Category: Training and Development

                      Photo credit: Getty Images

Privacy is a concept very well confused in our culture today.  In an era where almost all of our electronic devices track our everyday move, our psychographics and socio-economic decisions give life to Big Data and Artificial Intelligence to sell the next big thing, without our permission, and social media networks know where we go and what we do and with whom we do it with every minute of the day, other aspects of our lives, our trials and tribulations, and struggles which are simply part of the human condition such as unemployment, depression, disability and mental illness are considered private issues.  Well, are they a matter of privacy or are they more a matter of not wanting to deal with real agendas?

In an effort to respect employees’ privacy, many employers avoid employees’ mental health concerns.  However, like it or not, these issues have a tendency to make their way into the workplace. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 43.8 million adults in the United States experience mental illness in any given year.

Yes, there are Employment Laws and Fair Labor Standards, but in a world where yesterday’s hero is today’s villain and due to hopelessness and limited Emotional Intelligence, a majority fall in to co-dependant status, villains can easily pose as leaders and saviors.  So what is the real solution?

 

Even ignoring the lack of support and clear danger to the quality of life of the employee, purely calculating the costs it is clear that employers can’t afford to ignore mental health issues in the workplace.

 

Last Thursday, as the New York Times reported that Harvey Weinstein, the face of the entertainment company had been accused of sexually harassing women, both inside and outside of his company for over nearly three decades, it was yet another wake up call that mental disorder is not necessarily a silent killer. One might ask, how sexual harassment is a mental disorder. Well, according to the Wikipedia definitionSexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors”. In a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Finnish researchers have recently discovered that bullying could result in serious mental disorders. While victims of bullying are more likely to develop anxiety disorders, or already suffer from it, the bullies themselves were at higher risk for having or developing antisocial personality disorder. Therefore it is fair to say that sexual harassment has its roots in perceived power or lack thereof. And as opposed to popular belief, recognition of mental disorder in morally questionable individuals who we may not approve of such as Donald Trump, does not reinforce the negative stigmas associated mental illness, but rather adds to the negative stigmas.

 

The World Health Organization and the National Business Group on Health indicate that mental and behavioral health conditions have direct costs as much as $100 billion for employers. And when one factors in indirect costs, such as loss of productivity and the influx of disability claims, you are now faced with a major disaster.  

 

At first Weinstein had announced that he would take a leave of absence.  However, then he began fighting and contesting the allegations. It took three directors to resign, before the company board fired the founder on Sunday.

 

The trouble here is two-fold: Weinstein was a founder and top executive, and hence a decision-maker.    However what happens when we turn a blind eye to a culture gone wrong is that, as employees, the same infrastructure we hoped would be supported by our attempts at passivity, would turn around to disintegrate, but this time without notice.  

While as employers playing mental health professionals is not wise, providing clear boundary setting education to the entire employee population on mental health issues and the importance of clearly defined boundaries is expected.

An employer’s efforts to bring to light realities, helps destigmatize mental illness and allows others to come out of the shadows and seek treatment.   employees recognize its prevalence can help employees feel more comfortable acknowledging that they’re struggling in some way. 

 

While In addition to costs, employers have a legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to refrain from discriminating against individuals with mental illness, they are also obligated to abide by the same guidelines in treating employees vs. founders.  Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are two types of sexual harassment: a) quid pro quo and 2) hostile work environment. Sexual harassment can be physical and psychological in nature. It’s important to note that it is the aggregate of the incidents and not a single event that constitutes harassment and work hours and location don’t have a bearing on this definition.  

Langelan describes four different classes of harassers.

  • Predatory harasser This is a harasser who gets sexual thrills from humiliating others. The goal of this harasser is to just to see how targets respond. No response could even lead to rape.
  • Dominance harasser is the most common type, and usually is for the purposes of an ego boost.  
  • Strategic or territorial harassers are those who harasss to remain dominant or keep privileges.
  • Street harasser: This is verbal and/or nonverbal behavior, with frequent appearance in public to embarrass.

