COACHING AND BUSINESS
THINGS COACHING IS REALLY GOOD FOR
TINY BOOK OF HANDLING CONFLICT
COACHING AND BUSINESS
THINGS COACHING IS REALLY GOOD FOR
TINY BOOK OF HANDLING CONFLICT
Why we want things
Dealing with Conflict
In a modern life where mistakes are penalized, in business, at school and in our relationships, we have developed a tendency to identify problems and focus on them, often fixing on what went wrong and who was responsible.
However looking at mistakes is, in effect, looking at things that have already happened and by definition, there is nothing new in the past. Solution focus, as the name suggests, is about looking for new solutions. It is a skill that can be learned and it can become a habit. Solution focus is the identification of outcomes we would like and the exploration of possibilities of how to achieve these outcomes.
It forms the fundamental core of the coaching process whether on a worldwide scale, in business, family or within one individual.
Understanding why we want things might seem a fairly basic function, but by delving into questions of values, identity, our reasons for getting out of bed in the morning, the impact we would like to have on our worlds… we can get to know the people we would like to become.
As we gain this understanding, it is curiously common that people better understand their objectives and are able to sculpt and modify them to better fit in their personal ecosystems, making ideas that had once seemed beyond reach, eminently possible!
Identifying our own motivations can be a wondrous revelation, but exploring what motivates other people can be a complex task. Bosses, parents, partners, teams, teenagers, have spent years of their lives trying to influence others, often ticking off boxes on long lists of methods tried and failed. “I gave time and space for them to do it themselves, I tried getting angry, I tried talking to them, I tried crying and begging them…”
This is a subject that has been widely studied and the results are surprisingly simple. Outside of a coaching session, a coach may well be able to orient a client towards articles and videos that shed light on current findings on this subject.
But, when we start considering the results we want rather than how we think other people should be, doors to productivity and constructive relationships open.
The wisdom of the ages is that some people are born creative types and others are not.
This is quite simply a myth. Anybody who has, even only once in their lives, experienced a dream, in which things are not as they are in reality, has fully functioning creative capabilities. Creativity is an innate part of being human, it is a habit and for much of our lives it is drummed in to our heads that it is something to be avoided, a bad, unproductive, impractical waste of time.
The fact is that finding solutions is a creative process and in order to be able to achieve all sorts of objectives, we need access to our creative forces. But it is absolutely possible to learn ways of releasing this creativity, for simple practical goals or for grand artistic enterprises. Creativity is ours and coaching is a fantastic tool for unlocking this much-neglected part of our brains.
Many of us suffer from not saying what we want in a clear and simple way. The more we don’t speak our minds, the more it becomes an issue of tension and anxiety, and sometimes anger, we bottle up, we feel mistreated, disrespected and it seems impossible to resolve. Reasons for why we don’t just calmly state our needs without emotion or pressure are as many as there are people, but often it is connected to fear of people saying no, or worrying that we are going to upset others.
Strangely, of course, it is often this lack of assertiveness that is the root of the difficulties we would like to avoid.
By looking at the results that we want rather than focusing on our worries, by exploring what has helped us create successful interactions in the past, times when we have felt confident, or observing others who do this with success, we can teach ourselves how to master the skills we need. We can build the perfect plan, adapted to our very specific and personal needs, for being confident and assertive, and step by step becoming the people we would like to be.
Many of us have at some point wished that we could be free of our emotions, often infantile, or at least immature, illogical and impractical. Could we not just eradicate them and get on with our lives?
The simple answer to this is no. Those who are not able to connect with their emotions correctly are known as psychopaths or sociopaths and at best, they are difficult to be around, at worst, dangerous to be around.
Emotions gave mammals an evolutionary advantage. We are born incapable of looking after ourselves without help, so those that survived were those able to create connections with others (notably our mothers, close family and the tribe). Feelings of wanting to be close to others, accepted, in community, coupled with feelings of empathy for the emotions of others, are what has allowed us survive long enough to procreate and continue the species.
We are not however obliged to be victims of these unruly thoughts. Successful adults are ones who learn to acknowledge emotions and work with them, not be dominated by them and this ability is known as emotional intelligence. It can be learned, by you. Coaching can help you make your emotions your friends and allies, accompanying you to the best and most emotionally healthy version of yourself.
Good leaders work at it. Few are born with the qualities necessary to lead a team, business unit, conglomerate or country and sadly the ones who do this seemingly without too much effort, are the ones history remembers with little favour. For all the rest, being a great leader is a continuous journey of learning and finding solutions to issues that evolve as fast as our world.
