Team Conflict – Opportunity or Loss?

This article presents a brief summary of ideas from Chapter Seven of our book, The Handbook for Developing Emotional and Social Intelligence.

CGrowth HandbookDoes your team expand its skills when faced with conflict? One of the questions on the TESI team survey, is “Our disputes stimulate team productivity.” How would you answer that question about your team? If you find you and your team have room to grow, one of the key strategies is to develop team skills in divergent thinking, which is the ability to think along different perspectives and to consider one another’s different perspectives. Conflict just is what makes it useful or destructive comes from the attitude and capabilities of those charged with responding to the conflict. Those capabilities are built with emotional and social intelligence (ESI). Seven competencies required for team success are identified in The Emotionally Intelligent Team. These seven are assessed by the Team Emotional and Social Intelligence Survey® (TESI®). Conflict resolution is one of the seven competencies, and it’s the one that teams struggle with the most.

Nine elements compose a team’s skill in handling conflict. These include skills in patience and willingness to work problems through, the ability to use the ESI skills of empathy and assertiveness, recognizing and working with differences in personality among team members, and the ability to choose different strategies for resolving conflict according to the specific circumstances of an individual event. For example, a team must choose their battles causing them to avoid some problems. And there are times it pays to be competitive rather than cooperative or collaborative—although competitive benefits may be limited to a stimulating challenge such as the first one to solve a complex problem gets a free lunch. One of the most important skills for success is to be able to invite and consider different perspectives. This is the powerful skill of divergent thinking – and it’s a solid success differentiator.

At Collaborative Growth, we conducted a study evaluating TESI results of team conflict resolution skills to consider the relationship of conflict resolution to skills in divergent thinking and in relationship to the other six competencies assessed by the TESI. We found a strong relationship between a team’s ability to appreciate and use divergent thinking and its effectiveness in solving conflicts.

Divergent thinking is a thought process or method that is essential to effective team work because it’s at the heart of the ability to generate ideas and to listen to highly different perspectives. It is often used for creative and problem-solving purposes. The goal of divergent thinking has several applications with the primary benefit being the capacity within the team to think along different lines and to feel safe and supported in discussing differences. It includes generating many different ideas about a topic in a short period of time and may involve breaking a topic down into component parts to gain insight about different aspects of the matter. In the best of circumstances, divergent thinking occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that the ideas are often generated in a random, unorganized fashion. During conflict, divergent thinking requires strength at the individual and team level to think about alternative scenarios even when there may be a strong temptation to protect the original way of assessing a problem. Working in an environment safe for divergent thinking supports Collaborative Intelligence™, the pinnacle of team emotional and social intelligence as reflected by the TESI team model.

In the best situation, divergent thinking by team members or the team as a whole is followed by the ideas and information being organized using convergent thinking, that is, putting the various ideas back together in a new organized and structured way. Without divergent thinking, teams cannot reach the payoff of in-depth consideration before arriving at convergent thinking, because they haven’t fully considered the problem they are seeking to address. Yet, diverse thinking can be difficult at a team level in part because of a process known as groupthink. Janis demonstrated the effects of groupthink by describing that even after groups become aware of the risks of an unfavorable process, they’ll go along with it because of the pressure for achieving group consensus. ESI is a big help in preventing groupthink. Being aware of emotions around the team, and having effective response strategies, will support the courage to get beyond the compulsion to agree with one another.

Teams work best when team members welcome different perspectives and feel safe in resolving conflict because they know that doing so can lead to increased productivity and a better work environment. Tips for growing conflict resolution skills are found in Chapter Seven in The Handbook for Developing Emotional and Social Intelligence. That chapter summarizes our research on divergent thinking and provides many ideas for helping teams expand their skills in working with positive and negative emotions.

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Avoid Emotional Intelligence Pitfalls at Work

pitfall_guyFrequently encountered emotional intelligence (EI) pitfalls that limit relationships and productivity at work are numerous. Ordering people to just “get it done” could well be the top pitfall of all. Do you agree? Several pitfalls and better EI Options are listed below. Listen to our recent webinar on these pitfalls and then let us know your thoughts and additional pitfalls you see on our blog

Pitfall: Just tell your direct reports or others to do something.

Better EI Option: Use your EI skills in empathy and assertiveness to influence others to want to engage in your project.

