Business Success: Conflict Resolution: A Living Systems Approach

Apr 29, 2013 @ 08:30 AM

Conflict is a natural by-product of the tensions that arise in dynamic organizations. Although it is often perceived as negative, conflict that is handled effectively has the potential to inject new, creative energy into the system.

communicationConflict can be dealt with in a variety of ways. The use of mediation along with the practice of effective listening skills detailed in Chapter 3 is often successful. Organizations are discovering that by inviting individuals to work through their issues in new positive constructive ways that tap into the energy of the group, these techniques deepen the connections within and across their teams.

Eric Brunner, manager of Human Resources at Temple University and his colleague, Marie Amey-Taylor, director of Temple’s Human Resources Department, use a variety of training techniques that provide content in visual, auditory, and kinesthetic formats. They also design their trainings to be active, using both inductive and deductive activities to transfer learning to the participants.

For over 10 years, Brunner and Amey-Taylor have been practicing a combination of improvisational theater and sociodrama to demonstrate appropriate and inappropriate conflict resolution skills and ways to work through conflict and build trust. Sociodrama is a form of improvisational theater based on the “shared central needs and issues” of the audience or participant group and involves dramatic enactments of real-life situations or conflicts so that participants can observe and develop interpersonal skills.

It is presented using trained actors, occasional volunteer audience members, and a highly trained facilitator. In practice, Brunner and Amey-Taylor found that participants became very engaged in the action, would dialogue with the characters in a scene, and might even jump in to take the place of actors to “correct” inappropriate or ineffective behaviors. This unique combination of improv and sociodrama is a powerful technique and has become a staple in their work with employees at all levels within a wide variety of organizations. In the next section, Brunner shares his experience with the process.

Conflict Resolution with Sociodrama

Recently, we were asked to partner with a professor from Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater who was presenting on the topic of cross-cultural communication at a women’s leadership conference at Bryn Mawr College. In attendance were about 80 women, all high-level administrators, from a wide range of institutions of higher education.

Because the group was all women, there was a content piece based on the work of Deborah Tannen, an expert in the different communication styles of men and women. Prior to the presentation of this content area, the theater troupe presented a scene designed to introduce the content and invite participants into the presentation. Because of the actors’ familiarity with the participant group and the program content, they were able to anticipate a scene that would have relevance for the group and introduce content. There were four actors on site for this session, two men and two women.

The scene started with actors playing the four people responsible for planning an event on a college campus. During the enactment, the male actors began acting in ways that were illustrative of how Tannen described men as communicators. And the women in the scene began acting in the ways that she described as typical of women.

As the scene played out, the session participants were able to see the connection between cross-gender communication and the possible conflicts that could be generated. As the group saw themselves and others with whom they work in the characters, they started to react, most with laughter. A few exhibited a heightened desire to rectify the situation depicted by the actors. After watching the enactment for five minutes, the group participants were engaged and eager to explore the topic more fully. The use of theater also allowed the women to release some of the feelings they carried related to the topic and their own experiences. This purely experiential format for generating discussion and learning about conflict has proven to be an effective training technique and a tool for building trust and strong relationships.

Business Success: Activities by Brain Function

Considering the complexity of today’s volatile global economy, the role of the right brain is increasingly vital. With computers becoming more and more adept at handling the linear processes, the competitive advantage for humans is in the ability to access the power of the right hemisphere. And the skills needed to participate in an adaptive organization are also dominantly right-brained. In fact, research suggests that our right hemisphere is the only area that deals effectively with change.


In general, the two halves of the brain work together to orchestrate every human activity. However, neuroscientists suggest that the two hemispheres approach every situation slightly differently. Understanding and enhancing the use of one side or the other can enhance creative endeavors.

The differences in the hemispheres can be characterized in four major ways:

1. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body; the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. This fact is well known. But it is interesting to note that the written word goes from left to right, a movement controlled by the left hemisphere. Therefore, reading and writing are controlled by the linear, logical, sequential part of the brain. Until recently, this was the source of almost all knowledge. Only since the twentieth century has information been conveyed in pictures, encouraging right hemisphere or even whole-brain synthesis.

2. The left hemisphere is sequential; the right hemisphere is simultaneous. As described, reading is sequential. The left hemisphere also manages other sequential processes, such as talking and interpreting speech. By contrast, the right hemisphere has the ability to interpret information simultaneously. This enables people to make sense of very complex situations. To illustrate, consider a comparison to computer software. SAS software can perform statistical calculations faster than humans can. But the most powerful software cannot recognize a human face as fast as the average person. “Think of the sequential/simultaneous difference like this: the right hemisphere is the picture; the left hemisphere is the thousand words.” As the flow of complex information accelerates, frequent and proficient use of the right hemisphere becomes increasingly important.

