Workplace & Intergenerational Communication

Labor Force Composition by Generation

Communication between people has always been fraught with conflicts as individuals have their own unique way of communicating and interpreting the messages of others. Combine this with the tremendous generational diversity in today’s workplace and managers have a potential cauldron of trouble on their hands. This article will address some of the communication challenges which result from today’s multi-generational work force and how mediation can be used to address these challenges.

Today’s workforce

In a Forbes article, we find that a third of the working adults in career jobs today, consist of Millennials. Moreover, due to higher costs of living, many Baby Boomers work until much later ages. With such a wide spectrum of ages, managers are faced with the wide spectrum of communication methods and styles. The generation gap can produce much conflict as co-workers and managers grapple with the various challenges. When employees and managers don’t get along with each other and communication goes astray, it is vital that businesses have conflict resolution skills in their tool kit.

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Reactive Behaviors

What is reactivity anyway? We react to things day in and day out: to what’s going on in our daily lives, to the actions of others, to some news we receive. Don’t we have to react and respond to the world around us? So what is this risky category of ‘reactive behavior’?

Michael Williams devotes his blog ‘Agency‘ to practical and theoretical aspects of reactivity, with the intention of enabling readers to “act [more deliberately and consciously] in situations marked by confusion, anger, and shame.We previously wrote about his approach in June 2016.  Williams gives us some direction in exploring these questions.

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Equilibrium in the Workplace

Man balancing on tightrope

In my June 22, 2016 post, I explored the relationship between concepts of ‘perfection’ and ‘equilibrium,’ and how embracing equilibrium can cultivate a more sustainable trajectory for your emotional self. But this dynamic doesn’t only apply to the individual, it can be scaled up to the group level. Today I’ll discuss how the concept of equilibrium can apply to the workplace, helping you and your team to avoid volatilities that negatively impact work outcomes.

Cultivating equilibrium in a work community is about identifying and accommodating appropriate fluctuations that help maintain the community’s balance, while avoiding destructive ‘dives’ in morale, relationships, or productivity. [Read more…]

Tone of Voice in the Workplace

NEWSLETTER EDITION: SEPTEMBER 2016

Hope you have had a safe and relaxing summer.

I write an awful lot about what we say to one another, and how it does or does not serve us in our relationships or in conflict scenarios. It behooves us, however, to remember the striking fact that only around 7% of our communication is based solely on the words we use.[1] This doesn’t mean our words don’t matter, but it does mean that when it comes down to what ultimately gets understood in a communicative event, nonverbal cues can be the determining factor. This is as true in the workplace as it is in your personal life.


Today, communication in the workplace is a major determinant of career success – which we now know is about much more than what we say around the office. This article kicks off a series on nonverbal communication in the workplace, beginning with an important topic I’ve written only briefly about before: tone of voice in the workplace.

VOICE OF INTENTIONS

The human voice communicates a great deal more than the literal content of its linguistic message. Tone of voice constitutes 38% of our communication. In fact, a great deal of meaning would generally be lost from a message if you removed the vocal component. Think of how ridiculous and funny it sounds when a recorded, robotic voice repeats a normal human sentence: the content is there, but it doesn’t really seem to mean anything.

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The Human Complexities of Succession Planning

NEWSLETTER EDITION: JUNE 2016
Since I do conflict for a living colleagues often share their stories with me. A few months ago over lunch with a CPA colleague she told me about some issues that were going on in her firm with senior partners retiring and the ensuing difficulties that she and other younger partners experienced taking over their mentors’ book of business. This month’s article is about succession planing and what can be done to make it go more smoothly.
“Succession planning” is one of those terms that reflects the rational and systematic approach many of  us hope to achieve in the business world or the public sector: an elegant solution to the fact that all of our collective endeavors must occur at the messy intersections of time, biology, and individual life paths. It’s a wonderful tool, but when the best and brightest start counting and timing and planning their way through the messiness, things can get lost along the way. What seemed like an elegant plan can begin to break down into tension and malfunction.

