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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Is It An Individual Or Systematic 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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Je suis Charlie, Je suis ...

It was a sad tragedy to see the death of Curtis Cheng a father and husband who was simply doing his job when a lone gunman targeted the NSW Police headquarters in Parramatta. It was shocking to think that Farhad Jabar a 15 year old schoolboy was capable of this act. Footage of his classmates arriving at school, following the attack, brought his youth home in a sobering way.

When a community is assaulted in this way and our sense of safety is challenged we face critical choices about how we respond to both the event and the fear and grief it evokes within us. Pondering this question, reminded me of a piece I'd written on a recent extended stay in Provence, Outrage in the wake of this year's terrorist attack was still palpable. Given this latest tragedy - I share it now.....

Leaving our local baker Phillipe’s store each morning, arms laden with croissants and tarts, I walked past a simple handwritten sign his window “Je suis Charlie.”

Shocked from their malaise, thousands of French citizens took to the streets earlier this year, responding to the murder of the editor and staff of Charlie Hebdo and many others who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As my partner, Jean-Marc, is French, we followed events closely and frequently dicussed the issue with family and friends over the days that followed. For the French it was both a tragic and a mobilising time. United in the cry “Je suis Charlie” French citizens felt a sense of fraternity many described as exhilarating. Finding their voice, they were able to reconnect with the sense of defiance and power that in 1789 earnt the French populace its liberty.

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“Why can’t they think more strategically?” - Power and Goal Orientation

Have you ever complained that your staff aren’t strategic enough? Have you ever wondered why those who report to you seem slow to see the bigger picture or unable to cut through the minutiae and constant operational demands?

People in positions of power tend to be goal oriented. Research confirms that people with high power demonstrate greater initiative than individuals with low power, attempting multiple courses of action to realise their goals. They persist in their efforts to achieve their goals even in the face of obstacles. Empowered individuals tend to address obstacles and challenges directly.

Observing this we might conclude that individuals who have more structural or social power, have earned their position and its associated power because they are more committed, intelligent or resourceful. Makes sense, right?

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When Apologies Matter

Shaking hands.jpgHave you ever given or received an apology that had a powerful and transformative impact? Of late we've been working with organisations committed to making full and wholehearted apologies. 

A heartfelt apology can be relieving for all concerned. Acknowledging mistakes and wrongdoings supports healing and the restoration of relationships. When Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised in 2008 to Australian Aboriginals and members of the stolen generation, for the forced removal of children from their families and culture, his words held significance for the whole nation. Rudd spoke at the time about ‘removing a stain from the nation’s soul’. 

The apology to the stolen generation was a long time coming - far too long. The trauma of many individuals and their families was prolonged by a lack of acknowledgement of their suffering. Events such as this and the mixed messages sent by many institutions in response to allegations of child sex abuse have been painful to witness.

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