 

 

Overall, the culture of an organization is defined by its leadership and if leadership does not walk the talk, then there is no atmosphere of trust or a moral code, and as a result, there are no boundaries or expectations that employees can rely on. In a 2012 study of male adolescent American football players, “the strongest predictor [of bullying] was the perception of whether the most influential male in a player’s life would approve of the bullying behavior”.

Photo Courtesy of PBS:                   What Irma Left Behind

Hurricane Management and Leadership that Works

Strong Leadership and Hurricanes are very similar in that they are both transformational, purposeful, and engaging. However, one way they are very different is that leadership cannot be a force that cannot be reasoned with, otherwise, it will have consequences one of which is follower attrition or turn-over.

 

Many automatically associate Turnover with cost cutting, downsizing and poor employee engagement although this is not always the case. There is a type of turnover that is the voluntary kind and is in fact good news for an organization, especially when the organization aspires to be a Learning Organization. Take a technology company like Google, if Google hired three hundred entry-level engineers in 2014 and in 2016 had a voluntary turnover of 50%, is that a bad thing? No, absolutely not. On the other hand there is turnover of the voluntary kind that is due to poor employee engagement, lack of productivity, poor innovation, lack of job mobility, poor communication, etc. This is a real dilemma with real implications. But there is also a turnover of the involuntary kind that occurs during change. It is associated with engagement, poor communication and culture issues, centered around change, but not necessarily discontinued after change.   Take the case with GE.

 

GE Case Study

Consideration of GE has reportedly announced layoffs to balance spending cuts   This information comes merely months after the move of their corporate headquarters to Boston. Beside the fact that GE is among the various organizations the government bet on funding over $150 million in state and city subsidies, we wonder whether there is also a hyperbole parallel to their GE –Workout Method at play here.

As I/O psychologists we are of the understanding that change in large organizations is not a magical wave of a wand Despite evidence-based practices that help organizations save money, work more efficiently and increase employee engagement, the true road block to effective change remains to be institutional inertia. And what is inertia? Is Inertia just lack of movement, or is it lack of agreement?

One of the key aspects of the GE-Workout Method is that Leaders and managers identify areas for key business improvement and challenge those closest to the work to recommend ways for reaching that goal. Then on the other hand, those closest to the work, make specific recommendations in how to meet the goal and implement the approved recommendation within 90 days. Well, call us idealistic, but isn’t there an underlying assumption at play here? A key business improvement is all we heard. We didn’t hear any information in the form of initial feedback or observation even from or about the people who are running those business units. Now in developing this process, GE has presented the case that it fights beaurocracy. But if the identification of the problem is still rising out of the Leadership and Management, isn’t that more of the old beaurocracy? In a survey of clients of the GE Method it was cited that 20% mentioned the “risk of sub optimized analysis and decision-making” that can result from the Work-Out’s requirement for executive, on-the-spot decisions. Another 20% also mentioned “executive anxiety and defensiveness” with regard to the speed and process of decision-making.

 

Why Employee’s Emotions Matter

 

The limbic system, which combines higher mental functions and primitive emotions into one system, tells psychologists that decisions cannot be solely made by the cortex. It’s not only responsible for our emotional lives, but also many higher mental functions such as learning and formation of memories. According to the study presented in Association of Psychological Sciences . “When individuals are making a financial decision, “reflections” often occurs. Under conditions of acute stress, increased risk taking behavior was observed”. In fact, neuro-imaging and bio-feedback data has shown that stress may influence neural responses to feedback in the ventral striatum suggesting that stress may dampen our perceptions of the subjective value of our decisions.  

