Featured Animal Instinct at Play

Animal instincts at play during Mediation

This insightful article was featured in ADR Times and provides a number of interesting points that could be noted by the discerning mediator, negotiator or manager  for consideration during ‘conflict’ discussions.

Research in neuroscience has generated numerous insights into the way humans process information, experience emotions, and make decisions. More recently, scientists have begun to understand how these behaviours are related to brain activity. Using imaging technology like fMRI, scientists can actually see what our brains are doing when we engage in various behaviours and complete various tasks. While these neuroscience and neuroimaging studies have broad relevance, they also shed light on decision-making processes that is especially relevant to the dispute resolution context.

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Richard Birke, associate professor of law at Willamette University and director of the Willamette Centre for Dispute Resolution, has distilled several practical recommendations for negotiators and mediators from this growing body of research. Interested readers should consult his article in the Ohio State Journal of Dispute Resolution (25:2 2010, pp. 477-529). Here, I will summarise just one of the most compelling practical lessons for mediation to flow from Birke’s fascinating review.

After the mediator’s opening remarks, most mediations proceed to a storytelling phase where the parties each have uninterrupted time to talk about their perspectives of the conflict. The conventional wisdom here is that telling one’s story is cathartic for both parties, particularly because the mediation setting allows for greater expression of emotions and needs than does the court setting. Ideally, this opportunity increases participant satisfaction with the process and in turn the durability of future agreements. The parties’ opening statements – because they may highlight the parties’ more intangible needs that could be addressed through non-monetary means – are also believed to generate ideas for settlement. Further, by providing an opportunity for the parties to “vent,” the storytelling phase may put them in a mind-set more conducive to making concessions and agreements.

Recent brain research calls some of this conventional wisdom into question, according to Birke.

You may be familiar with the ground breaking work of behaviourist pioneers Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner, who conditioned fear responses in animals. In their experiments, animals were exposed to a painful event (electric shock) at the same time as an inconsequential event (a light coming on or a bell ringing). After repeated exposure to these two stimuli, the animals became conditioned to expect pain to result from the inconsequential event. The light or bell became a conditioned stimulus that generated the same fear response as the actual electric shock. These experiments helped us understand behaviours associated with conditioned fear, but recent work by NYU neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux has revealed more about the underpinnings of conditioned fear behaviour in the brain.

When neurons in a person’s brain fire (i.e., release a particular chemical) and stimulate other neurons, a chain reaction called a neural network is formed. Once a network has formed, the brain activity associated with that particular chain reaction can be repeated by the person more easily. Birke cites the example of pathways formed by repeated hand-eye movements; their frequent repetition facilitates actions like typing or piano playing, a phenomenon commonly known as muscle memory. Recalling an event actually reengages the same neural pathways that were engaged by the original experience. Pathways that are associated with extremely vivid experiences can become so durable so quickly that the experiences can be recalled in great emotional and sensory detail without repetition long after they occurred. LeDoux found that neural networks created as a result of fear are some of the most durable in our brains.

Once a fear pathway is created, it is unlikely to go away or even become less intense. The evolutionary advantages of this quality are evident, but it is often ill adapted to modern life. For example, think of a time when you were startled by the loud noise of a passing truck. Yours is a conditioned fear response resulting from the association your brain has made between loud noises and painful injury. A similar noise alone can rapidly re-engage the neural pathways associated with fear of pain. Interestingly, this process can occur before you are consciously able to tell yourself, “It’s ok, there is no truck about to hit me.”

In fact, with the help of chemical tracers, LeDoux found that fear travels two neural paths – one path to the body and one path to the brain. He discovered that the path to the body is actually faster, meaning that before we even know we are afraid, blood has reached our legs to prepare us for the freeze/fight/flight reaction. More importantly, the part of the brain that is activated by fear – the amygdala – is one of the oldest parts of our brain, in evolutionary terms, and assesses pain, pleasure, and threat in the present. The prefrontal cortex evolved later and is responsible for complex reasoning and future-oriented decision-making. It turns out that while our amygdala is activated in the name of survival, we have a hard time accessing our prefrontal cortex. In other words, fear activates our “animal brains” and makes it harder for us to think clearly.

What does all this mean in the mediation context? According to Birke, “there is every reason to believe that a person who retells in detail an event that is painful or traumatic fully relives that trauma in their neurons.” In mediation, this means that the brains of parties who tell their conflict stories will – for a period – be controlled by their freeze/fight/flight instincts (amygdala) and thus will be less able to consider new options for action (prefrontal cortex). This is certainly not the ideal mind set for parties when they are being asked to explore interests, brainstorm and generate creative options.

So what’s a mediator to do? How to balance the potential benefits of having parties tell their conflict stories early in the mediation with the knowledge that doing so may place the parties in a less resourceful state in which they rely on instinctual urges associated with a bygone era of human evolution? Birke suggests two simple interventions that a mediator can use to manage this conundrum.

First: take a break at this stage in the process. According to Birke, “after a party experiences the trauma/catharsis of telling their story, it is a very good time for a coffee or lunch break, and it may even be the case in some disputes that it is a good place to end for the day.” I might extend this to suggest that regular breaks throughout the mediation are advisable, as emotional triggering is likely not limited to the storytelling phase of the process.

Of course, some mediations take place in settings where frequent breaks are not terribly practical. Particularly in court-referred work where time is short and a premium is placed on reaching settlement in short order, a break may not be feasible. Birke’s second suggestion might be more amenable; when a break is not possible, “one technique to consider when faced with a party who seems to be emotionally flooded is to call that party’s attention to their breathing.” Mindful breathing invites parties to engage in a present tense activity, and this can help to reengage the parts of the brain responsible for control and regulation and can make it easier for parties to weigh offers less reactively. (The privacy of caucus may be the better setting to encourage parties to focus on their breathing.)

Ultimately, whether or not mediators decide it is useful to introduce breaks or mindful breathing into their process, they should take away from recent neuroscience research additional reasons to be patient with parties and to be circumspect about the ease and speed with which they can recover from revisiting emotional events in order to make well-reasoned decisions in mediation. As neuroscience research continues to advance, there are likely to be additional insights that shape our understanding of best practices; the reflective practitioner is urged to stay tuned!

by Dr. Heather Hancock

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive andleadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal andworkplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

 

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Positive workplace conflict. 

When you think of the word “conflict,” do you generally picture shouting matches, rage, icy stares, or nerve-shattering stressful clashes

What do you think of when the word "conflict" is mentioned?
What do you think of when the word “conflict” is mentioned?

Some formal definitions of the word “conflict” are:

• a state of mind in which a person experiences a clash of opposing feelings or needs: bewildered by her own inner conflict, she could only stand there feeling vulnerable;

• a serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests: there was a conflict between his business and domestic life;

• a prolonged armed struggle: regional conflicts;

• the pursuit of incompatible goals, such that gains to one side come about at the expense of the other.

Conflict is generally viewed as negative, having discord, disharmony, and hostility. Inevitably, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose — the classic win/lose scenario.
Is all conflict bad? There is no doubt that conflict is often difficult, but it can lead to growth and change, which is good. Isn’t that right?
No one likes discomfort, but it can often wake you up and motivate you to respond. If you pour boiling water on your hand, but fail to react by quickly pulling your hand away, you would get burned.

“On the surface, humans appear to hate conflict, but in reality, they seek it.”

~ Nagaru Tanigawa

A level of organisational conflict is often desired — it’s not always dysfunctional. When conflict exists, it generally indicates commitment to organisational goals, because the players are trying to come up with the best solution.

This in turn promotes challenge, intensifies separate concern to the issues, and raises determination. This type of conflict is necessary. Without it, organisations can deteriorate.
When conflict does occur, the results may be positive or negative, depending upon how those involved choose to approach it.
If you can approach conflict positively, it can:

  • Improve the quality of results
  • Motivate participation in the discussion
  • Stimulate inspiration and imagination
  • Enable employee development
  • Intensify movement toward goals
  • Generate active climate
  • Form more interaction and unity among teams
  • Foster new ideas, options, and solutions
  • Test situations and principle

If conflict is approached negatively, it can:

  • Be unhelpful and overpowering
  • Generate unproductive working groups
  • Cause efficiency to suffer
  • Decrease the brainstorm of ideas and evidence
  • Cultivate hostilities
  • Break down dialogue
  • Reduce trust and support

Positive conflict
Positive conflict is very useful in group negotiations. When faced with a conflict, most healthy groups will look for more information to resolve it. Because the disagreement was articulated, a more systematic exploration will be conducted. When the group comes to a conclusive decision, it will be based on supplementary information that possibly wouldn’t have been acquired had the conflict not occurred.
Even though some of the feelings caused by conflict may be negative, disagreement indicates involvement in the discussion. A good dispute may be an actual antidote to indifference! Just like the old expression, “Let’s argue so we can make up.”
So how can you make conflict constructive within your group?

When resolving conflicts, focus on finding ways that will permit all individuals to “win.”Usually, conflict results in one side “winning” at a cost to another. Conflict becomes harmful when it is side-stepped or approached on a win/lose basis, where one side is the winner and one is the loser. Your responsibility as a leader or team member is to safeguard that this situation doesn’t occur, because it has negative effects for both the winner and loser.

Winners and losers
The winner often becomes self-satisfied, casual, and playful (the “fat and happy” state). The winning group develops a low concern for work and task accomplishment. The winner feels that winning has confirmed the negative categorisation of the “enemy” group. There is no inspiration to learn how to progress inter-group processes.
The loser is not always persuaded that they lost, and tension will become higher than before the conflict. The loser tries to find someone or something at fault and often distorts the reality of losing. Losers may say, “The boss didn’t appreciate our solution.” The losing group tends to fragment and unsettled conflict surfaces.
However, the losing group is more ready to work harder than the winning team and tends to learn a lot about itself. Once the loss is accepted, the losers may become more cohesive and effective.
Someone does not have to win or lose! Groups must collaborate and work together to be operative. This type of group behavior is known as integrative. A group should try to integrate individual goals into the group goal by following these guidelines:

  1.  Attempt to pursue a common goal rather than individual goals.
  2.  Openly and honestly communicate with other people.
  3.  Do not control or influence others.
  4.  Do not use threats or bluffs to achieve goals.
  5. Try to understand personal needs and the needs of others correctly.
  6. Appraise ideas and suggestions on their own merits.
  7. Attempt to find solutions to problems.
  8. Strive for group cohesiveness.

So if one of your peers calls you an “idiot” during a heated meeting, how would you react?
If a high level of individual and group trust exists, and you don’t take the remark personally, the group can grow through the hostility. Group members learn that they can confront even temperament clashes and work together as a group to solve them. The group that fights together stays together.
Conflict should be managed, however, before it degenerates to verbal attack and irreversible damage to individual egos. But mindful efforts on your part to avoid difference may produce feelings of tension and anxiety as you try to watch what you say. Carefully wording accounts to avoid conflict restrains group contribution and results in frustration. As group members tend to edit their thoughts before communicating with others, the feeling of group unity is adversely affected.

The solution: Talk more, not less.

How can we help-
On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.
On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.
On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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Catch a Conflict……earlier.

Dealing with the effects of workplace conflict is often one of most difficult and persistent issues HR and EAP professionals face today. Not being able to effectively identify conflict in the workplace and resolve it before the greater working environment is impacted leaves your organisation vulnerable to conflict´s debilitating and potentially disastrous effects.

The intent of this article is to help you identify workplace conflict, understand how it arises and how to most effectively resolve it, as well as recognise the benefits of resolving conflict at its early stages.

Workplace Conflict

Identifying Workplace Conflict

Identifying workplace conflict is not always as easy as one might think. Conflict is regularly associated with acute and isolated incidents such as outbursts, arguments, or verbal/physical altercations. While these examples can be indicators of conflict, they may not be. When seeking to identify conflict in the workplace, it is important not to mistakenly identify “disagreement” as “conflict.”

Disagreement and differences of opinion are regular occurrences not only in the workplace but in our everyday lives. In fact, disagreement is often the vehicle by which creative and cutting edge ideas are generated. The process of developing, defending, and reconciling opinions is likely the sign of a healthy and vibrant workplace. Even seemingly aggressive and intense disagreement should initially be looked upon as normal and acceptable. Do not make the mistake of stifling a creative and exuberant environment by identifying disagreement as conflict.

Conflict is something different all together. Where disagreement can be an expression of confidence, enthusiasm, or caring, conflict is an expression of frustration, self-consciousness, and anger. This brings us to the primary identifier of conflict: Those in conflict are unable to sustain a productive and stable exchange. What does this look like? Picture an interaction between two or more individuals where at least one person’s participation becomes increasingly rigid and terse as the interaction continues. There is often a “tipping point” where someone abruptly cuts off the interaction or erupts with anger. In both instances, the tipping or breaking point is usually taken as “unreasonable,” “inappropriate,” or an “over reaction” by those on the receiving end and can lead to a vicious-circle of conflict driven exchanges. As those of us who enter into organisational working environments on a daily basis know, it is precisely this vicious-circle of exchanges that is disruptive to our workplace and destructive when left unresolved.

Unfortunately, workplace conflict cannot always be easily identified by isolated interactions. Moreover, as a HR, or EA professional, you are rarely present to observe exchanges. While you can rely on the account of others, you can also identify conflict in the workplace by being aware of and watching for the following signs of its presence: Low morale and productivity; repeated communications from the same employee or manager, even when the communications appear ordinary; repeated time spent dealing with the same department or team, regardless of the reason; transfer requests from productive employees; concerns raised by employees regarding other employees, managers, teams, or departments; and client or customer feedback expressing dissatisfaction or inconsistencies with the organisation´s operating procedure, particularly when there have been no changes.

You may already be watching for each of these events; however, keeping in mind that conflict could be driving these kinds of occurrences may lead you to a different approach when dealing with them. For example, if you discover that a request to transfer is being fuelled by conflict, you can see to it that the situation gets addressed directly as opposed to simply addressing the symptom. Addressing the symptom does nothing to resolve the conflict or protect the organisation. To the extent you can, always be on the lookout for conflict that mimics as ordinary HR and EA issues. Asking a few extra questions will surprisingly reveal the presence of conflict more often than not.

Next pending edition: How Workplace Conflict Occurs.

Need assistance or feedback? Don’t hesitate to make contact with me.

About the Author

Kylie Head is a mediation services specialist with twenty years of experience in senior management roles.

In addition to mediating disputes, Kylie acts as a facilitator resolving in-house conflict within business, along with working one-on-one to coach individuals through conflict, life transitions and problem solving. Kylie is experienced in providing mediation services with On the Table to parties where the issues are complex and intractable.

On the Table helps people & teams have conversations.

On the Table encourages people and organisations’ to connect and to have dialogue in a way that is meaningful and constructive.

At On the Table we believe in:

  • peaceful conflict resolution and mediation
  • resolving conflict through conversations
  • conflict management coaching
  • you could benefit by using a mediation specialist

Contact  

Featured LisTEN

LisTENing

Over the last three years, I have begun to think that listening is perhaps the most important skill you can have. Is it, that I have felt the frustration of not being listened to myself or that I have seen the result of a failure to listen creating sustained miscommunication? Which resulted in irreconcilable difference.

LisTEN

How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationship with others.

  1. We listen to obtain information.
  2. We listen to understand.
  3. We listen for enjoyment.
  4. We listen to learn.

Given all this listening we do, you would think we’d be good at it!
In fact most of us are not. Depending on the study being quoted, we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation. This is miserable!
Reflect on this for a moment. It reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message.

You are simply hoping to capture the important parts or ‘fact fragments’ in the 25-50% you actually hear. What if you don’t?

Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate.
What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings; an area where I am tasked after miscommunication occurs to listen and understand.

Listening is necessary for workplace success!
Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. By understanding your personal style of communicating, you will go a long way towards creating good and lasting impressions with others.
The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”. This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying, but more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.
In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.
You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking.

Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.
If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.

To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what he or she is saying. To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you’ve ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying.

20100204-are-you-listening-rage

You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile continuing to speak.
Acknowledgement can be something as simple as a nod of the head or a simple “uh huh.” You aren’t necessarily agreeing with the person, you are simply indicating that you are listening.

Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening also reminds you to pay attention and not let your mind wander.
You should also try to respond to the speaker in a way that will both encourage him or her to continue speaking, so that you can get the information if you need. While nodding and providing acknowledgement says you’re interested, an occasional question or comment to recap what has been said communicate that you understand the message as well.

 

active-listening

 

Becoming an Active Listener

There are five key elements of active listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they say.

1. Pay attention.
Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge their message. Recognise that non-verbal communication speaks just as loudly.
Look at the speaker directly.
• Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal or question.
Avoid being distracted by environmental factors.
• “Listen” to the speaker’s body language.
• Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.

2. Show that you are listening.
Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
Nod occasionally.
• Smile and use other facial expressions.
• Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
• Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, right, I understand or uh huh.

3. Provide feedback.
Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, beliefs and experiences can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions.
Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “So what I’m hearing is.” And ” It sounds like you are saying.” are great ways to reflect back.
• Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say.” “Is this what you mean?”
Summarise the speaker’s comments periodically.

If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: “I may not understand you correctly, and I am finding myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said was XXX; is this what you meant?”

4. Defer judgment.
Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.
• Allow the speaker to finish.
• Don’t interrupt with counter arguments.

5. Respond Appropriately.
Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.
• Be candid, open, and honest in your response.
• Assert your opinions respectfully.
Treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated.

It can take a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old listening habits are often hard to break, and if you’re listening habits require improvement, then allow yourself time to improve.
Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviours and concentrate on the message.

Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don’t, then you’ll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!

Start using active listening today to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity, and develop better relationships.

Start by setting yourself the task of lisTENing in your next conversation with someone:

Yes! That is a ratio of 1:10! LisTEN Ten times more than you talk- You will be amazed at what you hear.

 

Need assistance or feedback? Don’t hesitate to make contact with me.

About the Author

Kylie Head is a mediation services specialist with twenty years of experience in senior management roles.

In addition to mediating disputes, Kylie acts as a facilitator resolving in-house conflict within business, along with working one-on-one to coach individuals through conflict, life transitions and problem solving. Kylie is experienced in providing mediation services with On the Table to parties where the issues are complex and intractable.

On the Table helps people & teams have conversations.

On the Table encourages people and organisations’ to connect and to have dialogue in a way that is meaningful and constructive.

At On the Table we believe in:

  • peaceful conflict resolution and mediation
  • resolving conflict through conversations
  • conflict management coaching
  • you could benefit by using a mediation specialist

Contact  

Featured

An roadmap for global corporations.

The great institutions of our age are global corporations. Their power and influence touch every life on earth. But how can we shape the corporations the world needs for the future? Lynda Gratton provides a roadmap to the corporation of tomorrow. This article asks a number of relevant questions of individuals; current leaders and invokes reflection on a number of key issues in current business.

GlobalCorps298196

Lynda is Professor of Management Practice at London Business School and her greatest hope is that the global corporations and those who lead and work in them have the innovation, courage and determination to provide the key that unlocks at least some of the problems of the world.

http://bsr.london.edu/lbs-article/822/index.html?_cldee=bGVzcGlja2V0dEBwYWNyaW1jb25zdWx0LmNvbQ%3d%3d

 

 

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Life Goals

Where are you now? Where would you like to be?

