Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Is emotional unintelligence encouraged by popular media?

Is it any wonder that individuals acquire destructive patterns of communication?

We wake up to radio phone in debates or interviews, where polarised views are pushed forward as being the binary choice available.

On the way to work we read column after column of indignant editorial within our newspaper, or website of choice.

Perhaps at lunch time we might log into a website forum or messageboard. The fans' website for supporters of my football club, Southampton FC, is particularly apt at the moment as fans turn upon their former heroes and saviours for having failed to secure a financial remedy to our administration woes in the most violent language - a great example of the drama triangle perhaps...

Maybe we get home in time for TV drama such as the agitated rant that passes for entertainment within Eastenders and others.

To what extent does this diet of conflict fuelled communication create an expectation or a norm for us and how we ourselves react to conflict, disagreements and set backs? It is simply exhausting.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


Organisations, through the actions of their individuals, invest in and long to see failure. Surprised?

Unresolved conflict, low trust and resentment leads to factions or individuals within organisations turning upon one another, longing to see colleagues and initiatives fail.

Let me give you an example.

Meet John Bercow the new Speaker of the House of Commons.

A new Speaker was required to drive through the pressing organisational need to reform UK parliamentary procedures. John Bercow, Conservative MP was voted in, convincingly, with a mandate to do just that.

Every member of the UK government needs reform, and I have not heard of any who openly disagree with that notion. But rather than working towards that end the Organisation turns in on itself and invests time, energy and, regrettably, reputation on sabotage.

Don't believe me? Here is the comment from one of his fellow Conservative MPs...

"If Bercow thinks he’ll be re-elected unopposed once we have a majority in the Commons he’s got another think (sic) coming," said one Conservative frontbencher." Source

Wow. With friends like these...

How do you see sabotage and a desire for failure playing out within your organisation?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

From liquid logic, to solid and back again

In many disputes, the positions held by people are rock hard. Massive costs are incurred in trying to preserve the sanctity of that position.

Conflicts in the field of design and build demonstrate a wonderful conflict dynamic, namely how positions shift from a liquid state to a solid one and the problems that ensue.

Take an architect who designs a build with an innovative ceramic finish.

It transpires that the specified material is unavailable for several months. The contractor is under pressure to complete the build, or else face late completion penalties. An alternative is suggested but the architect is up in arms. It has to be the specified ceramic finish. Nothing else will do.

Positions have been adopted and have solidified.

And yet, it was not so long ago that the decision on the finish was entirely fluid. At that moment the architect could have chosen from any number of options. Here, the logic is fluid. It is possible to consider a wide range of solutions.

To some extent the decision to go for a certain finish is arbitrary. Sure, the decision will have been informed by aesthetic and other considerations, but there will have been other factors in play also.

Perhaps the architect has seen the finish whilst travelling recently. Perhaps it has received some coverage within the industry. It’s a new material with new technology and the architect is keen to lead the field in adopting its use.

When we deconstruct adopted, solidified positions by reverting to these considerations and questions, then we start to reverse-engineer that process that the architect had previously travelled through.

We back-up along the process of deliberation and conclusion. We can return to earlier logical decision branches and entertain what would have been the result if we had chosen a different branch.

We move away from the solidified state represented by the conclusion originally reached. That conclusion starts to dissolve into a more liquid state once more.

Consider the physicality of the dispute. If you have two solid blocks, or positions, that you are trying to bring together, then you have nothing but bricks knocking off each other. Introduce a degree of liquidity and the positions become easier to manage, easier to merge and easier to mould into a shape that truly fits.

I would like to thank Daniel Plunkett of www.spaceuse.co.uk for the discussion that led to this blog entry.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Despair. What is the point?

It is easy, so easy to despair that we can do anything in the face of conflict.

Sometimes conflict's stranglehold on society and individuals feels so tight that it is easy to give up.

I read the news today, oh boy... Lives lost in an argument about the loss of life? That makes no sense at all.

We see these heightened conflicts being played out to their awful fatal conclusions and wonder what is the point? What hope have we in bringing about change.

The same is true in organisations as it is within society. Look at teams and individuals. There is always one, a bad apple, the cat amongst the pigeons. We have initiatives, really freaking great ideas, great big whoppers of ideas, and yet we stay silent. What is the point? It'll never float. It will be bombed, sabotaged, passively supported while at the same time being willed to fail.

Managers go on course after course to help them get over their reticence and give some real feedback, you know, like useful feedback. And it sounds great and, yes I can see how that will make a difference, and we try it. And what happens? We still get the tears from our colleague, or the defensiveness and the sulking. And you know, maybe it is just easier if we just avoid the whole thing.

But but but then we are complicit in average organisations. We are contributing to an organisation remaining in its status quo. We are conspiring to restrict the organisations growth and development. And I'm thinking, its just a hunch, that that is not how we see ourselves, our contributions or our companies.

No, this accursed despair needs to be driven out, put in a box and thrown out into the back yard, like the worry weeds that Tom Waits muses on in his concert film Big Time. Take those weeds and choke 'em.

Let's recognise despair for what it is; a debilitating self-deception that tells us it is alright not to try, try and try again.

When it comes to conflict in the organisation, well then sometimes all it needs is one small change in ourselves and that can turn a stagnant backwater of dissent into a vibrant new river of communication, carrying many with it on its way to who knows where. And sure, there will be white rapids, but we can get through them. It might be challenging, it might be a little bit frightening, but which would you prefer and which approach does your organisation need?

I heard a story the other day that a ship captain had calculated as he was leaving port in South Africa, headed for Australia, that if he changed his course by just one degree that he would miss Australia altogether. The smallest change can make a massive difference and for that reason alone, we need not despair.