seek compliance. If you are opening up to vision this becomes more natural to do. If you focus on problems then it is easy to slip into conversation that seeks compliance.

5-Avoid conversations that will close people down.

Support people’s status. Statements like “let me give you some advice” or putting someone down in front of others arouses a threat response and people disconnect. Respect people’s status and autonomy. A threat to autonomy will close people down and, more importantly raise stress levels. You will lose connection. Ensure people feel connected to the larger picture. A feeling of being disconnected will result in “away” type behavior. Inspire people and they will reward you.

What will you do this week to inspire people through your communication?

Try a different approach to:

  • One on one conversations
  • Team meetings
  • Collaboration
  • Performance Reviews
  • Building Capability
  • Invoking change

 

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