 

In truth, employees are people and people can only function if they feel valued and understood. In fact one of the key aspects of Emotional Intelligence is that those with higher emotional intelligence are expected to be able to manage stress more effectively and draw boundaries as necessary to protect their emotional wellbeing. According to Equity Theory, if employees’ subjective measures of stress are heightened because an employer’s expectations and respect for the employee are inequitable, or one sided, the employee will not feel supported, capable and keen to cooperate. In other words, the employer’s valuation cannot be effective if it is conditional. If in response to a key business issue, there is havoc and crisis, threats of job cuts, and focus groups designed to make changes fast, morale will be shaken and human capital will not be onboard. Financial results can only be gained through consistent, human capital or people practices. And it is our strong belief that through consistent and supportive processes, problems could be researched and identified within the existing systems and then through behavioral science tested and implemented in large-scale, low-cost approaches rather than job elimination.

Photo credit: Naional Geographic Kids

We all know that negative thoughts directly impact our happiness.  But did you know that negative thoughts are actually literally poisonous to our psychological and emotional health?

Case in Point

 Let’s imagine you are sitting in your family room after having watched the news on TV regarding the much anticipated hurricane Irma. You are by yourself and go to bed immediately after, with thoughts of worry and concern. Am I prepared? Did I buy what we needed? Is our home insulated well? Then all of a sudden, the rain starts outside and you hear drops of rain tapping on the window. Before you realize it, the sound magnifies and all you can hear are the water droplets on the window. You start by thinking “oh my gosh, what if that leaky faucet we’ve had in the kids bathroom doesn’t handle the pressure? “ “What if the pool overflows into the house? “What if Katie accidentally falls in the pool when she is out doing her business?” And on and on and on, your thoughts are racing. You have to wake up early the next day and you have now spent over an hour tossing and turning in bed, flooded with so many negative thoughts about a hurricane that has not even been determined to effect your area.

How Did You Get Here?   

All of this was triggered by the sound of rain. Something simple, was transformed into something very hazardous by your thoughts. Automatic Negative Thoughts are just exactly that. Slow, but consistent at first, and then turn by turn, they have the potential to form in to a category 5 hurricane if we allow them. Its possible to stop them, but very difficult.   Why? Because they have literally gotten your mind sick!

Here’s how thoughts grow into a phenomenon in our brain within the Limbic System. The two very serious illnesses of depression and anxiety are heavily caused by rumination, obsessions and the elaborate need for control of people and our environment. The need for control first begins with a single thought “what is going to happen?” Then it begins to take hold of our psyche and quickly turns in to fear, if it is not reasoned with. Why fear? Because the answer to “what is going to happen?” will always be “I don’t know”. If voluntarily stopped right away with a statement such as “I guess we will have to see” or “god knows” or “no one knows” or my personal favorite “let the chips fall where they may” we will ride through a few seconds of concern and then the gateway to fear will close. Otherwise, if the gate is opened and we answer “gosh, what if ….”, or “this is not good” , or “why did he say that and not …’, or “is it because I said,,,,”, we have now entered the land of chaos, despair, hopelessness, and self-doubt. There is a Liberian proverb that says: “ Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped.”

What Are you Thinking?

Every time you have an angry, scary, sad or happy thought, your body releases chemicals that activate your brain’s limbic system. Dr. Mark George, M.D., from the National Institutes of Mental Health, demonstrated this in a significant study. He studied brain activity in 10 healthy women under three different laboratory conditions. Through Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), their brains were viewed as these women were illicitted to think happy, neutral and sad thoughts. During the happy thoughts, the women’s brains demonstrated a cooling of the deep limbic system. During the sad thoughts, there was a significant increase in deep limbic system activity. This is evidence that our thoughts tell our bodies what to do and hence we can tell our thoughts what to think. Polygraph and Lie detector tests, or what we actually believe to be most accurate here at the Center for Work Life, through Credibility assessment and Facial Action Coding, are based on this Limbic System response algorithm.

The Make Up of the Limbic System

The various parts of the the Limbic System, the Hypothalamus, the Amygdala, the Hippocampus, and the Cingulate Cortex all have different functions and hence different hormones associated. The hormones are impacted by our thoughts and set the tone for our emotional wellbeing. The more unhappy, fearful, anxious thoughts we have the more sick our brain will get and the more those thoughts will form within us.   The same way, our immune system weakens with lack of sleep, alcohol, poor diet etc. Happy, positive experiences and thoughts are like boosters and vitamins for the Limbic System.

