Is the decision maker in the rooom?

Someone came to me today with a conflict and I think as we talked about it, I learned as much or possibly more than she did.  I learned about the importance of the decision–maker.

It seemed straightforward at first. This is the kind of conflict which you hear about often in the workplace.  “I am concerned about the tone and the language in the emails I am receiving from this person and I am honestly wondering if she is deliberately trying to undermine me.”  That sense of paranoia about the motivations of another, the suspicion about language and tone, these are very familiar concerns in conflict world.

Here's lookin' at YOU, sweet-stuff!

In this classic scenario, I normally advocate a direct conversation with the individual involved to start with. After all, that individual is the one who has the ultimate authority to change their own behaviour.  It is usually best to approach the most direct source you have access to for all kind of reasons – it will prevent the situation from escalating; it will eliminate the sense of possible blind-siding or circumventing which will harm the relationship further; and very importantly, it provides a critical opportunity to learn more about the other side of the story and gain a deeper understanding that will help build a stronger relationship.

But a more important point came up as we began to debrief and explore the situation.  I began with some questions:

  • What is the ultimate and ideal change you would like to see?
  • What evidence will you have when it has occurred?

Well, these questions broadened the scope significantly.  In fact, the concern was not about the emails at all, but about the changing nature of the relationship between the two organizations each of these people work for.

More questions followed:

  • Who has the authority to influence these changes that you have identified?
  • How do you believe your previous relationship with this person has influenced your perspective of this situation?

This is always a tightrope walk. It is almost never a bad idea in a gentle, honest, open and specific way to address your concerns directly with an individual.  But it is a very good idea to examine what the nature is of you relationship with that person, and the bigger picture.

In this case, because of the previous history of the two involved, because of their roles, and the nature of the relationship of the two organizations they work for, it became clear through questioning and exploring that the best move would be to turn concerns over to another who has the authority to address the bigger picture. The dialogue would not be about the behaviour of one individual, but rather about the changing roles of the two organizations in their working relationship.

Take the time to prepare before entering into a difficult conversation. Examine your own assumptions, and critically look at your role and your authority. Ensure that the decision-maker who has the authority to induce change is in the room from the beginning.

Leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal agains...

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal against Detroit Red Wings, Stanley Cup Playoffs, 1942 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to resolving disputes, leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh.

There may be mixed feelings to the news of returning hockey this week, but one thing is for certain: we can all learn something from Scot Beckenbaugh, the mediator who managed the NHL talks in a frenetic and final 48 hours this weekend.

Define your role.

Beckenbaugh’s experience is in the business of negotiating labour disputes in a wide range of industries for the US Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. He does have extensive experience with sports negotiations, but his business is not hockey.  He has declined interviews and comments about the talks this week.

  • You can support good dispute resolution by making a deliberate decision yourself about when and how to get involved.  Support those with the authority who are most closely involved and have the expertise to own the content, the final decision, and the stories. Be transparent about your role.

Listen openly and critically.

Winnipeg Jets Defenseman and union negotiator Scott Hainsey told reporters that “Scot was great for a number of reasons…When it got to points where you didn’t know what to do next – or you had an idea but you didn’t know if it might upset the other side – you could go to him and talk to him about it and there was a way to work your ideas through a third party who was able to really help the process.”

  • Asking powerful and provocative questions and listening actively to the answers will help others clarify their thinking. You will learn a lot too, and when the decision is finally made, you will understand if and when it is the right one, and when it is necessary to step in.

Remain loyal to the process.

Over a 48 hour period and in marathon days Beckenbaugh held both sides to the process.  There was not enough trust for parties to meet face to face, so Beckenbaugh managed the process by shuttling between them, building trust in his engagement, and in the process of conciliation.

  • Decide on an appropriate process for reaching a resolution and hold everybody to it.  Even when you don’t have a ready answer you can demonstrate leadership by managing an effective process to get to one.

Providing ready answers and solutions is the easy part of being a leader. The mature and effective leader knows when to step back and how to empower others to reach their own conclusions. Active listening will aid understanding for all, and strategic choices about your role and the process will foster good long-term decisions.

An Emotionally Intelligent Workplace is…

An emotionally intelligent workplace is one which does not rely solely on technical expertise for making hiring and promotion decisions. An emotionally intelligent workplace supports staff from behind the scenes, allowing those who do the work to take the credit and creating an environment that helps talent shine.

These are just a few of the things I learned from David Cory on September 28 when he spoke to us at our most recent Workplace Fairness luncheon. In short, our emotional intelligence governs many decisions we make, usually quite unwittingly. Consider the impact on decisions of our first impressions – the handshake, dress, even tone of voice. We go to school to learn technical skills, but often fail to consider the role our emotions play in our day-to-day decisions.

Nov08 {274/366} Expansor de brisa de felicidade!

When I invite individuals to introduce themselves in my conflict resolution classes, I often ask them for their single word for conflict. Out of 20 words, typically 4 or 5 are emotion words: fear, anger, anxiety. The definition of Emotional Intelligence (from Mayer and Salovey, 1990) is “The ability of the brain to process emotions and emotional information.” Emotional intelligence is requisite for conflict resolution, and as David pointed out, for hiring decisions.

We leave the acquisition of these skills to chance. Children left alone learn all about bullying and cliquing. Adults revert to this behaviour in less emotionally intelligent workplaces.

What drives discretionary effort? One’s relationship with the boss. It is a myth that good leaders need technical competence; it is more important to build an atmosphere in the workplace which is motivational and inspirational, supporting technically-expert staff to do their best work from behind the scenes.

So how do you measure EI? And if you can measure it, how do you go about improving it? David pointed us to one available tool.

Developed by Dr. Reuven Bar-On, the EQI 2 ( identifies skills in five areas:

  • Stress management
  • Self perception
  • Self expression
  • Decision making
  • Interpersonal skills

Following an assessment, individual coaching sessions can be geared towards addressing weaker areas. One-on-one work with a performance coach helps individuals gain specific strategies and confidence to improve their emotional fitness quotient.

The keys to improving your emotional intelligence quotient are captured with the acronym SOSSA:

S – Self.  Understand yourself. Do not hesitate to be honest with yourself about your areas of weakness.

O – Others. Understand others and help others. Social responsibility will elevate your emotional fitness.

S – Situations. Pay attention to situations and how they affect reactions and behaviours.

S – Stress. Pay attention to stress and its impacts.

A – Attitude. Learn optimism.

Thank you David Cory ( for a very interesting session. I will be carefully considering and evaluating my own emotional intelligence. My personal goal is to pay more attention to situations and how they affect reactions and behaviours, optimistically of course.