Weeks – Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution

 

In a previous post, I referenced Step 5 “look to the future, then learn from the past” from Dudley Weeks, Ph.D., “Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution.” With a new semester just underway, Weeks helps us think about resolving conflict as a partnership.  Here’s Weeks approach to resolve conflict while preserving relationships. Happy Fall Semester!

Step 1 – Create an Effective Atmosphere – “The atmosphere is the frame around the canvas on which we paint how we will agree, disagree, and build an improved relationship.” (p 71)

Step 2 – Clarify Perceptions – “If we perceive something to be a certain way, even if we are incorrect, in our minds it is that way,  and we often base our behavior on that perception.” (p 89)  Weeks process asks us to clarify “perceptions of the conflict, or the self, an of the conflict partner.” (p 90)

Step 3 – Focus on Individual and Shared Needs – This is one of those simple yet important ideas as people should think both about their own needs (not wants) and the needs of ones conflict partner.

Step 4 – Build Shared Positive Power – Focus on self, partner, and shared power. Weeks encourages us to think in positive terms.  “Positive power seeks to promote the constructive capabilities of all parties involved in a conflict.” (p 151) My preference is that people in conflict are not parties, they are people!

Step 5 – Look to the Future, Then Learn From the Past –  “Even though the past does indeed matter, we deny our own power and the power of development and change if we allow ourselves to be defined by the past, to be trapped in perceptions that use past patterns to limit present and future possibilities.” (p 165)

Step 6 – Generate Options – This step “can often break through the preconceived limitations we bring with us into the conflict resolution process.” (p 183)

Step 7 – Develop ‘Doables’: The Stepping Stones to Action – “Doables are (stepping stones) specific acts that stand a good chance of success, meet some individual and shared needs, and depend on positive power, usually shared power, to be implemented.” (p 204)

Step 8 – Make Mutual-Benefit Agreements – “Instead of demands, the parties focus on developing agreements that can meet some of each party’s needs, accomplish some shared goals, and establish a precedent in which power is defined as positive mutual action through which disagreements can be dealt with constructively.” (p 224)

American Bar Association – Ombuds Resolution

At the recent American Bar Association annual meeting, a resolution supporting ombuds programs passed without any dissenting votes. The resolution is simple and straightforward yet by its passage demonstrates the importance of the ombuds role today and into the future.

Here’s the full text of the resolution:

RESOLUTION       (103)

RESOLVED that the American Bar Association encourages greater use and development of ombuds programs that comply with generally recognized standards of practice, as an effective means of preventing, managing, and resolving individual and systemic conflicts and disputes.

The NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds program complies with the standards of practice and code of ethics as promulgated by the the International Ombudsman Association (these are the generally recognized standards) and its ombuds’ Roy Baroff is a Certified Organizational Ombudsman Practitioner.

 

One Sided Conflict Resolution

 

This was the title that caught my eye – how can you resolve a conflict with someone else without actually engaging that person? At least, that’s what I thought when I signed up for this pre-conference workshop at the recent International Ombudsman Association annual meeting. I was also intrigued by the presenter – Nicole Gravagna, PhD – who has a background as a neuroscientist and in the venture capital world (she wrote “Venture Capital for Dummies”).

So, what’s this all about and how can it help me in my work as the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds?  I will not provide all the details of the session yet its worth mentioning that we started out by shaping Playdo into parts of our brain with a focus on the ACC  – Anterior Cingulate Cortex. (can you identify these parts of the brain? Hint: brain stem – corpus callosum – amygdala – hippocampus – thalamus)

Gravagna explained that based on neuroscience understanding, the ACC activates in the presence of conflict, when making decisions under uncertainty, when feeling social exclusion, and when feeling physical and emotional pain. Thus, the stronger your ACC the better you are able to observe and consider how to respond. With a stronger ACC you are more able to make choices and be more resilient.

The idea is that you can resolve (or perhaps at least better manage) conflicts from one side – your side. You accomplish this by responding differently to the situation and by making informed decisions as opposed to reacting in the moment,  According to Gravagna, you strengthen the ACC through “noticing” activities like meditation that taps into two of three brain inputs – sensation, emotion, and thought. When you sense something and think about it you notice in a way that strengthens your ACC.