Motivation is described as the process that propels, directs, and maintains goal oriented actions. It is the driving force that causes us to act. Most of our pursuits in life- everything from continuing our education so we can get a better job, to joining the gym to improve our health, are the result of a complex set of emotional, social and intellectual forces that guide our behaviour and professional achievement.

lightbulb1

 Motivation can be extrinsic, that is derived from externally anticipated rewards such as a bonus, social recognition, and professional degree or it can be intrinsic, resulting from internal drivers such as the satisfaction from acting ethically, or the sense of accomplishment resulting from solving a complex problem.

Setting specific goals in a clear and compelling way — and working together with others to achieve them—is the best way to get results. While this stuff may not be new, the setting of mutually agreed goals seems to work.

Imagine what you could actually achieve……

1.       If life is worth living, it’s worth planning.

Start with that one, non-negotiable principle. It’s very important to have your life in balance and to be looking forward, so you don’t end up having regrets. We’re busy being busy, and it’s not easy to fit all of the important things into your life, so if you want to do that, you need to plan. When you do plan you are more likely to achieve your goals and it gives you a long term view, which helps to keep things in perspective and stops you getting caught up in up in the minutiae of the day to day.

2.       Put it in writing.

Writing down your goals is of immense importance. To some it might sound like overkill- what’s wrong with keeping them in your head and simply reviewing them mentally? – And perhaps that’s why only five percent of us ever put our goals in writing. But there is one overpowering reason to put pen to paper or set to at the Laptop: just three percent of people who don’t write down their goals ever achieve them. Writing them down and reading them back makes you register them mentally, creates a sense of urgency and possibility, and helps you see- even subconsciously- how to create balance in your life. If you’re serious about achieving what you want, writing your goals down is more than a helpful thing to do, it’s essential.( Feel free to use the On the Table™ Goal setting Template)Goal setting On the Table 2013 Template

3.       Be Positive.

It’s crucial, because of the power of the subconscious, to write each goal as a positive statement, as if it has already been achieved. This is because your subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between what you wish you had and what you already have. If you think of it as already achieved, and by a certain date, your subconscious will make it happen.

4.        Get into the details

Using the On the Table™ Goal setting Template Goal setting On the Table 2013 Template with timeframes along one side- three-six months, one year, and two, five, 10 and 15 and 20 years reviewing each different area of your life across the top:

  •   Health
  •  Marriage/   Partner
  •  Work/ Career/Money
  •   Family
  •  Friends
  •  Community
  •    Hobbies
  •  Spirituality
  •  Self-Development

Most people have little trouble in quickly filling in the bottom left  short term columns- across to five years and down to family and friends, and then get stuck on the rest. It’s important that your goals are realistic and achievable, and that they are your own aims and not ambitions for you by others, like spouses, friends or society.

Why is the 20 year goal box dominantly placed at the top? Recent research shows that taking an aspirational view of what you dream about being provides a clearer sense of direction, focus and achievement. Take some time now to sit back and dream of where you would like to be…..

e.g. achieve the career experience and funding  etc. to run my own company designing computer gaming software by 2034.

5.       Redraft.

Fill in the table in its entirety without limits. Now is not the time to self-censor. Don’t be content with the first draft, either. Write and rewrite- it creates the maximum impact. Once you’ve written down your goals, put the table away for a few days, then get it out and make changes. Rephrase and compact your writing, add detail and descriptions, make it pithy and succinct. A week later you may want to adjust again. Keep on fine tuning the table until you’re completely happy with what you’ve written down.

6.       Highlight the non-negotiables.

Look at all of your life. Highlight the areas in which there is no room for compromise- health, your marriage or partnership, your children- and address those before anything else. Giving each goal a priority helps you to avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many goals, and keeps you focused on the most important ones and the order in which you want to achieve them. You need to know what is important to you so you don’t get caught up in the trivia. To be successful, you need balance in your life and to know what you’re going to do. Life is not a rehearsal- if it’s too late, you’ve blown it.

7.       Review your goals regularly.

Your goals will change as time goes on, and as your knowledge and experience increases. Review your goals every three to six months and do it all again.

idea

 Common goal setting slips

  • Backing away from tough expectations: You spend more time negotiating the goal downward than in figuring out how to achieve it.
  • Engaging in charades: You and your people know from the start that the goal is just an exercise to convey the appearance of progress, but there’s no hope of achieving it. What is the point?
  • Accepting seesaw trades: When you take on one goal, you are released from another one.
  • Setting vague or distant goals: The time frame is not clearly defined or set too far into the future, so no one takes it seriously.
  • Not establishing consequences: There is no differentiation between those who achieve the goals and those who do not.
  • Setting too many goals: By assigning too many goals, people pick and choose those that they want to do or the find easiest to do—not necessarily the most important ones.
  • Allowing deflection to preparations, studies, and research: People to spend time planning instead of committing to and achieving a real goal.

Think about setting SMART goals.

S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for the 5 steps of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based goals. It’s a simple tool used by businesses to go beyond the realm of fuzzy goal-setting into an actionable plan for results.

Specific: Great goals are well-defined and focused. “Obtain 24 new million dollar corporate clients in the Auckland property market” is more meaningful to mobilise your team than “Get more business.”

Measurable: A goal without a measurable outcome is like a sports competition without a scoreboard or scorekeeper. Numbers are an essential part of business. Put concrete numbers in your goals to know if you’re on track. A goal white board posted in your office can help as a daily reminder to keep yourself and your employee focused on the targeted results you want to attain.

Attainable: Far too often, small businesses can set goals beyond reach. No one has ever built a billion dollar business overnight. Venture capitalists and angel investors discard countless business plans of companies with outlandish goals. Dream big and aim for the stars but keep one foot firmly based in reality. Check with your industry association to get a handle on realistic growth in your industry to set smart goals.

Relevant: Achievable business goals are based on the current conditions and realities of the business climate. You may desire to have your best year in business or increase revenue by 50%, but if a recession is looming and 3 new competitors opened in your market, then your goals aren’t relevant to the realities of the market.

Time-Based: Business goals and objectives just don’t get done when there’s no time frame tied to the goal-setting process. Whether your business goal is to increase revenue by 20% or find 5 new clients, choose a time-frame to accomplish your goal.

 

 

Need assistance or feedback? Don’t hesitate to make contact with me.

About the Author

Kylie Head is a mediation services specialist with twenty years of experience in senior management roles.

In addition to mediating disputes, Kylie acts as a facilitator resolving in-house conflict within business, along with working one-on-one to coach individuals through conflict, life transitions and problem solving. Kylie is experienced in providing mediation services with On the Table to parties where the issues are complex and intractable.

On the Table helps people & teams have conversations.

On the Table encourages people and organisations’ to connect and to have dialogue in a way that is meaningful and constructive.

At On the Table we believe in:

  • peaceful conflict resolution and mediation
  • resolving conflict through conversations
  • conflict management coaching
  • you could benefit by using a mediation specialist

Contact On the Table

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Negotiating a pay raise is never easy…..

It is that time of the year again when performance and salary negotiation discussions occur in many organisations.  However, negotiating a higher starting salary or a pay raise is never easy. We may want or even need more money, and nobody gets excited about having to ask for it.  Not only have many of us grown up hearing that talking about money is inappropriate, but when seeking advice we can receive contradictory opinions.

Asking, and getting, what you deserve should be a straightforward process.
Asking, and getting, what you deserve should be a straightforward process.

On one side, we’ve been taught not to be money grabbers, or to come across as ‘egotistic’. And common sense tells you if your employer is struggling, it’s probably not the best time to ask for a pay raise.

But not asking could have some serious consequences in how we are perceived. Not speaking up for yourself may make you seem dispensable.  No one wants to look like a pushover, or feel taken for granted!

It can be a stressful and nerve-wracking issue, and each case is different. Asking, and getting what you deserve should be a straightforward process. Right?

Try these tips to make the experience a bit easier:

1.  Ask for it! But prepare…… If you’re interviewing for a position, it is absolutely fine and expected to negotiate from the first offer. The hiring manager is prepared to negotiate from the starting figure, and will typically leave themselves some negotiating room. So if you don’t ask, you will likely leave money on the table. If you don’t usually do this, you’re not alone! Even Sheryl Sandberg admits to almost jumping at Facebook’s first offer, until her husband encouraged her to counter. The same is true for getting a pay raise within your current position. See below.

2. Frame your request in in terms of potential, not your past effort.  From your organisation’s perspective, the only reason to pay you more is because you will deliver more in the future. In all honesty your manager has two basic needs: growing the business and increasing profitability. If you report into a ‘middle manager’ it is similar but they also have the added responsibility of boosting their managers image within the business. So if you’re asking for a pay raise, don’t make it about how hard you’ve worked in the past, your personal situation (mortgage payments, a recent renovation, or the kids in university, etc.) or what others are getting paid in your position. Talk instead about what you can do, and what your future plans are for your position and how you can assist  your manager in achieving their goals.

3. Consider non-salary options. If your company can’t elevate your salary, think of your compensation as a whole. Depending on your company and line of work, you might also try to see if you could increase your benefits package, education, expanding your annual leave, or gaining flexibility in your hours or working conditions.  Perhaps a title increase may also be an option, and to the company, it’s free.

4.  No Surprises! Schedule a time to talk it through. If you’re asking for a pay raise, don’t surprise your boss. Instead, set up a meeting with him or her to talk about your expectations – give them a sense of what’s coming. Scheduling a meeting gives you and your boss time to prepare, which may ultimately make the experience less stressful for both of you.

5. Don’t threaten. It’s fine to ask for money, but if you threaten to leave over it, even if you get what you want the process will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. Ask for the money based on what you can do for the organisation, and don’t make it a requirement of your employment. (This goes for new hires or current employees.) Show your employer that you’re reasonable and understand what the company offers you as a whole, and that salary is one consideration.

6. Be prepared for No.  As long as you ask in a non-confrontational manner, and at a good time, the worst you can hear is “no.” Be prepared for it, and keep your emotions in check about it. Remember that a “no” isn’t forever. Ask when would be a good time to revisit the issue, and follow up. A “no” now can be a solid “yes” later. And you’ll have laid important groundwork.

7. Be prepared for Yes.  Have a positive attitude, demeanour and forward looking outlook to the salary discussion. Be prepared for either response; you might just hear “Yes, We can do that!”

increase_crop380w

About the Author

Kylie Head is a mediation services specialist with twenty years of experience in senior management roles.

In addition to mediating disputes, Kylie acts as a facilitator resolving in-house conflict within business, along with working one-on-one to coach individuals through conflict, life transitions and problem solving. Kylie is experienced in providing mediation services with On the Table to parties where the issues are complex and intractable.

On the Table helps people & teams have conversations.

On the Table encourages people and organisations’ to connect and to have dialogue in a way that is meaningful and constructive.

At On the Table we believe in:

  • peaceful conflict resolution and mediation
  • resolving conflict through conversations
  • conflict management coaching
  • you could benefit by using a mediation specialist

Contact On the Table

 

Featured

Holiday Communication Tips

I recently caught up with a friend over coffee and inevitably our conversation moved to Christmas, our plans for the holiday period and our mutually planned family gatherings. She simply groaned …..

“I don’t like this time of year. I often think it would be simpler if I stayed home to avoid the drama!”

 shutterstock_75308473

Improve the holiday experience with communication suggestions from On the Table

Holidays can trigger powerful emotional reactions. Sometimes our expectation of happy gatherings can be laced with disagreements and frustration. We all know what the holidays are supposed to be like–happiness, the warm glow of family closeness, a spirit of loving kindness and “the” perfect gift.

Reality however is often closer to the attack on Pearl Harbour.  And unfortunately our response can be based on pure unadulterated emotion rather than thought out effective communication.

It is possible, however, to improve your communication and enhance the Christmas holiday experience.

According to Bob Stevens, president of Mastery Systems and the creator of a personal development method called Conscious Languaging, our choice of language can either hamper or enhance our ability to create the experiences of our choosing. “Language is our fundamental software,” explains Stevens. “It is the operating system that supports our thoughts and actions — but most of us don’t realise how much of our life is run by our personal language ‘program.’ Nor do we realise the power that choosing our language more consciously has to reprogram our lives.”

Stevens asserts that by “upgrading” our language choices, we can upgrade our attitudes, belief systems and life patterns. So how does one perform such an upgrade? For those who desire guidance and coaching, Stevens offers a series of workshops and audiotapes that teach the principles of Conscious Languaging. For starters, Stevens advocates consistently adjusting one’s vocabulary and mind set in several key ways:

  1. REMEMBER THAT SPEAKING is self-fulfilling prophecy. Where your words lead, your mind and body      will follow, so speak and think only that which you choose to have come into reality, now and continuously.
  2. KEEP YOUR LANGUAGE first-person personal. Talk from your own experience and don’t say “you” when you really mean “I.”
  3.  SPEAK ABOUT THE PRESENT MOMENT whenever possible. Rather than recount stories about what happened before and how you felt then, focus on and say what you are experiencing now.
  4. BE SPECIFIC AND DIRECT. Don’t pollute your language by talking in circles, using conditionals (would,      could, so that), tacking on vague modifiers (sort of, in a way), or saying things you don’t really mean.
  5. SPEAK POWERFULLY AND POSITIVELY. Forego the language of limitation (I can’t, I don’t, I won’t, I want, I need) for the language of empowerment and choice (I can, I am, I will, I choose, I      have, I love, I create, I enjoy).
  6. WHENEVER YOU SAY THE WORDS “I AM,” the words that follow are a declaration and are experienced by your subconscious self as a direct order. So statements like “I am broke,”      “I’m confused,” or “I’m so fat” only tend to reinforce those states.      Instead, directly express how you feel about your current reality (sad, scared, hopeless?), and then declare what you choose to be and do instead.

Enjoy the holidays! Communicate Well.

Merry Christmas to everyone and their families.

About the Author

Kylie Head is a mediation services specialist with seventeen years of experience in senior management roles.

In addition to mediating disputes, Kylie acts as a facilitator resolving in-house conflict within business, along with working one-on-one to coach individuals through conflict, life transitions and problem solving. Kylie is experienced in providing mediation services with On the Table to parties where the issues are complex and intractable.

On the Table helps people & teams have conversations.

On the Table encourages people and organisations’ to connect and to have dialogue in a way that is meaningful and constructive.

At On the Table we believe in:

  • peaceful conflict resolution and mediation
  • resolving conflict through conversations
  • conflict management coaching
  • you could benefit by using a mediation specialist

Contact On the Table

Featured

Collaborate! Take the challenge.

Again being on the cusp of not only the holiday season, but year end performance reviews in many businesses; it feels like the perfect time to review and ensure that communication skills are firmly proficient prior to these important gatherings.

People generally react to any potentially stressful encounter by exhibiting avoidance tactics, going on the attack or by seeking constructive, cooperative solutions. Understandably most of us have responded in all of these ways at various times, depending on the situation, our level of cognitive comfort and the individuals involved. Each of us tends to rely on a dominant coping style. Rahim and Magner (1995) have identified five styles of handling interpersonal confrontation based upon the degree to which the concern for self and concern for others are expressed (see diagram below).

 

Five styles of handling interpersonal conflict based upon the degree to which the concern for self and concern for others
Five styles of handling interpersonal conflict based upon the degree to which the concern for self and concern for others

To ensure that your discussions are successful and positive, consider a collaborative approach from the outset.

There is several ways you might begin to move from confrontation to collaboration. Here are several to review in preparation to prevent or to work through the encounters in your workplace.

1.       Adjust your perspective.

Prior to entering check your frame of mind. We are far more likely to transform any conflict discussion to collaboration if we expect constructive dialogue to occur. We are also more like to engage in the process of working through an integrative dialogue model toward alliance (Lederach & Maiese, 2003).

2.  Contribute to the development of a shared vision

Perhaps advocating for a splitting up of the project could allow for participants to contribute their greatest skills, knowledge, and interests. Try to openly discuss the emerging complexities of agreement and how progress toward a mutually desired outcome could be achieved.

 3.       Build relationships.

It is important to notice and encourage honest efforts of others to work cooperatively. Establish routine patterns of association, such as starting each conversation by reviewing your shared interest and the areas of agreement.

 4.       Use two-way communication practices.

Restate your best understanding of others’ points, values, and interests using key phrases they use
Restate your best understanding of others’ points, values, and interests using key phrases they used.

When you begin any new team venture, present your concepts and ideas using “I-statements” and then open it up to seek  others’ perspectives. Restate your best understanding of others’ points, values, and interests using key phrases they use. Ask for confirmation or correction. Request that others do the same.

 5.       Proceed in small steps.

Stay focused on freshly emerging issues ensuring that you do not get bogged down addressing more complex problems too early. Break bigger problems into sequential steps and challenge them one at a time.

6.       Keep a broad perspective.

Promote ways to recover from unpleasant conflict experiences.

  • Acknowledge your contribution to the difficulty and express a desire to get back on track.
  • Discuss differences from a third person perspective (Gellerman, & O’Brien, 2006; Stone, Patton, & Heen, 1999), summarise the two different perspectives openly and without judgment the way a third party might describe them.

 7.  Manage your emotions.

Before meeting with members of a work team with whom you have disagreements, it can be helpful to withdraw and calm yourself. The affect or feeling experienced during a conflict has a major predictor of the outcome of the conflict. Research by Barbara Fredrickson (2001) indicated that the worse people feel in such situations, the less capable they are to consider options and pursue creative solutions. Consider preparing yourself for unpleasant emotional reactions others may express, so you will be less likely to retort in ways that are likely to worsen and prolong emotional reactivity.

One way to strengthen this practice is to visualise a thick glass wall between you and the person who is upset; to focus mainly on your own feelings, thoughts, breathing and actions; remaining calm, and simply observing.

visualise a thick glass wall between you and the person
Visualise a thick glass wall between you and the upset person.

 It is important to seek common ground from the outset of a work project and to re-enter the visualisation whenever emotional conflict emerges.

 8.       Be compassionate.

Everyone engages in some version of confronting or adversarial behaviour at times; you may like to remind yourself of this? Reflect on whether these reactions are fleeting or whether they represent a person’s characteristic style of handling conflict. People with integrative or compromising styles may sometimes lapse into withdrawal or attack mode, even you! This tends to occur when someone is struggling to express what feels deeply important in terms that others will be able to understand. Anyone in this fix will tend to feel abandoned and exasperated until it becomes possible to succeed in articulating their perspective effectively.

9.       Take breaks to regroup.

When others are struggling in their efforts to express themselves, recognise it. You can open the door to shared understanding and trust by saying something like, “It seems there is something really important you need to say about this. Let’s take a short break so you can organise your thoughts and I can clear my mind to listen so we can work this out together.” You might even create an agreement when your group meets for the first time to take breaks to regroup as needed. This can greatly improve everyone’s chances of keeping a sense of perception and maintain the capacity for creative problem solving. By being proactive, you can minimise the development of intractable conflicts from the outset.

10.    Distinguish between intentions and impact.

 Heated exchange?

  • You can begin to get back on track by differentiating between your goals and the influence of your comments and actions. Mishandling these is one of the biggest factors leading to intractable conflicts.
  • Claiming to know another’s intentions inevitably ends in deadlocked conversations.
  • Ignoring or denying the impact of your words and actions on others is also sure to lead to lose-lose situations.