Photo Credit: Think Tank Centre

 

 

To Be or Not to Be Following our Thoughts

Just the same way as our thoughts can work for us during a speaking presentation, when we are excited and a surge of adrenaline allows our brain to give the best performance, or when we meet someone, and know we are attracted to them because, butterflies form in our stomach and think we want to have a meaningful relationship with them, it can work against us. Many people believe just because it is a thought, it must be true. Well, that is not correct! Unless you consciously think about your thoughts, they can form pretty automatically. We can think of them as pimples. Yes, your skin can automatically form pimples, but with a good skincare regimen coupled with the proper water intake, and diet and exercise, your skin is constantly resurfaced and cleansed, training everyday to not have pimples.

Socio-cultural Influences

Our culture is one of future planning. College savings, Life Insurance Policies, 401K plans, Saving’s Bonds, Mutual Funds, and even Home Mortgages etc. are all designed tools for the future. Forget about the concept of Capitalism and who profits here, and let’s stay with the “what” part of it. As human beings, were we meant to be future oriented? Or did we become conditioned somewhere along the way to become that way? Well, looking at Research in to other mammalian species, the dog for example, could help us realize that, we could be perfectly content living in the moment. Now, we are not advocating going out and maxing out credit cards, and forgetting about saving for our future, but we are saying, we can plan for tomorrow but live for today. In other words, when we think about happenings around us, we can use our Emotional Intelligence and divide them in to three categories easily: 1. the plannable, 2. The unplannable, 3. Somewhere in between.

 Whether we are working a full-time job out there, or working full-time at home, as a home maker or parent, our work week is in The Somewhere in Between category. We can plan what activities we want to be engaged in, whom those activities will be involving, and even times those activities can be scheduled for. However, the outcomes of those activities, the length in real time it will take to complete the actitivities, the propellers vs. the hinderers will not be plannable. If you try to plan or analyze, or predict outcomes, you will spin yourself in to anxiety. The trick: You have to stop any future oriented, uncontrollable outcome related thoughts right away before they get hold of your brain. In other words, if they have already gotten to the 3rd scenario or “what if,” in this case, they are way too powerful to stop.

8 Everyday Exercises for a Healthy and Happy Brain at Work or in Life

  1. I am not in control; a power greater than me is.
  2. I surrender and accept whatever comes my way
  3. Uncertainty is a part of being alive
  4. When I am faced with an activity that worries me, I will imagine my favorite beach and I will get in, prepared but free to experience every wave.
  5. I will cross bridges as I arrive at them, and enjoy the process no matter what
  6. As soon as a negative thought enters my head, I treat it like a hurricane warning, I prepare, stay alert but calm, and use my support system.
  7. Keep record of my past trials and accomplishments and send empowering messages to my psyche
  8. I push myself to stay present in every task circumstance and tribulation.

 

 A very powerful quote by one of the most celebrated Persian Sufi Poets of the 14th Century Mahmud Shabistari said: “The past has flown away. The coming month and year do not exist. Ours only is the present’s tiny Point.”

 

Evolution. What does it really mean? The first creature we would recognize as human called homo ergester first appeared in Africa two million years ago. Not long when compared to the Oldest species that inhabited earth over 600 million years ago. These species include sharks, ants, Jelly Fish and Sponges among others. The phrase survival of the fittest is what has been described as the outcome of how species with certain talents and capabilities are able to manage environmental threats and reproduce and therefore continue to prosper as living creatures rather than die out or become extinct.

