No Rhyme nor Reason

Click image for brief anecdote.

Click image for brief anecdote.

 

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”
Dorothy Thompson

Yesterday I attended a conflict management workshop that I’d signed up for since I didn’t want to squander the opportunity to make use of the professional development resources that my workplace offers.  You know, I’ve booked our venue for that particular facilitator before and our management staff would always make snarky commentary about the fact that the facilitator would book the room to set up for the event on the night before. I eventually was able to steer to conversation back on topic by looking wide-eyed and really uncomfortable and then delicately following up with the comment, “I’m sure he means well…” and then those that encouraged the behavior would start to feel a little bit uncomfortable, the laughter would die down and that would sort of be the end of it.

After attending today’s training session, however, I can see where the extra planning went.  The facilitator did not just read off a bunch of slides to us or or even force us to talk about uncomfortable issues, he really took us through an artfully facilitated experience.  It was so well-executed in fact that I knew about 5 minutes into it that when I got home I was going to more than likely blog about it.

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits

Healthy approaches to Conflict, and knowing when to use them, can provide a variety of benefits.  Mindmap

One of the major emphases of this session that he wanted us to focus upon was upon understanding how our own personal conflict styles impacted our perception of the way others approached conflict.  So he took us through a Kraybill Conflict Style Inventory and then had us read over and discuss whether we noticed correlations within our behavior when we experienced what he referred to as “storm shifts” in behavior as we watched conflicts escalate.

I scored almost identically under the cooperative conflict style for my primary (calm) and secondary (storming) mechanisms for approaching conflict.  Some of the costs associated with over-using this particular style included

  • fatigue & time loss
  • distraction from more important tasks
  • analysis paralysis
  • exhaustion from fear of “too much processing”

particularly if the person using this framework is unskilled in dealing with conflict.  The benefits, however, include a high potential for increased creativity and personal growth, a better understanding of the situation, the opportunity to build team cohesion and self knowledge.

My particular pattern typically played out the following way: my first reaction to conflict is to tend and directly address the issue at hand to negotiate for the win-win, but if these attempts are rejected I respond to the shock I experience by withdrawing momentarily to gather relevant data and information, so that I can assess it in a calm and methodical way in order to comfortably enter negotiations and resolve them efficiently once things have calmed down.

I might look for relevant details, plans, options, weigh costs, check for policy compliance, and precedents from elsewhere before making that decision, and if the situation requires a directive, I either make it and do the best I can to explain what course of action I’ve taken, who’s involved in that process if they want to appeal and my basis for evidence that led me to the decision.  Occasionally those discussions may take place retroactively, but once I have better information it becomes easy to let the person I’m experiencing conflict with make a decision about how they are going to react to this conflict, what they stand to benefit and what’s at risk should they choose an action that doesn’t reflect everyone’s best interest.

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

Click this image for a lovely anecdote about trust and healthy conflict management

What I also learned is that your previous experiences with a particular conflict style (e.g. I associate those who raise their voice or snap at others in order to be dismissive with prior associations in which those who used that style, often people who I cared about very deeply, resurfaced that conflict because of some previous form of conflict they hadn’t resolved previously that left them feeling un-affirmed, hurt and afraid of being abandoned when they encountered that previous conflict… and those patterns of behavior, that imprinting was passed on.  Often large, demonstrative expressions of anger reflect

  • accumulation of resentment due to needs that haven’t been acknowledged or met
  • a fear of being perceived as weak or threatened when approached to engage with someone they haven’t built trust with but have been approached by to engage in conflict
  • resistance out of the belief that one is being denied the right to be validated for simply being themselves
  • inability to articulate of boundaries

According to the book that was recommended to us to supplement the assessment: Style Matters, when dealing with those who have a more in-your-face conflict style or a history of abusing others, my best plan of action is to withdraw to safety but I need to express when I do so a clear intention to return and work on things once things cool off.  Otherwise it will escalate their anxiety and increase the likelihood of the behavior increasing.