Conflict is more productive when all parties are willing and able to openly accept each other’s reported intentions and to acknowledge unintentional negative impacts pointed out by others (Stone, Patton, & Heen, 1999).

Take a few moments to reflect on information that seemed most pertinent to your work situation. Consider a particular conflict that remains unresolved. What would you like to happen in the long run? How might your situation be improved in the short run?

Not everyone is willing to work through conflicts. If you face a teammate with a persistently domineering or avoiding style, it may be necessary to seek formal mediation or disciplinary action to address an intractable conflict.

However, in most situations it is worthwhile to regard emerging conflict as a challenge to put your collaborative skills into action. Constructive conflict is a breeding ground for collaboration and both are essential to the development of effective work teams. With enough information, awareness, and practice, you can move through most of the differences you encounter and forge increasingly synergistic partnerships.

Take the challenge.

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

Featured

Positive Conflict.

When you think of the word “conflict,” do you picture people yelling, fists thumping on tables, icy stares and crossed arms or constructive healthy discussion, collaborative dialogue and brainstorming?

Some Oxford dictionary definitions of the word “conflict” are:

  • a state of mind in which a person experiences a clash of opposing feelings or needs: bewildered by her own inner conflict, she could only stand there feeling vulnerable.
  • a serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests: there was a conflict between his business and domestic life.
  • a prolonged armed struggle: regional conflicts.
  • the pursuit of incompatible goals, such that gains to one side come about at the expense of the other.
Conflict can be the pursuit of incompatible goals.
Conflict can be the pursuit of incompatible goals.

Conflict is generally viewed as negative, having discord, disharmony, and hostility.

Inevitably, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose — the ‘classic’ win/lose scenario.

Is all conflict bad? There is no doubt that conflict is often difficult, but it can lead to growth and change, which is good.  Isn’t that right?

No one likes discomfort, but it can often wake you up and motivate you to respond. If you pour boiling water on your hand, but fail to react by quickly pulling your hand away, you would get burned.

“On the surface, humans appear to hate conflict, but in reality, they seek it.” ― Nagaru Tanigawa

A level of organisational conflict is often desired — it’s not always dysfunctional. When conflict exists, it generally indicates commitment to organisational goals, because the employees are trying to come up with the best solution. This in turn promotes challenge, intensifies separate concern to the issues, and raises determination. This type of conflict is necessary. Without it, the organisation  would simply deteriorate.

When conflict does occur, the results may be positive or negative, depending upon how those involved choose to approach it.

It all depends upon how those involved choose to approach it.
It all depends upon how those involved choose to approach it.

If you can approach conflict positively, it can:
• Improve the quality of results.
• Motivate participation in the discussion.
• Stimulate inspiration and imagination.
• Enable employee development.
• Intensify movement toward goals.
• Generate active climate.
• Form more interaction and unity among teams.
• Foster new ideas, options, and solutions.
• Test situations and principles.

OR

If conflict is approached negatively, it can:
• Be unhelpful and overpowering.
• Generate unproductive working groups.
• Cause efficiency to suffer.
• Decrease the brainstorm of ideas and evidence.
• Cultivate hostilities.
• Break down dialogue.
• Reduce trust and support.

A good dispute could be an antidote to indifference.
A good dispute could be an antidote to indifference.

Positive conflict

Positive conflict is very useful in group negotiations. When faced with a conflict, most healthy groups will look for more information to resolve it. Because the disagreement was articulated, a more systematic exploration will be conducted. When the group comes to a conclusive decision, it will be based on supplementary information that possibly wouldn’t have been acquired had the conflict not occurred.

Even though some of the feelings caused by conflict may be negative, disagreement indicates involvement in the discussion. A good dispute may be an actual antidote to indifference! Just like the old expression, “Let’s argue so we can make up.”

So how can you make conflict constructive within your group?

When resolving conflicts, focus on finding ways that will permit all individuals to “win.” Usually, conflict results in one side “winning” at a cost to another. Conflict becomes harmful when it is side-stepped or approached on a win/lose basis, where one side is the winner and one is the loser. Your responsibility as a leader or team member is to safeguard that this situation doesn’t occur, because it has negative effects for both the winner and loser.

Winners and losers.

The winner often becomes self-satisfied, casual, and playful (the “fat and happy” state). The winning group develops a low concern for work and task accomplishment. The winner feels that winning has confirmed the negative categorisation of the “enemy” group. There is no inspiration to learn how to progress intergroup processes.

The loser is not always persuaded that they lost, and tension will become higher than before the conflict. The loser tries to find someone or something at fault and often distorts the reality of losing. Losers may say, “The boss didn’t appreciate our solution.” The losing group tends to fragment and unsettled conflict surfaces.

However, the losing group is more ready to work harder than the winning team and tends to learn a lot about itself. Once the loss is accepted, the losers may become more cohesive and effective.

Someone does not have to win or lose! Groups must collaborate and work together to be operative. This type of group behaviour is known as integrative. A group should try to integrate individual goals into the group goal by following these guidelines:
1. Attempt to pursue a common goal rather than individual goals.
2. Openly and honestly communicate with other people.
3. Do not control or influence others.
4. Do not use threats or bluffs to achieve goals.
5. Try to understand personal needs and the needs of others correctly.
6. Appraise ideas and suggestions on their own merits.
7. Attempt to find solutions to problems.
8. Strive for group cohesiveness.

So if one of your peers calls you an “idiot” during a heated meeting, how would you react?

If a high level of individual and group trust exists, and you don’t take the remark personally, the group can grow through the hostility. Group members learn that they can confront even temperament clashes and work together as a group to solve them. The group that fights together stays together.

Conflict should be managed, however, before it degenerates to verbal attack and irreversible damage to individual egos. But mindful efforts on your part to avoid difference may produce feelings of tension and anxiety as you try to watch what you say. Carefully wording accounts to avoid conflict restrains group contribution and results in frustration. As group members tend to edit their thoughts before communicating with others, the feeling of group unity is adversely affected.

The solution: Talk more, not less.

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

Featured

Rudeness in the workforce is rampant.

Disrespect in the workforce is rampant.  

Workplace incivility often occurs with no acknowledgement or recognition by the offenders or by management, allowing what  is often considered a norm to continue unaddressed.

incivility-6

Despite persistent discussion about improving corporate culture, civility problems continue in the workplace.

These bad-mannered behaviours are destroying employee relationships and office self-esteem, as well as effecting bottom line profitability. Few leaders are doing anything to stop it. According to The Cost of Bad Behaviour by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, it is far more widespread than people realise—and incivility in the workplace has disturbing effects. Here are just a few of the figures from research:

  • 96 percent have experienced incivility at work
  • 48 percent of employees claim they were treated uncivilly at work at least once a week
  • 10 percent said they witnessed civility every day
  • 94 percent of workers who are treated uncivilly say they get even with their offenders

What is Incivility in the Workplace?
Incivility is defined as “the exchange of seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional norms or workplace conduct.”

In essence, what is considered “uncivil” is based on an individual’s perceptions of actions or words. Sometimes it can be blatant, like:

  • losing one’s temper or yelling at someone in public
  • rude or obnoxious behaviour in the workplace
  • badgering or back-stabbing in the workplace
  • withholding important customer/client information
  • sabotaging a project or damaging someone’s reputation

cyber-bully-3-final

But mostly, it is seen via the more subtle actions of:

  • arriving late to a meeting (now haven’t we all done that?)
  • checking e-mail or texting during a meeting
  • not answering calls or responding to emails in a timely manner
  • ignoring or interrupting a colleague in the workplace
  • not saying “please” or “thank you”

I’m sure your nodding now, huh?

Incivility does not ‘just’ happen between co-workers. About a quarter of customers/clients surveyed believe disrespectful behaviour is more common today than it was five years ago.

So much for all the talk and advertising about great service and a positive customer experience.

Why Does it Matter?

It can have a devastating impact on employees, as well as the organisation as a whole. When incivility is prevalent in the workplace, stress levels increase and performance decreases.

Employees become less engaged, which means they can also become disheartened, indifferent and even angry. They put in less effort, become distracted, produce inferior quality and can even burn out. Perhaps you’ve seen these tell-tale signs. They lead to losses in efficiency, effectiveness and of course, profitability.

What Can We Do About it?

1. Increase Awareness

The first step is to recognise that incivility is an issue that can debilitate an individual and an organisation. Educate employees about the cost and impact of uncivil behaviour. Most people don’t even realise the trend or know the cause of their malaise or frustration in the workplace. Outline what it is and what it looks like. Share the research on the impact of continued incivility in a community to increase the sense of urgency to address it.

2. Create Workplace Standards and Value Civility

Agree to set a clear, written standard for behaviour, noting what is acceptable and what is not. Management needs to be not only involved in the process, but committed to demonstrating civility and strengthening its importance. Communicate the standards with all employees so they understand how to consistently demonstrate respect and concern for others. Contemplate making civility one of your principal ethics, a principle that guides the internal conduct at your organisation.

Be sure to recognise and acknowledge employees who demonstrate it, so all employees see it’s a serious commitment—a value of the business, not just words on a wall. Equally important is addressing occurrences and complaints, and taking remedial action so your employees see it is not condoned or tolerated.

3. Provide Internal Training and Coaching

Particular individuals in the workplace may not even realise they display uncivil behaviour—the employees figure this is “not related tome.” Well, chances are they lack self-awareness (like some of the culprits) and/or have no idea how to change behaviour that may be entrenched. Training employees on your new standard will help create a transparent, welcoming and tolerant environment.

Ideally, the internal training would be practical and include genuine skill practices that are recorded, so employees can see themselves and hear how they sound. This helps employees see the impact of their behaviours on others and allows them a chance to practice in a safe environment. When the employees experience development in the training and obtain developmental coaching to sustain the change, they are more likely to continue their newfound behaviours.

4. Encourage Open Communication and Feedback

Continue the new culture, put systems in place that encourage open communication so that it becomes the norm. Organisational leaders need to lead responsibly and create a safe environment so employees are not fearful when sharing concerns or reporting incidents.

Promote constructive and open feedback so employees learn how to demonstrate respect and common courtesy, really listen to each other and be more patient of each other’s ideas and opinions. Continue the exchange of ideas and engage employees in the process by gathering their input and ideas. Share improvement along the way so all employees can see the impact of their efforts and celebrate successes.

Why?

It makes sense to cultivate a climate of civility and a culture of openness and inclusion. According to P.M. Forni, the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project and author of Choosing Civility:

“Encouraging civility in the workplace is becoming one of the important business goals in our diverse, hurried, stressed and legally conscious culture. A civil workplace is good for workers, since the workers’ quality of life is improved in such an environment. But a civil workplace is also good for the customers, since the quality of service they receive from happier and more relaxed service providers is improved.”

And, it is the right and most civil thing to do.

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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Enhance your management communication skills.

“The skills required for conflict management are simple, but they rarely are acquired as part of growing up. Learn them and use them” (Mayer, 1990, 58).

The consensus in the professional literature is that if we are to become competent managers of interpersonal conflicts, skills in two arenas must be mastered:Skills requiredConceptual arena:

The first arena is conceptual: an individual must understand conflict’s causes, styles, strategies, tactics, and world-views. An individual must understand theories of how and why conflicts arise, where and when conflicts habitually occur, and the range of strategies and tactics that may be utilised to manage conflict.

Skill competence:

In addition to understanding communication and conflict theory, an individual must become competent in a variety of basic communication skills and develop a working repertoire of conflict management skills.

A lengthy of abilities and tactics can be specified for advanced conflict management. However, two basic communication skills are required if parties hope to manage conflict productively:

  • Listening
  • Asking questions

Individuals new to conflict management should work first to enhance basic communication skills.

Wilmot & Hocker (2001) suggest some basic skills for conflict managers. More advanced assessment tools follow these basic skills.

1. Speak your mind and heart. Someone needs to speak up and say what he or she wants, thinks or feels. However obvious this point seems, the expression of conflict often is bogged down because someone is afraid to articulate needs clearly. Difficulty in expressing preferences directly may result in indirect, passive or aggressive communication .Instead of blaming, switching topics or avoiding, make sure you address the problem as the issue. Speak up!

Learn to speak your mind constructively.
Learn to speak your mind constructively.

2. Listen well. By this time, you are aware that listening is a skill that underlies all productive conflict management. Focus on what the other person is saying, not your denial. Search for what might be right about what you hear instead of what is wrong and let the other know you are doing this. Give some feedback that indicates that the other has been heard. You might say, “I am interested about your idea about taking six months off. I’m concerned about how I will cover your job, but tell me more.” Remember that any sentence beginning with “Yes, but . . .” eliminates anything you are going to say next.

3. Express strong feelings appropriately. In conflict, you will have very strong feelings at times. You will be angry, hurt, enraged, sad, joyful, hopeful or despairing. Careful, respectful expression of these feelings helps, rather than damages, conflicts. Avoid crushing your feelings; just learn to express them clearly in a non-destructive manner. Never attack, for any reason, if you want a long-term relationship!

4. Remain rational for as long as possible. Remaining rational does not mean staying calm, cool, collected or distant. Rationality means keeping in mind that you are trying to solve a problem and that you must remain connected to the other person throughout the interaction. Anything that diverts you from this task hurts conflict management. Summarise and ask questions.

5. Review what has been said. Ask about points that need clarification, using open-ended questions. Specialise in asking questions for which you do not know the answer.

6. Learn to give and take. Be fair by taking your turn and giving others their turns. No productive resolution comes from a one-sided conversation. You may solve a short-term problem; but in the long term, fairness counts.

Together everyone achieves more
Together everyone achieves more

7. Avoid all harmful statements. Attacks create enemies. Biting criticism drives people out of the interaction. Making the other person wrong means reducing the chance that you will ever make anything right. As medical doctors are taught by the Hippocratic oath, “Do no harm.”

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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Conflict resolution is sustaining peace. Do you agree?

Conflict resolution is sustaining peace.  Do you agree? It is perhaps an attempt to make our social environment more peace-able.

Conflict management is the methods of improving the conflict by guiding the concerned parties to discuss this issue openly together in a neutral forum
Conflict management is the method of improving the conflict by guiding the concerned parties to discuss this issue openly together in a neutral forum

Conflict is a state of disagreement between two or more individuals. Conflicts can arise between individuals in any setting or situation.

Conflict management is the method of improving the conflict by guiding the concerned parties to  discuss this issue openly together in a neutral forum so that both can reflect perhaps meeting a middle line of thinking and approach.

Conflict resolution is a range of processes aimed at alleviating or eliminating sources of conflict. The term “conflict resolution” is sometimes used interchangeably with the term dispute resolution or ‘alternative’ dispute resolution (ADR).

Processes of conflict resolution generally include negotiation, mediation and peacekeeping.

Arbitration, legal action, and official grievance processes such as ombudsman processes, are usually defined by the term dispute resolution, although some refer to them as ‘conflict resolution.’ Processes of mediation and negotiation are often historically been referred to as ‘alternative’ dispute resolution; but this is decreasing.

How to resolve conflict situations:

Conflict is a source for improved team performance. Managed well, conflict can lead to better decisions, more inspired ideas and quality output from the team. Managed badly, it can halt collaboration and delay individuals from achieving their personal goals.

The failure to resolve conflicts at the workplace leads to uncontrolled loss of organisational time and resources. The Conflict Management System (CMS) is designed to provide the organisation with an all-encompassing set of practices that help to prevent, manage, and resolve damaging conflict, and to nurture positive workplaces and work relations.

Stulberg recognised patterns common to all controversies. He termed them the Five-P’s of Conflict Management:

1. Perceptions: People associate conflict with negative reactions such as anger, fear, tension, and anxiety. Seldom do we identify any benefits from being involved in a difference. Our negative perceptions influence our approach in resolving conflict as we strive to eliminate the source of these negative feelings.

We often frame our perceptions depending on our personal perspectives.
We often frame our perceptions- Can they be part illusion?

2. Problems: Anyone can be involved in a conflict, and the amount of time, money, and tools needed for resolution will fluctuate according to its intricacy.

3. Processes: There are different ways to go about resolving disputes: Subdue the conflict, give in, battle, prosecute, intermediate, etc.

4. Principles: We often define the priority of the resolution process based on our own values regarding efficiency, participation, impartiality, agreement, etc.

5. Practices: Control, self-regard, and unique situations are all factors relating to how people resolve disputes the way they do.

Deal with it quickly and efficiently:

  • Focus on the problem, not the person.
  • Concentrate on what can be done, not on what can’t be done.
  • Express outlooks in a way that does not blame.
  • Admit ownership properly for all or part of the problem.
  • Listen to appreciate the other person’s point of view before giving your own.
  • Demonstrate respect for the other person’s point of view.
  • Solve the problem while building the relationship.

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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So what are the causes of conflict?

1. Poor and inconsistent communication

Poor and inconsistent communication causes conflict to occur.
Poor and inconsistent communication causes conflict to occur.

2. The alignment or the amount of resources is insufficient. This can be;

  • disagreement about “who does what”,
  • stress from working with inadequate resources.

3. “Individual interaction”, including differing values or actions between managers and employees;

  • Strong personal styles can conflict,
  • We often don’t like in others what we don’t like in ourselves.

4. Management problems, including inconsistent, absent, too-strong or ignorant management (at any level in the organisation), this can be seen by;

  • An avoidance to conflict by “passing the buck” with little follow-through on decisions,
  • Employees continue to see the same continued issues occur in the workplace,
  • Supervisors not taking the time to understand the jobs of their subordinates.
Conflict is often more easily understood by looking at the consequences of the various behaviours at any moment in time.
Conflict is often more easily understood by looking at the consequences of the various behaviours at any moment in time.

The Conflict Styles and what they mean.

Conflict is often more easily understood by looking at the consequences of the various behaviours at any moment in time.

These behaviours have been usefully categorised according style.

Each style is a way to meet an individual’s needs in a dispute but may impact other people in different ways.

  • Competing is a style in which one’s own needs are supported over the requirements of others. It relies on an antagonistic style of communication, low regard for any relationship retention, and often uses intimidating power. Those using a competitive style tend to seek control over a discussion, in both content and ground rules. They inherently fear that loss of control will end in a solution that will fail to meet their needs. This style results in responses that can escalate levels of intimidation.
  • Accommodating, this style opposes the competing style. Individuals’ using this style tend to be extremely tactful. They often allow the needs of the group to engulf their own, which may never be acknowledged, they believe that preserving the ‘relationship’ is seen as more important.
  • Avoiding is a common response to the negative perception of conflict. “I’ll just ignore it and surely it will resolve itself or go away!” they say to themselves. But, generally, all that happens is that feelings get bottled up, views go unexpressed, and the conflict gnaws at us until it becomes too big to ignore. Conflicted feeling tend to grow and spread until they kill the relationship. Because personal needs and concerns go unexpressed, people are often confused, and left wondering what went wrong.
  • Compromising is an approach to conflict where people gain and give in a series of trade-offs. While reasonable, compromise is commonly not satisfying. We each remain shaped by the perception of our needs and don’t necessarily understand the other side very well. We often have a lack of trust and avoid risk-taking involved in more cooperative behaviours.
  • Collaborating is the sharing of individual needs and goals toward a common goal. Often called “win-win problem-solving,” collaboration requires direct and clear communication and collaboration in order to achieve a better solution than either individual could have achieved alone. It offers the chance for agreement, the combination of needs, and the potential to exceed the “list of possibilities” that previously limited our views of the conflict. It brings refreshed perspective, renewed energy, and ideas to resolve the dispute meaningfully.

