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What Isn’t Being Said?

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” ~ Peter F. Drucker

In previous blogs, I have talked about the unsaid – the unspoken words and emotions – that continue to linger and can cause ongoing tensions between us and the persons with whom we have interpersonal disputes. This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog speaks further to this common tendency to not say all we want and need to in the midst of a conflict, and the consequences of that. At the same time, we are not likely hearing what the other person wants and needs to say either. In either case, many of us have queries about the unsaid – our unspoken words and emotions and the other person’s. We may retain the sense that the unsaid was and still is important and we didn’t express (or haven’t expressed) all we needed to. We may wonder if it was or is our fears and other emotions precluding us from doing so.

In reality, it is difficult to effectively express all that is on our minds and in our hearts when we are in the midst of an argument. A lot is said – some of which we mean to say and some of which reflects our state of mind when we are experiencing a range of emotions – that we don’t always mean. A lot is also left out. In the same vein, it is difficult to stay present and pay attention to what the other person is saying – and what they are not saying – when in conflict. Just as we hold back on some things we want to express, so do they. We both may be afraid of saying things we’ll regret and we both might lose perspective, making it difficult to express so that the other will hear what needs to be said. It is not an easy time and the ability to hear what isn’t being said is as challenging as listening to and hearing what is.

To answer this week’s series of questions, consider a dispute you have had or are in or have had:

  • What is the situation?
  • What in your view caused the dispute?
  • What might the other person say caused the dispute?
  • What upset you most in this situation?
  • What didn’t you say to the other person that you wished you had?
  • What would you still like the person to know about that (your answer to the above question)? What else remains unsaid by you?
  • If you had expressed what you wanted to what difference might that have made to the dispute? To the other person?
  • During- or since – the dispute what did you hear or discover that the other person is most upset about?
  • What might be their ‘unsaid’, as you think about this situation now?
  • If the other person had expressed their ‘unsaid’ what difference might that have made to you? To them?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

#interpersonalconflict
#conflict
#coaching
#conflictcoaching
#conflictmanagementcoaching
#conflict management
#disputeresolution

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WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT CONFLICT FROM CHEETAHS

This blog was previously posted in May, 2018 and came to mind the other day when in contact with some travellers with whom I shared a journey to Africa. I want to re-share it with you.

A few years ago, I had the privilege and joy of travelling to South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It was a tremendous journey in so many ways, including that, for me, travel is transformative and a great equalizer. That is, in middle of the desert and savannahs, and in big and small cities – far from home – it feels we are defined only by our presence in the moment. (I try to hold onto this feeling as long as possible!)

Whenever I travel I learn so much, and it will come as no surprise that even in my travels, I am attuned to the word ‘conflict’ and how it is managed in various cultures. And this article is about a conflict I became aware of between humans and cheetahs.

Cheetahs are known as the world’s fastest land animal and as the oldest and most unique of the big cats of Africa. Reportedly, their ancestors appeared on earth more than four million years ago – before lions and leopards. Unfortunately, the numbers of these magnificent cats have dwindled as to be near extinct and apparently, they are extinct in 25 of the 45 countries where they have lived over the last 60 years. One reason attributed for this is due to the conflict between humans and them.

This particular conflict was identified in Namibia by Dr. Laurie Marker, an American conducting research in Africa since 1977. She saw a need to save cheetahs, attributing their decline in numbers to their loss of habitat, loss of prey and indiscriminate killing by farmers who viewed them as vermin and a threat to their livestock.

Through remarkable programs to assure the cheetah’s place on our earth, Dr. Marker set out to ensure they could live harmoniously with humans. And thankfully, the amazing initiatives she and her team of interns and volunteers (and some staff) implemented through the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) have significantly increased the number of cheetahs in Namibia.

A few of the programs that have reduced the conflict include educating farmers through research about the prey that kill their animals and that, contrary to their assumptions, the predators are not cheetahs. The CCF also breed, train and monitor livestock guard dogs as a means of non-lethal control and prevention of indiscriminate killing. The dogs do not herd livestock, but rather they stand between the flocks and predators. They bark to scare them off, and if that doesn’t work the dogs attack them. Over 600 dogs have been bred (at my last association with the program) and placed with farmers leading to reportedly over 80% reduction in livestock losses.