Susan Wheelan states that:

“We know from our experience that it is easier to develop trust in another person or in a group if we believe that we can disagree, and we will not be abandoned or hurt for our differences. It is difficult to trust those who deny us the right to be ourselves.”
5 styles

 

Kraybill seemed to believe that a direct correlation existed between the way a person approached a particular conflict style and the importance we placed upon whether we valued our agendas more over our relationships.  I realize now that the emphasis I place upon how important the agenda I’d like to convey definitely determines the approach I display when working through conflict because I absolutely hate the idea of giving up on a relationship, especially if I find the relationship to be important.  But the moment that I realize that the other party places little value upon the relationship, the easier it is for me to divest and redirect my emphasis upon confirming my rationalization (coming up with evidence for whether/why I’m right in case I have to protect myself) rather than placating the other person in order to try and salvage that relationship.

So I suppose in a way, I can be a bit willful myself.  But I think having that self knowledge and understanding which considerations I need to make (e.g.

  • whether the circumstance requires that I place more importance upon the relationship or the issue,
  • the time and energy constraints for addressing the conflict,
  • weighing potential consequences,
  • and alternative approaches to mitigate any damaging effects).

 

We may be able to move forward and to develop more healthy and appropriate avenues for working through workplace conflict.

The Big/Little Bash

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Not an actual picture of me btw, but I did take this photo of a pretty hype friend of mine.

 

“One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of your attention.” — Jim Rohn

So I must be doing something right ; ) but it appears that I’ve also still got a long way to go.  So in previous posts I mentioned a need I had to reconcile my new role after raising concerns that one of my workers had been promoted without any of the other eligible candidates being offered an opportunity for an interview.

I previously settled upon making a resolution to take a step back (appropriately so, I believe) to allow the new supervisor to embrace her new role (without generating any misguided suspicions that I might attempt to sabotage) her new position.

I maintained that stance for about 2 weeks just to de-escalate the situation.  But I noticed that with the supervisor that my apparent disengagement seemed to create a fair amount of tension, and I noted definite improvements in her engagement levels with the other workers, as she stepped in to try and prove that she could be more empathetic and more understanding than I could be when they approached me hoping I could help them address some of their concerns and issues.  And I simply explained that with the evolution of the new roles, I didn’t have the information but to check with their supervisor who might be able to provide them with better information.

But I did begin to notice a pattern of disengagement begin to set in. After I spent the first week or so finding other work spaces to complete my tasks, or meeting with vendors, or prospective clients, there was a tension that definitely existed from not being informed or included.

Concurrently the tensions also began to mount earlier this week as I began the pilot of our big/little mentorship program.  We had a few people ask what the purpose of the program which was;

to bridge the leadership gap between our inexperienced workers and senior level leaders by creating mentorship opportunities for our lower level workers so that they can begin to learn the magnitude of the responsibility of mentorship early and begin to cultivate the attributes they would need to be more effective leaders, in a safe, experiential, nurturing controlled learning environment.

And it was communicated to everyone we polled when we were trying to gauge potential interest that the program was voluntary, anyone could opt out at any time, and would not be a formal program due to the variance in desired level of participation.  And most workers expressed excitement about it; many even expressed preferences for who they would like to be partnered with.

I shot this. :)

I shot this. 🙂

So this week we started assigning “bigs” and “littles.”  We only had two conflict (ish) moments with two workers classified as “littles” wished to be claimed by more than one of our “big” participants, but the matter was quickly resolved by explaining the situation to the “bigs” and asking the “littles” for their top preference.

I did discuss the idea prior to launch with the incoming head supervisor after she expressed some apprehension about the program because she was concerned some might not be interested and she didn’t want to force participation.  But once she found out that the program would actually benefit her by providing participants an opportunity to go to one another for guidance and assistance, rather than flood her phone and inbox with messages (as it had done inconveniently so with the incumbent who held her position), she expressed that she thought it was a good idea.

Then today I was approached by our building manager, asking me to explain more about the program because he’d received a complaint about the initiative.

Someone had expressed to him that we shouldn’t have the program

…out of concern that people might be forced to participate in the initiative.  It was the incumbent.  He didn’t have to tell me who it was.  I already knew, because the incumbent had already expressed those concerns to me and I had already expressed to this person that the program was voluntary and that anyone who did not want to participate simply had to express that they wanted to opt out, which is why we were discussing whether workers would even be interested prior to launching the program, and what we’d like the outcomes of the program to be so that they could be flexible but still provide maximum benefit.