With this in mind (pun intended), part of the message I now share with people coming to the ombuds office is that they can take “one sided” steps to address the situation. We identify and discuss the underlying concerns and interests that are important to the person and then try to identify options within the person’s control that could impact the situation. One sided conflict resolution indeed!

So, the next time you are in a conflict situation – you might want to think – what can I do on my own? And, if you want to learn more about the ACC, then check out Gravagna’s recent book – “Mindset your Manners:  Master Conflict and Change the Rules.”

 

 

Working with Differences – Getting to Yes

 

How do we address differences in the workplace?  What can we do as managers/supervisors/leaders?  One answer can be found in a post from Yvonne Wichtner-Zoia, Michigan State University Extension and Ombudsperson, with some great tips for dealing with differences. Yvonne shared insights based on the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Roger Fisher and William Ury).  This is a great negotiation primer that can help you with your daily interactions both in the workplace and at home!  Here’s Yvonne’s post from 2016 reposted with her permission.

***************

It was 4:30 am and once Sam started thinking about tomorrow’s meeting, he couldn’t fall back asleep.  He really didn’t want to experience another uncomfortable episode with this assigned work group.

His heart began pounding as he thought about how to protect himself and not feel threatened. Every time he participated with this particular group he felt critiqued or that he didn’t understand some unnamed group norms.

Now he was wide awake!

Sam is a leader in his company and enjoys being part of a project-based work team. He participates in a number of different groups that have and continue to produce many successful projects. But, the group he is meeting with tomorrow has never seemed to click like the other teams.

Just then a thought popped into his head! He jumped out of bed, ran down the hallway and began searching the bookshelf for that book! The one he still attributes to helping him negotiate a good starting salary in a job he loves, almost 20 years ago.

The book Sam pulled off his shelf, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, was written in 1981. He wondered if the advice offered by Fisher and Ury would still be applicable today. The more he read, the more he realized just how applicable it was. What a great resource!

Sam began to take notes that might be useful for his upcoming meeting:

• There may be more than one valid explanation or concept.
• Put yourself in their shoes.
• Speak about yourself, not them…use “I” not “you.”
• Face the problem, not the people and separate the people from the problem.
• When an option arises, ask yourself why…..and then ask ‘why not’?
• Be both firm and open.
• Talk about where you’d like to go, not where you’ve been – expect the same from others.
• Recast an attack on you as an attack on the problem.

The book provides this example, “When you said that a strike shows we don’t care about the children, I hear your concern about the children’s education. I want you to know that we share this concern. They are our children and our students. We want this strike to end so we can go back to educating them. What can we both do now to reach an agreement as quickly as possible?”

Although Sam’s work group meeting was not perfect and a few times he could feel his heart rate begin to increase, progress was made. Whenever the conversation began to focus on what people had done or not done, he remembered to bring their attention back to the problem or situation. He noticed the rest of the group started to do the same. He was both firm and open with his contributions. All voices were heard, collective interests identified and everyone’s dignity was maintained.

As a result of this experience, Sam decided to keep the book on his desk, where it would be more easily accessible in the future. Sam is a fictional character, but there are many people who experience the situation that Sam was in. They can benefit from this same resource. The next time you are feeling like Sam remember to implement the tips from this book.

Emojis, tagging, instagram + dealing with hostile email – BIFF it!!

 

I’m working on a presentation “Conflict Resolution in Our Digital Age” and thinking a lot about our electronic communications. I’m on email and text most every day, yet working with people in conflict seems to work best when we meet face-to-face. That’s why most of my meetings are in-person. This is also supported by research that explains how spoken language makes up only a small portion of what is communicated.  The non verbal and other than conscious communication makes up a majority of what we see, feel and hear. The question is how do we manage this in our digital age?

I’m convinced that the emoji is one answer. Emojis are so popular because we want more than “just” the written word.  We want to capture the non-verbal stuff whether it be tone, cadence, or a full range of emotions. Emojis and now “tagging” help us fill in the otherwise lack of information we receive via email and/or text. It’s also why instagram is so popular – a picture is worth a thousand words.