 

Environmental threats exist no matter what. Any time there are multiple interests or forces at work, there is conflict. It is believed that Conflict is a result of various reasons. Malthus, the eminent economist says that reduced supply of the means of subsistence is the root cause of conflict. According to him, conflict is caused by the increase of population in geometrical progression and the food supply in arithmetical progression. According to Charles Darwin, the biological principles of “Struggle for existence” and “the survival of the fittest” are the main cause of conflict. Sigmund Freud and other psychologist hold the view that the innate instinct for aggression in man is the main cause of conflict. So we know conflict is an inevitable fact of life. However, in spite of the various causes the dynamic of conflict is founded on one main phenomenon; Power.

 

Even, in job related or interpersonal relationships where there is no tangible resources to be controlled per say such as money, food, autonomy, process, etc. the exercise of power could involve control of intangible resources such as decision-making, attention, freedom, time, love, etc. even though it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, in an abusive relationship whether a bully-type dynamic at work, an abusive personal relationship or an abusive marriage, one party establishes a pattern of unhealthy control. Even though there might seem to be times of peace and affection, these good times linger in the shadows of the subtle or not so subtle controlling tactics the abuser uses for the purpose of getting his or her own way.

For example, an abusive spouse may prevent his (or her) partner from seeing family members, going out with friends, or going back to college. He may try to regulate the people his spouse talks to, where his spouse goes, or how and when his spouse spends money. He may demand all of his mate’s attention. He may put his spouse on an irrational guilt trip for talking to or doing things with other people. He may consider his spouse’s needs as an infringement on or a betrayal of his own needs. He may act insanely jealous and falsely accuse his partner of cheating on him. He may constantly monitor and check up on the whereabouts of his spouse. Many are known to lash out and belittle their spouse when they don’t get their own way or when they feel betrayed or abandoned. Others threaten to divorce or to physically hurt their spouse or destroy a cherished possession, all in an effort to intimidate and punish their mate.

 

So let’s take some evolutionary theories regarding conflict resolution; Darwin’s theory regarding conflict for example. What does the term “fittest” really mean? Is it referring to our physical embodiment, like our body mass index, speed, skeletal build, or height? Is it referring to our cognitive intelligence like the size of our brains, how good we are at problem solving or finding food during difficult times? Or is it referring to our ability is to prevail through the process of conflict against the opposition or worst yet predators? The answer cannot be our physical embodiment because if that were the case, the dinosaurs would not have gone extinct. In fact one of the most successful species that has ever lived, the ant is one of the smallest and most fragile species. The answer also cannot be our cognitive intelligence because our mammalian brains evolved to the cerebral capacity they are today only since 200,000 years ago, while the successful species described above were around way before our time and have continued to prosper.

 

So how does this relate to survival of the fittest you ask? According to the various personality inventories, with the DISC being one of them and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator being another one, it has been studied that certain personality types are more likely to be entrepreneurial. According to Timmons New Venture Creation: entrepreneurship for the 21st century, entrepreneurship is “the ability to create and build something from practically nothing. It is initiating, doing, achieving and building an

enterprise or organization, rather than just watching, analyzing or describing one. It is the knack for sensing an opportunity where others see chaos, contradiction and confusion. It is the ability to build a ‘founding team’ to complement your own skills and talents. It is the know-how to find, marshal and utilize resources (often owned by others) and to make sure you don’t run out of money when you need it most. Finally, it is the willingness to take calculated risk, – both personal and financial – and then do everything possible to get the odds in your favor.”

Entrepreneurs take a stance on their vision, even if it means they might fail. Dozens of studies over the last three decades link risk-taking propensity with entrepreneurial achievement. Tony Tjan calls this trait guts: the ability to take action. An entrepreneur, he sums, must have “the guts to initiate, the guts to endure, and the guts to evolve as a new company changes”; we call it being emotionally intelligent. The ability to take risk in spite of fear, the ability to curb anxiety in spite of uncertainty, the ability to cope in spite of failure and the ability to persevere in spite of failure.   Two out of the four Emotional intelligence characteristics involve recognizing emotions in oneself and being able to work through them in spite of how difficult they may be in communicating with others.