Pitfalls sabotage your success. When you just tell people to do something and you don’t take a few minutes to acknowledge them, build buy-in and guide understanding, you often invite opposition and resistance. Ironically you might have been so directive because you felt you didn’t have time for more engagement, yet the resistance will cost you more time in the long run.
Pitfall: Order your direct reports or others to be happy and engaged.

Better EI Option: Create a culture that builds skills in optimism, self-regard and emotional expression and thus supports staff agility and buy in. These and other EI skills are central to building an engaged culture with a “can-do” attitude. Your leadership has a lot to do with the responses you get. If you want happy and engaged direct reports, use positive language that supports optimism. For example, express the belief that together all of you will meet the big challenge, you just don’t know how yet. That wonderful word “yet” establishes the presupposition of success, and that helps create the outcome you’re looking for.
Pitfall: Ignore the impact of reassigning employees who have become friends and are working effectively as team members.

Better EI Option: Respond to and acknowledge relationships, notice how they support or weaken team work. When you need to make new assignments, help people process and accept the change.

Pitfall: Insist that emotions be left at the door when it’s time to solve problems.

Better EI Option: Use all your smarts in solving problems; that is both your IQ and your EQ. As we described in an earlier article, people can’t think without using their emotions. So the question becomes whether you and your team want to be aware of your emotional responses, including your intuitive awareness, and factor in all your data when resolving the problem. We suspect people seek to avoid their emotions when they are afraid they don’t have the skills to manage the emotions successfully. However, this strategy frequently backfires as the emotions will leak out in some poorly managed format. It’s better to get training and coaching and be fully in charge of your responses.

Pitfall: Blast your stress on all in your path.

Better EI Option: Learn strategies to regain your equilibrium when your buttons are pushed, then talk to others. You can breathe, use stair therapy, count to 10, any number of strategies work. Just give yourself time to avoid the adverse consequences of getting all tied up in knots! The key point is get more oxygen to your brain and give yourself a few minutes before you respond. Stair therapy is one of our favorites. When you feel triggered, tired or cranky go climb a set of stairs then come back to your office or to the situation and respond. Your renewed resilience will invite more welcome responses.

Avoid Emotional Intelligence Pitfalls at Work

Frequently encountered emotional intelligence (EI) pitfalls that limit relationships and productivity at work are numerous. Ordering people to just “get it done” could well be the top pitfall of all. Do you agree? Several pitfalls and better EI Options are listed below. Listen to our recent webinar on these pitfalls and then comment with your thoughts and additional pitfalls.

Pitfall: Just tell your direct reports or others to do something.
Better EI Option: Use your EI skills in empathy and assertiveness to influence others to want to engage in your project.

Pitfalls sabotage your success. When you just tell people to do something and you don’t take a few minutes to acknowledge them, build buy-in and guide understanding, you often invite opposition and resistance. Ironically you might have been so directive because you felt you didn’t have time for more engagement, yet the resistance will cost you more time in the long run.

Pitfall: Order your direct reports or others to be happy and engaged.
Better EI Option: Create a culture that builds skills in optimism, self-regard and emotional expression and thus supports staff agility and buy in. These and other EI skills are central to building an engaged culture with a “can-do” attitude. Your leadership has a lot to do with the responses you get. If you want happy and engaged direct reports, use positive language that supports optimism. For example, express the belief that together all of you will meet the big challenge, you just don’t know how yet. That wonderful word “yet” establishes the presupposition of success, and that helps create the outcome you’re looking for.

Pitfall: Ignore the impact of reassigning employees who have become friends and are working effectively as team members.
Better EI Option: Respond to and acknowledge relationships, notice how they support or weaken team work. When you need to make new assignments, help people process and accept the change.

Pitfall: Insist that emotions be left at the door when it’s time to solve problems.
Better EI Option: Use all your smarts in solving problems; that is both your IQ and your EQ. As we described in an earlier article, people can’t think without using their emotions. So the question becomes whether you and your team want to be aware of your emotional responses, including your intuitive awareness, and factor in all your data when resolving the problem. We suspect people seek to avoid their emotions when they are afraid they don’t have the skills to manage the emotions successfully. However, this strategy frequently backfires as the emotions will leak out in some poorly managed format. It’s better to get training and coaching and be fully in charge of your responses.