The person also expressed later criticisms about one of the big/little pairings because the mentorship arrangement would be across genders. I knew that the worker felt personally responsible for the “little” and even though I reassured the incumbent that the deliberation had taken longer to consider been made and that since the incumbent would be devoting so much time to the upstart that we didn’t want to neglect the needs of the “little” since she had expressed interest in the program, I reassigned the “little” to the incumbent since they had a natural affinity for one another and I acknowledged that it could foster a meaningful relationship.

The little was “thrilled.” That’s probably an understatement.  When I mentioned that one of the first assignments would be for the “bigs” and “littles” to assign nicknames to one another, her response was “OhmyGOD that’s so awesome.  We could be big A___ and little A___!” Although it was probably more of one very rapid run on sentence.

*of course names and images have been omitted to protect the identity of the people involved or mentioned

I took this.

I took this.

And as similar reactions came from other “littles” who relayed how much fun or how much cooler they thought their “bigs” were once they had spent a little time getting to talk with them (as in the case with the social butterfly and outgoing Air Force aspirant we’d paired with the anti-social kid in the corner who built functional crossbows out of pencils and rubber bands who wanted to join the Marine Corp and went home and built fully functional combat gear every weekend) I noticed the incumbent begin to act more withdrawn.

And the few of those who had already expressed that they wouldn’t be interested in the program or would be minimally invested were either kept off the list completely or paired with someone who’d expressed a similar level of commitment. And those who were on the fence seemed content to learn that they had the flexibility to choose their own level of participation.

We did get some eye rolls from the building manager, however, before today’s discussion (mostly because he isn’t a huge fan of any of the practices derived from the Greek system).  But after I reiterated that it was explained to all participants that the program wouldn’t be formal and that the intent of the program was to provide them with opportunities to build the soft skills they’d need to become better mentors and supervisors since we were going to have SOOO many people in leadership roles next year and our predecessors hadn’t really provided any leadership development options (‘m not quite willing to throw out the baby with the bath water just yet, as I think that the biggest lesson our younger workers can learn is how to respond in healthy ways whenever they find themselves unexpectedly in conflict since that wasn’t being modeled well by our top leadership).

I did request that he encourage those with criticisms of the program to come and speak with me in person, or at the very least remind them that at any time they can express to me that they would not like to participate and that they would always have that option.  I wanted to follow up with the reminder that they are all supposed to be adults, but felt that albeit true that it was probably wise that I left that omission.  So he agreed to allow the program to continue and that he would keep his ears and eyes open.

In the meantime, my “little” and I; I only landed one because she requested to have me specifically, are planning a little spirit quest of sorts.  Since neither of us expressed a preference for a nickname (I did give her that option), and we both like to run the trails (although I’m not familiar enough with “big coaster” to run out there without another person), she’s agreed to spend an afternoon out there more or less goofing off and creating some shenanigans on our quest to create a narrative about how we got our names so that we can create our own story.

I’m actually extremely lucky as far as “littles” go, because mine’s pretty, rad and popular, but she’s still uninhibited enough to get weird and nerdy.

She’s even got her boyfriend excited about participating and the plan isn’t really even formed.  We hadn’t even fully explained to him what the spirit quest was when he belted out, “does this mean I get to use a sword?!”

I took this.

I took this.

When I came home this evening, I did want to confirm whether my concerns that the attempts to disband the program might have been initiated by the incumbent because there was something I’d contributed, or not contributed in the early stages that I could have one differently. But after skimming through some articles about workplace envy [trust me, it’s a real thing] and remedies for it I learned:

Workplace Sabotage Fueled by Envy, Unleashed by Disengagement & Incidents of workplace sabotage spread if not addressed by managers

But I was also pleased to learn that:

“Smart managers, of course, try to avoid these dynamics by spreading around the opportunities, giving people a range of assignments, and basing recognition on measurable accomplishments.”

And I do feel as if this initiative could be really effective at accomplishing some of those goals, even though it may seem at a glance to be frivolous and unnecessary (at least to those who don’t understand the value of play and trust building simulations and the impact it has upon stimulating dopamine receptors as workers

  • cultivate a sense of belonging,
  • intentionally create small acts of kindness,
  • provide recognition for these gestures and these acts of kindness
  • coach, confide and encourage one another during times of stress or conflict,
  • discover confidence and gratitude as they build their proficiency in some of these areas
  • create positive associations and bond with one another through these multi-sensory experiences

I do, however, really like the idea of being able to choose how I respond to this –and if the initiative is successful– then I’d like to feel proud of the way we’ve worked around this barrier, and that we rose to the occasion as the authors and heroes of this story.