There is no single formula for great leadership, but there are some great models to learn from and best practices either shared by others, learned by accident, experimentation or research. A common request is to help leaders to become coach managers, that is, to transmit and demonstrate coaching questions, techniques and tools that can be used everyday with teams.
Leadership coaching helps identify the leader's values and the values she or he wishes to share, it helps identify common ground within teams, improve communication, inspiration and motivation. It helps leaders connect with their companies and facilitates the leader's own fulfillment and quality of life as well as company vision, cohesion and ultimately success.
A sad reality is that many teams are less effective collectively than the sum of their individual parts. The reasons for this are manifold and not necessarily that useful to explore – which can often lead to blame and bad feeling, rather than solutions and a way forward. However, facilitating teams so that they can function together, taking the best of each individual and empowering them to contribute wholly is something that can be learned.
There are many tried and tested methods that can have real impact on teams such as, agile project management, lean management, but also group problem solving tools.
But the heart of group coaching is essentially the same as that of individuals: identifying and sharing the ambitions, values needs of the individuals, as foundations for common values and objectives, understanding the reasons why and what will become possible and allowing the team to develop its own action plans and next steps and support mechanisms, helping commit to change and planning how to ensure that the change lasts, even when things go wrong.
Solving problems is one of a few objectives where coaching really gets to shine and bring about clear quantifiable change. As human beings we tend to get stuck trying, over and over, a single solution to a problem, that may have worked once, but that, for whatever reason no longer functions.
Coaching has numerous structures and tools to take the focus away from what doesn't work and start opening up possibilities, identifying the most appropriate and creating methods for putting solutions in to action.
Coaching can also help work through the blocks that keep us stuck, not only solving this problem but teaching us methods and giving us tools to solve all problems! Suddenly the idea of difficulty is no longer a bore but one of stimulation and challenge, an opportunity to stretch the mind and be proud of our ability and flexibility to find and put in to practice solutions that work!
Soft skills is a generic term, and a management buzz word grouping together a set of skills essential to successful interactions with people, but difficult to qualify and impossible to quantify. Examples are: empathy, listening, speaking with charisma, being likable even, plus words that you will find elsewhere on this site like emotional intelligence, problem solving, creativity, confidence and dealing with conflict.
While coaching doesn't specifically train people in these skills it does help people identify the skills in which they would like to be stronger, helping clients create strategies, environments and structures that value these life skills and allow them to grow. It is sometimes surprising to see how many people have access to and know how to use these skills when they identify their own need and motivation. A part of a client's coaching journey is often to commit to doing further research or identifying people that can help. Sometimes this person is in fact the coach, but this help does not come within the structure of a coach session. It is however possible to contract for some training sessions rather than working exclusively through coaching.
Walt Disney famously kept the creative people he worked with (the dreamers) separate from the people whose job it was to plan or pass judgment (the critics).
Creative thinking is surprisingly similar to problem solving, or perhaps, to be more precise, it is the key component of problem solving. Many people identify themselves as not being creative – this is quite simply wrong, we are all creative, but we live within social values that not only don't encourage creative thinking, but actually suppress it. Both at school and in business we are taught that being wrong can have potentially devastating consequences, and is to be avoided at all costs.
Ideas come from all kinds of places, the crazy, funny, playful, and most commonly unexpected, unintentional, new things and change need to be welcomed. People (even when alone) need to be allowed to experiment, try ideas out for size, even bad ones. The key to doing this is putting judgment to one side and playing, without pressure or consequence. Hence Walt Disney's extreme solution of keeping the critics away from the dreamers. We can learn to be both dreamers and critics, but the key to doing so is to separate the processes: create when it is time to find ideas and judge when it is time to refine them.
Coaching has many great tools to help with this process and like all things to do with coaching, they can be learned and used again and again, helping to build a creative culture rather than just a one-shot creative process.
Defining the values of a company and then transmitting and applying them, can change not only company culture, but have profound effects on employee satisfaction, public image and ultimately profits.
Values help bring common purpose to companies, taking them from being simple cash generating machines and places of meaning, not only for the workers but all the way up to the management and shareholders.
In a world where many people are realizing that their impact on the world and their quality of life are not optional but necessary keys to the definition of success, well thought out, honest and clearly defined values can provide cohesions, common goals, and turn companies perceived both internally and externally as cash generating machines, into missions with purpose and dignity, places where it is good to work.
Fantastic presentations are no accident. It takes a little thought, a fair bit of practice and usually (although not always) a bit of preparation.
