Pat Arcady is an agile and executive coach with FreeStanding Agility. In this interview, Pat discusses ways conflict manifests itself in an organization, the importance of nonviolent communication, and a useful four-step protocol for achieving positive outcomes for all parties.
Pat Arcady is an agile and executive coach with FreeStanding Agility, where she coaches leaders and teams in strategies to increase employee engagement, team alignment, and collaboration. She also happens to know a thing or two about conflict management. In this interview, Pat discusses ways conflict manifests itself in an organization, the importance of nonviolent communication, and a useful four-step protocol for achieving positive outcomes for all parties.
Jonathan Vanian: Why exactly does conflict occur on a team?
Pat Arcady: Conflict occurs when we have an attachment to a particular strategy for meeting a need (be it a business need or a personal need) and that strategy isn't acceptable to someone else on the team.
JV: How does practicing agile relate to conflict management? Does practicing agile well essentially lead to good conflict management?
PA: Just the opposite. High-performing teams learn how to manage conflict well so it does not impede their ability to be agile!
JV: What are some individual and team skills one can use to handle conflict so it resolves in an appropriate manner?
PA: Teams benefit when they build trust and expect teammates to speak up about what is important to them. To do this with high impact, anyone can learn how to focus on the core business needs instead of strategy. It never fails; once a team or a couple can agree on the core need(s) at hand, then strategies and solutions are unlimited. The goal of nonviolent communication nonviolent communication (NVC) is to help people focus on what really matters and why it matters to them and hear one another on that. Then together, craft solutions that can work for everyone involved.
JV: What are some examples of good conflict management skills?
PA: Listening is an important skill. Listening for the core need behind the words is what makes the difference. For example, if John says "This meeting is a waste of time," one could wonder what is John signaling? Is it that he wants to have a say in what meetings he attends—he prefers to opt in? Does he want respect for his time, his tight schedule this week? Is he saying he wishes the meeting was better organized or more substantive? Often, I find a statement like this points to an engineer's frustration with not enough blocks of uninterrupted time to write code. So, along with listening, is the skill of being genuinely interested in what the other person is really saying and finding ways to elicit that from them without judgment.
Another important conflict management skill is asking for what you want—making a request of another. To often, I hear someone complain about something without voicing how to improve upon things. So with the example above in which John complains about the meeting being a waste of time, John could follow that with an explanation of what he really needs—be it a meaningful agenda, or uninterrupted time to code—and make a request of the group or the meeting convener, instead of just voicing his unhappiness.
A third skill I find important is developing the capacity to speak in terms of what you want instead of just saying what it is you don't like.
JV: How do these teams learn these skills?
PA: Reading Marshall Rosenberg's book or attending an NVC workshop, and then PRACTICING.
JV: Do you have an example of a company or organization that practices good conflict management?
PA: I find teams that take their retrospectives seriously learn how to be honest and real about what isn't working to make them great and commit to getting better at those things together. But first you have to call out what those things are and do so in ways that are respectful and honest.
JV: Can you give me a specific example of a typical type of conflict that can occur within a team?
PA: One person dominates the conversation most of the time by always speaking first, telling everyone the best approach to take, and showing little to no interest in what anyone else thinks.
JV: In our email correspondence, you mentioned a four-step protocol for achieving outcomes that work well for all parties. Can you give a brief rundown of what that entails?
PA: First, get connected to yourself; get clear about why you are having a strong reaction to a situation, to a person. You can do this by following the NVC model of OFNR.
Observation: What did the person say or do? What are you reacting to? An observation needs to be free of judgment or evaluation of the other. Too often we get tripped up by our evaluations of what we think of what they say or do instead of looking at what they say or do without judgment.
Feeling: What feeling(s) come up for you in response to your observation? Feelings are different than our thoughts. Frequently, when I first work with someone and I ask “How do you feel when they say or do that?” I hear "I feel that they should..." This is a thought, not a feeling. When we live in our heads, in the land of evaluation and judgment, it becomes more challenging to see the humanity of the other particularly if you are upset.
Need: What need is alive in you right now. Needs are core to being human. In NVC, we prefer to talk in terms of universal needs, those needs that are common to all human beings; needs such as respect, autonomy, understanding, to matter, to contribute, to belong. We easily confuse our needs with a strategy, such as "I need you to do x,y,z."
Request: What would you like to happen? Is it do-able? It is difficult to put into a few words here all that goes into this rich body of knowledge and series of practices. I encourage our readers to come to the session to get a more thorough understanding of OFNR and to practice how to shift your thinking and actions so you can better get the outcomes you want.
JV: When did you first hear of this NVC model of OFNR?
PA: I was first introduced to Marshall Rosenberg's book on nonviolent communication in 1999, and I attended a workshop in the Boston area shortly thereafter. I was struck by the simplicity of the model of OFNR, and how I could immediately use it to untangle my own confusion and mess of feelings in conflicts I with which I was struggling at work and at home. Mastering the technique of first understanding myself in a moment of upset through OFNR, gives me the capacity to have greater empathy for both myself and the other person before I ever open my mouth. And THAT has saved me from myself time and time again!
Pat is an agile and executive coach with FreeStanding Agility. She coaches leaders and teams in strategies to increase employee engagement, team alignment, and collaboration. Her work integrates core principles from three key knowledge areas: the agile movement, conflict resolution and mediation, and the new brain research. Pat’s professional mission is to guide teams and leaders in creating dynamic work places where people are engaged, productive, and innovative. You can contact her here.