3. The left hemisphere specializes in text; the right hemisphere specializes in context. In most people, both left- and right-handed, the left hemisphere is the source of language. However, the ability to comprehend language is a bit more nuanced and requires both hemispheres. Chapter 3 described the mechanics of both verbal and nonverbal communication. Within the brain, the left hemisphere interprets the words. The right hemisphere processes all of the nonverbal parts of the communication, such as tone, pace, facial expressions, and body language. In addition, the right hemisphere’s ability to consider context gives it responsibility for filling in blanks, translating nuance, and interpreting metaphor.

4. The left hemisphere analyzes the details; the right hemisphere synthesizes the big picture. Basically, the left brain analyzes information in a linear fashion. The right brain synthesizes information to create a whole. The left brain can find problems, identify parts, and grasp details. The right brain focuses on interactions and relationships. And “only the right brain can see the big picture.”

Ned Herrmann, a well-known brain researcher, created a list of common business functions and mapped them to the quadrant of the brain that primarily handles each one.

Left Cerebral Cortex
• Gather facts.
• Analyze issues.
• Solve problems logically.
• Argue rationally.
• Measure precisely.
• Understand technical elements.
• Consider financial aspects.

Right Cerebral Cortex
• Read signs of coming change.
• See the “big picture.”
• Recognize new possibilities.
• Tolerate ambiguity.
• Integrate ideas and concepts.
• Bend or challenge established policies.
• Synthesize unlike elements into a new whole.
• Problem solve in intuitive ways.

Left Limbic System
• Find overlooked flaws.
• Approach problems practically.
• Stand firm on issues.
• Maintain a standard of consistency.
• Provide stable leadership and supervision.
• Read fine print in documents and/or contracts.
• Organize and keep track of essential data.
• Develop detailed plans and procedures.
• Implement projects in a timely manner.
• Articulate plans in an orderly way.
• Keep financial records straight.

Right Limbic System
• Recognize interpersonal difficulties.
• Anticipate how others will feel.
• Intuitively understand how others feel.
• Pick up nonverbal cues of interpersonal stress.
• Relate to others in empathetic ways.
• Engender enthusiasm.
• Persuade.
• Teach.
• Conciliate.
• Understand emotional elements.
• Consider values.

Come back next week for an article about fostering creativing.  We welcome your comments and feedback and love it when you share our blog with your co-workers and friends.

Business Success: Benefits of Communication

Innovation occurs for many reasons, including greed, ambition, conviction, happenstance, acts of nature, mistakes, and desperation. But one force above all seems to facilitate the process. The easier it is to communicate, the faster change happens.

—James Burke, Connectionsbusiness_communications_

Many leaders have the notion that communication is a “soft” issue, having very little effect on profit. The enormity of communicating in today’s interconnected economy can be overwhelming, given the number of different languages, technologies, industries, and markets across the globe

Consider the experience of a measurement instrument company that hired a consulting company to improve its process of getting new products to market. The research began with a meeting of about 40 senior engineers.

The meeting was designed to gather information from the engineers on what they considered to be the main barriers to getting their products to market. They divided themselves into small groups and began to create lists. Then, as a group, they labeled the barriers as either technical or social.

After tallying the chart scores, they determined that 81 percent of their barriers were social. One manager said,“We’re always trying to take waster out of our technical processes, but in 22 years I’ve been here, we have never even looked at taking waster out of our interactions with people.”

The engineers worked on their communication skills and cut their development cycle in half. The project’s sponsor commented that if they had made these changes five years earlier, they would have saved $50 million.

There are numerous examples of costly failures as a result of poor communication. The Challenger disaster is a tragic example. The banking failures beginning in 2008 can be highly attributed to a lack of information being shared with deserving parties.

Statistics on the success of mergers, acquisitions, and alliances also show that today’s leaders are no better at communicating than they were many years ago. Studies by some of the top accounting firms show that most mergers and acquisitions fail. The average statistics are:
• 60 percent of merged companies lose value after five years.
• 30 percent have no increase in value.
• 10 percent are successful at increasing value.

This is after billions have been spent on Business Intelligence software and hardware systems to connect, integrate, disseminate, and more.

While the risk of this problem is higher in companies involved in mergers and acquisitions, there are similar challenges within more stable organizations. Consider interdepartmental conversations such as the exchange of information, needs, and ideas between information technology (IT) and marketing. Some people experience the other department as speaking a different language.

