Monthly Archives: December 2016

Trainers’ Fun and Games

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Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 7.10.56 pmGames are effective tools for both cultivating audience engagement and establishing a fun atmosphere. Icebreakers are often the best to start with, since they are particularly effective at warming up groups. Examples of icebreakers include:

• Basics. Participants share their names, organizations or departments, experience related to the topic, what they would like to learn, or what they like to do for fun.

• Snowball fight. Participants write down little-known facts about themselves, crumple the paper up into balls, and throw them around the room. Eventually the papers are collected and everyone must guess which fact belongs to which participant.

• Demographics. With large groups that may not have enough time for individual introductions, trainers can ask people to stand when they call out a group or characteristic relevant to them. Trainers can weave other types of games and activities throughout their presentations. For example, intermission energizers, which may include standing up and stretching, can keep audiences refreshed and focused. Meanwhile, debriefing exercises enable participants to reflect on both what they understand and what they struggle with. To end sessions on a positive note, trainers can use end of the day closures—for example, participants can create their own “Ah-ha” lists or the most important points that they learned that day.

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LEVELS OF CONFLICT

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Understanding the levels of conflict is also important. If the conflict has grown from a minor disagreement to a fight, the tools that work for minor disagreements will not work anymore.

Training Session with Anubha with Manufacturing teamShearouse outlines five levels of conflict, adapted from Speed Leas’s Moving Your Church Through Conflict:

1. Problems to solve. A problem is discussed, and a solution is decided.

2. Disagreement. People take sides and actions based on assumptions.

3. Contest. People argue about who is right and who is wrong–each party fighting to be right.

4. Fight. Both parties become defensive–it is about winning and losing now.

5. Intractable situation. There is no solution, no winning or losing–only separation.

Strategies for resolving conflict differ depending on the level. For level one, problems to solve, clear communication and a collaborative approach are essential. To resolve conflict at this level, managers should clearly state the issue or problem to solve, listen to all sides carefully, and identify each side’s interests. Agreeing on shared goals can also help, as well as making sure all voices are heard and there is an atmosphere of trust.

Level two, disagreement, calls for more structure. Establishing ground rules for a conversation can be an important starting point, such as “we will listen to each other’s points, no matter what.” After the ground rules have been established, a manager should establish a common goal or objective.

At level three, contest, the fear and distrust levels are higher. Therefore, the process needs to be even more structured–ground rules, roles for who is gathering information and presenting it, who is leading the meeting, etc.

At level four, fight, it is often no longer clear what the disagreement is even about. It is no longer about a specific issue, but is instead about a damaged relationship. External help (a mediator or facilitator) is often necessary at this stage.

If the conflict reaches level five, intractable situation, an outside party needs to not just mediate, but also make the decisions.

HOW WE RESPOND

Conflicts are also affected by the way people approach them. Everyone approaches conflict differently. However, often people only use the same one or two approaches every time they face conflict. The five most common approaches include:

1. Avoiding. When avoiding conflict, people usually back away from conflict, even if nothing has been settled. When dealing with an avoider, a manager should strive to create a safe place for people to talk, and give people time to think and consider before the discussion.

2. Accommodating. This usually means putting a relationship before personal wants and needs in a conflict. A manager needs to assure accommodators that the relationship is not in jeopardy.

3. Directing. “Directors” are more focused primarily on personal goals, and more concerned about “getting it done” than what others want or need. A manager should help directors realize that it is in their best interest to collaborate with others to solve conflict.

4. Compromising. Compromising means that everyone accepts a little less to get the job done. Managers can encourage compromisers to slow down before rushing to reach a solution.

5. Collaborating. In a collaboration, people make sure that both sides are heard and understood. Collaborators need deadlines for decision-making to avoid endless negotiations.

Good managers understand both their own approaches to conflict, and their employees’ approaches. There is no “right” way to approach conflict, as different situations call for different approaches. For instance, sometimes it is appropriate to avoid conflict if the situation just does not warrant discussion or collaboration. But sometimes, managers avoid conflict when the situation really needs to be addressed and sorted out thoroughly. The key is to know when a certain approach is appropriate, and when it does more harm than good.

Shearouse stresses that understanding style differences in approaching conflict can help everyone involved to respond to personality differences more effectively.

SOURCE OF CONFLICT

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WHAT WE ARE ARGUING ABOUT MATTERS: SOURCES OF CONFLICT

It is important to think about the source when thinking about the solution. The main sources of conflict include the following:

IMG_6954* Information conflicts. These involve facts or numbers–the easiest conflicts to address. Managers can start by agreeing on the source of data and how to get it.

* Conflicts of interest and expectations. These involve underlying needs, concerns, and desires. It is important to identify the interests of each party first in a conflict. When the discussion is about interests, rather than positions, solutions will emerge more easily.

* Structural conflicts. These involve limited resources, or structures beyond the control of those involved in the conflict. For instance, if five people are vying for a promotion, and there is only one open position, this can cause a structural conflict. When faced with structural conflicts, it is important to bring the issue to the appropriate decision-maker, make sure decision processes are transparent, and look for ways to turn the decision-making over to those who will be affected by the decision.

* Conflicts in values. These involve people’s principles. It is better to work around these differences than to try to establish who is right and who is wrong. Focusing on goals that supersede the value differences (goal of the company, department, etc.) can lead to solutions.

* Relationship conflicts. These conflicts can affect all the other conflicts. These are about two people’s history, and frequently involve communication, stereotypes, and trust. Trust is extremely important to avoid and fix these conflicts. With it, employees can get through anything. Without it, employees cannot do anything. Trust is built up slowly, and needs to be worked on to be maintained. Managers need to feel like they can count on their employees, and employees need to feel like they can count on their managers.