By understanding each style and its consequences, you can aim to normalise the results of your behaviours in various situations.

If you use a competing style, we might force the others to accept ‘your’ solution– this acceptance may be accompanied by fear and resentment.

If you accommodate, the relationship may proceed smoothly, but you may build up frustrations that your needs are going unmet.

If you compromise, you may feel OK about the outcome, but still hold onto the resentment in the future.

If you collaborate, you may not gain a better solution than if you had compromised but you are more likely to feel better about your chances for future understanding and goodwill.

And if you avoid discussing a conflict at all, everyone remains oblivious about the real underlying issues and concerns, only to be dealing with them in the future.

Okay so we now know what conflict is, lets move on to  actually resolving conflict next through Managing Conflict……….

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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How we respond to Conflict.

Continued from: Conflict invokes strong stress responses.

In addition to the behaviour reactions summarised by the various conflict styles, we have emotional, perceptive and physical responses to conflict.

These can be important openings during conflict for personal reflection.

we have emotional, perceptive and physical responses to conflict.
We have emotional, perceptive and physical responses to conflict.

We can gain greater comprehension about the true source of threat by understanding our views, approaches and physical responses to conflict; we may even begin to appreciate potential solutions to the situation.

Our experienced emotional responses to conflict and feelings can range from anger and fear through to despair and confusion. These emotional responses are often misinterpreted; many people believe that others feel the same as they do. Consequently, different emotional responses are unclear and, can be misinterpreted.

Each of us has a cognitive response to conflict. These are our ideas and thoughts about conflict. They often present as ‘internal voices’ or core observers in the midst of the situation.

Through self-talk, we are often able to better understand our responses. For example, you might think any of the following things in reaction to someone jumping the queue in a shop: “Hey! What do you think you’re doing! Who does he think he is! How rude!” or: “I wonder if he realises what he has done. He seems lost in his own thoughts.  I wonder if he is alright.” Such diverse prospective reactions would contribute to your response and behaviour in this situation.

We each have a number of "perceptual filters" that influence our responses to any situation:

Your self-talk can either encourage a positive or negative feedback loop in the situation.

After considering the cognitive situation we respond physically.

These responses play a central part in our capacity to meet our needs in any conflict situation. They can involve intensified stress, physical tension, increased perspiration, a singular focus, increased breathing, sickness, and fast heartbeat. These reactions are similar to those we experience in high-anxiety circumstances. Many of them can be managed through stress management techniques. Creating a quieter atmosphere where you can manage these feelings can  allow you to chose an appropriate physical reaction to the situation.

 How do you perceive the Conflict? We define conflict as a difference between two parties.

Each party can perceive a threat to their wants, interests or value base.

One key element of this explanation is the notion that each party may have a diverse perception of the situation. We each have a number of “perceptual filters” that influence our responses to any situation:

  • Culture,
  • Race,
  • Ethnicity

Our varying cultural experiences guide us to hold certain beliefs about the social structure of our world, as well as the role of conflict. We may have learned to value practical, routine and spiritual needs differently, this influences our willingness to be involved in negotiation and our comfort in managing any conflict situation.

  • Education
  • Gender and sexuality

Men and women often perceive situations differently, based on both their understanding of the world (this may relate to power, privilege, race or ethnicity) and socialisation patterns that support the importance of interactions vs. task, substance vs. process, immediate vs. enduring outcomes.

Men and women approach conflictive situations with differing attitudes about the anticipated consequences, as well as the set of likely explanations.

Conflict Knowledge Parties react to conflicts on the basis of the information they have about the issue.

This includes situation-specific knowledge (e.g. “How do I comprehend what is going on?”) and general knowledge (e.g. “Have I experienced this before?” or “Have I been in similar situations before?”)

Diverse understanding can influence a person’s willingness to engage in efforts to manage any conflict, either by supporting them to deal with the problem or by discouraging them to consider alternatives.

Our willingness to resolve the situation can be affected by our impression of the other party.If the other party is perceived to be a threat (powerful, scary, unknown, etc.), it can influence our response to the situation. For example, if a big scary-looking guy is approaching me rapidly, yelling “Get out of the way!” I may respond differently than if a little, quiet person expressed the same message to me. Or, if I knew either one of them previously, I might respond in a different way based upon a prior sense of their standing: I am more motivated to listen with respect to someone I view as more credible than if the message that is coming from someone who lacks credibility and integrity in my mind.

Previous experiences can have a profound effect on our lives, and continues to influence our awareness of the situations. Previous experiences’ may have left us fearful, lacking trust, and hesitant to take risks. Alternatively, they may leave us self-assured, willing to take chances and willing to experience the unknown.

Either way, we must recognise the role of previous experiences aand the impact they have on our perceptual filters especially when is involves conflict.

While hard, allowing yourself time to reflect on conflict situations can often provide an opportunity to consider any misinterpretations from both sides considering values, perceptions, needs and behaviour.

These challenges add to our evolving sense, in conflict, that the situation is overpowering and intractable. As such, they become pivotal sources of potential understanding, perception and opportunity.

The process of Conflict Management Coaching provided by On the Table Consulting can support individuals through this reflection process prior to a Mediated  or non-Mediated conflict discussion

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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Conflict invokes strong stress responses.

Conflict is defined as “direct opposition, a clash or disagreement between people. “

So often you hear “As long as you have people dealing with people, making decisions or meeting deadlines – you will have conflict.” Don’t you?

A conflict is more than a mere disagreement – it is a situation in which people perceive a threat (physical, emotional, power, status, etc.) to their well-being. As such, it is a meaningful experience in people’s lives, not to be shrugged off by a mere, “it will pass…”

Conflict invokes strong stress responses. We experience emotional responses, ranging from anger and fear to despair and confusion. These responses can be misunderstood, as individuals can assume that others feel the same as they do. Consequently, different emotive reactions can be unclear and, at times, aggressive.

Participants in conflict have a tendency to respond based on their perceptions of a situation, rather than an objective review of it. People filter their observations (and responses) through their values, culture, beliefs, information, experience, gender, and other variables. Conflict responses are both filled with thoughts and outlooks that can be very strong and dominant guides to our logic on any possible solution.

Conflict invokes strong stress responses
Conflict invokes strong stress responses

As in any problem, conflicts contain functional, technical, and emotional dimensions to be negotiated. In order to best comprehend the issues from the inside by those engaged in a conflict, consideration from all perspectives needs to occur.

Conflicts are regular experiences in the work situation. They are also, to a large degree, predictable and expected situations that logically arise as we go about working through complex and demanding projects in which we significantly invested time and effort. As such, if we develop processes for recognising conflicts that are likely to occur, as well as systems through which we can productively manage these; we create a new opportunity to transform conflict into a productive learning experience.

Taking a resourceful problem-solving approach is essential to positive conflict management. Transforming the situation from one in which it is ‘my way or the highway’ into one in which we entertain new prospects that have been otherwise indescribable.

Conflict can be needed; it can:

1. Help to confront and address problems.

2. Motivate work to be on the most appropriate issues.

3. Support people to “be real”, for example, it can motivate them to contribute.

4. Help people learn how to identify and value from their differences. Conflict is not the same as distress. The conflict isn’t the problem – it is when conflict is poorly managed that is the problem.

Conflict is a problem when it:

1. Hinders productivity.

2. Lowers confidence.

3. Causes more and continued conflicts.

4. Causes inappropriate behaviours.

How do we respond to conflict?

In addition to the interactive responses summarised by the countless conflict styles, we have emotional, cognitive and physical responses to conflict. These are central openings into our understanding during conflict, they frequently tell us more about what is the real cause of threat that we perceive.

By understanding our thoughts, feelings and physical responses to conflict, we can get improved understanding into the best solution/s to a situation.

Next edition- Insight in our responses and self-talk.

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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4 Ways to Train Your Brain for Positivity

Not a natural optimist? Use these simple exercises to train your brain to more easily pick out the positive.

Not a natural optimist? Use these simple exercises to train your brain to more easily pick out the positive.
Not a natural optimist? Use these simple exercises to train your brain to more easily pick out the positive.

You know how when you play Tetris for awhile, even after you stop, you can still see those little falling blocks in your mind’s eye?

The persistence of Tetris isn’t simply an annoying effect of a cleverly designed game, according to scientists. Instead it’s a reflection of something deeply positive about our brains–their plasticity.

That’s a according to a recent post by iDoneThis founder Walter Chen on productivity blog buffer. He cites studies on Tetris (yes, there is such a thing, and yes, this is going somewhere helpful to non-video game addicted entrepreneurs), which found that playing the game for a few hours a week over a period of months, actually changed the brains of players.

“Every time you reactivate a circuit, synaptic efficiency increases, and connections become more durable and easier to reactivate,” Chen writes, before summarizing the importance of the findings: “Whenever you do specific tasks over and over again, they take up less of your brain power over time.”

Learning Positivity

That’s probably not a shock to anyone who has learned to play the piano, speak a foreign language or even hit a tennis ball roughly where you want it to go. So what’s the big deal? This same brain plasticity allows you to master simple skills or sports, also allows you to train yourself to be more positive.

Chen quotes Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage who has previously spoken about his work on the brain and happiness to Inc. Just like we can train our brains to more easily recognize the patterns of Tetris, “we can retrain the brain to scan for the good things in life—to help us see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels,” Achor says, dubbing this ability “the positive Tetris effect.”

Happiness Homework

So how do you do this? Chen offers four very simple interventions that can, over time, actually rewire your brain to see things more positively:
Scan for the 3 daily positives. At the end of each day, make a list of three specific good things that happened that day and reflect on what caused them to happen. The good things could be anything — bumping into an old friend, a positive remark from someone at work, a pretty sunset. Celebrating small wins also has a proven effect of powering motivation and igniting joy. As you record your good things daily, the better you will get and feel.

Give one shout-out to someone (daily). I love this technique. Take the positive things you’re getting better at recognising and let people know you’ve noticed. Take a minute to say thanks or recognise someone for their efforts, from friends and family to people at work. A great way to go about this is by sending 1 daily email to someone. It can be your old school teacher, whose advice you are now appreciating every day. A co-worker or someone you’ve only met. Show courage and say thanks.
•Do something nice. Acts of kindness boost happiness levels. Something as small and simple as making someone smile works. Pausing to do something thoughtful has the power to get you out of that negativity loop. Do something nice that is small and concrete like buying someone a coffee.

Mind your mind. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Opening our awareness beyond the narrowness of negativity can help bring back more balance and positivity into the picture.

Looking for more details? Chen’s post has much more on the science and what actually happens physically in your brain. You can also check out Achor’s interview about how happiness affects brain function (hint: it doesn’t make it worse), or get tips on how to reframe situations more positively in the moment from my colleague Geoffrey James. Finally, if you’re looking to add more mindfulness to your day, check out this post on how many entrepreneurs incorporate meditation into their lives.

Do you agree that it’s possible to alter you basic orientation towards the world and become more positive? I thought this was a great quick article full of little nuggets of information that could add to your day.

Something different to add to the pot?!

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Mediate to End Disagreements

One of the biggest challenges we all face is dealing effectively with the differences we have with others. These differences can range from small scale disagreements—which can build up over time and put a strain on any relationship, to larger conflicts which could potentially wind up in a court of law. In addition, differences can arise with anyone in our life, from our spouse or significant other, to our friends and neighbours, to our co-workers and business partners, and so on.image49_color

Although conflict is a natural part of life, fighting can risk our happiness at home, our effectiveness at work, and our overall sense of well-being. By acquiring skills to de-escalate conflict and to resolve disputes amicably, you’ll be taking a proactive approach to building a better life for yourself and for those around you.

Mediators are third parties who help people solve their disagreements. They help parties who are involved in a conflict to communicate more effectively and to explore possible ways of moving forward. By learning the basic skills used by mediators to help others get to the core of disputes and resolve them, you can begin to mediate your own disputes. Below you’ll find an introduction to some of the most basic skills you need to learn to introduce mediation as a conflict resolution method in your life.

Sit Down to talk about the Problem with a willingness to Resolve It.
Create a space for honest communication and for the airing of emotions. To have a conversation that is conducive to resolving the disagreement, instead of focusing on positions—where each party takes a firm stance as to exactly what it is that they’ve decided they want–each side should express their interests; that is; the needs, concerns, desires, fears, and aspirations that underlie each side’s position. In addition, one way to deal with people’s anger, frustration, and other negative emotions is by allowing them to release those feelings, so each party should be allowed to make their emotions explicit.

Establish Ground Rules
A lot of the time the problem is not so much in the nature of any individual dispute, but in the way in which differences are handled. Mediation helps people change the way in which they interact with others and the way in which they respond to conflict. When you sit down with someone in an attempt to resolve a disagreement, you should start out by establishing ground rules to create a space of tolerance and respect in which you can iron out your differences. Ground rules can include things such as the following:

  • Each side will take turns speaking. In addition, each person gets a predetermined period of time to speak, during which they cannot be interrupted by the other. If the other hears something that they want to respond to and it’s not their turn to speak, they should write it down and wait until it’s their turn to say it.
  • Only one person can get angry at a time.
  • Focus on one issue at a time.
  • Establish a statute of limitations on old grievances. That is, don’t bring up events that occurred two years ago.
  • Refrain from using phrases such as “You always . . .”, or “You never . . .”
  • Try not to blame the other person, speak for the other person, or speculate about the motives of the other.
  • Refrain from name-calling.
  • Each side should strive to take responsibility for their contribution to the conflict.
  • Treat each other with respect.

Separate the People from the Problem
The process of mediation rests on the expectation that every person has an element of goodwill and integrity, and that everyone is capable of change. When trying to resolve a dispute, it’s very important that you don’t identify the other person as being the problem, for example: “The problem is that he’s selfish”, “The problem is that she’s a spendthrift”, and so on. When you identify the other person as being the problem, this creates a “me versus you” atmosphere, in which animosity is likely to arise. By separating the people from the problem both parties can focus on jointly attacking the problem, instead of attacking each other.
Develop the Skill of Active Listening
A basic human need is to feel understood, and active listening will help you to understand the message the other person is trying to convey. When it’s the other person’s turn to speak make sure that you listen to them attentively. Remain focused on what the other is saying instead of rehearsing in your head what you’re going to say next. Use paraphrasing to make sure that you understand what the other has just said; paraphrasing basically means that when the other person is finished talking you repeat in your own words what you heard them say. You can use a phrase like the following: “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying: I’m going to repeat what I just heard you say in my own words, and please feel free to correct me if I misinterpret anything you’ve said.” Encourage the other person to elaborate on what they’re saying and to get everything they’re feeling off their chest; ask for clarifying information. Remember that understanding is not synonymous with agreeing.
Practice Empathy 
Try to see the world from the perspective of the other person, that is, put yourself in the shoes of the other. Be curious about the other person and about the thinking process that they followed to reach their conclusions. We all see the world differently based on our background, our experiences, our values, and our belief system. Seek to understand how the other sees the world, their motivations, and their aspirations.
Express Yourself

Learn to Express Yourself
In resolving any disagreement with another it’s important not only that you listen to the other and try to understand where they’re coming from, but that you also express how you fe el and let the other know what you really want. Communicate to the other side what you’re experiencing, what your desires are, what’s important to you, and tell them what your interests are.

Conclusion
Once you’ve identified each side’s interests you can come up with creative ways to satisfy them. Stop looking for a single best answer– come up with as many solutions as possible–and don’t assume that there’s a fixed pie. The goal is for each party to walk away from a “mediation session” feeling understood and that an effective plan has been agreed upon for resolving the dispute and moving forward. Both need to have a clear understanding of exactly what the agreement entails, and both parties need to make a firm commitment to uphold their end of the bargain. Think of ways to make sure that this problem, and others like it, won’t arise again in the future.
You can apply mediation skills not only to help yourself resolve the conflicts in your own life, but also to help others resolve their disputes. Once you feel comfortable using mediation skills you can help mediate problems between your co-workers, between your friends, between your family members, and so on.

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

Contact: www.onthetable.co.nz

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Conflict and Effective Communication

I recently had the pleasure of being involved in a viable dispute and this time instead of mediating, I was an active party! I’m the first to say that that ‘Conflict between people is a fact of life! – it’s often not a bad thing.’ Being a party allowed me the opportunity to observe the “mixed bag” of emotions that accompanies dispute. How dispute that occurs inside a family can ricochet from person to person each expressing differing reactive styles in response.

Conflicts occur at every level of interaction – work, between friends, family member and in relationships.
Conflicts occur at every level of interaction – work, between friends, family member and in relationships.

Conflicts occur at every level of interaction – work, between friends, family member and in relationships. When conflict occurs, the relationship can move to a weakened or strengthened position. Conflict can cause resentment, hostility and even end relationships. Conflict is a critical event in the course of a relationship. If it is handled well, conflict can be dynamicleading to deeper appreciation, joint respect and intimacy. Whether a relationship is healthy or unhealthy centres not so much on the number of clashes between participants, but how the conflicts have been resolved.

People shy away from conflict, and the reasons for this are numerous. They may see conflict as an all-or-nothing situation (either they avoid it altogether or they end up in an all-out combative mode, regardless of the real severity of the conflict). Or they may find it difficult to face conflict because they feel insufficient in general or in the particular relationship. They may have difficulty in positively declaring their opinions and outlooks. Children who grow up surrounded by negative conflict may, as adults, decide never to participate in conflict. In this situation, the person may never have learned that there are effective, adaptive ways to communicate in the face of conflict.

People adopt a number of different styles in facing conflict. First, it is very common to see people avoid or deny the existence of any conflict. Unfortunately, in this case, the conflict often lingers in the background during communication between the participants and creates the impending for added tension and even more conflict. A second response style is that of getting mad and blaming the other person. This occurs when a person incorrectly associates conflict with anger. This position does nothing to resolve the conflict and only serves to increase the amount of friction between participants by intensifying defensiveness. Some people try to resolve conflict by using power and influence to win at the other’s expense. They welcome conflict because it allows their competitive impulses to emerge, but they fail to understand that the conflict is not really resolved since the “loser” will continue to harbour resentment. Similarly, some people appear to compromise in resolving the conflict, but they subtly manipulate the other person in the process, and this, perpetuates the conflict between the two parties and compromises the trust between them. There are better ways to handle interpersonal conflict.

Healthy Approaches to Conflict Resolution

it is healthier if both parties can remain open, authentic, assertive and courteous of the other position. Mutual trust and respect, as well as a positive, positive attitude, are fundamental necessities in relationships that matter.
it is healthier if both parties can remain open, authentic, assertive and courteous of the other position. Mutual trust and respect, as well as a positive, positive attitude, are fundamental necessities in relationships that matter.

Conflicts run all the way from trivial differences, to disputes which can threaten the survival of a relationship. Conflicts with a loved one or a long-term friend are, of course, different from negotiating with someone who does not care about your needs, like a stranger or a salesperson. However, there is an underlying principle that underlines all successful conflict resolution. That is, both parties must view their conflict as a problem to be solved mutually so that both parties have the feeling of winning – or at least finding a solution which is acceptable to both.

Each person must participate actively in the resolution and make an effort and commitment to find answers which are as fair as possible to both. This is an easy principle to understand, but it is often difficult to put into practice.

