Your Mind’s Secret Skew: Exploring Implicit Bias

NEWSLETTER EDITION: September 2015

I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer, and found some time to relax with your friends or family in the sun and heat. As we turn the corner into autumn, it’s time to recalibrate to new rhythms and schedules, and maybe new projects, ideas, or colleagues.

Perhaps this shift is a good time to reflect for a moment and consider the hidden biases that we all carry with us in our interactions with the people we encounter in our lives. Harvard research from the past decade has revealed that the vast majority of us see people through lenses of prejudice or bias that we don’t consciously recognize. Even more befuddling, it appears most of us can’t necessarily predict our own biases when we try. This newsletter explores the concept of implicit bias, what we can do to counteract it, and what it means for mediation.


 

Many of us are aware of the destructive patterns of bias and discrimination that we have inherited from earlier configurations of this society. And on a broad spectrum, many of us have every genuine intention of disengaging from those destructive behaviors and building an increasingly egalitarian world. But in their book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard and Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington are telling us that those good intentions may not be enough. Not enough, anyway, to upset the staying power of this persistent hangover of institutionalized discrimination and prejudice that seems to plague our society. That, it seems, will take some more intentional effort. [Read more…]

Take the Heat Off, but Be Direct: Workplace TIPS

NEWSLETTER EDITION: JULY 2015

The way in which a conflict is expressed and communicated amongst colleagues in the workplace is an important element that will help to determine the outcome of the conflict, and whether it contributes positively or negatively to the work environment and its productivity.  In this month’s newsletter I explore some contemporary research about conflict expression, and how individual conflict styles play a role in bringing about different forms of expression. These connections lead us to some insights about key decisions that can be made, especially by leaders, to influence workplace conflicts and their effects.


New York Times business writer Phyllis Korkki recently published a piece on diffusing discord in the office by being “direct and low key.” In it, she references a paper in the Academy of Management Review which, according to Korkki, states that “it’s not just the nature of a disagreement but the way it is expressed that leads to a positive or a negative result at work.”

In other words, the process of the conflict itself is likely to have a very significant effect on the outcome, perhaps as much or more than just the content of the conflict, depending on the situation. Playing this insight out, the paper outlines four main categories of conflict expression demarcated by the directness of the communication and the intensity of the expression. According to Korkki and the American Management Review paper, the best combination for productive workplace conflict is a “high directness/low intensity” expression. In this scenario the problems or disagreements are communicated in a straightforward manner, but without the communicative intensity which tends to make them feel personal or threatening to everyone involved. You might still end up with elaborate debates, but it’s more likely to engender a positive, productive outcome, or at least avoid the vagaries of escalation or personal attacks.

This is an essential insight, but recognizing that “high directness/low intensity” might be the best approach for workplace tensions is only half of the solution. Putting it into practice is more challenging.  [Read more…]

The Voices in Your Head: Negative Energy & Self Talk

Ding! A memo or a piece of work news pops into your inbox just as you settle into your chair and pick up that steaming cup of morning office coffee. You click, then stop short. Your mug hangs mid-air between desk and lips as you register the update which, it turns out, is not so pleasant. Someone else got that promotion. Someone screwed up a task or a project. Someone turned down your proposal, your offer, your application. Someone sent a poorly worded message to the wrong person, excluded you in the planning stage, or blamed you for something that wasn’t your responsibility. Before you’ve recovered yourself and downed a hasty gulp of coffee, twenty questions and potential conclusions have run through your mind. Who made what decision? Where did this go wrong and why? What were the intentions here? By the third gulp a name or two is swirling angrily in your head. Your work plan for the day starts to feel like a distant memory, and before you know it an hour or two passes in which you’ve accomplished only a task or two in between your fitful mulling. As you mull, a story takes shape in your head about what really happened. Perhaps you’ve even snatched that coffee off your desk and jumped out of your chair, striding angrily down the hall in search of the office of your chosen culprit – and your workday is history. We’ve all been there.

Most of the conflict I deal with in my work is interpersonal, maybe even intergroup, but sometimes it’s the conversations with ourselves that have the biggest impact on our interactions at home or in the workplace. In his Corner Office column at the New York Times, Adam Bryant published an interview with Carl Galioto, managing principal of the New York office of architecture and engineering firm HOK, and probed Galioto’s insights about leadership and his own successes. In the interview Galioto highlighted the importance of “sweeping away” negative energy that can crop up in challenging work scenarios. What we decide to tell ourselves about a situation or a challenge can have an immense effect on how we respond, and on how the situation ends up ultimately affecting us. When it comes to conflict, self-talk can be the difference between explosion, negotiation or resolution. Read on for a few helpful strategies for dealing with negativity, and using self-talk to your advantage.  [Read more…]

Cultures of Peace: Is it cliche?

Newsletter Edition: February 2015 

In light of recent tragic world events in France and the Middle East I thought it was timely to write about cultures of peace, a phrase we’ve been seeing in many different contexts.

What is a culture of peace?

If you look up the phrase “culture of peace” in any online search engine, it is likely to spit out a long list of varied and disparate results. Environmentalists, musicians, educators, activists, and mediators (myself included now, of course), all have resources online explaining how their work relates to realizing cultures of peace. But what is this broad maxim?

First of all, what is meant by peace? This is a terribly complicated question. If we poll the hive, the first line of the Wikipedia entry on peace reads “Peace is an occurrence of harmony characterized by lack of violence, conflict behaviors and the freedom from fear of violence.” This is a good place to start, but then it gets more complicated. Does peace mean we don’t want any conflict at all? That’s a problematic notion. In conflict resolution we often emphasize that conflict is a part of all societies, and when managed mindfully, it can be healthy, important, and productive (in businesses and organizations, for example). To think through “peace,” especially from a conflict resolution perspective, it’s helpful to turn to the idea of “nonviolence,” which explores more concretely the ways in which conflict becomes harmful and begins to threaten “peace.”

