The Links Between Conflict and Workplace Health and Rehabilitation

lady.jpgMy interest in workplace conflict developed during my work as a rehabilitation consultant specialising in psychological injuries in the workplace.  It was evident that the mechanisms in place at the time for the early resolution of conflict were inadequate.

As a result people held on trying to cope as best they could, usually with a result that their conflicts escalated.  Feelings such as rage, hopelessness and fear kicked in.   Many people experience sleeplessness or report a deterioration in personal relationships as they took their worries home.

The stresses associated with interpersonal or team conflict are hard on the body.  Over time it can and does lead to health impacts such as adrenal fatigue, immune system depletion, anxiety and a depression, with signs of PTSD evident in many sustained cases of bullying.  For those with pre-existing mental health conditions, the deterioration is usually evident much sooner and can be catastrophic.

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In The Face Of Crisis: Showing Up

donald trump.pngAs I went about my business today in a far nether-region of the world called Australia, CEO’s attended to urgent meetings before returning to view the live telecast of the US election and primary school children on public transport announced emerging ballot results from their mobile phones while their friends played Candy Crush.

As the trending results revealed themselves, I, like many, rode a roller coaster...

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Rethinking Conflict

So, how can you get off the Not-So-Merry-Go-Round of Conflict? In my last post I explored how conflict begins – when our sense of identity, values and needs are challenged and we get triggered.

Confronted by the disturbance we feel when our body is flooded with cortisol and other stress hormones, it’s human nature to want to make sense of what’s happening. Humans need to explain what led to these impacts.

With our primitive emotional brain screaming out that we are in danger we quickly develop a view of the situation that paints ourselves as the innocent victim, while the apparent source of our distress emerges as the classic evil villian.

Anyone recognise what I’m talking about? Think about the last time you discussed a hot conflict. If it was a film script how would you cast yourself? How would you cast the other person? Who comes out looking better? Chances are your narrative is flavored with a little self-serving bias.

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Workplace Conflict: Get Off The Merry-Go Round

I was recently interviewed about how managers and their employees can get off the Not-So-Merry Go Round of Confict.

The term Not-So-Merry-Go-Round of Confict was coined by Cinnie Noble, developer of the CINERGY® Conflict Management Coaching approach. I love the expression because it captures so aptly how we get stuck in conflicts in which both parties feel they are the innocent victim of the other party’s behaviour.

The Not-So-Merry-Go-Round is not just a catchy phrase but an insightful model revealing the emotional, mental and behavioural dynamics that underpin the escalation of conflict.

As I was describing the various stages of the cycle to the interviewer I realised that despite writing for years now on conflict I’ve never shared the model with you …. So I reckon it's time to rectify that with one small caveat. As I began to write this post I realised that there is so much to say about the cycle, so we are going to have to approach it in stages. Here is the beginning of a three part series of posts on this wonderful framework for working with conflict.

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An Individual Or Systemic Problem?

Last night the ABC’s Four Corners program aired shocking footage of the treatment of young Aboriginal children in custody in the Dondale Detention Centre. What I witnessed fills me with shame and a sense of responsibility to speak out.

The CC TV footage revealed assaults on young Aboriginal boys as young as 14, with groups of guards kicking, beating, goading, forcibly restraining them and using tear gas on them. The accompanying image to this post is taken from that footage. Independent Ombudsmen report the extraordinary and unacceptable use of solitary confinement, while other minors describe being pressured to attack those targeted by warders as troublemakers.

When questioned about the treatment of minors at the Centre, the NT Minister for Correctional Services, John Elferink, deflected any focus on his own failure to act on extensive reports on the problem by benignly raising questions about whether the personnel dealing with these youth had been adequately trained.

To dismiss this behaviour as a reflection of inadequate training ignores the systemic dimensions of this situation and offers little confidence that the disgraceful patterns of behaviour and norms that have developed within the institution will be addressed. And I say this as someone in the learning and development field!

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Addressing the Amygdala Hijack

 During my early career as a therapist rehabilitating people after brain injuries and stroke, I became fascinated by the workings of the brain. These years taught me a lot about what happens when things start going haywire. It’s an understanding I still value as a coach…

Leaders need to be able to think clearly. We expect them to make decisions based on sound reasoning. We also expect leaders to engage proactively. But too often this is not the case. Many leadership decisions are reactive, occurring when people are at the mercy of what neuroscientists refer to as an amygdala hijack.

When we are triggered by a problem that is overwhelming, when someone who challenges our identity or we encounter perceived threats, the amygdala kicks in. We become reactive. The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for our fight and flight response.

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Thriving In Disruptive Environments

aa.jpgBy now your New Year’s Resolutions will be made and many of you will be thinking about what is needed to achieve them.

We are living in an era of disruption in which rapid technological change demands a radical rethink of the ways we do business and how we live our lives. Most leaders know that even their best-made plans are good for only as long as it takes the ink on these documents to dry.

A key indicator of our effectiveness as leaders lies not only in how we manage our vision and strategy, but in how we deal with unexpected developments – both those that we welcome and those that are confronting. Leaders who are able to deal with the curveballs life throws their way, are usually better equipped when it comes to the big shifts. They are more agile.

Are you open to new opportunities and able to harness the potential within unexpected events? Are you an early adopter or do you regard the rapidly changing environment merely as a nuisance?

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Coaching For Change

Over the past few years we’ve been training leaders and managers to use a coaching approach to help their staff adjust and navigate rapidly changing environments.

Rather than endlessly explaining organisational change or blindly reassuring staff, program participants find it more effective to pose questions that help to surface what’s important for each staff member. Once that’s clarified, managers can help employees to explore the potential impacts and benefits of the organisational change. They engage staff as active stakeholders as they collaboratively work through their concerns. In general, the solutions that staff members develop themselves are far more effective than anything the manager themselves might offer.

Coaching for Change helps to empower individuals in an environment of uncertainty. Coaching conversations build their understanding of the drivers of change and support confidence in the skills needed to operate in the new landscape.

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Exploring the Limits of What is Possible

I have to admit, I’m not always the best at staying in touch. So I was pleased when my sister Danielle and I finally spoke on the phone the other day. Our calls had been bouncing back and forward between our message banks for weeks.

“I’m really under the pump“ she said. We proceeded to talk about the projects we were working on. My sister is fifteen years younger than me and we only lived under the one roof for a few short years. Yet, in many ways, we’re scarily similar. As she spoke about the way in which she works and thinks, I was laughed.   I already knew the story being shared from the inside out. Though much in our daily lives is different, we have very similar temperaments. We’re both driven, we’re focused on pushing boundaries and finding solutions that are new and innovative. We get bored easily and are rarely still for long before the next initiative kicks in.

After the call I found myself wondering, 'What is that? How can we be so similar?' A strange answer sprang to mind. Well, in fact, it wasn’t quite an answer. It was the memory of a person; my uncle, Jimmy Meath.

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Power and Rank: Hidden Causes of Conflict Escalation

Recently, I was invited to explore with a community of mediators, the impact of power and rank dynamics in conflict.

It’s not just mediators who need to have a sharp eye on power and rank differences, but managers, HR and conflict management practitioners who support individuals to engage in challenging conversations and negotiations.

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Forthcoming Events


Conflict Management Coaching

Our four day training program introduces participants to the CINERGY® Conflict Coaching model and the Not-So-Merry-Go-Round of conflict which is central to developing insight and change. With a focus on experiential learning participants become skilled in facilitating others in a process of change.

  • Canberra: 17-20 July, 2017
  • Melbourne: 13-16 November, 2017