However, if you find yourself needing to use words, here are some suggestions from Bill Eddy,  founder of the High Conflict Institute on how to deal with “hostile” emails. This is  based on Eddy’s idea that “high conflict” people require specific strategies to address and, hopefully, deescalte the conflict producing behaviors. Eddy has numerous books and training videos that may be of interest if you live or work with a “high conflict” personality!

Here’s Eddy’s strategy for dealing with hostile emails and he calls it the

BIFF response –           Brief         Informative          Friendly           Firm

According to Eddy:

Brief: A brief response reduces the chances of an angry back and forth. Brief signals you don’t take the other person’s statements seriously and keeps you out of sending anything resembling a personal attack. Focus only on the facts and make no comments about character or personality.

 
Informative: Remember the point of your response is to correct inaccurate statements. Focus on the accurate statements you want to make and offer facts only.

 
Friendly: A hostile response will elicit a hostile response back. A friendly response is focused on de-escalation, and other email recipients will notice that your response is clearly very different than the other person’s hostile email. Try as hard as you can to sound as relaxed and empathetic as possible.

 
Firm: Avoid comments that invite more discussion. You might even try, “This is all I will say on this issue,” or, “This conversation is over.”

So, keep sending those emojis and tags and next time you get that email that sends you to your keyboard with strokes fast and furious, remember BIFF and take a break before even thinking about a response. Take a walk, clear your head, determine whether you even need to respond. Then try a BIFF!

Staff Ombuds – what types of issues / cases?

As I talk with NC State Staff members across the university as part of our roll out of the staff ombuds services pilot program, I am often asked – what kinds of issues or cases might someone bring to the ombuds? With this in mind, at a recent Staff Senate meeting I provided an office update that included four short case narratives to answer this very question. Thus, let me pass them on here as a case sampling.  Each situation includes a brief description and the type of assistance provided. In most cases there isn’t yet a specific outcome.

  • Staff member with concerns about treatment by Unit Supervisor Discussed strategy to bring concerns forward. Discussed potential referral to Employee Relations.
  • Staff Ombuds is working with senior leader to discuss program concerns based on staff members contacting the ombuds office.
  • Staff member with colleague who brought time sheet issue concerned about how to proceed. Contacted Employee Relations to learn about time sheet duties and responsibilities and provided information back to staff member.
  • Staff member whose work unit and larger setting going through reorganization with job duties shifted and concerned about job. Also concerned about interactions with supervisor around changes. Discussed potential sources of assistance ranging from OIED (Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity) to Employee Relations to FASAP (Faculty and Staff Assistance Program).

If you have a similar issue or something completely different, please give me a call and we’ll figure out if the Staff Ombuds Office can provide assistance.

NC State Expands Ombuds Services as Pilot Program

Beginning January 1, 2017, NC State has expanded ombuds services to include all staff members as part of a year long pilot program. (Staff includes employees working under the State Human Rights Act – SHRA -and those Exempt from the Human Rights Act -EHRA – with a non faculty appointment).  The expansion developed based on input and a resolution of the Staff Senate and with the support of Finance and Administration and the Human Resources office. Roy Baroff, who has been serving as the Faculty Ombuds will provide the expanded services that will follow the International Ombudsman Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice in a manner similar to the Faculty Ombuds Office. Information is available at – staffombuds.ncsu.edu

Here’s Roy Baroff presenting information to the Staff Senate on 2/1/17.

NC State Faculty Ombuds Office – First Annual Report

 

The NC State Faculty Ombuds Office is relatively new after opening its physical office space in late February 2015,  The office was the fruition of many years of effort by the Faculty Senate working closely with leadership across the university. Thus, the office is pleased to report that it recently published its First Annual Report covering office opening and its first full academic year of operations. The report also provides a comprehensive review of the office operations along with an historical perspective.

As the NC State Faculty Ombuds, It has been a privilege to serve the university to date and I look forward to continuing efforts to develop and grow the office.

Here’s a link –  Faculty Ombuds 1st Annual Report