We may get so caught up with our own immediate interests that we damage our relationships. If we disregard or minimise the position of the other person, if fear and power are used to win, or if we always have to get our own way, the other person will feel hurt and the relationship may suffer. Similarly, if we always surrender just to avoid conflict, we give the message to the other person that it is acceptable to act self-serving at our expense and insensitive to our needs. Our feeling of self-worth suffers, resentment festers, and we feel poisoned in the relationship. Instead, it is healthier if both parties can remain open, authentic, assertive and courteous of the other position. Mutual trust and respect, as well as a positive, positive attitude, are fundamental necessities in relationships that matter.

Preventing Conflict

Most people have no interest in creating conflict with others. Most of us know enough about human behaviour to distinguish between healthy communication and the words or actions that contribute to troublesome relationships. It is in our interest to maintain relationships which are smooth, flexible, and mutually enhancing. The problem occurs when we fail to use cooperative approaches consistently in our dealing with others. We seldom create conflict intentionally. Sometimes we forget, or we are frustrated and annoyed, and sometimes we just have a bad day. At times we feel so exasperated that we focus on our own needs at the expense of others’. And then we find ourselves in conflict.

To prevent conflict from happening in the first place, it is important to identify the ways in which we contribute to the difference. One way of doing this is to identify a specific, recent conflicted situation, recall what you said, and then think specifically about how you could have used more effective language. Think about ways in which your communication could have set a more trustful tone or reduced defensiveness. Then, once you have identified your part in the conflict, such as blaming, practice working on that particular behaviour for a day or a week. At the end of the time period, evaluate your progress. How did you go? In what situations did you not succeed? (Remember: It is your own response that you have control over and can change.)

Using Effective Communication Techniques to Reduce Conflict

Once you find yourself in a conflicted situation with someone else, it is important to reduce the emotional charge from the situation so that you and the other person can deal with your differences on a rational level in resolving the conflict.

  • Empathy: Try to put yourself into the shoes of the other person. See the world through their eyes. Empathy is an important listening technique which gives the other feedback that he or she is being heard. There are two forms of empathy. Thought Empathy gives the message that you understand what the other is trying to say. You can do this in conversation by paraphrasing the words of the other person. For example, “I understand you to say that your trust in me has been broken.” Feeling Empathy is your acknowledgment of how the other person probably feels. It is important never to attribute emotions which may not exist for the other person (such as, “You’re confused with all your emotional upheaval right now”), but rather to indicate your perception of how the person must be feeling. For example, “I guess you probably feel pretty mad at me right now.”
  • Exploration: Ask gentle, probing questions about what the other person is thinking and feeling. Encourage the other to talk fully about what is on his or her mind. For example, “Are there any other thoughts that you need to share with me?”
  • Using “I” Statements: Take responsibility for your own thoughts rather than attributing motives to the other person. This decreases the chance that the other person will become defensive. For example, “I feel pretty upset that this thing has come between us.” This statement is much more effective than saying, “You have made me feel very upset.”
  • Affirmation: Find positive things to say about the other person, even if the other is angry with you. Show a respectful attitude. For example, “I genuinely respect you for having the courage to bring this problem to me. I admire your strength and your caring attitude.”
  • The Calming Technique: The other person might be angry and may come to the situation armed with a number of arguments describing how you are to blame for his or her unhappiness. Your goal is to address the other’s anger – and you do this by simply agreeing with the person. When you find some truth in the other point of view, it is difficult for the other person to maintain anger. For example, “I know that I said I would call you last night. You are absolutely right. I wish I could be more responsible sometimes.” The accusation might be completely unreasonable from your viewpoint, but there is always some truth in what the other person says. At the very least, we need to acknowledge that individuals have different ways of seeing things. This does not mean that we have to compromise our own basic principles. We simply validate the other’s stance so that we can move on to a healthier resolution of the conflict. This may be hard to do in a volatile situation, but a sign of individual strength and integrity is the ability to postpone our immediate reactions in order to achieve positive goals. Sometimes we have to “lose” in order, ultimately, to “win.”

A simple 2 minute Conflict Resolution Framework

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  1. Identify the Problem. Have a discussion to understand both sides of the problem. The goal at this initial stage is to say what you want and to listen to what the other person wants. Define the things that you both agree on, as well as the ideas that have caused the disagreement. It is important to listen actively to what the other is saying, use “I” statements and avoid blame.
  2. Come Up With Several Possible Solutions. This is the brainstorming phase. Drawing on the points that you both agree on and your shared goals generate a list of as many ideas as you can for solving the problem, regardless of how feasible they might be. Aim toward quantity of ideas rather than quality during this phase, and let creativity be your guide.
  3. Evaluate These Alternate Solutions. Now go through the list of alternative solutions to the problem, one by one. Consider the pros and cons of the remaining solutions until the list is narrowed down to one or two of the best ways of handling the problem. It is important for each person to be honest in this phase. The solutions might not be ideal for either person and may involve compromise.
  4. Decide on the Best Solution. Select the solution that seems mutually acceptable, even if it is not perfect for either party. As long as it seems fair and there is a mutual commitment to work with the decision, the conflict has a chance for resolution.
  5. Implement the Solution. It is important to agree on the details of what each party must do, who is responsible for implementing various parts of the agreement, and what to do in case the agreement starts to break down.
  6. Continue to Evaluate the Solution. Conflict resolutions should be seen as works in progress. Make it a point to ask the other person from time to time how things are going. Something unexpected might have come up or some aspect of the problem may have been overlooked. Your decisions should be seen as open to revision, as long as the revisions are agreed upon mutually.

About the Author

Kylie Head is a mediation services specialist with seventeen years of experience in senior management roles.

In addition to mediating disputes, Kylie acts as a facilitator resolving in-house conflict within business, along with working one-on-one to coach individuals through conflict, life transitions and problem solving. Kylie is experienced in providing mediation services with

On the Table to parties where the issues are complex and intractable.

On the Table helps people & teams have conversations.

On the Table encourages people and organisations’ to connect and to have dialogue in a way that is meaningful and constructive.

At On the Table we believe in:

  • peaceful conflict resolution and mediation
  • resolving conflict through conversations
  • conflict management coaching
  • you could benefit by using a mediation specialist

Contact On the Table

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Excuse me…. Are you listening?

Active listening is a person’s willingness and ability to hear and understand. Many of us intuitively know what active listening looks, sounds, and feels like. However, we may not know what to do to be successful at it.

By learning the skills and behaviours of active listening, leaders can become more effective listeners and, over time, improve their ability to lead. Active listening does not necessarily mean long sessions spent listening to grievances, personal or otherwise. It is simply a way of approaching those problems which arise out of the usual day-to-day events of any job.

To be effective, active listening must be firmly grounded in the basic attitudes of the user. Until we can demonstrate a spirit which genuinely respects the potential worth of the individual, which considers his sights and trusts his capacity for self-direction, we cannot begin to be effective listeners.  Listening is a complex process that involves far more than our ears. To listen well, we rely on our ears, minds, and hearts.  Listening has psychological and cognitive dimensions that mere hearing, or physically receiving messages does not. The multifaceted aspects of listening are reflected in the Chinese character in Figure 1, which includes the symbols for the eyes, ears and heart. We can define listening as an active, complex process that consists of being mindful; hearing, selecting and organising information; interpreting communication; responding and remembering. Listening then is more than hearing. It also requires us to interpret, remember and respond to what others communicate.

Figure 1. The Chinese Character for the word “Listening”

What We Achieve by Listening

Active listening is an important way to bring about changes in people. Despite the popular notion that listening is a passive approach, clinical and research evidence clearly shows that sensitive listening is a most effective agent for individual personality change and group development. Listening brings about changes in peoples’ attitudes toward themselves and others; it also brings about changes in their basic values and personal philosophy. People who have been listened to in this new and special way become more emotionally mature, more open to their experiences, less defensive, more democratic, and less authoritarian.

When people are listened to sensitively, they tend to listen to themselves with more care and to make clear exactly what they are feeling and thinking. Group members tend to listen more to each other, to become less argumentative, more ready to incorporate other points of view. Because listening reduces the threat of having one’s ideas criticised, the person is better able to see them for what they are and is more likely to feel that his contributions are worthwhile.

Not the least important result of listening is the change that takes place within the listener himself. Besides providing more information than any other activity, listening builds deep, positive relationships and tends to alter constructively the attitudes of the listener. Listening is a growth experience.

These, then, are some of the worthwhile results we can expect from active listening. But how do we go about this kind of listening? How do we become active listeners?

How to Listen

Active listening aims to bring about changes in people. To achieve this end, it relies upon definite techniques—things to do and things to avoid doing. Before discussing these techniques, however, we should first understand why they are effective. To do so, we must understand how the individual personality develops.

The Growth of the Individual

Through all of our lives, from early childhood on, we have learned to think of ourselves in certain very definite ways. We have built up pictures of ourselves. Sometimes these self-pictures are pretty realistic, but at other times they are not. For example, an over-age, overweight lady may fancy herself a youthful, ravishing siren, or an awkward teen-ager regard himself as a star athlete.

All of us have experiences which fit the way we need to think about ourselves. These we accept. But it is much harder to accept experiences which don’t fit. And sometimes if it is very important for us to hang on to this self-picture, we don’t accept or admit these experiences at all. These self-pictures are not necessarily attractive. A man,
for example, may regard himself as incompetent and worthless. He may feel that he is doing his job poorly in spite of favourable appraisals by the company. As long as he has these feelings about himself, he must deny any experiences which would seem not to fit this self-picture—in this case any that might indicate to him that he is competent. It is so necessary for him to maintain this self-picture that he is threatened by anything which would tend to change it. Thus, when the company raises his salary, it may seem to him only additional proof that he is a fraud. He must hold onto this self-picture, because, bad or good, it’s the only thing he has by which he can identify himself. This is why direct attempts to change this individual or change his self-picture are particularly threatening. He is forced to defend himself or to completely deny the experience. This denial of experience and defence of the self-picture tend to bring on rigidity of behaviour and create difficulties in personal adjustment. The active listening approach, on the other hand, does not present a threat to the individual’s self-picture. He does not have to defend it. He is able to explore it, see it for what it is, and make his own decision about how realistic it is. And he is then in a position to change. If I want to help a man reduce his defensiveness and become more adaptive, I must try to remove the threat of myself as his potential changer. As long as the atmosphere is threatening, there can be no effective communication. So I must create a climate which is neither critical, evaluative, nor moralising. It must be an atmosphere of equality and freedom, permissiveness and understanding, acceptance and warmth. It is in this climate and this climate only that the individual feels safe enough to incorporate new experiences and new values into his concept of himself. Let’s see how active listening helps to create this climate.

What to Avoid

When we encounter a person with a problem our usual response is to try to change his way of looking at things—to get him to see his situation the way we see it or would like him to see it. We plead, reason, scold, encourage, insult, prod—anything to bring about a change in the desired direction, that is, in the direction we want him to travel. What we seldom realise, however, is that, under these circumstances, we are usually responding to our own needs to see the world in certain ways. It is always difficult for us to tolerate and understand actions which are different from the ways in which we believe we should act. If, however, we can free ourselves from the need to influence and direct others in our own paths, we enable ourselves to listen with understanding and thereby employ the most potent available agent of change.

One problem the listener faces is that of responding to demands for decisions, judgments, and evaluations. He is constantly called upon to agree or disagree with someone or something. Yet, as he well knows, the question or challenge frequently is a masked expression of feelings or needs which the speaker is far more anxious to communicate than he is to have the surface questions answered. Because he cannot speak these feelings openly, the speaker must disguise them to himself and to others in an acceptable form. Passing judgment, whether critical or favourable, makes free expression difficult.

Similarly, advice and information are almost always seen as efforts to change a person and thus serve as barriers to his self-expression and the development of a creative relationship. Moreover, advice is seldom taken, and information hardly ever utilised. The eager young trainee probably will not become patient just because he is advised that “the road to success in business is a long, difficult one, and you must be patient.” And it is no more helpful for him to learn that “only one out of a hundred trainees reaches a top management position.” Interestingly, it is a difficult lesson to learn that positive evaluations are sometimes as blocking as negative ones. It is almost as destructive to the freedom of a relationship to tell a person that he is good or capable or right, as to tell him otherwise. To evaluate him positively may make it more difficult for him to tell of the faults that distress him or the ways in which he believes he is not competent.

Encouragement also may be seen as an attempt to motivate the speaker in certain directions or hold him off, rather than as support. “I’m sure everything will work out O.K.” is not a helpful response to the person who is deeply discouraged about a problem. In other words, most of the techniques and devices common to human relationships are found to be of little use in establishing the type of relationship we are seeking here.

What to Do

Just what does active listening entail, then? Basically, it requires that we get inside the speaker, that we grasp, from his point of view, just what it is he is communicating to us.

More than that, we must convey to the speaker that we are seeing things from his point of view. To listen actively, then, means that there are several things we must do.

Listen for Total Meaning

Any message a person tries to get across usually has two components: the content of the message and the feeling or attitude underlying the content. Both are important; both give the message meaning. It is this total meaning of the message that we try to understand. For example, a salesperson comes to his sales manager and says, “I’ve finished that revised forecast.” This message has obvious content and perhaps calls upon the Sales Manager for another work assignment.

Suppose, on the other hand, that he says, “Well, I’m finally finished with that damned forecast for you.” The content is the same, but the total meaning of the message has changed—and changed in an important way for both the Sales Manager and the salesperson. Here sensitive listening can facilitate the relationship. Suppose the Sales Manager were to respond by simply giving another work assignment. Would the employee feel that he had gotten his total message across? Would he feel free to talk to his Sales Manager? Will he feel better about his job, more anxious to do good work on the next assignment?

Now, on the other hand, suppose the Sales Manager were to respond with, “Glad to have it over with, huh?” or “Had a pretty rough time of it?” or “I guess you don’t feel like doing anything like that again,” or anything else that tells the salesperson that he heard and understands. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the next work assignment need be changed or that she must spend an hour listening to the worker complain about the setup problems he encountered. She may do a number of things differently in the light of the new information she has from the worker—but not necessarily. It’s just that extra sensitivity on the part of the manager which can transform an average working climate into a good one.

Respond to Feelings

In some instances, the content is far less important than the feeling which underlies it. To catch the full flavour or meaning of the message, one must respond particularly to the feeling component. If, for instance, our machinist had said, “I’d like to melt this lathe down and make paper clips out of it,” responding to content would be obviously absurd. But to respond to his disgust or anger in trying to work with his lathe recognises the meaning of this message. There are various shadings of these components in the meaning of any message. Each time, the listener must try to remain sensitive to the total meaning the message has to the speaker. What is he trying to tell me? What does this mean to him? How does he see this situation?

Note All Cues

Not all communication is verbal. The speaker’s words alone don’t tell us everything he is communicating. And hence, truly sensitive listening requires that we become aware of several kinds of communication besides verbal. The way in which a speaker hesitates in his speech can tell us much about his feelings. So, too, can the inflection of his voice.

He may stress certain points loudly and clearly and may mumble others. We should also note such things as the person’s facial expressions, body posture, hand movements, eye movements, and breathing. All of these help to convey his total message.

What We Communicate by Listening

Figure 2. Kanji Symbols for Respect

The first reaction of most people when they consider listening as a possible method for dealing with human beings is that listening cannot be sufficient in itself. Because it is passive, they feel, listening does not communicate anything to the speaker. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. By consistently listening to a speaker, you are conveying the idea that: “I’m interested in you as a person, and I think that what you feel is important. I respect your thoughts, and even if I don’t agree with them, I know that they are valid for you. I feel sure that you have a contribution to make. I’m not trying to change you or evaluate you. I just want to understand you. I think you’re worth listening to, and I want you to know that I’m the kind of a person you can talk to.” The subtle but more important aspect of this is that it is the demonstration of the message that works.

While it is most difficult to convince someone that you respect them by telling them, you are much more likely to get the message across by behaving in a respectful manner—through actually having and demonstrating respect for this person. Listening does this most effectively.

Like other behaviour, listening behaviour is contagious. This has implications for all communication problems, whether between two people or within a large organisation. To ensure good communication between associates up and down the line, one must first take the responsibility for setting a pattern of listening. Just as one learns that anger is usually met with anger, dispute with dispute, and dishonesty with dishonesty, one can learn that listening can be met with listening. Every person who feels responsibility in a situation can set the tone of the interaction, and the important lesson in this is that any behaviour exhibited by one person will eventually be responded to with similar behaviour in the other person.

It is far more difficult to stimulate constructive behaviour in another person but far more beneficial. Listening is one of these constructive behaviours, but if one’s attitude is to “wait out” the speaker rather than really listen to him, it will fail. The one who consistently listens with understanding, however, is the one who eventually is most likely to be listened to. If you really want to be heard and understood by another, you can develop him as a potential listener, ready for new ideas, provided you can first develop yourself in these ways and sincerely listen with understanding and respect.

Because understanding another person is actually far more difficult than it at first seems, it is important to test constantly your ability to see the world in the way the speaker sees it. You can do this by reflecting in your own words what the speaker seems to mean by his words and actions. His response to this will tell you whether or not he feels understood. A good rule of thumb is to assume that you never really understand until you can communicate this understanding to the others satisfaction.

The restatement must be accurate enough to satisfy the speaker before the listener can be allowed to speak for yourself.

Problems in Active Listening

Problems in Active Listening

Active listening is not an easy skill to acquire. It demands practice. Perhaps more important, it may require changes in our own basic attitudes. These changes come slowly and sometimes with considerable difficulty. Let us look at some of the major problems in active listening and what can be done to overcome them.

To be effective at all in active listening, one must have a sincere interest in the speaker. We all live in glass houses as far as our attitudes are concerned. They always show through. And if we are only making a pretence of interest in the speaker. He will quickly pick this up, either consciously or unconsciously. And once he does, he will no longer express himself freely. Active listening carries a strong element of personal risk. If we manage to accomplish what we are describing here—to sense deeply the feeling of another person, to understand the meaning his experiences have for him, to see the world as he sees it—we risk being changed ourselves…To get the meaning which life has for him—we risk coming to see the world as he sees it. It is threatening to give up, even momentarily, what we believe and start thinking in someone else’s terms. It takes a great deal of inner security and courage to be able to risk one’s self in understanding another.

We are so accustomed to viewing ourselves in certain ways—to seeing and hearing only what we want to see and hear—that it is extremely difficult for a person to free himself from his needs to see things these ways. To do this may sometimes be unpleasant, but it is far more difficult than unpleasant. Developing an attitude of sincere interest in the speaker is thus no easy task. It can be developed only by being willing to risk seeing the world from the speaker’s point of view. If we have a number of such experiences, however, they will shape an attitude which will allow us to be truly genuine in our interest in the speaker.

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting  creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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Mind the Gap

In the last few years’ I have spent considerate time with exasperated Managers’ and subsequently reporting employees where performance gaps exist. In many cases, the Managers’ in question feel that they have clearly communicated the performance issues but they are just aren’t being heard by the employee.

Ensure clarity when discussing performance issues.