In view of what I learned about the conflict between humans and cheetahs in Namibia, here are 10 lessons I was reminded of about conflict:

  • It takes only one ‘party’ to be in conflict and blame another or others for something for which they are not necessarily responsible.
  • When we gain an understanding about the issues in dispute and those we blame, we are less likely to attack and attribute fault.
  • Making assumptions about others’ motives is lethal and creates unnecessary conflict.
  • The perception that core values and needs are threatened, challenged or undermined often underlies the reasons we react to others.
  • By supporting disputing parties in constructive ways, conflict is reduced.
  • We are not always aware that or when we are perceived as a threat.
  • New strategies and positive outcomes occur when we are able to examine the validity of our perceptions and assumptions, and be open to different perspectives and ways of managing situations.
  • Sometimes an aggrieved party to a conflict lacks agency and the ability to speak for themselves. In these cases, it is necessary to provide a voice for them, to support them and intervene on their behalf.
  • Sometimes when we perceive others as threats to our wellbeing – and even view them as fierce predators – they are not actually so, and their need for survival and to be understood matches our own.
  • To be able to live harmoniously on our planet depends, in large part, on finding mutually acceptable solutions, despite our differences.

I’d be curious to learn what other lessons you have learned about conflict from animals?

(Pictures by Cinnie Noble from Cheetah Conservation Fund International Research and Education Centre in Otjiwarongo, Namibia and from Karongwe Park, South Africa)

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Nobody Ever Forgets Where They Bury the Hatchet

“Nobody Ever Forgets Where They Bury the Hatchet” ~ Kin Hubbard

You have likely heard the expression to “bury the hatchet”, meaning essentially to make peace. According to various sources including Wikipedia, these words originated from an American Indian tradition. Hatchets were buried by the chiefs of tribes when they came to a peace agreement. This phrase is apparently recorded from the 17th century in English, but the practice it refers to began much earlier. These days it is not uncommon to hear people end an argument that appears to be resolved (and sometimes not) with – “let’s just bury the hatchet”. The meaning is typically meant to be about making peace and also, about letting things go, moving on, forgetting, getting over the blame and fault-finding and angry words exchanged, and so on.

Kin Hubbard, author of the title and quote of this week’s blog, a former cartoonist (now-deceased), wouldn’t agree that we really forget where we buried the hatchet. I take this to mean we remember the hurt, the transgressions, the emotions, the subject about which we fought, and so on. In my work as a conflict management coach, I would say there is validity to this and what we recall about our interpersonal disputes, and that we remember lots from them. Many of my clients, in fact, often refer to one or more “hatchets” that they haven’t buried and that continue to have an impact on their relationship with the person who offended them.

In research I did about the roots of interpersonal conflict many years ago, it was evident that the when the trigger point that starts us on our cycle of conflict cuts deeply to aspects of who we are in the world – to our values and needs and identities, for instance – we remember that incident and how we experienced it at some level our consciousness. I have heard many people go there easily – recollecting what initiated the dissension and what the other person said or did. Some of us are able to “bury the hatchet” in ways that don’t have a negative impact on the ongoing relationship; while others will bring it out when offended by the same sort of (or other) actions by the offending person.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog asks you to consider a situation in which you realize you haven’t buried the hatchet – and maybe you would like to.

  • What is the incident that occurred that remains with you?
  • What specifically did the other person say or do – or not say or do – that is especially hard for you to forget or let go of?
  • What sorts of things bring back the memories of those things you referred to in your answer to the previous question?
  • What was the impact on you at the time? What is the impact now when you recall the interaction?
  • How did you manage your reaction at the time?
  • What do you wish you had said or done in response?
  • If you had said or done what you wished you had what difference would that have made, do you think?
  • What do you suppose keeps the memory alive for you about this incident such that burying the hatchet isn’t happening?
  • Since it’s possible that it is important to you to not let go and not bury the hatchet, what makes it so?
  • What do you wish the other person would know and understand about what makes it hard for you to bury the hatchet? What benefits might there be in letting the person know?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

#interpersonalconflict
#conflict
#coaching
#conflictcoaching
#conflictmanagementcoaching
#conflict management
#disputeresolution

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Do you model conflict competence?

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.” ~Albert Einstein

It’s not always apparent to the leaders referred to me for conflict management coaching that their way of managing and engaging in interpersonal disputes is having an adverse influence on workplace unrest and tensions. They are often not aware as well, how staff in their organization contribute to this by modelling the leader’s way of interacting and creating their own tumult and deconstructive impact on the workplace. Referrals for leaders to shift their ways of being in conflict arise as a consequence of  this and  the systemic growth of conflict resulting in financial losses due to attrition, legal claims about harassment and bullying, the need for a range of costly interventions, and a poor reputation leading to clients choosing other services.