These chasms of understanding exist between many departments with specialized workers whose thinking patterns may be different. Similarly, important conversations take place with entities outside the organization, such as vendors, suppliers, investors, auditors, and authorities. The style of communication may vary among all these interested parties.

Mickey Connolly and Richard Rianoshek, in The Communication Catalyst, offer a three-part conversational model that is useful for enhancing important activities such as “teamwork, planning, accountability, and learning”:

1. Align. Conversation facilitates the sense of shared purpose, enhances creativity, and promotes smart planning.

2. Act. Conversation clarifies accountabilities and initiates action.

3. Adjust. Conversations evaluate performance and acknowledge successes or launch corrective action.

When these three related elements are effective, work is meaningful, satisfying, and fast. We infuse work with meaning, galvanize teams, and inflame loyalty among customers, employees, and investors. When these elements are ineffective, we decelerate our high-speed ambitions. We render work meaningless, destroy teamwork, and inflame discontent among customers, employees and investors.

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Business Skills: The Art of Listening

Listening may or may not be an “act of love” or way to “tap into people’s 

listeningdreams,” but it sure as hell is (1) an uncommon act of courtesy and recognition of worth from which (2) you will invariably learn amazing stuff…and (3) it will build-maintain relationships beyond your wildest dreams.

—Tom Peters, best-selling author

To be a strong leader, you must be able to influence others. In highly complex organizations, everyone plays the role of leader from time to time. And communication is an essential mechanism for the exchange of knowledge and intentions. Mastering the art of listening is essential to the success of all participants in an interdependent organization.[i]

Those who are good listeners greatly increase their influence on others. Although listening is passive in nature, when someone feels heard, he or she feels inspired and validated. Sadly, many leaders fail to listen because they are biased, impatient, bored, or rigid in their views. This prevents the critical exchange of knowledge, insights, and intentions.

Listening skills are rarely taught. Communication training in business schools typically focuses on argument and persuasion. These skills fit the old management model with its top-down, authoritative approach.  Managers had little reason to listen. They communicated down the chain of command, and the workers followed orders.

As stated earlier, as organizations embrace new business models, listening is becoming an integral part of the communication process. Two-way interaction helps to clarify and prevent confusion, aid comprehension, and improve connection.

Listening goes beyond just hearing. Hearing usually triggers a reflexive response without any thought or reflection. Listening is deliberate and requires interpretation. A good exercise in listening is to ask recipients to reflect back what they heard.

Bad listeners:

  • Interrupt. They are impatient and may like to dominate the conversation.
  • Are inattentive. They are easily distracted, perhaps even multitasking.
  • Exhibit mind-drift. They are easily bored, perhaps even self-centered.
  • Are biased. They have strong marginal views (out of the mainstream), and cannot expand their thinking.
  • Have closed minds. They have already drawn a conclusion or stay with their own beliefs.

Good listeners:

  • Are quiet. They talk less than the speaker.
  • Are patient. They never interrupt the speaker.
  • Are unbiased. They avoid prejudgment.
  • Are curious. They ask clarifying and open-ended questions.
  • Pay attention. They sit attentively, take notes, concentrate.
  • Employ nonverbals. They smile, maintain an open posture and eye contact.
  • Reflect back. They verify and reinforce what was heard through summary comments.

Skillful listeners are natural leaders in the new business landscape with their ability to influence, engage, and inspire.

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[i]             William F. Kumuyi, “Sir, Listen Up!” 2008,;col1.

Business Success: High Quality Communications

High-quality communication comes in many forms, all of which play an important leadership

Frequent Communication

Effective communication is necessary to exchange information in highly interdependent organizations. Frequent communications are important for building familiarity and trust, which leads to increased sensitivity and responsiveness.

Timely Communication

Organizations that thrive on turning information into knowledge understand that timing is everything. As speed to respond has grown in importance, delays can lead to waste and increased costs. Timely communication facilitates the smooth transition of information in highly interdependent organizations.

Accurate Communication

In an information-driven economy, accurate communication is essential. However, as an integral part of relational coordination, accuracy often suffers when organizations become more complex and greater speed is encouraged. Business Intelligence systems provide a solid framework to ensure accuracy.

Problem-Solving Communication

Highly interdependent organizational processes can run flawlessly until a problem arises. However, when members of these complex organizations face problems and are not skilled in dealing with them, conflict often arises, leading to blame and loss of communication. Organizations that focus on developing communication skills will benefit from the increased contacts and depth of connection.

Come back for more business intelligence and change management focused blogs by The OLIVIAGroup! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. To receive alerts when the next blog is published, click on the RSS feed to subscribe.
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