“So you are saying even being direct was not getting through to this sales person. I think asking them what they think, and if they heard what the problem is can make sure the other person heard this issue”

In this post, the manager assumed they were being direct with subtlety. Their interpretation of subtlety was to deliver a clear message with an increased emphasis on sparing the salesperson’s feelings. Sometimes this approach backfires for a number of reasons:

  1. The boss becomes more concerned with the reaction of the employee and dilutes the message.
  2. The employee walks away believing the issue is minor when it is a major one.
  3. The boss assumes their subordinate wants to be talked to the way he or she wants to hear things – when it may be very different.

It is my guess that the manager may have tried to follow up with questions this reader is posing, though the conversation may have been cut short. It is more likely, other factors were working against them.

These types of conversations are usually not the ones that bosses want to have with their employees and vice versa. If we play out the scenario differently, it is probable the employee acted like they understood. After all, he or she wants to get out of the hot seat as soon as they can! Alternatively, the boss wants to dispose of this difficult conversation quickly.

The solution is – ensure that conversations complete the full feedback loop approach. If you follow these steps, you will increase your success with difficult conversations:

Step 1: Define the problem clearly with examples.

Step 2: Identify how the problem affects results or relationships.

Step 3: If you have a preferred solution, share it; otherwise brainstorm and explore options together.

Step 4: Agree on a solution. The solution will include specific behaviour changes, reinforcements and timing. The solution should focus on delivering the desired outcome(s).

Step 5: Discuss how this new behaviour or result will look when you see it (the successful outcome). Be detailed in the description – create a picture where the employee visually sees themselves doing it.

Step 6: Ask the other person to restate their understanding of each step. Ask clear open questions avoiding closed-end questions. Let them tell you what they think in their own words.

Step 7: Set a meeting time to review progress and make adjustments.

To help facilitate the discussion further- consider sharing this model with the employee before you start the conversation. They will know what to expect as the discussion progresses and you will find less resistance to correcting undesirable behaviours and outcomes.

Need assistance to hold that effective dialogue?

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting also creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.

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Be proactive about poor performance

Managers talk a lot about employee performance. There’s constant pressure to achieve performance targets, to reach higher performance levels, and to ensure that people’s work support and further the organisation’s goals.

Be proactive about poor performance

Performance management is the process used to manage this performance. The key question asked is, “How well is an employee applying his or her current skills, and to what extent is he or she achieving the outcomes desired?”

 The answer has traditionally been found in the performance evaluation process, where managers look for hard data to tell how well an employee has performed his or her duties. However, often clear KPI’s and employee goals are not as apparent as first thought and assistance may be required

You may have a very hard-working and dedicated team member, but if he or she is not working on things that advance the organisation’s purpose, what is the point? And how can you identify real employee performance gaps?

A simple definition of unsatisfactory job performance is a gap between the employee’s actual performance and the level of performance required by the organisation.

There are three basic types of poor performance:

  1. unsatisfactory work content — in terms of quantity, quality, etc.;
  2. breaches of work practices, procedures and rules — such as breaching occupational health and safety requirements, excessive absenteeism, theft, harassment of other employees, etc.; and
  3. employees’ personal problems — usually  ‘off-the-job’ issues that affect their performance at work.

Starting point

The performance management process should be able to identify these problems. The performance management interview and feedback processes can discuss the problems to diagnose the causes and explore possible remedies, such as job redesign, training or counselling.

A starting point for managers is to ask the following standard questions:

  • What actually is the performance ‘gap’?
  • How large is the gap?
  • Is it increasing?
  • What are the consequences of that gap?
  • How serious are they?
  • Has the employee’s performance been acceptable in the past?
  • Does the employee have the skills required to perform the job?
  • If not, is he/she capable of obtaining and using the skills?
  • In general, is the employee capable of performing the job?
  • How important to the employee is performing the job well?
  • Does the employee benefit in some way from unsatisfactory performance (e.g. trying to prove a point, having a hidden agenda, undermining someone else, trying to orchestrate a pay-out or      redundancy, etc.)?
  • Are there any barriers to performance within the employee’s control?
  • Are there barriers within the organisation’s control (such as resources issues, communication problems, recruitment, training, job descriptions, etc.)?
  • What is required to remove these barriers?
  • Is it feasible to do it?

Causal factors

It is essential to distinguish between causal factors that are ’employee issues’ and those that are ‘organisation issues’. Many situations have elements of both, with one causing or contributing to the other. There may be a tendency for both parties to allocate blame either to each other or to third parties, but if the true causes are not diagnosed and treated, the problems will be repeated.

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The following list indicates the scope of causal factors and their symptoms, and suggests appropriate remedial actions.

The work environment

Problems: inadequate resources and equipment, poor working conditions, occupational health and safety issues.

Strategies: feedback from employees should alert management to fix the problems, as should data from job analysis, OHS audits and inspections, etc.

Work organisation

Problems: workflow issues such as bottlenecks, shortcuts, breaches of rules and procedures, management and supervision issues, or errors that are not corrected.

Strategies: job redesign, work study, reviewing and enforcing rules/procedures, performance management of managers/supervisors.

Employment conditions

Problems: insufficient remuneration, excessive workloads/working hours, work/life balance issues.

Strategies: again, feedback from employees will identify these problems. Reviews of remuneration and work/life balance policies and practices should occur. Review of business performance and activity may show that business is expanding, and may justify increasing staffing levels.

Recruitment/selection issues

Problems: mismatch of job and employee, job ‘oversold’ at recruitment/advertising stage (e.g. with a misleading title or suggesting opportunities for advancement that aren’t there), employee over-qualified, boring aspects of job not mentioned.

Symptoms include employee boredom, alienation or ‘looking for trouble’.

Strategies: in these situations, reviewing recruitment processes and procedures is advisable, as well as training or retraining recruiting staff and updating job descriptions and specifications. For the employee, look at possible transfers and career planning progression.

Alternatively, the employee may lack the ability to perform the job well, and training cannot change that. Transfers or job redesign are the most constructive options available here.

Promotion

Problems: employee promoted beyond his/her ability, promoted too soon, or promoted into an unwanted or unsuitable role (e.g. a technical expert or successful salesperson who becomes a manager, but lacks people management skills or misses the intellectual content or ‘buzz’ of the previous job).

Strategies: performance management combined with the employer’s support and resources (such as mentoring) may overcome the problem. Development and promotion policies also require review. In some cases, returning the employee to his/her old job (or an equivalent) may be an option. However, this should only be done with the employee’s agreement (and without applying pressure or duress), otherwise it is unlikely that performance will improve much anyway, and there is the possibility of a claim of unfair dismissal against the employer.

 Job role unclear/communication issues

Problems: clashes over who does what, demarcation issues, employees not clear about what to do. These problems become more apparent after organisation restructures and after managers are replaced.

Strategies: updating job descriptions, job redesign and teambuilding training.

 Stress

Problems: performance deteriorates after having been satisfactory, the employee exhibits one or more of various behavioural symptoms.

Strategies: it is very important here to distinguish between employee-related causal factors (such as events occurring outside work) and organisation-related causes. If the latter, it is up to the organisation to fix them; if the former, employee counselling can be arranged.

 Work group or peer group problems

Problems: personality clashes, ‘groupthink’, harassment, conflict between job requirements and cultural values, work hoarding (for example to exert control over others or to ‘look busy’ because there is a fear of redundancies), poor management of the work group. There is a wide variety of potential problems and causes, both individual and group-related.

Strategies: arranging transfers (to remove clashes), redesigning jobs (to eliminate parts that conflict with cultural values), counselling, teambuilding strategies, and performance management of the manager/supervisor/group leader.

Remember, there is more to performance and personnel management than identifying what is wrong. You must back up the diagnosis with active steps to fix the problems and prevent them from recurring. This requires on-going support, resources and reviews of progress.

On the Table Consulting Executive Coaching Programme assists Management translate organisational KPI’s into Employee Action.

Contact us- www.onthetable.co.nz

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Deep-er Communication- Tips for Success

Deep Communication
Enhance your communication to ensure that you communicate clearly and effectively.

 For executives, knowing how to communicate clearly and effectively is critical in leading a company and  to selling business concepts. 

The words you speak and hear are only a small part of getting your message across to your employees, customers and colleagues. It is the way you speak and listen that makes all the difference in the world.

Consider these 12 steps for starting conversations that click and, ultimately, lead to more productive relationships:

Step 1: Relax. Stress generates irritability, which leads to anger, and anger shuts down communication. Studies have shown that a one-minute relaxation exercise will increase activity in the brain that is essential for communication and decision making. So before you enter any conversation, do this:

First notice which parts of your body are tense based on a scale of one to 10 (1 = completely relaxed; 10 = extremely tense). Write it down. For 30 seconds, breathe in slowly to the count of five, and then exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat this three times. Now, yawn a few times and notice if it relaxes you. Assign it a number between one and 10 and write it down. Now stretch your body, beginning with the muscles of your face, scrunching them up, then stretching them out. Then gently move your head from side to side and front to back. Scrunch your shoulders up and then push them down. Next tighten your arms and legs for a count of 10; then relax and shake it out. Take a few more deep breaths. Once more assign a number to your state of relaxation and write it down, noticing any improvement.

Step 2: Stay present. When you focus on your breathing and relaxation, your attention is pulled into the present moment and inner speech stops, at least momentarily. If we bring this “attentiveness” into a conversation, we hear the subtle tones of voice that give emotional meaning to the speaker’s words. Being in the present moment or mindful will allow you to quickly recognise when a conversation begins to go astray.

Step 3: Get quiet. Developing the skill to remain silent helps you give full attention to what other people say. To hone that skill, try an exercise with a timer.  Sit comfortably. Set the timer for five minutes. Strike the timer to commence and focus on the sounds that surround you. Firstly those outside; slowly draw your attention closer and closer, until your focus is on the sound of your own breathing. Practice this several more times, and listen more closely. This is the attentiveness you need when listening to someone.

Step 4: Be positive. Take a mental inventory of your mood. Are you tired or alert, anxious or calm? Then, ask yourself: do I feel optimistic about this conversation? If there’s any doubt, anxiety, or frustration—postpone it. If you can’t, then at least mentally rehearse the conversation first, which will help you spot statements you might make that would undermine your goal.

Step 5: Confirm values. To make a conversation balanced and fair, everyone has to be clear and up front, about values, intentions, and goals. If your values are not aligned with those of the person you’re trying to do business with, trouble is unavoidable. So learn about the person’s values as soon as you can. But beware: some people will mask the nonverbal cues of deceit and just tell you exactly what you hope to hear.

Step 6: Evoke memories. Enter the conversation with an expression that conveys kindness, compassion, and interest. But it cannot be faked. So if you’re not feeling it, tap into a pleasant memory of people you love and respect. It will soften the muscles around your eyes and evoke a gentle half smile on your face, which stimulates a feeling of trust in the other person’s brain.

Step 7: Watch nonverbal cues. Keep your eyes on the person you’re speaking with, but don’t stare. And stay focused, making sure you aren’t distracted by inner thoughts. If a person wants to conceal a feeling— out of embarrassment or the desire to deceive— it might only appear for a quarter of second. But remember that micro-expressions can only tell you that a true emotion is hidden, it won’t tell you why or whether the person is purposefully concealing it.

Step 8: Be appreciative. The first words you speak set the tone for the conversation, so begin with a compliment and end it with another compliment that expresses appreciation. Of course they must be genuine. Ask yourself: what do I really value about this person? Then, ask yourself which of those attributes you respect most. Remember this as you talk, too, and listen for an opportunity to share it.

A warm supportive voice is the sign of leadership and will generate more satisfaction, commitment, and cooperation.
A warm supportive voice is the sign of leadership and will generate more satisfaction, commitment, and cooperation.

Step 9: Speak warmly. If you drop the pitch of your voice and talk more slowly, the listener will respond with greater trust. When we are angry, excited, or frightened, we raise the pitch and intensity of our voices, and it varies a lot in speed and tone. On the other hand, a warm supportive voice is the sign of leadership and will generate more satisfaction, commitment, and cooperation between members of your team.

Step 10: Slow down. Slowing down your speech actually helps people understand what you are saying and deepens their respect for you. It’s not as intuitive as it may seem, and as children we automatically speak fast. But you can teach a child to slow down by speaking slowly yourself because they’ll match you. A slow voice has a calming effect on a person who is feeling anxious, whereas a loud, fast voice stimulates excitement, anger, or fear.

Step 11: Be brief. Limit your speaking to 30 seconds or less. Our conscious minds retain only a tiny bit of information. If you need to communicate something essential, share it in even smaller segments— a sentence or two— then wait for the person to acknowledge they’ve understood. If the person remains silent, say another sentence or two, and then pause again. It also helps to write down major points before the conversation.

Step 12: Listen deeply. Stay focused on the person who is speaking: their words, tone, gestures, facial cues— everything. When they pause, you’ll need to respond to what they just said. If they go and on, then just study them and watch how your own inner speech reacts, without worrying about what you may remember or forget. You’ll actually be practicing a form of meditation that is neurologically enhancing and emotionally relaxing— a far cry from what we usually feel when we are bored by someone speaking.

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Long haul mediations may not provide the best platform for resolution.

Every so often I hear of and participate in mediations that last for long durations without a break. Recent research indicates that these tests of strength may not provide the best platform for resolution or deliver the maximum level of creativity and vision. Breaking to take a break and rest may be far more productive.

Mediation Marathon
Mediation Marathons may not be productive for the participants or the negotiated outcome

A news release from Association for Psychological Science: Rest Is Not Idleness: Reflection Is Critical for Development and Well-Being

As each day passes, the pace of life seems to accelerate – demands on productivity continue ever upward and there is hardly ever a moment when we aren’t, in some way, in touch with our family, friends, or co-workers. While moments for reflection may be hard to come by, a new article suggests that the long-lost art of introspection —even daydreaming — may be an increasingly valuable part of life. In the article, published in the July issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological scientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and colleagues survey the existing scientific literature from neuroscience and psychological science, exploring what it means when our brains are ‘at rest.’

In recent years, researchers have explored the idea of rest by looking at the so-called ‘default mode’ network of the brain, a network that is noticeably active when we are resting and focused inward. Findings from these studies suggest that individual differences in brain activity during rest are correlated with components of socio-emotional functioning, such as self-awareness and moral judgment, as well as different aspects of learning and memory. Immordino-Yang and her colleagues believe that research on the brain at rest can yield important insights into the importance of reflection and quiet time for learning. “We focus on the outside world in education and don’t look much at inwardly focused reflective skills and attentions, but inward focus impacts the way we build memories, make meaning and transfer that learning into new contexts,” says Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. “What are we doing in schools to support kids turning inward?”

Accumulated research suggests that the networks that underlie a focus inward versus outward likely are interdependent, and our ability to regulate and move between them probably improves with maturity and practice.

While outward attention is essential for carrying out tasks and learning from classroom lessons, for example, the reflection and consolidation that may accompany mind wandering is equally important, fostering healthy development and learning in the longer term. “Balance is needed between outward and inward attention, since time spent mind wandering, reflecting and imagining may also improve the quality of outward attention that kids can sustain,” says Immordino-Yang.

She and her colleagues argue that mindful introspection can become an effective part of the classroom curriculum, providing students with the skills they need to engage in constructive internal processing and productive reflection. Research indicates that when children are given the time and skills necessary for reflecting, they often become more motivated, less anxious, perform better on tests, and plan more effectively for the future.

And mindful reflection is not just important in an academic context – it’s also essential to our ability to make meaning of the world around us. Inward attention is an important contributor to the development of moral thinking and reasoning and is linked with overall socio-emotional well-being. Immordino-Yang and her colleagues worry that the high attention demands of fast-paced urban and digital environments may be systematically undermining opportunities for young people to look inward and reflect, and that this could have negative effects on their psychological development.

This is especially true in an age when social media seems to be a constant presence in teens’ day-to-day lives. “Consistently imposing overly high-attention demands on children, either in school, through entertainment, or through living conditions, may rob them of opportunities to advance from thinking about ‘what happened’ or ‘how to do this’ to constructing knowledge about ‘what this means for the world and for the way I live my life,’ ” Immordino-Yang writes. According to the authors, perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn from research on the brain at rest is the fact that all rest is not idleness.

While some might be inclined to view rest as a wasted opportunity for productivity, the authors suggest that constructive internal reflection is critical for learning from past experiences and appreciating their value for future choices, allowing us to understand and manage ourselves in the social world.

For more information about this study, please contact: Mary Helen Immordino-Yang at immordin@usc.edu.

Perspectives on Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information.

It publishes an eclectic mix of thought-provoking articles on the latest important advances in psychology. For a copy of the article “Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education” and access to other Perspectives on Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

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How to Avoid Confrontation… and Still Succeed

Jeff Haden Inc.com

Conflicts rarely end well, so it’s natural to want to avoid them. But you can’t hide from them forever.

How to avoid Confrontation... and still succeed
How to avoid Confrontation… and still succeed

For every hard-nosed, coldly logical businessperson there are hundreds of businesspeople just like us: Worried about how others perceive us and avoiding confrontation at all cost.

Generally speaking, that’s a good thing. Conflicts rarely end well. Having a healthy concern for how others perceive us is a great quality to possess. People who want to be liked tend to be more likable.

But sometimes our need for approval—and for avoiding confrontation—can have a negative impact on how we do business.

Is this what happens to you when:

A customer complains: Your anxiety levels spike and your voice reverts to puberty pitch. The more upset the customer, the more you do to solve the problem, sometimes well past the point of justification.

Afterwards you rationalise your behaviour, thinking, “Customer satisfaction is the key to my business. Plus I can’t afford poor word of mouth.”

A customer pushes for a discount: You want to make the sale. You also crave the feeling of validation a sale brings. So you concede more than you should.

You think,“ Some revenue is better than no revenue at all, and if I hadn’t cut the price I might have lost the sale. I’ll make it up down the road.”

An employee is late… again: You don’t like confrontation. Plus another employee was late yesterday and you let that go. So you throw a few disapproving glances his way and hope he gets the message… even though, deep inside, you realise he won’t.

You think, “Well, he does a pretty good job most of the time, I spent a lot of time training him, and shoot, no customers were waiting so does it really matter that much if he was late again…?”

If any of the above sounds like you, that’s okay. You can’t change your personality but you can change your behaviours.

All you have to do is be proactive. Eliminate as much of the judgment as possible from the judgment calls you tend to struggle with. The more prepared you are to handle a situation where your instinct is to compromise or give in, the easier it is to be firm, professional—and still nice.

Here are a few stressful situations you can easily prepare for:

Dealing with complaints. An upset customer is tough for anyone to deal with but especially for person who wants to be liked.

Take a step back: You know your products and services better than anyone. List all the things that could go wrong; the more possibilities the better.

Then decide what you will do in each situation: Repair, replace, rework, refund, discount, discount on future purchases, etc. Then rehearse what you will say and do.

If the customer resists a resolution and keeps asking for more, at some point you may have to say, “I’m sorry, but our policy is to… we simply cannot do any more than that.” You can fall back on policy limits in good conscience when you actually have policies.

While you’re at it: Identify ways to eliminate the root causes of the possible problems you list. You’ll improve operations and won’t have to deal with as many complaints.

Negotiating over prices or deliverables. Haggling is difficult, but haggling, especially over price, can be especially tough for service providers. Why?

Losing a contract puts your self-esteem at risk. Failing to make a sale feels like more than just professional rejection. It often feels like a personal rejection. (A customer who doesn’t want to buy your products is one thing; a customer who doesn’t want to buy “you” feels much worse.)