 

One particular article has actually emphasized that these four personality types are more likely to be financially successful. But let’s put money aside and concentrate on just the entrepreneurial personality type for now, because as we know money can come from doing good and doing evil and it can do good as well as do evil. We believe that the “entrepreneurial spirit” or personality in this case, is not just relevant to the world of business, but rather to any venture that requires similar skills such as starting a new relationship, or a marriage and working though and nourishing it to flourish year after year. The four MBTI personality types ENTPs, ESTJs, ENTJs, INTJs, and ISTJs which are entrepreneurial are all curious, creative, take responsibility, and are decisive. According to Gallup, knowledge seekers increase their company’s chance of survival. Likewise, a 2015 Slovenian study revealed that entrepreneurial curiosity is positively correlated with company growth. According to the Journal of Small Business Economics as a result of these four sub personalities, they are Persuaders (enterprising) as measured by the Holland Occupational Themes. However, persuasion can either be tied in with psychopathy, machiavelian and/or narcissism or it could be tied in with conscientiousness, social helpfulness, and absorption; a disposition or personality trait in which a person becomes absorbed in their mental imagery, particularly fantasy. In reviewing the Big Five personality components, Contrary to expectations, a study in the Journal of Business Venturing found a negative relationship between the entrepreneur’s openness and long-term venture survival. On the other hand, according to the Journal of Management Decision, creativity was the single most critical and prevalent trait associated with entrepreneurship. However, in a recent study in the issue of Harvard Business Review, Target Training International Ltd., a research firm, a multi-variable analysis of a group of serial entrepreneurs identified five personal skills that clearly made them unique. The above personality traits applied but according to the study, the glue that held them together was “Personal skills” — often classified as “soft skills”. These include effectively communicating, building rapport, and relating well to all people, from all backgrounds and communication styles. Our research at Center for Work Life in working with hundreds of executives over a period of 18 years has found similar results.

 

It is believed that personality traits are usually pretty stable. However, interpersonal skills as practiced through emotional intelligence training are learned and open to change.

 

So how does this all tie in with our original question of what is evolution? Whether in the work place or in interpersonal relationships with friends, spouses or loved ones, we are constantly striving to either survive or evolve. Of course, similar to many other aspects of life, this is not an all or none dichotomy, but rather a spectrum. In Darwin’s terms, these two concepts were one and the same, but we say they are very different when it comes to social and psychological development. There is a difference between the individuals who tolerate, hide, ignore, avoid and stay on their own path when the evidence clearly calls on them, versus those that turn the system up side down because they strive for a different vision and are unwilling to take it as is. They resist control and instead choose cooperation.

Of course in symbiotic relationships where there is equity or a balance between give and take the power is distributed equitably.  We believe that Emotionally intelligent individuals are the highly evolved members of our society and of our species. Remember the sponge we talked about earlier? The one who has lived on earth for over 600 million years ago? What is the secret to its long and prosperous existence? It has been studied that as sponges feed, they filter out tiny particles of organic matter from the water. Researches believe, millions of years ago these particles would have included dead microbial matter, which rots and consumes oxygen. Sponges helped to clean water of this material. Without all of the rotting going on, the water would have experienced a significant decrease in oxygen levels.

More oxygen in the water then set the stage for more complex life forms to emerge, such as the first predatory animals with guts that started to eat one another, marking the beginning of a modern marine ecosystem, with the type of food webs we are familiar with today. So rather than merely surviving, the most successful species on the planet, thrived by “thinking” outside of itself and enterprising on the vision of coexistence, support and a symbiotic relationship with other species that it yearned to neighbor some day. So in spite of having no IQ at all, no cerebral cortex, no significant size or particular muscular strength, the sponge could just have been the most emotionally intelligent species that lived.

