Storm in an egg cup

IMG_1448.JPG

How quickly things escalate. My partner said she wanted a bit of the soup I had made myself for lunch, which I took literally, and put soup in the smallest glass dish I could find.

Her humorous retaliation came shortly after with the making of a cup of tea for me...in an egg cup!

I could tell this was not going to end well...

I joked with her that I was so looking forward to cooking her dinner that night!

While the above was very much done in the spirit of fun for both of us, it is a good metaphor for how quickly something can escalate because people have taken issue with something someone has said or done. Phrases such as below are often the 'road to escalation'

 "I am going to win"

"I am not going to back down"

"I am going to make sure that person pay for that..."

"They need to be taught a lesson"

When this thinking or language start being expressed, it can be a good indicator that the issue is on the 'road to escalation' and whatever the original issue was, is at risk of getting lost somewhere along the way.

It can be useful if you hear yourself using 'road to escalation' expressions and reflect on the needs or or values that underpin that position.

David Rock's SCARF model is a really useful tool to help work out what needs or values might get triggered leading to an escalation of an issue.

You might be interested to know, I was sensible to not carry on the humour with the egg-cup. Mainly because...I know I would lose that game!

Problem...not the person

big red button.jpg

"That person is a...." or  "That (insert expletive) person is incredibly difficult" are statements which are commonly made and at the same time incredibly unhelpful.

While it is recognised as a way of expressing an opinion or feelings about a person, focusing on the person can create a significant barrier to changing or influencing an outcome beyond confirming a view that "this person is and always will be "difficult".

Basically, they have pressed your button. They have said or done something which is contrary to your needs, wants and/or values. If your  perspective is that the 'person' is difficult', then it is much harder to resolve, or have a meaningful conversation about the issues,  because it is now tied with the person's character, instead of some behaviour.  You may even find yourself in the heat of the conversation questioning their parentage!

If you chose instead to focus on the "It" - that is, what specifically it is that the person has said or done,  then the options to resolve the situation  greatly increase.  Sometimes a useful strategy can be to note in some way what the behaviour was that triggered the "that person is xxxxx difficult"

Increasing our own awareness of the reason why 'it' (x's behaviour) pressed our button, will minimise the chances of the situation escalating and of us over-reacting.

A focus on the  person and not their behaviour creates for us a fight, flight, freeze response because the brain perceives an attack from a person, whereas if it's a problem, we know how to sort those...we are naturally good at that!

Getting rid of the "That person is difficult..."type language is not easy. I would be interested to hear from others what strategies they use to help them change the focus to be about the problem and not the person.

 

Try and shut the door

Sometimes when I hear someone say 'try and shut the door' I visualise the mental exertion the person must be going through as they 'try and shut it'.  When did we change our language from 'please shut or close the door' to suddenly being seen as a challenge?

Teachers and coaches will often use 'try' as a way of encouraging someone to push beyond  a perceived barrier.  "try and do it..."

Common ones heard include "Try harder"," Try and put more effort into it", "Try and behave" I believe using 'try' actually creates a mental barrier for the person in some situations will make it harder for the person as they put their energy into the 'trying' bit. 

I believe it would be more effective to remove the  'try'  and focus on what  you are wanting, a ...success or a change of some kind.

If I was working on a particularly thorny problem, to have someone say to me "try harder to solve it" would not make an iota of difference to whether I was able to solve it or not.  However, it might make me question whether the person thought I wasn't already working  hard to solve the problem!

Telling someone to 'try and behave' could be more effective if you name the behaviours(s) you want rather than some vague concept. "I want you to sit quietly for 10 minutes" or "please close the door quietly" (this is particularly effective, if you have a door slammer child!) will achieve more success because it is naming the behaviour you want and is unambiguous.

As an aside, it  struck me how confusing it must be for second language learners, when they hear a commentator at a rugby game state X has 'scored a try!'  

Mediation is a no brainer

The majority of people are not comfortable being in conflict with one another. We naturally prefer a state of equilibrium. Sickness and significant stress can and does result from unresolved conflict.

When conflict occurs in a workplace or organisation, the impact is huge. If it can be successfully worked out without the need for someone independent, that is the second best outcome - next to not actually having reached that point in the first place!

Question which is often asked, "what if I go to mediation and it doesn't work?"

Short answer is, in all likelihood, through the mediation process  you will have:

  • resolved some, if not all of the issues  
  • a more informed understanding of the issues. 
  • significantly reduced the likelihood of escalation

Often organisations like schools and not for profit organisations which operate on tight budgets, are often resistant to get someone external to assist with a conflict situation because of the perceived cost. 

This needs to be weighed up against the risk and cost if if doesn't resolve without external support. In my role as  a mediator who assists organisations with disputes I am acutely aware of the importance of early intervention and resolution.  I suspect the financial and reputation cost far outweighs any short term cost involved in a mediation process, especially if lawyers have been required or if the issues have made it onto social media or news outlets.

These potential risks and benefits make having mediation as one of the early resolution strategies a no brainer!

 

 

Oops! I missed that one - The danger of not asking the question

Complaints grow legs the longer they are allowed to exist. If you ever find yourself asking, "How did this suddenly get to this situation?", then it's often because an earlier opportunity to recognise a complaint was missed.

Complaints can be and often are made in the form of 'softly presented' expressions of concern about something or someone. It is fairly common for these to be missed and consequently grow in seriousness.

A complainant could justifiably say, "I asked you to do something about this two months ago!" By this stage the legs of the complaint have grown quite a bit, and irrespective of what the original issue was the complainant may now hold an opinion on your skills, attitude, or even your parentage! It is also fairly likely they will have told a number of other people, either in person or, worse, on social media.

It's important to be alert to the possibility that what you're being told is a complaint. You can be sure by simply asking the person if they are making a complaint, especially if you are hearing phrases such as, "I am concerned...", "that doesn't satisfactorily answer my question", or "I am not happy about..." or numerous other possibilities.

We tend not to ask the question because we are concerned about the work involved if it is a complaint.

However, if you think it might be a complaint, don't hope it will go away. It won't!

Sporting Metaphor for Effective Listening

John Hester suggests five tips for effective communication. I think the metaphor he uses could stick for some people, especially if you are sports mad! 

To listen effectively, I suggest that you view dialogue more like a pitcher and catcher in a baseball game. The pitcher (speaker) throws the ball for the catcher (you) to receive it. The catcher only throws the ball back after he has it firmly in his grasp.