Create a detailed price list and then think about potential negotiation strategies. But don’t just say, “I’m willing to cut my price by 12%.” Instead, create discounts based on volume. Or determine ways to reduce service levels to meet a lower price. The more options you create the more likely your negotiations will stay more objective and feel less personal.

While you’re at it: As you develop a comprehensive price list look for ways to refine your pricing strategies. How low can you go and still make a profit? What products or services should you bundle? Can you identify a pricing strategy that make the decision easier for potential customers?

Managing employees. Every employee is different, so great leaders apply judgment and discretion.

At the same time, making too many ad hoc decisions can also destroy a work team. Sometimes policies are your best friends, especially in objective areas like attendance, quality, and performance to standards.

Determine your expectations, quantify your expectations, share your expectations, and manage by those expectations.

While it will never be fun, this is fairly easy to say: “As you know our policy is that no employees are allowed to be absent more than five times in a rolling twelve-month period. Yesterday was your sixth absence and I need to put you on a disciplinary program…” Think about situations that can be by the book, and write and follow the book. Then use judgment where judgment makes sense.

While you’re at it: Managing employees is a lot easier when you set clear expectations. Overall performance may improve as well, since employees who understand expectations usually try to exceed expectations.

Saying “no.” Refusing a request from colleagues, friends, and family is really hard. Rarely will saying no go as badly as you fear, though. Most people will understand (and if they don’t that might be a sign they don’t care about you as much as you care about them.)

Depending on the situation, try: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the time,” or, “That’s not something I do well; here’s someone you might call…” or, “I’m sorry, but we’re just not in that market. But I appreciate you thinking of us.”

Make sure you say no politely, give a simple reason why, and then stop. The more you talk the harder it is to stick to your guns… and before you know it you’ve given in.

And later you resent the fact you gave in.

While you’re at it: Think of situations where you, probably without thinking, force people to struggle to say no. Then quit doing it.

Think about situations you struggle with. Decide what you will do before things get stressful or confrontational. Then you can stay objective, make better decisions, and greatly reduce your levels of stress—and regret.

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How to Deal with with High Conflict in your Workplace

In the wake of a reading a multitude of recent media articles that featured details of a high conflict employee disputes running for long durations, I decided to review literature on high conflict in the workplace.  

Just how much is extreme conflict impacting organisational performance?

Is employee conflict the result of employee frustration or employer performance mishandling?            

How to deal with High Conflict in your workplace Contact On the Table
How to deal with High Conflict in your workplace Contact On the Table

First and foremost, workers at all levels must learn to accept conflict as an inevitable part of the work environment – recent studies have found that an overwhelming majority of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree. The question for management is not whether it can be avoided or mitigated; but rather how conflict is dealt with when is occurs. If managed improperly, businesses’ productivity, operational effectiveness, and morale take a major hit. This data was demonstrated in a European study commissioned by CPP Inc. & OPP, Ltd in 2008, where 27 percent of employees witnessed conflict transform into a personal attack. A further 25 percent said that the avoidance of conflict resulted in personal sickness or absence from work.

Conflict can lead to positive outcomes, such as a better understanding of others, improved solutions to problems or challenges, and major innovation. Roughly three quarters of workers reported positive outcomes that resulted from conflict. It could be questioned  however, whether these results would not have been produced if conflict was not initiated. And how do you achieve a positive outcome when faced with a conflict?  On the other side of the conflict coin are negative outcomes which can affect personal morale, confidence and work success sometimes for a duration of time.

So how can you manage working with a difficult person in your immediate work environment?

You may be working with a difficult person who is your manager, peer, staff member or a senior Managerial member. Regardless of their position in the organisation and their relationship with you, here are some tips to avoid triggering their high conflict behaviours, helping them develop a positive mindset. This information could provide you with the foundation for establishing a more productive positive future relationship with this person.

Why are difficult people so hard to work with?

Difficult people often maintain unrealistic expectation of their peers, superiors and reports; this is due to their lack of personal awareness. When conflict or a disagreement occurs they are often unsure about how to resolve the problem and often their high conflict behaviours may have caused or aggravated the situation.

Their traits include:

  • Rigid and uncompromising thinking and activities;
  • An incapability to accept or heal from loss,
  • Emotionally negative thinking,
  • An inability to reflect on their own behaviour
  • A difficulty empathising with others
  • An inclination to blame others.

You may first become aware that you are working with a difficult person when they angrily confront you with a lot of accusations about how you have made their life difficult. You may be tempted to respond in kind or to answer each of their claims, but don’t. Reacting angrily to a difficult person is likely to trigger even more high conflict behaviour from them as they become increasingly defensive. Remember they are unlikely to be self-aware and cannot see the situation from your perspective.

Responding to misinformation

Difficult people are good at casting themselves in the role of victim and getting others to argue in their defence.

Here are some points that you might want to keep in mind if you find yourself in a situation:

Ignore the difficult person’s misinformation when it doesn’t involve anyone else:

The difficult person may have an opinion about you that is wrong and unlikely to change even after you have talked it over with them. Ignore their opinions.

Respond quickly to misinformation that is shared in your workplace:

The difficult person may copy other people into the accusatory email they send to you. They may post you a letter with cc; to others or they may belittle you in meetings with your manager. In these situations you must respond quickly to the misinformation. Silence can be mistaken for agreement. Respond in the same media as the original communication; for example, an email in response to an email. Be friendly, brief, informative and firm.

Analyse your realistic options

It is easier to think about options calmly and logically when you are not in the heat of the moment. There may be a number of possible solutions to your problem but some will be more realistic than others. Write down three to ten options that occur to you and then analyse each one in turn. Decide on the one or two options that have the greatest potential to solve your problem. Talk it over with friends, mentor or other people you trust before taking action. Your options will depend on where you sit in the organisation and your formal relationship with the difficult person. Options must be realistic and capable of being implemented.

Set limits

There are a number of strategies, perhaps after testing them out with a mentor or trusted colleague:

Being assertive:  Speaking to the difficult person in a confident, self-assured and positive way will set the right tone for your interactions with them. Set limits firmly and establish the rules of the relationship and consequences for breaking them. The consequences must be within your power to follow through on.

Using power: Everyone has power. Some have power because of the authority their role gives them. Others can refer to the authority that their organisation’s policies give to their actions. It’s important not to give people more power than they deserve. You can set limits on a difficult person’s behaviour by limiting your contact with them or limiting what you will discuss with them. For example, you might only meet with the difficult person when others are present such as in a team meeting, or you might keep your meetings with them brief and business like. You can encourage them to stop doing something by saying: ‘if you don’t do this, then I will do that’ or encourage them to do something by saying: ‘if you do this, then I will do that’. For example, you might say: ‘Let’s sit down and discuss which tasks we each prefer to do, then we can decide how to divide up the work’. You are effectively saying: ‘If you stop complaining about work, then I will consider doing some of the tasks you don’t like doing’.

Or you might say: ‘If you continue working on the project during my holiday break, then I will take on the remaining tasks when I return’. You are effectively saying: ‘If you are more flexible, then I will also be flexible’.

 Challenging the behaviour:    Acknowledge that you have been unfairly attacked by the difficult person, even if it is only to yourself. If you feel confident to do so, challenge their behaviour towards you. Pick the time and place carefully. Describe the specific behaviour you object to and how you would like to be treated instead.

Focusing on solving the problem: Keep the difficult person in the right frame of mind by getting them to think about how their problem could be solved in the future rather than criticising the past.

Decide what you want from the relationship

Ultimately you will need to decide on the type of relationship you want to have with the person and whether the relationship is worth the effort. Your employer may have a similar decision to make but has additional powers including the power to discipline, the ability to reassign staff to other work and terminate their employment.

You have three options when working with a difficult person. You can manage your relationship with them, reduce your relationship or phase it out altogether:

  • Manage the relationship: By practising the tips in this guide you will develop the skills and confidence to manage your relationship with the difficult person. Ignore the emotional hooks, don’t criticise the past, keep focussed on the future. Refer to policies that validate your actions and focus on logical reasoning.
  • Reduce the relationship: If the difficult person has skills that you admire or are important to the organisation and your work, then you might want to limit your contact with them to times when you can work together productively.
  • Phase the relationship out: A difficult person is likely to feel rejected if you try to avoid opportunities to work or converse with them. They may try to talk you out of your decision or punish you for it. Give them the time they need to process and accept change. In time they will be reconciled to your decision.

On the Table helps people & teams have conversations.

On the Table encourages people and organisations’ to connect and to have dialogue in a way that is meaningful and constructive.

At On the Table we believe in:

  • Constructive conflict resolution and effective mediation
  • Resolving conflict through constructive conversation & dialogue
  • Conflict management coaching
  • You could benefit by using a mediation and conflict management coaching specialist

Contact On the Table

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Coaching is hot. Is it right for you?

FORTUNE  Vickie Elmer, contributor

Once seen as the last step for an executive about to fall off the ladder, leadership coaches now help smooth a promotion, teach outsiders about their new culture, and tune up talent.

Coaching is hot- Is it for you? Contact On the Table
Coaching is hot- Is it for you? Contact On the Table

When Ryan Harris, 44, started working with an executive coach two years ago, he knew he needed to delegate more work and act more like a strategist. The top human resources exec at a New York City-based health company saw his challenges as “managing up and managing sideways.” So, on his own initiative, he began meeting with his coach, Nancy Mercurio, about once a month. Since then, Harris says, he has learned to focus on results and approach more experienced executives with confidence. “He’s become a more effective leader who holds people accountable,” says Mercurio. So much so that he’s sold his boss, the CEO, on offering company-paid coaches to other senior executives.

Once seen as a last-chance effort to turn around flagging careers, coaches for top talent are going mainstream. They’re being brought in for newly hired senior executives, as well as for newly promoted department heads who suddenly must manage many more people. “Leadership coaching is the hottest thing these days,” says Kate Wendleton, president of the Five O’clock Club, which has turned some of its outplacement and career coaches into executive coaches because demand has been so strong.

According to a July 2011 American Management Association survey, almost half of participating companies use coaching to prepare individuals for a promotion or new role. While half of companies provide coaches to midlevel or senior staff only, 38% make them available to anyone. Coaching’s three most common uses, according to the AMA survey: leadership development, remedial performance improvement, and optimizing strong contributors. “A coach is like a personal trainer for business,” says Erika Andersen, author of Being Strategic and coach to many media executives.

Most coaches meet with executives in person or by phone, either every other week or once a month for about a year, though they increasingly are available for emergency consults. At WellPoint (WLP), the $58-billion-in-revenue health insurance giant, about one-fourth of the senior leadership works with coaches, says Judy Wade, executive talent director. Typically Wade recommends a few, and then the individual chooses the best match. Hiring a coach “is an investment in people who we see as very solid performers,” says Wade, who is taking coaching classes herself.

It’s okay to ask for a coach rather than wait for someone to offer you one. But if you want your company to pay — at $200 or more per hour — you should make a business case just as you would with any other budget item, Andersen suggests.

Does coaching actually work? For all its popularity, companies are still struggling with how to measure its effectiveness. Some use 360-degree-feedback before and after sessions to look for changes in behaviour or relationships. Others rely on evaluations from both the subject and his boss. The biggest mistake, says Charles Feltman, a leadership coach in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is expecting immediate results. Another huge error: not taking the experience seriously or cutting short or skipping coaching appointments.

Another challenge is making sure that you have the right match. One-fourth of respondents in a 2009 AMA-Institute for Corporate Productivity research survey say they have terminated a coaching relationship. Indeed, Ryan Harris’s first coach was a bust, in part because their backgrounds and perspectives were too similar.

Mercurio, however, has proved invaluable. Now when he’s in executive staff meetings, Harris is willing to lay out the drawbacks to an idea, even when he knows his CEO favors it. He’s restructured his department and set performance standards and timetables; when one person couldn’t meet them, he terminated the employee — something he would have delayed in the past. “Mercurio has helped my career by leaps and bounds,” he says. “I’m certainly more effective as an executive.”

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25 Proven Tips for Influencing People

Like respect, influence is something that you can only earn. Sharing inspiration, creating relationships, and even managing people is made so much easier when you have the power to influence others, but not everyone does. Becoming an influential person is all about building credibility and trust and providing a good reason for people to actually listen to what you’re saying (and care enough to act on it). This may sound like an incredible feat, and sometimes it is, but it’s one that is made easier by using some of these great tips on how to effectively influence others.

Who wants to listen to someone who has no idea what they are talking about?

1.      Never forget that credibility counts

Who wants to listen to, much less be influenced by, someone who has no idea what they are talking about? Remember that credibility is key to effectively influencing people. That means you need to know what you’re talking about (or at least look like it!), be trustworthy, likable, and relatable.

2.      Pay attention to your appearance

Part of being credible and likeable is presenting yourself positively. A sloppy appearance can put off the impression that you’re aloof or disorganised. Even if that’s the truth, do put some effort into how you’re dressed, paying attention to dress codes and proper grooming.

3.      Share interest and attention

Few people are willing to give their attention to someone who seems to be completely self-centred and uninterested in what they have to say. Sure, you may have something important to share, but influence is a two-way street. Always be sure to pay attention to what others have to say and genuinely show your interest. It’s likely that they’ll do the same for you.

4.      Make things personal

Dale Carnegie has famously shared in How to Win Friends & Influence People: “… a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Know that using someone’s name is a valuable and powerful tool, but be careful not to overuse it. Keep your language natural, while still remembering to use their name to identify its importance.

5.      Know your audience

Getting to know people is a very powerful tool that will allow you to more effectively approach them, understand how they think and feel, and use that knowledge to tailor your approach. Consider their traits, interests, and values, knowing that certain ideas may be more interesting to them than others.

6.      Effective framing

How you present ideas can make all the difference in the world. Would you rather eat “fried chicken,” or “free range chicken with herbs and spices delicately prepared in 100% organic oil?” They might be the same thing, but one sounds much more appetising. Do you oppose “inheritance taxes” or “death taxes?” Again, they’re the same thing, but “death taxes” just sounds much worse, thanks to the negative connotations surrounding the word death. Used as a persuasive tool, framing can be a subtle trick that helps bring people to your point of view.

7.      Speak their language

It may be easy to talk industry-speak among your colleagues, but try pulling that with anyone outside that small circle, and they’re going to lose interest fast. Avoid glazed-over eyes by putting ideas into terms that anyone can understand and appreciate.

8.      Identify win-win outcomes

Most people want to know what’s in it for them. So as you influence someone, don’t neglect to point out why your idea is a positive thing for them. Always remember to offer, with proof, how a certain situation is a win-win.

9.      Always be willing to compromise

Compromise isn’t an indication of weakness. Rather, it proves that you’re thoughtful and possibly even creative. People will always appreciate your willingness to be flexible, and allowing for compromise can make all the difference in the world.

Be direct -don’t beat around the bush

10.   Be direct

Don’t beat around the bush: if you want to sell someone on a certain item, be clear about what’s going on. People don’t appreciate feeling tricked. Be careful not to hint at what you want, but at the same time, don’t be demanding; simply be direct.

11.   Seek out social proof

People want to know that others agree with what they’re doing. You’ll often hear people say that they want to do things differently than others, but the fact is that so often, we just want to fit in and learn from the actions of others. Doing so is what’s called social proof, and using this idea is a great way to influence people. When hotels ask guests to use their towels more than once, they’re much more likely to actually do so if the request is accompanied by a social proof message pointing out that “almost 75% of other guests help by using their towels more than once.” You don’t have to personally influence people: social proof can do the job for you.

12.   Remember the importance of thank yous

Build upon existing relationships by carefully remembering, identifying, and showing your gratitude to those who have taken care of you in the past. People are so much more likely to be on your side and respond to your influence if you’ve effectively shown them how important their own influence is on your life and work.

13.   Show your enthusiasm

Everyone wants to be a part of something exciting. Show that you’re interested and excited about what you’re sharing with them, and they’ll have a hard time not wanting to get involved as well.

14.   Pay attention to non-verbal cues

Never forget the importance of eye contact and positive non-verbal behaviour. Appear engaged, interested, and polite as you speak with others and maintain good eye contact.

15.   Be positive

Hardly anyone wants to listen to someone that is frequently complaining. Criticising, complaining, and other negative talk can quickly turn off those who would otherwise be willing to listen to what you have to say. Even if you’re not a fan of an idea or situation, find a way to put a positive spin on it if it happens to come up in a discussion: “It’s too bad about ABC Manufacturing shutting down all those plants, but it’s so great that XYZ Company was able to hire so many of the laid-off workers.”

16.   Do not point out how someone is wrong

Another part of being positive is being polite enough to avoid hurting someone else’s self-esteem. No one wants to hear that their ideas are stupid or just plain wrong. Be careful not to flat-out dismiss someone else’s ideas, instead discussing ideas more along the lines of, “I like that, but what if we did ____?”

17.   Stay persistent

It’s easy to forget or brush aside tasks, even when you think they’re important. Great ideas fall by the wayside because people often lack the ability to follow through. Don’t let your ideas suffer this fate: be persistent, and remind others of their importance by politely following up regularly to make sure you see them through.

18.   Tell a story

Facts and figures are interesting to analyse, but in conversation, most people will let them go in one ear and out the other. A story, on the other hand, is much more likely to not only hold the attention of a listener, but also be remembered. Use short, but interesting stories, analogies, and more to capture the attention of others and win the chance to influence the way they think.

19.   Let other people take credit

We don’t mean that you should allow a colleague to claim your work as their own, but if you want to make someone feel great about going along with what you want, an easy way to do that is to lead them to think it was their idea all along. Lead them with prompts that steer them to what you’re really looking for.

20.   Find out how you can help them

This is one of the most important things you can do in networking. If you’re setting out to influence someone, surely it’s because you want them to do something for you or take a certain action. But before you do that, scratch their back first and hope they’ll repay the favour when the time comes.

Be nice to everyone

21.   Be nice to everyone

You may not respect someone’s receptionist, but don’t be fooled into thinking he or she is not important and influential. You never know who can end up being the key to your success, or who is paying attention to how you treat others. We’re sure that any CEO you’re trying to influence would not be impressed to find out you’re being abusive to his secretary who’s been with him for 20 years.

22.   Share good food

It’s uncanny how effective food is as a motivator and social glue. Breaking bread is a time-honoured tradition for friendships, business, and influence, and it would be foolish to ignore the power of sharing good food. A bar owner who rewards bartenders with pizza after a rough night, or a new employee who brings cupcakes to share with the office has laid a highly effective foundation for camaraderie and influence.

23.   Practice reciprocation

Part of the reason why sharing food is so effective is because people feel indebted to those who have done them a favour. Hardly anyone likes to feel like they owe anything to others, so often; favours are returned and even built upon. Free samples are an especially effective tool in reciprocation, as most buyers feel obligated to purchase after they’ve gotten something for nothing.

24.   Live what you preach

Be an ambassador of whatever it is that’s important to you. If you believe in natural foods, eat them and share them with others, and people will inevitably become interested. If you’ve designed an effective piece of software, use it often and let people see how well it’s working for you. People are much more likely to be influenced by what you’re doing than by what you’re saying.

25.   Prove that your ideas are legitimate

Show people that what you want to do is consistent with what is typically recommended or proven successful. Back up your ideas with studies, policies, or facts from experts that indicate the legitimacy of what you’re trying to do.