So I don’t know what the outcomes of all of this will be, but I am really looking forward to gathering some good metrics on growth of engagement since we have such a variable level of interest, to provide good research controls. Plus, my “little” and I discussed possibilities this afternoon of inviting other bigs/littles out for pac-mixers, pranks, competitions and other outings. If Derek Sivers is correct about his theory regarding how to grow a movement, perhaps this initiative to provide fun and fellowship will prove to be a glowing testimony and replication of his work on the rapid growth of cultural shifts spurred by grassroots engagement.

Understand Your Strengths

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This morning I stumbled across an interesting article on Twitter from the Savvy Intern

It is Time: “Follow Your Passion” Must Retire as Career Advice

I found the topic somewhat compelling only really because the advice was absolutely contrary to what I’d been taught from successful people (like Steve Jobs in his commencement speech), professors and so on. I even heard the same advice from people who I knew that were deeply unhappy due to the fact that they had settled by staying in a role that didn’t align with their dreams or their gifts.

I know that I often have to put my ego on the back burner in my role. I think that one of the hardest lesson I have ever had to learn is how to separate which skills from how I value assigned value to myself as a person.

There were skills that were necessary for my role that I needed so that I could be effective at my job, but it did not devalue who I was a person even though it may have devalued many of my other skills.

And when you don’t use your skills you often find that you grow anxious and restless.  Paolo Coelho talks a lot about alignment of purpose and gifts in his book “The  Alchemist.” I don’t think Coelho would be proud of what I’ve done with my gifts.  But I did what was necessary to be able to earn a living and tried to make the most of what they’d give me permission to work with.

After reading this article, I realized that the sick feeling I experienced from acknowledging that I’d done exactly what the author recommended goes against all of the researched and scientifically backed evidence that doing things that don’t bring out the best in you more or less squander your gifts.  So I don’t know if that means I’ll be job hunting anytime soon.  There are many employers in this small little town, but I did think at the very least it would be wide to do a strengths assessment so I could reacquaint myself with those gifts and rekindle my relationship with them.  No offense to Gallup, but I just didn’t want to pay for a service that isn’t transparent about their evaluation methods before you pay them, so I opted for this free assessment and got the following results instead:

I don’t know about you, but when I read that I realize that I should be much more proud of the person I’ve become than I actually am.

I often feel guilty about not having stronger proficiency in my bottom 3, but I’m reluctant to take those on because I so frequently see people abuse it.  I’d been looking for ways to rephrase what I thought appeared to be weaknesses; too deferential, too analytical, too idealistic, too accommodating.  But I think it’s because I’m surrounded by people who view my strengths through that lens.  So I’m pretty excited to learn that these can be gifts and will be looking forward to really embracing these gifts.

Your Strengths are: (from highest to lowest)

Rank

Strengths

Description

Score

Video explanation

1 Developer People strong in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements. 100 Click Me
2 Input People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information. 98 Click Me
3 Belief People strong in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life. 96 Click Me
4 Conectedness People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason. 93 Click Me
5 Ideation People strong in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena. 89 Click Me
6 Fairness People strong in the Consistency theme are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. They try to treat everyone in the world fairly by setting up clear rules and adhering to them. 89 Click Me
7 Arranger People strong in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability. They like to figure out how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity. 84 Click Me
8 Relator People who are strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal. 82 Click Me
9 Activator People strong in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient. 82 Click Me
10 Responsibility People strong in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty. 82 Click Me
11 Restorative People strong in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it. 82 Click Me
12 Individualization People strong in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively. 82 Click Me
13 Learner People strong in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them. 82 Click Me
14 Analytical People strong in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation. 80 Click Me
15 Empathy People strong in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations. 80 Click Me
16 Adaptability People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to ‘go with the flow.’ They tend to be ‘now’ people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time. 78 Click Me
17 Maximizer People strong in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb. 76 Click Me
18 Discipline People strong in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create. 76 Click Me
19 Communication People strong in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters. 76 Click Me
20 Woo People strong in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person. 73 Click Me
21 Futuristic People strong in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future. 73 Click Me
22 Intellection People strong in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions. 71 Click Me
23 Significance People strong in the Significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized. 71 Click Me
24 Achiever People strong in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive. 71 Click Me
25 Harmony People strong in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement. 69 Click Me
26 Strategic People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues. 69 Click Me
27 Focus People strong in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act. 67 Click Me
28 Deliberative People strong in the Deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate the obstacles. 67 Click Me
29 Positivity People strong in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do. 64 Click Me
30 Includer People strong in the Inclusiveness theme are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out, and make an effort to include them. 62 Click Me
31 Context People strong in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history. 62 Click Me
32 Command People strong in the Command theme have presence. They can take control of a situation and make decisions. 56 Click Me
33 Self-Assurance People strong in the Self-assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right. 56 Click Me
34 Competition People strong in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests. 56 Click Me

