Ingredients are Baked In

Most, if not all, of the problems and conflicts in organizations, stem from cultural issues, baked in before you started working there.

“This is how we do things here.” (Status quo)

“Isn’t everything going great here?” (False expectations/Poor feedback loop)

“Don’t say anything and it’ll just get ‘better’ on its own.” (Silencing response)

“It’s always been thing way here. Why are you trying to change things now?” (Shaming)

“The last time someone tried that, not only didn’t it work, but they also got fired.” (Threats/Retaliation)

“The pot always gets stirred around here about something.” (Fake/False Conflicts)

The statements represent the issues that can be overcome with courage. But, especially in organizations where the status quo needs to be preserved for people at the top of a hierarchy to “win,” more often than not, statements like those above represent organizational cultures where courage is in short supply.

Baked in fear, power misuse and abuse, failures of courage in leadership, ignoring and avoiding real issues, and denying reality—these are all based in, supported by, and encouraged within cultural milieus that must change.

Or else the future of work, leadership, innovation, and growth will remain far away indeed.

Dissatisfaction Times Vision Times First Steps Must Be Greater Than the Resistance

The equation that drives change is simple:

Dissatisfaction times Vision times First Steps must be greater than the Resistance to the impact of all three combined or else change efforts falter.

There are plenty of dissatisfied people in your workplace, your work group, or even just your organization.

There are people who insist that providing negative feedback is the only way to encourage organizational growth and they provide it liberally.

There are people who have been dissatisfied for years in your organization; who have made brief, or even faltering, attempts at change, but have been stymied and have now surrendered.

There are people inside your organization who claim they are dissatisfied, but who are mimicking the sounds of dissatisfaction as a political power move to angle for a better position at the organizational table.

There are people with vision in your workplace, your work group, and your organization. But this vision is hazy, or they are easily distracted by the next “hot” leadership initiatives, or their vision can be compromised with just a little more money or promotion.

There are people who take first steps and attend training, workshops, and seminars.

They read books and articles, combing the internet for advice and guidance about how to overcome the organizational ennui that holds back change.

There are people who take the same first steps, but their enthusiasm doesn’t go anywhere.

They stop at memorizing the “how-to” listicle and when trying to apply the emotional jujitsu against the resistance in their organizations, they experience limited success.

But these elements, dissatisfaction, vision, and first steps, must be greater than the sum of the organizational resistance to them. Or else, the changes that you are seeking inside of your organization, your work group, or even the team that is inside your sphere of influence, won’t happen.

The resistance to change is pernicious, persistent, and it never gives up. The resistance to change is sneaky and sly and sometimes comes in the form of well-meaning people and situations that appear as though they are helping your cause of change when in reality they are hurting it.

No great change happens without conflict. And no great conflict can happen without the resistance being overcome.

And if you think that it can, then you are bound to wind up stuck in the same place of dissatisfaction where you initially began your change journey.

[Opinion] We Get More of What We Reward

When the emotional labor of addressing a dispute with a customer, a client, a co-worker, or a boss, is the work we don’t want to do, we revert to doing the work that makes us the most comfortable.

This is usually the task that we were hired to do in the first place.

A graphic designer, instead of confronting her client with what she knows about design, graphics, colors, and what is appealing to the human eye in practice, rather than in theory, will instead revert to the statement “Well, it’s what the client asked for.” And then do the bare minimum on the project.

A human services professional, instead of respectfully establishing boundaries with a client who has engaged in bad/poor behavior in the past, will allow that client to continue to run roughshod over him. He will revert to the statement “Well, I hope that the client changes this time.” And then he will do the maximum to ensure that the client follows the same rules and policies that didn’t change the client’s behavior before.

A factory worker, instead of confronting co-workers about shoddy work, or not showing up on time, will allow that co-worker to continue the behavior unabated. The worker will shrug her shoulders sagely and think “The boss should do something. After all, it’s not my problem.” And then the worker will start to come in a little bit later, and a little bit later, and a little bit later, until her arrival time matches that of her tardy co-worker.