Once the ideal of “peace” or “nonviolence” is outlined, there are many approaches to its realization. A “politics of peace” might be understood as attempting to structure policies of governance in a way that promotes as limited harm as possible to all. Mediation and conflict resolution might be seen as “peace strategies,” emphasizing the active and procedural elements of peace, and employing particular formations of interpersonal peace “making” or “building.” A “culture of peace,” then, implies another angle. It suggests that collective habits, consciousness, and normative practices of interaction can inhibit or contribute to peace – and also that we can learn and choose which kind we prefer. [Read more…]

Cognitive, Emotional and Behavioral Resolution of Conflict

NEWSLETTER EDITION: SUMMER 2014 

To all of our readers we would like to wish a bright beginning of summer! We hope that as you swim or stroll into the warm weather you will have some positive energy for envisioning new solutions and transforming any conflicts you might be confronting.

In this newsletter issue we take a look at what it means to “resolve” a conflict.

Dissecting Resolution: What was Resolved and What Sometimes Remains

It may initially seem like a simple notion to seek resolution to a conflict, but in doing so what are we truly seeking? What does resolution look like? Sound like? Feel like? In his book The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution: A Practitioner’s Guide,[1] Bernard Mayer discusses various dimensions of resolution, and how we might understand and work towards them.

[Read more…]

Frameworks for Analyzing Conflict: Cognition, Emotion, Behavior

NEWSLETTER EDITION: APRIL 2014 

It’s finally spring and soon the trees will be covered with new leaves. This month’s feature article discusses the importance of frameworks for analyzing and understanding conflict. Like a tree’s trunk and branches, frameworks give conflict structure and enhance our understanding of the human response to conflict.

Check out our new blog and submit a question about conflict or dispute resolution and we’ll feature it in our next post. Become part of the dialogue!

Frameworks for Analyzing Conflict

Frameworks help analyze conflict and the deeper our understanding of conflict the greater our ability to handle it effectively. Like the steel girders in a skyscraper, a framework, helps conflict have shape. How we see conflict will impact our attitude and approach to it. One framework for analyzing conflict, developed by Bernard Mayer, a well-known practitioner, author of several dispute resolution books, and one of my early trainers, is the three dimensions of cognition, behavior and emotion.

[Read more…]

Conscious Conversation: Fit the Format to the Fuss

Communication challenges and misunderstandings lie at the heart of all conflicts. When we are in a dispute or controversy, whether with fellow team members or partners, much of our communication is reactionary and one sided. We talk over each other. In fact, the language we use to describe these heat of the moment responses, “pushed my hot buttons” or “went ballistic” shows that angry heated communication is not a conscious process. Heated communication doesn’t solve any problems. In fact, it often inflames the issues.

Today’s article discusses various communication formats and their purpose.

[Read more…]

Inquiry and Reflective Listening: Lessons for Leaders

We’ve been writing about the importance of developing mediator qualities in today’s leaders. In earlier editions of this newsletter we’ve discussed leadership presence (April), integral vision and systems thinking (March), and leadership style (February). The 21st century leader must step back from the intense heat of the conflict and look out over it, like a climber who summits a peak. Today’s article discusses inquiry and it’s partner reflective listening.
Inquiry: Asking Curious Questions

[Read more…]

Managing Conflict Through Forgiveness

With Thanksgiving upon us this month’s newsletter is about forgiveness. The holiday and the topic share the root verb “give” which means to grant or bestow or to make a present. Whether it be a letting go of feelings of anger or a recognition of thanks, both are growth inducing processes.

Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.


 

In the January edition of this newsletter we wrote about the issue of “face” or image and how to rehabilitate face. Our face or image might be injured in a conflict. These may be relatively minor annoyances, slights and disappointments that are minor personal affronts and don’t necessarily call for forgiveness. They may be addressed by an apology or concession, for instance.

The reason it is important to discuss forgiveness in relation to conflict is to understand its role in the productive resolution and understanding of conflict. Many conflicts are cyclical and repetitive. In our June 2011 article about competitive conflict escalation and chilling effect the cycle of conflict continues and forgiveness doesn’t play a role. Forgiveness, like mediation, is a process. When there is no forgiveness the characteristics that brought the conflict to fruition, lack of communication, avoidance, discomfort are likely to continue. [Read more…]

Saving Face: Image Management and Conflict

Happy New Year.

Our lead article this month is about “managing face,” the impression we give to others and how we would like to be viewed. In conflict resolution mediators look for ways to allow parties to save face or rebuild their image in order to resolve a dispute.


 

Managing Face

Cosmetics are a $5.9 billion dollar industry in the US. We use beauty products to enhance our image and appearance. Our face is our window on the world. “Face” refers to one’s image of self. It includes who we think we are and how we perceive ourselves in all of our various roles. When socializing and communicating with others we strive to support one another’s face. It involves creating and sustaining an identify for yourself as well as helping others whom you communicate with to sustain their self-image and impression. So maintaining face is a cooperative process.

When an interpersonal conflict occurs one or more parties in the dispute often experience a loss of face. This has multiple implications for conflict resolution. First, people who have lost face may experience numerous emotions including shame, guilt or embarrassment. Second, the experience of losing face may result in a desire for revenge or retaliation. So any person involved in resolving disputes must understand ways to manage and bolster face and repair it when there is damage. [Read more…]