Tracking Performance Equitably

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“Jane Jacobs argued, contrary to common wisdom in the 1960’s, that streets are safer when more people are on them. They are also safer when people are able and willing to watch the street from windows. InThe Death and Life of Great American Cities, she explains how to make public streets and public spaces secure. Her ideas are a prescription for real crime prevention, not simply a way to achieve a feeling of security. Safe, well-used streets are inherently livable streets.”

Following the wisdom of Jacobs and by applying her principles to labor supervision, I created and adopted this recognition system template in the summer of 2013, later known as the “student worker acknowledgement grid — or swag sheet,” to quickly collect data on the work habit and work ethic of my students, liked the results and later used it with my workers.

This tracking system gave us real-time performance data that:

  • required supervisors to become more engaged with the work of their subordinates,
  • allowed us to give specific and periodic recognition (based upon the principles outlined in Aubrey Daniels book “Bringing Out the Best in People”),
  • track growth/ regression of our workers, &
  • gave the inexperienced workers a sense that the management was involved with their success.

This experiment actually resulted in a significantly measurable rate of improved performance.

The swag sheets were effective I believe for the following reasons:

1) Required supervisors to become more engaged with the work of their subordinates: rather than sit around and dictating orders or assignments, supervisors were expected to walk around the building, identify the name and appearance of each of their subordinates.  Often after the workers had gotten to know their supervisors better, they’d ask about the data collection and once the students knew they were being watched and recorded, they were much more willing to complete their tasks because they didn’t want a track record that they weren’t contributing. Supervisors were either enthusiastic or apprehensive about collecting data and most were very good about finding out other information about their workers, helping them find supplies or troubleshoot difficulty they may have been having, or letting the supervisor know of potential scheduling conflicts.  In previous years, because the roles weren’t clearly defined and supervisors weren’t involved at this level, there was a lot of confusion between supervisors and workers about who was working, when, which or whether supervisors should be approached about concerns, etc., so the swag sheets were effective in alleviating quite a bit of that confusion.  The swag sheets also made it easier for supervisors to pass information along quickly about what tasks had been assigned and to whom when they were switching shifts.

2) Allowed us to give specific and periodic recognition (based upon the principles outlined in Aubrey Daniels book “Bringing Out the Best in People”), Daniels talks about the failure of annual performance appraisals and employee of the month initiatives to motivate employees and how the rate of improvement in employee performance could be significantly achieved using specific positive reinforcement.  You can read more about Daniels work here in the publication Positive Reinforcement: Misunderstood and Misused.

3) Tracked growth/ regression of our workers: this allowed us to be able to track performance issues related to supervisor engagement, the impact of policy changes on worker performance and retention, or areas of mismanagement.  It also helped us to identify and reaffirm the things we were doing right.  We could look at indicators like absenteeism, history of task completion and so on to identify when workers were suffering from issues outside of work, to track illnesses, time falsification and even incidents of worker fraternization.

4) Gave our inexperienced workers a sense that the management was involved with their success: the increase in oversight and involvement improved employee attitudes and most workers saw the passive approach to monitoring less invasive because they’d received an increase in communication. As a result we’ve had one of the highest employee and leadership retention rates in the history of our department in a very long time.

So I suppose we have that to be proud of.