On the other hand, I am increasingly finding that leaders are self-identifying their challenges and seeking coaching – that is, coming to coaching of their own accord when, or even before, conflict problems are evident. Some are being proactive for the organization as a whole. They accept that conflict is inevitable and look to plan ways that conflict may be ‘normalized’. This might include developing integrated systems and processes to prevent unnecessary conflict and to manage necessary conflict. Leaders also pay attention to their own contribution, and accept that their influence is a critical component of the dynamics needed to build a culture of conflict competence.

The same leaders it appears, from my experience, are more apt to face their own symptoms that are keeping them from being conflict competent. For instance, they may be find their tempers are escalating and they are interacting in ways that shut people down or exacerbate the tensions; they might have been told their way of communicating is problematic – sharp, patronizing, critical and so on; they may be continually demonstrating defensive behaviour; they may refuse to listen and hear what is going on around them and so on. When leaders admit they have a responsibility to improve their way of managing conflict they stand a good chance of stopping the message they have previously sent that says ‘you are allowed to act like this too!’

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog invites leaders and others, of course, to consider how you influence others by the way you engage in conflict – considering the ways you know you need improvement as to not negatively influence others.

  • How might you describe the way conflict is managed in your organization?
  • What works best now about how people in the organization generally manage conflict? What isn’t working?
  • What conflict behaviours do you currently have that work well?
  • What conflict behaviours do you yourself engage in that you know are counterproductive? From where do you learn and develop those particular behaviours?
  • How does it feel for you when you are demonstrating those unproductive behaviours?
  • What sort of fall-out have you experienced or observed by or among others as a consequence of interacting in the ways you described as counterproductive?
  • If you have observed others interact in similar ways as you described about yourself, what is your impression of them?
  • How might you describe the traits you would like to develop or strengthen – to be able to  set an example of conflict competence – and which will positively  influence others to model?
  • Please consider one of those competencies at this time. Since you have a choice about how you interact, what do you think you need to do to consciously shift your way of communicating to develop that? How will that influence others when that becomes a trait of yours?
  • What does it feel like to consider you are ‘at choice’ about how you manage conflict and with practice are able to strength your conflict competence?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

#interpersonalconflict
#conflict
#coaching
#conflictcoaching
#conflictmanagementcoaching
#conflict management
#disputeresolution

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If at First You Don’t Succeed (in that attempt to mend things)

Recently, a coaching client (I’ll call her Jane) retained me after her attempt to mend matters between herself and her co-worker (I’ll call her Martha) was unsuccessful. Jane told me that the relationship seems to have deteriorated all the more since she initiated an unsuccessful conversation with Martha and it’s now having an impact on other team members.

When we first spoke about this matter Jane’s words were, “My ‘Plan A’ was to have a conversation with Martha in hopes we could resolve our issues. I didn’t expect there would be a need for ‘Plan B.” I get that. That is, we don’t typically think we need to have several plans in place in many situations we encounter – when trying to address a matter – if one doesn’t work. It more often makes sense to us, at the time, to go with what seems the right thing to do under the circumstances. Then, if that doesn’t work we are faced with the question of ‘what now?’ That can feel daunting and we face the answers with less confidence and hopefulness.

In this situation, the other plans beyond ‘A’ that Jane is now considering contemplate the outcome she wants and what might suit Martha. That in itself has been a pivotal exercise for Jane. Her options about what actions to take, whether or not things work out, include trying another conversation with a different approach, writing Martha and asking what she (Jane) can do to mend things, going to their boss, carrying on in hopes things might get better on their own, and she even put asking for a transfer and leaving her job on the list. Jane didn’t want to do the last options but, she said she felt better considering many options as ‘plans’. Her thinking was that it helped her gain a better perspective – that she had more choices – if they are unable to come up with a mutually acceptable plan going forward.

Most importantly, Jane got clearer on what she wanted as an outcome and what might be important to Martha as an outcome before deciding on which approach might also suit them both.

For this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog, please consider a conflict situation and what plans there might be to resolve matters.

  • What is the situation?
  • What is the outcome you want from this situation?
  • What, if anything, have you considered so far as ways to reach this outcome? Or, if you have tried something already what was that?
  • What outcome might the other person want that’s different from your desired outcome?
  • Considering all the possible outcomes that might work for both of you what of these or other ones might work?
  • What are the pros and cons of each of the above outcomes for you?
  • What are the pros and cons of each of those outcomes for the other person?
  • What outcome can you live with if not the best one?  What outcome might they be able to live with?
  • Where is the common ground, if any, between you and the other person?
  • What is the optimal way of getting there?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

#interpersonalconflict
#conflict
#coaching
#conflictcoaching
#conflictmanagementcoaching
#conflict management
#disputeresolution

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