As humans, we have achieved so much through the art, science and technology. However, the illusion of control, or the misrepresentation of the power to guard resources has led us to kill, repress, exclude and severely harm our own kind. Rather than control, what if we shared our resources, capabilities, and strengths with others. Rather than possess, what if we freed rights and took responsibility not just for ourselves but also for other human beings and species. What if we learned to be better communicators? Being intelligently aware of our own challenges and communicating them while seeking others challenges and empowering them. Interestingly, it turns out that fortunately we have the wiring to do just that. As opposed to homo ergaster and homo erectus, as homo sapiens we surpassed the test of time and were the only species that continued to live on the planet as descendants of apes some 6 million years ago. But why? Homo erectus was slightly bigger and more powerful than Homo sapiens, so why did we survive when they did not? The most simple answer could be that this happened because we had bigger brains. But it turns out that what mattered was not overall brain size but the areas where the brain was larger. “The Homo erectus brain did not devote a lot of space to the part of the brain that controls language and speech,” has said John Shea, professor of paleo-anthropology at Stony Brook University in New York.

“One of the crucial elements of Homo sapiens’ adaptations is that it combines complex planning, developed in the front of the brain, with language and the ability to spread new ideas from one individual to another. Planning, communication and even trade led, among other things, to the development of better tools and weapons which spread rapidly across the population”.  

 

One could argue that not all people have the luxury or even want to be emotionally intelligent, because they have to be strategic. Our response: strategy or strategic action is associated with a competitive advantage-seeking behavior to create value.   If that value were one sided, meaning just valuable to us, or worst, gained at the expense of disvaluing others, that value would surely be short-term. And value, which is short-term, is not value at all. Hence true gain in competitive advantage utilizes Emotional Intelligence within all strategic decisions to create influence rather than control and hence a win-win for all.   Sponges could have ruled the planet. They could have reserved all of the earth resources for themselves. But they were the active agents that oxygenated the ocean around 600 million years ago and created a world in which more complex animals could evolve, including our very ancestors.

Work and Live Your Relationships Like a Sponge

Work and Live Your Relationships Like a Sponge

With the New Year, comes the promise of new hope and new beginnings.  However, it could also mean repeating old habits and avoiding the same old patterns unforturnately.  How about a dose of spring cleaning before March comes around?  How about openning that old closet, and taking out the baggage that is taking unneccessary space there?  By baggage of course we mean issues not the Samsonite kind.  One of the reasons we all love spring is because nature is rejuvenated and new buds are flourishing everywhere.  Why not apply that to our lives?  Groom the old, and invite freshness and hope in to our lives.  You know that topic, relationship, or issue you have been harboring?  How about you nip it, do something about it and start anew?  don’t be part of the 95% statistic that has a fear of conflict.  

Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship. We’ve all been witness to or been a participant in a situation where two or more people have had clashes in their ideals, and we’ve also seen, how without the proper intervention, how quickly it can turn into intense personal animosity.

Conflict is one of the most misunderstood topics. The reason for that is because many people incorrectly assume that conflict always ends negatively. Whether among colleagues, friends, or couples, unless one has absolutely no opinions about anything, nor any ideas to contribute, nor desires or preferences, or a personality for that matter, at some point in time, they will be faced with a situation where they will be in a disagreement with someone else. Yes, that’s correct, conflict is exactly that; disagreement(s).

Unfortunately, the fear of conflict leads many individuals to choose the path of least resistance and avoid facing the underlying issues leading to conflict. However, this is not really a solution.  It is simply a derailment or delaying the inevitable.  Unless, the individual has absolutely absolved the issue at hand on their own, the avoidance ultimately could mean two things: a. that they are tolerating it without understanding it, which will eventually lead to resentment, or b. that they falsely believe they have “tried” to resolve it and hence give up on the idea because they feel defeated.  Sound familiar?  well, that’s because it happens everyday in marriages, family relationships and offices.  We know, because it always eventually finds its way to our offices, and we eventually sit at the same table with it.  And trust us when we say, status, or position or academic background don’t make it any better.  In fact, research shows the higher one goes up the ladder of an organization, the lower the leader’s practiced EI skills could become.  