RESOLVING CONFLICT

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KEYS TO RESOLVING CONFLICT

Once managers understand conflict, and how it arises, they can start to build an environment that encourages conflict resolution. Shearouse suggests managers start by focusing on the following:IMG_6946

* Trust

* Apologies and Forgiveness

* Anger

* Humor

* Time

Building Trust 

If trust is so critical, how do managers establish it, and then how do they keep it? Shearouse suggests they start by understanding three categories of trust: reliability, competence, and caring.

1. Reliability. Reliable managers are clear about what they are committed to, and what they expect of others. These managers keep their commitments. Reliable managers are also stable managers. Employees respond to consistency in the boss’s behavior and mood. If the boss is unpredictable, distrust mounts.

2. Competence. Those new to managing people need to acknowledge that a new skill set is needed, and find a way to hone those new skills. Employees need to trust that the manager has the skills to lead the team.

3. Caring. Employees need to know that their managers care about them as people–about their career development, and even their personal lives–not just the role they play. Managers need to respect people for who they are. Listen closely to staff, and keep them well informed.

Apologies and Forgiveness 

Apologizing and forgiving are critical to working through workplace conflicts. They can be the difference between moving forward, or not. Shearouse believes that an apology that is heartfelt and convincing can begin to rebuild relationships.

Managers should set the tone with apologies and forgiveness. When employees see the manager apologizing for mistakes, and forgiving others, they will do the same. And with apologies and forgiveness, strong bonds between staff will begin to emerge.

Rethinking Anger 

Anger can wreak havoc in conflict resolution. Therefore, understanding anger and how to work around it is an important conflict-resolution skill. Emotions are inescapable, and they will play a role in everyday interactions, so managing their energy becomes crucial. Their energy is not always negative, as emotions provide the jumpstart needed to take action and make decisions. But emotions can also lead to “emotional highjacking”–when the emotions take over the thinking, reasoning part of the brains. To properly resolve conflicts, managers must understand emotional highjacking and know how to get past its effects.

Shearouse points out that it is important to note that anger is not automatic. Rather, it is a secondary response to other emotions. Consequently, understanding the emotions that cause anger will help manage conflict more effectively.

A Sense of Humor 

A sense of humor can go a long way in dealing with difficult workplace issues. First, it keeps things in perspective. Sometimes, everyone just needs to take a step back and laugh to ease the tension and move forward. Second, managers who laugh at their own mistakes will create an environment where everyone feels like they can admit to being human, making mistakes, and moving on. Third, laughter can actually improve the thought process. Shearouse suggests that laughter brings oxygen to the brain and helps clear up clouded thinking. Finally, humor can help deliver tough messages more easily.

Time 

Patience is truly a virtue when dealing with conflict. Conflicts are much less likely to escalate if both parties step back and slow down their reaction times. People need time to absorb information and see things from another perspective.

Managers should let time heal hurt and wounded egos, and avoid trying to solve conflict when the hurt is fresh. This is especially true when criticism and complaints are involved. People should not respond right away to negative feedback, but rather take the time to process and absorb the information without emotions getting in the way. The same goes for bad news–loss of a promotion, a reorganization, etc. When faced with bad news, people need time and space to grieve.

CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

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REACHING AGREEMENT: A SOLUTION-SEEKING MODEL

Once managers understand the nature of conflict and how to establish an environment that will nurture positive relationships, Shearouse introduces a model with specific steps for reaching solutions when conflicts arise. Using this model, managers can help slow down the decision-making and avoid jumping to a solution. The model also helps them keep an open mind when struggling to resolve conflict.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-7-14-58-pmThe solution-seeking model includes four steps:

1. Prepare. How will each person effectively contribute to the discussion? Shearouse suggests that managers ask these questions: What is the issue? Where can we talk? When can we talk? How can we make it “safe”? Who needs to be included?

2. Discover. This is the time to listen and talk. Managers need to avoid the natural inclination to state positions or solutions upfront. Rather, collect information and understand the other party’s perspective. People can start by sharing perceptions, exploring issues, and identifying interests.

3. Consider. Consider options for solutions.

4. Commit. To commit, managers need to write down the agreement, identify next steps, and regroup later to re-evaluate the solution.

LISTENING IS THE PLACE TO START

Shearouse also examines a couple of critical conflict-resolution skills needed to best take advantage of the solution-seeking model. Before jumping into a difficult conversation, it is important to vow to listen first. Listening is both essential to solving conflict and especially difficult to do in the middle of a conflict. Shearouse states that listening is the single most important and powerful tool when resolving a contentious issue or repair an awkward working relationship.

Managers should strive to develop the following three skills to become better listeners:

1. Nonverbal listening. Be aware of nonverbal cues, but do not jump to conclusions about what they mean. Managers also need to be aware of their own nonverbal communication.

2. Paraphrasing. Restate what the other person just said.

3. Asking questions. Raising questions enhances the ability to listen.

SAYING WHAT NEEDS TO BE SAID

Another critical conflict-resolution skill is communicating well, especially during tense interactions. Before starting a difficult conversation, managers need to objectively think about their own interests in the situation, as well as their own tendencies in conflicts.

When a conversation gets going, they should speak in a way that will encourage others to work together, not in a way that will lead to heightened confrontation or defensiveness.

It is critical to be respectful. If managers want to successfully present the importance of their message, they need to talk to everyone respectfully. Finally, to persuade people, managers should know where employees are coming from–what is important to them, and how they approach problems. Armed with this information, managers can more easily and effectively translate their thoughts into a message that makes sense to employees.