Pitfall: Blast your stress on all in your path.
Better EI Option: Learn strategies to regain your equilibrium when your buttons are pushed, then talk to others. You can breathe, use stair therapy, count to 10, any number of strategies work. Just give yourself time to avoid the adverse consequences of getting all tied up in knots! The key point is get more oxygen to your brain and give yourself a few minutes before you respond. Stair therapy is one of our favorites. When you feel triggered, tired or cranky go climb a set of stairs then come back to your office or to the situation and respond. Your renewed resilience will invite more welcome responses.

Facilitation Supports Collaborative Decision-Making

“There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish.” Warren Bennis

Good facilitators create a curious and safe environment that promotes singing, dancing and decision-making!  Organizations seek facilitation when they value an integrated group process with lasting results.  A well facilitated process focuses on building Collaborative Intelligence™. A good facilitator works with the leaders to ensure a well-designed and run event, which can take many shapes and sizes.  It can be an offsite, a retreat/advance, a high conflict session or a discussion by a well-functioning team looking to expand their skills.  There are times we help an organization with employees in conflict select between a facilitated process and a mediated process.  In mediation a neutral third party assists others in arriving at a mutually acceptable decision, but doesn’t add his or her own thoughts to the process.  In facilitation, the facilitator actively assists the parties in brainstorming options and solutions.  It is always important, though, that the decisions are made by the participants.

Collaborative Growth provides facilitation for elected boards and commissions, executive sessions, organizational retreats or advances and employees in conflict.  There are many elements in common for all the processes.  Possibly the most important is that the facilitator elegantly promotes the full participation by all parties.  This calls for guiding those who want to over-participate to pull back on their comments while the facilitator invites the more quiet introverts to share their insights and questions.

At a recent facilitation a participant commented on the great benefit he and others were receiving because of our reading and responding to the non-verbal messages from the team members.  It is important for the facilitator to notice when someone wants to speak, acknowledge that and then remember to get to that person in order of others who have indicated a desire to speak.  Non-verbal communication can also include indications of discomfort with a topic such that the facilitator calls on the person making his or her participation safe, saying something such as “Jason, give us your thoughts on the challenges or possible concerns with this approach.”

Facilitation benefits include:

  • The comfort for participants is increased because they know they will all receive help in speaking up with balance and respect for one another.
  • The leader can participate as he or she doesn’t have to be in charge of managing everyone else’s participation.
  • A highly interactive and engaging process can occur.
  • The facilitator structures the topics without stifling creativity thus helping the group take time to vet a decision and then consider all aspects of implementing and working with the decision.
  • The facilitator guides the group to apply reality testing to potential decisions and to access if it can get done and by when and to identify and assign responsible parties.
  • The facilitator can help the participants combine their EQ and their IQ.

Good facilitation is welcomed by organizations when done well.  That means it is focused on assisting all parties to participate, reach sustainable solutions and along the way provide assistance in resolving conflict and exploring difficult topics. Curiosity is welcome and promoted.  Imagine what can be created – Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talent.  I am only passionately curious.”

Take Your Team to the Oscars

The Help, Moneyball, and The Descendants – these Oscar nominated movies demonstrate ways of understanding team and individual emotional and social intelligence.  The Oscar nominated movies and some other great ones we highlight demonstrate interesting tips for team and individual awareness.  This is a great way to build team engagement and knowledge on how to improve skills.  It always helps to have a model so our discussion is organized around the Team Emotional and Social Intelligence Survey® (TESI®), which includes the seven key skills we’ve found teams need for building their ESI.

We list two movies for each of the 7 skill areas and discuss the first one.  We hope you’ll comment on our blog site and contribute to this fun learning opportunity for all of us!  We thank the many people involved in making these movies for the great entertainment and the remarkable ways in which your work teaches us.  We enjoyed the movies we are reviewing here and recommend them to you.

Team Identity:  The Help and Of Gods and Men

Team identity measures the level of pride each member feels for the team as a whole, and how much connection and belongingness members feel to the team.

The Help:  The team is composed of African-American maids in Jackson, Mississippi at the dawn of the civil rights movement. A plucky new college graduate who grew up there is horrified with the way her grown-up school chums relate to their maids. So she asks one to tell her story and eventually they all get involved, and what’s been going around for so long starts to come around at last.  The maids had always given each other emotional support; this project brought them together in an act of tremendous courage to have more of a sense of pride, possibility and certainly belongingness to their team.

Motivation:   Margin Call, Albert Nobbs

Motivation is a competency that measures the team’s internal resources for generating and sustaining the energy necessary to get the job done well and on time.