There are no hard and fast rules to follow, but as with all communications skills there are a lot of good practices that can be observed and replicated, such as connecting with the audience, using images and anecdotes that allow the audience to use multiple senses to "listen" to your presentation, making it memorable and increasing its impact, thinking about what body language is communicating, not just to your audience, but also to yourself, how to be authentic, how to keep your vulnerability and still give a killer speech? Structuring presentations and using signposts to help people understand where in the presentation they are… the list of good practices is in fact quite long.
It is quite common to use video or audio recording to prepare for presentations, but this training also makes good use of coaching techniques, asking the questions: what version of yourself would you like to be when you are presenting? What makes this person and their presentation so good? How can you attain this and how can you prepare to make sure this is what happens?
How people negotiate can vary widely between countries and cultures, and whilst influencing others in order to get the best possible deal is everybody's desired outcome, doing so effectively, honestly and without manipulation is good for repeat business, a company's reputation and for sleeping peacefully at night!
The art of good negotiation follows similar principles to other forms of good communication: building trust and a safe environment, connecting with the other party, active listening, confidence and assertiveness, recognising the limits of both parties, understanding your own alternatives to a negotiated agreement, or plan B.
And as with all best practices for communication, these can be learned through training, practice and using coach techniques to examine deep motivations, objectives and commitment to new practice.
How we deal with conflict can affect our daily lives in the work place, our friendships and family ties. It can make or break careers, relationships or land us in prison.
With so much at stake it is surprising how little people consider the most effective and long lasting strategies for dealing with conflict. Although no two conflicts are the same, there are ways of dealing with conflict that systematically bring about positive change and ways that systematically escalate tension and resentment (even if they bring short term results). How we deal with conflict usually stems from our parents or life experiences as young adults, but learning and practicing attitudes and methods that bring good results has had an enormous impact on companies and individuals allowing new possibilities and positive change to grow from disagreement.
Some of the key elements of constructive conflict resolution are: don't take it personally (this is not about you, however much it may seem like it. Both parties whether they know it or not are expressing fear of something going wrong based on their past experiences), learn how to state the facts without judgment of the other party and thus not trigger a defensive reaction, learn to understand and express your needs and how to ask questions in order to identify the needs of the other party. Learning about the power of empathy and active listening. Learning to identify and trust the positive intention of the other (however wrong you may thing they are).
These and other strategies for dealing with conflict can be learned by mediators and also by concerned parties. They have been used to end wars and find agreement between people of different religions, cultures and social class. They also work really well in the work place and at home!
Sailors and travellers were revered for their knowledge and through them we started to build images of a world bigger than our tribe and begin the connections that now make up a planetary economy and culture. In short, we love stories, we remember them, we are inspired by them and learn from them. They are a key part of our communication and part of our innate understanding of the universe.
Stories don't have to be long or complex, but they transmit much more than just the words of which they are composed. They show us images and can make us feel sunlight, or snow, they can make us smell coffee or fresh cut grass and evoke memories of sadness or joy. And in doing so they connect and attach meaning to our most primal learning mechanisms – the senses and emotions.
Using stories in everyday life, but particularly in business, is an art like any other. Some people have a culture of telling stories and others find it hard, but like all skills it can be learned and adapted to the story teller and the audience. Key points in developing story telling as a skill are: connecting with the audience, structure, using metaphor and images, building character, and a sense of place.
So much of our upbringing has been about being forced to listen and learning how to speak, but listening with care and positive intention is possibly the most powerful communication tool.
Active listening is the name given to a way of listening that combines not only concentrating on the words that people say, but learning how to withhold judgment and stop planning what we are going to say next. Active listening also involves looking at body language, and the greater context or ecosystem of what people say. It allows the other space to express things they often didn't even know they needed to express and it gives the listener vital information on the needs and hopes of the other party that are absolutely key to so many other communication skills such as negotiation and conflict resolution.
Another notable benefit of active listening is being able to solve problems before they arise and often never arriving at conflict because people feel heard and understood.
Writing concise, dynamic text with high impact and meaning takes at very least, a little thought and a lot of practice. It's useful in everything from writing a quick email that needs to be read and understood, to preparing a pitch or product presentation, copy for advertising, or an article for internal magazine. Years of experience (writing novels, articles and advertising copy) make this a subject close to my heart and I create exercises that build creativity, identify words and structures that are important and challenge the writer to abandon what is not important, and develop the control and experience to make text a powerful communication tool.
The values and skills of good writing are closely linked to storytelling, creativity, presentations, and even problem solving.
© 2018, Benjamin Constable