The above article was published in the onlinemba.com blog 14/2/2012.
I thought the pointers here were priceless- each tip is hyperlinked to the source which provides an even greater source of reference and web resource.
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Employee Recognition:Positive reinforcement = Positive rewards

Formal employee recognition programs can be effective, but many formal programs only pay lip service to recognising employee performance.

Real praise should reward effort and accomplishment, reinforce positive behaviors, build self-esteem and confidence, and boost motivation and enthusiasm.

Do your formal recognition programs accomplish all that?

Employee Recognition: Positive Reinforcement = Positive Tangible Outcomes
Employee Recognition: Positive Reinforcement = Positive Tangible Outcomes

I’m guessing perhaps not.

Here are four powerful ways to positively praise and involve your employees:

Ask for ideas. Don’t just ask, “Do you have any ideas for how we can help you do your job better?” (Certainly ask that, but sometimes go farther.) Build off skills or insights they possess to use them in other ways.

Say a warehouse employee is incredibly organised. Say, “I am always impressed by how organised you are. I wish there was a way to clone you.” Then ask if she has thoughts about how to streamline order processing, or ways to reduce the flow of paperwork, or how another department could more efficiently collect data.

Not only will you get great ideas, but you also recognize skill and ability in powerful way.

Ask for help. Asking another person for help is one of the sincerest ways to recognise their abilities and value. Ask employees for help and you show you respect their skills and you extend a measure of trust.

The key is to ask for help partly or totally unrelated to their function, and to make the assistance relatively personal to you. I once went to a meeting to talk about future redundancies; by the time I got back to the plant word had already spread that cuts were coming. One of my employees said, “So, redundancies, huh?” I didn’t have to confirm it; he knew. I said, “I have no idea what to tell our employees. What would you say?”

He thought and said, “Just tell everyone you tried. Then talk about where we go from here.”

Simple? Sure, but powerful too. He later told me how much it meant to him that I had asked for his opinion and taken his advice.

Create informal leadership roles. Putting an employee in a short-term informal leadership role can make a major impact. Think how you would feel if you had a boss and she said, “We have a huge problem with a customer. If we don’t take care of it we may lose them. Can you grab a few people and handle it for me?”

Informal leadership roles show you trust an employee’s skills and judgment. The more important the task, the higher the implied praise and the greater the boost to their self-esteem.

Team up. You and your employees are on unequal footing since you’re the boss. A great way to recognise an employee’s value—especially to you—is to take on a task together.

What you choose to do together doesn’t have to be outside work, of course. The key is to do something as relative equals, not as boss and employee. Unequal separates, while equal elevates.

Years ago my boss said, “I’m thinking of doing a presentation skills course to improve my presenting skills. Would you be interested in joining me in the course? It might be good for both of us, since someday you’ll be making lots of presentations.” I was flattered he asked and flattered he saw me as someone who would someday be in a position to speak to groups of people.

Verbal praise is great, but at times implied praise can be even more powerful. Ask for help or ideas, put an employee in charge, drop hierarchical roles, and work together. Each is a powerful way to recognise the true value of your employees—and to show you trust them, which is the highest praise of all.

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The mindset of mediation

Mediation can be likened to a chess game.
Mediation can be likened to a chess game-think about the moves you want to make and the alternatives.

What makes or breaks a successful mediation? Your mindset; that is, how you approach it. Like athletes before an event, one must “visualise” the process of mediation and its successful outcome. Create a mental (if not actual) checklist of the pertinent facts and issues and think about alternative ways to resolve each issue. Become mentally primed for mediation before you even walk in the door. One of my colleagues likens mediation to a chess game: think about the moves you want to make and the alternatives.

Mediation is a process. It takes time and the active involvement of each party. Walk in with a positive attitude; “we will resolve this!” Remember, the old adage: “where there is a will, there is a way!” Do not go in with a closed mind but, to the contrary keep a very open mind. Be willing to explore options and even consider ones that at first may seem “off the wall”. Those “off the wall” options may lead or brainstorm to other options that are more workable. One trainer once told me that there are two parts to our brains; the brainstorming part and the analytical part. The trainer suggested that in order to come up with solutions, we need to simply brainstorm, turning off our critical thinking part until we are finished brainstorming. Then and only then, do we start to analyse or critique the ideas we just came up with. While this sounds simplistic, if not corny, it actually works; brainstorm first, and then analyse!

One key to remember is that each party does live with the results of the mediation. So, while you may have others attending the mediation with you and/or advising you, it is your dispute. You are the one who must live with the results. Make sure you can do so.

Consequently, consider only realistic options. Do not take extreme or outrageous positions as they will only hinder the mediation process, not enhance it. Mediation should be viewed as a “win-win” process, not as a zero-sum game (“I win, you lose”). This is accomplished only by being realistic in your expectations and in your demands.

In sum, don’t simply demand on a “take it or leave it” or “all or nothing” basis; negotiate, be willing to compromise and to put time and effort into the process. Mediation is an old fashioned process amidst our world of fast moving, rapid (if not immediate) results technology. We may be able to send an e-mail around the world in nanoseconds but mediation is antiquated. It takes time – often lots of it. Be patient. It is a psychological, mental and emotional process through which each participant must travel by giving and taking and compromising. Much of it is psychological: each party must come to believe that s/he has “earned” the result attained and this can be done only by the process of “give and take” (i.e., the negotiation “dance”). It is often said that a “good” settlement is a compromise in which one party believes s/he has not received enough and the opposing party believes s/he has given too much. But, the key is that both parties have compromised and not stuck hard and fast or rock solid to their respective positions. Each has taken the time and made the effort to see the dispute from the other party’s perspective and with that new view in mind, compromises so that each “wins” a little in the settlement.

Mediation can be likened to a chess game-think about the moves you want to make and the alternatives.

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Neuroplasticity

I found this little gem in Parabola Magazine.. Enjoy!

The Neurocell up close
The Neurocell up close

 

Did you ever wonder somewhat apprehensively, whether your true inner Command Centre rests in the complex bio­mechanics of your brain or the vast reaches of your mind? It always seemed to me as inscrutable as asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. But the study of neuroplasticity is changing the way scientists think about the mind/brain connection. While they’ve known for years that the brain is the physical substrate for the mind, the central mystery….

The Neurobiology of “We”
Patty de Llosa

Did you ever wonder, somewhat apprehensively, whether your true inner Command Centre rests in the complex bio­mechanics of your brain or the vast reaches of your mind? It always seemed to me as inscrutable as asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. But the study of neuroplasticity is changing the way scientists think about the mind/brain connection. While they’ve known for years that the brain is the physical substrate for the mind, the central mystery of neuroscience is how the mind influences the physical structure of the brain. In the last few decades, thanks to PET and MRI imaging techniques, scientists can observe what’s actually going on in the brain while people sleep, work, make decisions, or attempt to function under limitations caused by illness, accident, or war.

The breakthrough in imaging techniques led Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, now a research psychiatrist at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles and author of The Mind & The Brain, to wonder two decades ago, “What kind of internal experience is generated by the neuronal activity captured on a brain scan? Even more important, how can we use scientific discoveries linking inner experience with brain function to effect constructive changes in everyday life?”1 A student of Buddhist meditation, he developed a form of therapy to change the faulty chemistry of a well-identified brain circuit: that of the patient with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (OCD is a prime example of pathological brain processes in which negative thoughts can be traced on an MRI). He told his patients: “The feeling of doubt … is a false message, due to a jammed transmission in the brain.”2 They learned to change the way they thought about their thoughts through regular refocusing, which engaged them in intentional rather than automatic behavior, activating a different brain circuitry. Not only did he introduce a new treatment for mental illness, he also ­provided hard evidence that the mind can control the brain’s chemistry as he demonstrated how refocusing literally reprograms the brain, and mindfulness gives people more control over their lives.

On another front, the millennial inner science of meditation became the focus of experiments by Dr. Richard Davidson, a pioneer in contemplative neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. With the cooperation of the Dalai Lama, he made MRIs of Tibetan monks in such meditative states as visualization, one-pointed concentration, and the generation of compassion. According to Davidson, “the brain can be transformed through engagement with purely mental practices derived from the world’s great religious traditions…. The brain, more than any other organ in our body, is the organ built to change in response to experience.”3

When the Dalai Lama was asked what greater benefit he hoped for from this line of research, His Holiness replied: “Through training the mind, people can become more calm—especially those who suffer from too many ups and downs. That’s the conclusion from these studies of Buddhist mind training. And that’s my main end: I’m not thinking how to further Buddhism, but how the Buddhist tradition can make some contribution to the benefit of society. Of course, as Buddhists, we always pray for all sentient beings. But we’re only human beings; the main thing you can do is train your own mind.”4

Relationships change the brain

I asked Dr. Daniel Siegel, founder of the emerging field of interpersonal neurobiology: How does the brain change as we influence each other? He has spent more than twenty years investigating the profound influence on us of those around us, or what he calls “the neurobiology of ‘we.’”5 Siegel is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center, and director of the Mindsight Institute. He’s convinced that the “we” connection is a little-understood, but powerful means for individual and societal transformation that should be taught in schools and churches, and even enter into politics.

“Interpersonal neurobiology isn’t a form of therapy,” he told me, “but a form of integrating a range of scientific research into a picture of the nature of human reality. It’s a phrase I invented to account for the human effort to understand truth. We can define the mind. We can define mental health. We can base everything on science, but I want to base it on all the sciences. We’re looking for what we call ‘consilience.’ If you think of the neuroscientist as a blind man looking at only one part of an elephant, we are trying to discover the ‘whole-elephant’ view of reality.”6

In a tele-class on Clinical Applications of Interpersonal Neurobiology, he explained that “For a person to change, the mind must change.” He added that “we now know ‘mind’ is coming both from interpersonal processes and from brain structure or neurobiology. The brain is the social organ of the body, where one hundred billion neurons reach out to other neurons. The release of neurotransmitters will excite or inhibit, fire or not fire. It’s the firing patterns that lead, in part, to the experience of mind.”7

Here’s an example he gave of how neural firing leads to mental experience and how mental experience creates neural firing. When someone says the words, “Eiffel Tower,” you have an immediate visual experience because when you hear the word, an electrical current running through the acoustic nerve fires, sending a message to the left brain, where it is decoded. A visual image is then created in other parts of the brain.8 As Siegel further explained at a recent conference, “the neural representation of the Eiffel Tower, or what’s called its neural net profile, is created by experience as the mind links past, present, and anticipation of the future. No one on the planet knows how a neural firing turns into a mental image but we know where it happens and that it somehow leads to a subjective mental process. The mind emerges at the interface of neurobiology and the interpersonal transactions of experience between minds.”9

The good news is that while our earliest interpersonal experiences may have created detrimental repetitive patterns, new patterns are formed all through our life span. We can liberate ourselves from those old patterns through new neural connections. And Siegel believes interpersonal relationships are key to new forms of mental flow that shape the focus of our attention and what we envision. “Since the mental processes of attention and imagination change the firing in the brain, the brain can be changed by the mind.”10

Siegel is convinced that the development of attention through meditative exercises is a crucial aspect of inner balance. He recommends it to his patients, telling them mindfulness helps people regulate their internal states, including their immune system, their emotions, their attention, and even their interpersonal interactions. “Now, for me,” he adds, “that’s not a surprise. Because mindfulness promotes the growth of integrative fibres in the brain, which are what’s needed for regulation across all these domains. Integration is the fundamental mechanism of self-regulation.”11

I asked him how meditation could help a soldier returning from Iraq deal with traumatic experiences. Wouldn’t a deeply troubled or traumatized person who tries to sit in meditation feel more pain, even with an effort at “I am here”? He said, “With mindfulness you’re not trying to get beyond the pain. It’s just the opposite. You’re trying to deeply accept the pain. So the resistance when you try to get ‘beyond’ the pain is actually creating more suffering. If pain is there, your job is to accept it, and the relief from the desire and drive and urgency to get rid of it actually powerfully reduces the suffering, even though the pain remains.”12

We is what me is!”

Our nervous system has two basic modes: it fires up or quiets down. When we’re in a reactive state, our brainstem signals the need for fight or flight. This means we’re unable to open ourselves to another person, and even neutral comments may be taken as fighting words. On the other hand, an attitude of receptivity activates a different branch of the brainstem as it sends messages to relax the muscles of the face and vocal chords, and normalizes blood pressure and heart rate. “A receptive state turns on the social engagement system that connects us to others,” Siegel explains in his recent book, Mindsight. “Receptivity is our experience of being safe and seen; reactivity is our fight-flight-freeze survival reflex.”13

He describes the brain as part of “an embodied nervous system, a physical mechanism through which both energy and information flow to influence relationship and the mind.” He defines relationship as “the flow of energy and information between people.” Mind is “an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information, consciousness included. Mind is shared between people. It isn’t something you own; we are profoundly interconnected. We need to make maps of we because we is what me is!”14

Although some neuroscientists insist the mind is just the output of the brain, Siegel points out that in the world of mental health, neither mind nor health have been adequately defined: “‘Mental health’ for many only means you don’t have any of the symptoms listed in the DSM IV [The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders], so you must be healthy!” he says. “We now know that integration leads to health and harmony. We can re-envision the DSM symptoms as examples of syndromes filled with chaos and rigidity, conditions created when integration is impaired. So we can define mental health as the ability to monitor ourselves and modify our states so that we integrate our lives. Then things that appeared unchangeable can actually be changed.”15

Integration, the vital connection with all our parts that leads to balance, is composed of both differentiation and linkage, he says, and the absence of either impairs it: “Relationships, mind and brain aren’t different domains of reality—they are each about energy and information flow. The mechanism is the brain; subjective impressions and consciousness are mind. The regulation of energy and information flow is a function of mind as an emergent process emanating from both relationships and brain. Relationships are the way we share this flow. In this view, the emergent process we are calling “mind” is located in the body (nervous system) and in our relationships. Interpersonal relationships that are attuned promote the growth of integrative fibres in the brain. It is these regulatory fibres that enable the embodied brain to function well and for the mind to have a deep sense of coherence and well-being. Such a state also creates the possibility of a sense of being connected to a larger world. The natural outcome of integration is compassion, kindness, and resilience.”16

If mind is what flows through the mechanism of the brain, does that make neuroplasticity a process or a fact? “It’s a fact of a process,” he told me. “Process is a verb not a noun. It’s not a hypothesis; it’s a fact of science, a real entity, but a process—something moving, happening, and dynamic. Take running. It’s a noun but it’s about a moving process.”17 He touched on the same subject at the conference: “Everything we experience, memory or emotion or thought, is part of a process, not a place in the brain! Energy is the capacity to do stuff. There’s nothing that’s not energy, even ‘mass.’ Remember E=MC squared? Information is literally a swirl of energy in a certain pattern that has a symbolic meaning; it stands for something other than itself. Information should be a verb; mind, too—as in minding or informationing. And the mind is an embodied and relational emergent process that regulates the flow of energy and information.”18

“We can be both an ‘I’ and part of an ‘us’”

One of the most exciting new discoveries in neuroscience is the system of mirror neurons, which help us connect with each other. Siegel, who has a talent for explaining the complex workings of the brain and nervous system, tells about them in simple terms for the uninitiated: “Certain neurons can fire when someone communicates with you. They dissolve the border between you and others. These mirror neurons are a hardwired system designed for us to see the mind-state of another person. That means we can learn easily to dance, but also to empathize with another. They automatically and spontaneously pick up information about the intentions and feelings of those around us, creating emotional resonance and behavioural imitation as they connect our internal state with those around us, even without the participation of our conscious mind.”19 And in Mindsight: “Mirror neurons are the antennae that pick up information about the intentions and feelings of others.… Right hemisphere signals (are those) the mirror neuron system uses to simulate the other within ourselves and to construct a neural map of our interdependent sense of a ‘self.’ It’s how we can be both an ‘I’ and part of an ‘us.’”20

So how can we re-shape our brain to become more open and receptive to others? We already know the brain receives input from the senses and gives it meaning, he points out. That’s how blind people find ways to take in information and map out their world. According to Siegel, they do this on secondary pathways rather than the main highways of the brain. That’s a major key to how we can bring about change: “You can take an adult brain in whatever state it’s in and change a person’s life by creating new pathways,” he affirms. “Since the cortex is extremely adaptable and many parts of the brain are plastic, we can unmask dormant pathways we don’t much use and develop them. A neural stem cell is a blob, an undifferentiated cell in the brain that divides into two every twenty-four hours. In eight–ten weeks, it will become established as a specialized neural cell and exist as a part of an interconnected network. How we learn has everything to do with linking wide areas of the brain with each other.”21

He calls the prefrontal cortex “the portal through which interpersonal relations are established.” He demonstrates, by closing his hand over his thumb, how this little tiny piece of us (the last joint of the two middle fingers) is especially important because it touches all three major parts of our brain: the cortex, limbic area, and brainstem as well as the body-proper. “It’s the middle prefrontal fibres which map out the internal states of others,” he adds. “And they do this not only within one brain, mine, but also between two brains, mine and yours, and even among many brains. The brain is exquisitely social, and emotions are its fundamental language. Through them we become integrated and develop an emergent resonance with the internal state of the other.”22

In Siegel’s recent books, Mindsight and The Mindful Therapist, he emphasises the regulatory role of the mind, which can both monitor and modify what’s happening. Step by step he explains how the lens of the mind can be trained to see the mind in oneself and others. “Relationship is key,” he emphasises. “When we work with relationship, we work with brain structure. Relationship stimulates us and is essential in our development. People rarely mention relationship in brain studies, but it provides vital input to the brain. Every form of psychotherapy that works, works because it creates healthier brain function and structure.… In approaching our lives, we can ask where do we experience the chaos or rigidity that reveal where integration is impaired. We can then use the focus of our attention to integrate both our brain and our relationships. Ultimately we can learn to be open in an authentic way to others, and to ourselves. The outcome of such an integrative presence is not only a sense of deep well-being and compassion for ourselves and others, but also an opening of the doors of awareness to a sense of the interdependence of everything. ‘We’ are indeed a part of an interconnected whole.”23

1 Jeffrey M. Schwartz (with Sharon Begley), THE MIND AND THE BRAIN (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 9.

2 Ibid, 80.

3 Davidson, Richard. 2009. “Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain.” Google Personal Growth Series. http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=7tRdDqXgsJ0&NR=1.

4 Goleman, Daniel. 2003. “The Lama in the Lab.” SHAMBHALA SUN (March).

5 Daniel Siegel, MINDSIGHT (New York: Bantam, 2010), p. 210.

6 Daniel Siegel, interview by P. de Llosa, September 2010.

7 Daniel Siegel, “Clinical Applications of Interpersonal Neurobiology.” Six-hour CD course, November 2003.

8 Ibid.

9 Daniel Siegel, “The Mind that Changes the Brain,” Two-day conference, New York, July 2010.

10 Ibid.

11 MINDSIGHT, p. 215.

12 MINDSIGHT, p. 224.

13 Daniel Siegel, THE MINDFUL THERAPIST(New York: W.W. Norton, 2010). For more information, see http://www.drdansiegel.com.

14 Siegel, “Mind that Changes.”

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Siegel, de Llosa interview.

18 “Mind that Changes.”

19 Siegel, “Clinical Applications.”

20 MINDSIGHT, p. 224.

21 “Mind that Changes.”

22 Ibid.

23 “Mind that Changes.”