Margin Call: In this case the team is made up of professionals in a financial company who have just realized they are holding tens of millions of dollars worth of worthless stock.  They decide to sell it to their clients the next day in order to save the company. This is capitalism at its worst, and the few conscientious team members cannot change the self protection trend. At the end of the day the conscientious ones are unable to shift their corporate compliance habits, the result is disaster for the company’s investors.  This is a movie your team could see in order to strike up considerable discussion about appropriate motivation and to ask when do we stick with the pack and when do we break free?  It can be a great start to discussions about ethics and how to find win/win answers.

Emotional Awareness: I Am, Iron Lady

Emotional awareness measures how well team members pay attention to one another and demonstrate acceptance and value for one another.

I Am: Tom Shadyac, the highly successful movie director for Jim Carrey films such as Ace Ventura pet detective has everything and lives like it until he has a bike wreck and his life is in peril. He discovers that he’s gotten it all wrong as has everyone around him it seems, so he takes a film crew and begins asking knowledgeable people such as Desmond Tutu the Nobel laureate, Noam Chomsky the political theorist and Coleman Barks the poet and Rumi translator: “What’s wrong with our world?”and “What can we do about it?” Their answers are a consistent formula for living sustainably in relationship with each other and the environment.  Some of the key concepts in the film are: cooperation is in our DNA; the truth of who we are is we are because we belong, technology and the human narrative are beginning to come together; we are geared at a primordial level to feel what each other feels.

This is more a film about an individual leader than a team, but the ideas are ones the team can see and extrapolate concepts and values they want to notice and promote in one another.  Iron Lady is listed as the opposite of emotional awareness.  Margaret Thatcher is portrayed as paying primary attention to herself and unflinchingly adhering to the beliefs she developed as a child rather than learning and responding to new ideas and populations.

CommunicationWe Bought a Zoo, Beginners

Communication provides information on how well team members listen, encourage participation, share information and discuss sensitive matters.

 We Bought A Zoo: This movie tells the story of a major attempt to start over after the death of a spouse and mother. The hurting family leaves their old house, old neighborhood, old school, old job and buys a house in the country that is home to over 40 species of animals and an unusual assortment of people who take care of the animals.  The team becomes the father, the zookeepers and the two children, all learning how to work together to get this challenging small business into start up mode and to turn a profit. The father is the team leader.  He is now the employer of the zookeepers, the food and shelter sponsor for the animals, and the source of love and guidance for 2 children. Most of the movie he’s afraid he’s just about to let everybody down but he keeps taking his own advice to his lovelorn son: “20 seconds of insane courage will deliver something totally magical.”  Fortunately it works and the results are as heartwarming as humorous.

Team members can pick up lots to talk about in terms of which zookeeper or other team member they most identify with and how the different personalities help promote or challenge team success.

Stress ToleranceHappyThankYouMorePlease, Moneyball

Stress tolerance measures how well the team understands the types of stress factors and manages the intensity impacting its members and the team as a whole.

HappyThankYouMorePlease:  This delightful film will reduce your stress just by watching it. When 9 or 10-year-old Rasheen gets left on a subway by mistake a group of 20 somethings come together like an ad hoc team on his behalf. He didn’t know his parents or how old he was and was not interested in any more help from social services, but he turned out to be a great teacher of love just as life was providing some great opportunities for practice for his young adult care takers. For example, a geeky guy wants to develop a relationship with a woman who can’t grow hair because of a medical condition. She doesn’t feel worthy of his adoration but tells her friend who found the boy “Let’s be people who deserve to be loved.”  Part of the lesson is for everyone to learn to feel loved.

This is a great film to show a team with generational differences.  It’s a heartwarming way to appreciate the generation entering the workforce.

Conflict Resolution: The Descendants and Of Gods and Men

Conflict resolution measures how willing the team is to engage in conflict openly and constructively without needing to get even.

Of Gods and Men: In March 1996, an Islamic terrorist group kidnapped seven French Trappist monks from their remote monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria. They were held for two months and then killed.  At the heart of this atrocity is a tale of heroic faith, steadfastness and love, captured in the sublime film “Of Gods and Men.” It is perhaps the best movie on Christian commitment ever made.  This is a powerful movie and one of the best released in 2011 about real team work. The monks made a very difficult choice in the face of certain danger to stay together, practice their faith and be with their Muslim community.