A manager, instead of engaging in radical self-awareness work and self-confrontation about how they can improve as a leader and manager, will engage in radical “doubling-down” on driving the team forward to accomplish a seemingly unattainable goal. The manager will firmly think “That’s why they’re here. To work and get a paycheck. I have enough responsibilities without babysitting them as well.” And then the manager will make excuses as various members of the team quit, transfer to other parts of the organization, or gradually become “C” players, committed radically to performing just at the average.

The ironclad law of life is that we get more of what we subsidize and we get less of what we tax. When we subsidize laziness, disrespect, cynicism, disappointment, ignorance, appeals to “the rules,” or “the policies” we get more of the same types of behavioral responses in the organizations we seek to lead. When we tax emotional labor, self-awareness, leadership, insight, and open conversation, we get less of the behavioral responses that will raise up our organizations.

And yet, human intuition is to avoid, prevaricate, be selfish, be lazy and ultimately, to do the bare minimum at scale. This is the work—hidden behind the cover of our job/task descriptions—that we think we are hired to do, from founders and managers to employees and interns.

But, what if we’ve intuited the wrong thing?

What if the work that we should be subsidizing is the work that negates the effects of what we think is “natural” and “just the way that it is”?

What if we not only thought differently, but acted differently?

[ICYMI] How to Autopsy a Conflict

How you get started with clients who need a situation resolved?

What are the steps you take to assess the dynamics?

These are great questions that, in order to answer fully, would require several blog posts covering psychology, sociology, theology, legal and other areas. However we are going to forego all of that.
Instead, we are going to focus on the post-mortem analysis of a conflict.
In the medical field, post-mortems occur when a pathologist must determine the cause of death of a human body.
Autopsies are performed either to answer legal or medical questions and tend to be either external, or the more common one that lay people think of, where a body is broken up and sewn back together.When a conflict communication consultant arrives on the scene, it feels like we are performing a post-mortem. And, in essence, we are performing a relational one.
Three steps are required to perform a conflict post-mortem:

  • Determine the players and their positions,
  • Answer questions about their motivations and goals,
  • Propose solutions that will benefit everybody.
Sometimes the solution involves changing an organizational or personal culture and that approach is what we’re all about here at HSCT.Here at HSCT, we deeply believe that changing your personal culture first can lead to changing your organizational culture.
A conflict consultant (or mediator) is called into a situation where the conflict is alive and well.
As a neutral third party, that person (typically us) has no idea what is going on.
Or, they may have only a tangential idea based off of something they were told by either a third party to the conflict, or a person involved in the conflict directly who may be trying to sway the third party participant in their favor.
Messy stuff.
So, us (or an organization like ours) enters the conflict. Our principal conflict consultant talks to all the parties involved and attempts to determine with at least 50% accuracy the answers to three questions. And yes, this is incredibly difficult.
Here are the three questions:
  •  Who’s lying to us about the situation and their role in it?
  • Who’s telling us the truth about the situation and their role in it?
  • Who doesn’t care and wants the situation to “go away” so that they “can get back to their real lives!”?
And yes, in case you are wondering, we have actually had clients say that last one to us.
The answer to the first question—who’s lying— helps us determine what direction we go in to propose resolution to the issue at hand. We may propose a mediation, one-on-one coaching with the conflict participants, or outside resources (i.e. therapy) in addition to whatever else the parties may need.
The answer to the second question—who’s telling the truth—helps us determine who needs the most direct intervention first.
In the case of a conflict involving violence against children, elderly or other individuals who are at-risk, the answer to that question is always, the victim is telling the truth. Period. Once the person being victimized is removed then we can successfully manage other areas of the conflict. Or, disengage from it completely.
The answer to the third question—who doesn’t care—helps us determine who to ignore and whom to persuade as a potential ally to advocate for solutions that may benefit everybody in the conflict.
This is a tough position to take, because sometimes conflict participants say that they don’t care, when in reality they do. Or, they may be saying that they don’t care as another way of saying “I’m emotionally exhausted by this issue.” Conflict avoidance is a way to resolve conflicts, just not a preferable way.
Emotional exhaustion, apathy, victimization, disengagement, deceit, power games, these are all the energies that animate a conflict and keep it going and reproducing, like a cancer in the body.
Asking these three questions allows the principal conflict consultant at Human Services Consulting and Training to make a determination regarding the best path to take to resolution.
Originally published on July 3, 2013.

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