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Team Conflict & Mediation: Bring in an Outsider

My last few posts have centered around team conflict in the workplace, and leadership strategies for managing and guiding team conflict towards the most desirable outcomes. However, sometimes the best exercise of leadership is to recognize when you are too embroiled in the conflict to get your team to the other side.

Sometimes a third party is needed to move your team beyond an impasse.

Sometimes a third party is needed to move your team beyond an impasse.

You might be slightly removed from your team’s politics and disputes by hierarchical authority, but as a leader who works with them on a regular basis and has vested interests in the outcomes of their work you can’t always avoid becoming embroiled in the complexities of thorny disputes. A two-party conflict can be complicated enough; managing a multi-party conflict can be overwhelming, and especially when as a team member you may need to be part of the resolution. At this point it is frequently more effective to bring in a third party neutral to design and facilitate a mediation that can address all the necessary aspects of the conflict. Read on to get a sense of how a mediator can systematically and effectively approach multi-party conflicts, helping you and your team(s) move beyond your impasse. [Read more…]

Leading Through Team Conflict: Containing the Negative

In my last post I explored how team conflict might actually be a positive and productive process. Harmful or negative team conflict, however, requires intentional action on the part of a leader to keep it from corroding the team dynamic and having lasting effects. Carole Townsend cites M. Nelson’s five approaches for addressing negative team conflicts: Direct Approach, Bargaining, De-emphasis, Retreat, and Enforcement.  Which approach you use should depends on the nature of the problem.

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Leading Through Team Conflict: Nurture the Positive

“As a leader, you probably dedicate more of your time on issues like productivity and meeting deadlines than on conflict resolution. When there is strife and personalities clash, you may reach for what you think will be a quick fix: find the ‘problem’ people and separate them from the rest of the group.  Despite your best intentions, hunting for a problem person, labeling, or ostracizing is not the answer. Labeling any of your team members or allowing them to label each other as “toxic,” “the problem,” “a jerk,” etc., only perpetuates disconnection.”

This was written by two executive coaches, Joan Bunashe and Lindsay Broder in an article in Entrepreneur, and other past research supports the assertion that managers tend to place conflict resolution at the bottom of their to-do list. But while it may be tempting to feel that your leadership position entitles you to focus elsewhere while your team works out their disagreements, you’re likely to shoot yourself in the foot with this approach. A team plagued by conflict will eventually stop delivering, and your meeting deadlines and productivity checks won’t be much help. On the contrary, your position as a leader means you can make crucial interventions on the level of conflict to keep your team on track. [Read more…]

Team Conflict: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It

The plethora of literature available on this topic plays testament to the importance and sweeping relevance of team conflict in the contemporary workplace. Two minds are better than one goes the old adage, and in the workplace teamwork continues to reward those who cultivate it well. However, where you find synergy and collaboration, you are just as bound to find friction: “conflict arises from differences, and when individuals come together in teams, their differences in terms of power, values, and attitudes contribute to the creation of conflict,” writes Carole A. Townsley in an article for The Team Building Director. Our ideas multiply, but so do the challenges of being human. The good news? Educating yourself about team conflict can help you to lead your team through it – and rig the chances so you benefit more than you lose. [Read more…]

The Business of Emotions: Why emotional intelligence matters in your work and mine

NEWSLETTER EDITION MARCH 2016

Being “smart” is one of the most commonly used memes in relation to success. We want to look smart, make smart decisions, and be smart about our careers. However, being a mediator has taught me that being ‘smart’ means more than we often realize.

This newsletter builds on broadly acclaimed author Daniel Goleman’s work to remind us that intelligence cannot be separated from the blessings and curses of human emotionality – and that this is a vital insight in the workplace.


In the mid 1990’s psychologist Daniel Goleman caused a stir with his book Emotional Intelligence. Intelligence Quotient (IQ), argued Goleman, is an impoverished way to understand intelligence – no matter how much we value rational faculties, anyone performing them is still human, and being human means having to deal with the messiness of emotions. Accomplishing tangible outcomes with our rational skills – publishing a book, closing a business deal, making a good decision – will automatically put us in contact with emotional boosts or complications, whether our own or those of the people around us. As Sandy Hollis and Debra Clapshaw put it, “Emotional intelligence is the partner of rationality.”

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