These men were not shy with each other, they got angry, they blamed, they acted like victims, they wept, they hid, and they each eventually realized that they were expressing these emotions in response, not to the people and the world around them, but rather in response to their perceptions and judgments of that world. This recognition is what enabled them to fully surrender their lives to the service they provided the local community, and receive the spiritual grace that sustained them through the ending of their time on earth.

Positive MoodHugo, Midnight in Paris

Positive mood measures the positive attitude of the team in general as well as when it’s under pressure.

Hugo: This is an extraordinarily charming film about children and adults and how courage looks and feels and is practiced from both points of view. There are two small teams, one of children, one of adults.  Ultimately the two teams come together as one, but major challenges are faced first. It’s also a beautifully made movie.

Ask you team what elements of the movie help them have a sense of “can do” that they can bring back to their team.

Don’t forget – take your team to the movies.  Have fun and learn!

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Now is the time to live our intention to be the finest people we can be. Two public shootings occurred this week in states near our home in Colorado.  West of us in Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot while she spoke to her constituents in a simple public setting outside a grocery store. The Democratic lawmaker was doing the best work our politicians do; she was meeting with her constituents.  Chief Judge John Roll of the U.S. District Court for Arizona was killed as were others and many were wounded.  To the east of us in Omaha, Nebraska Millard South High School Vice Principal, Vicki Kaspar, was killed and Principal Case was injured in a shooting at the school by a student, Robert Butler. Acts of violence and tragedy are being experienced worldwide.

How shall we respond?

  • Listen with the ears of our heart.  Focus first on the quality of what is said rather than letting the relationship be objectified.  Our messages to and from one another matter.
  • Be forgiving.  Forgiveness is the process of repair, healing, making whole again, it is the opposite of retribution.  Omaha students are designing T-shirts printed in school colors to raise money for the three parties most affected by the tragedy, including Butler’s family. This is an example of forgiveness in action, and it is the only way to heal.
  • Recognize and acknowledge our essential connection with one another.  Research is showing our species thrived not because of ruthless competition but its remarkable ability to cooperate.  Try saying to yourself when you encounter anyone: “In love I am one with you.”  Just try it and see what happens.
  • Explore the truth and implications of the ancient Mayan statement “en la k’etch, which translates as” – You are another myself.
  • Calm yourself.  Whether you meditate, pray, walk or use another strategy, be intentional about taking dedicated time to calm and center yourself as you move beyond stress to connect with your truth.

Developing emotional and social intelligence (ESI) is the focus of our work.  We’ve written seven books providing specific strategies for making a sustainable difference in the quality of the lives of individuals, leaders, teams and organizations by expanding ESI.  This is how to mitigate and prevent the conflict that escalates to violence when we treat each other carelessly.  We’ve worked with people on six continents and are blessed in the many ways we have been touched and taught by people worldwide. The heart of our work is coaching people to expand their compassionate truth telling with themselves and with one another.  While we offer many formats for engaging in this vital path, in truth employing the five simple and profound steps listed above will accomplish all that is needed.

Paul Simon wrote Bridge Over Troubled Waters in 1969 and Simon and Garfunkel released it in 1970. At that time in the United States, where we live, people were deeply troubled over the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement was growing, on May 4, 1970 four Kent State University student demonstrators were killed and nine more were wounded deeply shocking our nation.  It was a time of deep challenge and this beautiful song touched our hearts, minds and souls. Simon and Garfunkel sang:

When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all
I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

©1970 Simon and Garfunkel

This song is perhaps one of the most profound expressions of empathy ever written in English.  It acknowledges that a great deal of our human adventure is still fraught with disappointment, loss and sorrow.  It volunteers to be consciously present in those times providing strength and companionship to help us get through them.  Empathy is the ESI skill most critical to understanding what others are requesting and why they are making the request.  When we take time to understand the heart of the message, it becomes much easier to respond to those needs and desires and to avoid the kinds of conflict that is certain to result from ignoring the true request.

Thank you Simon and Garfunkel.  Thank you to all who are willing to slow down, listen with the ears of your heart and know that communication matters.  Thanks to those who go beyond fear and the belief in separation to know and assert with your whole self to all beings on this planet “In love I am one with you.”  Thank you to those willing to be taught by the ancient Mayans and so many other cultures that “I am another yourself.”  Thanks to all who stop in the midst of the chaos, the demand for social media interactions, the busyness and expectations to be still, breathe and send peace to yourself and one another.

Thanks to all our friends and colleagues for the privilege of communicating and working with you.