The truth is that conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Oh, and another thing: different personalities don’t have to mean unresolved conflicts. When resolved effectively conflict can in fact,lead to more cohesion, and trust in the relationship. In a sense, there is a feeling of being understood which can only result from a place of self-awareness and problem-solving attitude. There is a sense of confidence and self-efficacy because the dialogue involved in correct conflict resolution provides insight into the fact that one is able to achieve one’s goals without undermining others.

In interpersonal relationships of all kind, there is an increased sense of mutual respect, and a renewed faith in the relationship when people work things out. Research has shown in fact that a woman’s perceptions of intimacy in a couples’ relationship after a conflict has been effectively solved.

On the other hand, we have also seen some individuals who are too ready and eager to get in to conflicting situations. If you have ever seen or been one of these people, it is important to know that picking battles is very important. The reason for this is that a large part of effective conflict resolution comes from aligning goals. An individual with strong interpersonal skills or more specifically one with a strong background or training in Emotional Intelligence, has a good temperature read for what is a situation that needs attention and conflict resolutions strategies and one that needs more of a come in to terms strategy. Good conflict pushes individuals to examine their goals and expectations closely, helping them assess what is, really important to them. This also means, the sense of surrendering parts that are driven by ego or selfishness.   If the perception that others have of you is that you like to “pick fights” like the Grouchy Ladybug (we use this book in our training because it does a great job of demonstrating the concept, making it very succinct to relate to), then unfortunately, it will be interpreted that your goal is not conflict resolution but perhaps conflict in an of itself. In this circumstance, you are in a sense inviting ego, selfishness or self-preservation to step in and block any openness to negotiation.

Yes, conflict can be damaging. If not handled effectively, it can quickly turn into personal attacks, break down of trust, and disengagement from work or the relationship.  One major culprit is low emotional intelligence (EQ).

The key is to nip it at the bud. The downward spiral can be stopped if the correct interventions and communications are utilized and key processes are put in place.

Here are some specific steps that we have incorporated into our conflict resolution programs:

 

At the inception of conflict, people can quickly become entrenched in their positions. Soon, tempers and voices rise and defensive or aggressive behavior gives rise to uncooperative body language. Therefore, the first step is to separate the people and the emotional components from the problem and instead focusing on just the problem itself. The priority is to develop an understanding of the other’s position, and together reach a consensus.

The prerequisite to this of course always is to listen actively and empathetically, have a good understanding of your body language, and understand how to employ good emotion regulation including anger management techniques. Then, in particular, here are the steps:

  1. Decide whether the outcome or the relationship is the priority.
  2. If you decide that the relationship is the priority, ensure that you treat the other person with respect at all times and do your best to discuss matters constructively rather than in a way that leads the other person to react.
  3. Actually try to understand and listen to the other point of view.
  4. After understanding the point of view carefully, you should be able to understand, what the other person fears is at stake for them.
  5. Many times, just by getting to this step, you may realize that there was either a misunderstanding from the other person’s side, or that by giving them assurance, you can both be happy.  
  6. If not, then lay out additional facts, and review what both of you believe they are.
  7. Now provide solutions. And use the process of elimination to . Explore each of the options together and have an exchange as to why one option is better than another.
  8. Come to agreement. If you have followed all the steps and come this far, the last thing you want to do is assert your solutions is the better one. If you believe it is, you should be able to sell your position. And yes, in case you were wondering there is selling in negotiation.

Nine out of ten times, you can seriously prevent bad conflict from exploding in your face by using the above steps. Otherwise, chances are you may be faced with an opinion conflict, which usually means agreeing to disagree.

Real conflict resolution is not based on rank, or social standing, or other forces at work, but real dialogue. Both parties have to be willing to put the effort and the time, and be ready to surrender their position if proven wrong. But in matters of opinion, rather than fact, we always say, you are entitled to your opinion and leave it at that.

 

We are not the jack of all trades. But we are the conflict resolution experts. So when and wherever, feel free to reach out to us directly at (407)340-1228 or by info@centerforworklife.com

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