There are numerous -- almost innumerable -- theories and models about the best ways in which an individual can use a variety of management skills to reduce conflict and establish an atmosphere of cooperation. In the video that I taped for this course I have worked on identifying, naming, and incorporating some of the skills that we have discussed during the coursework as well as skills and strategies that appear in the literature. Essential to the skills that we have studied this term and that I have worked to incorporate in the attached video are not only those that are traditionally associated with management strategies but also those that are based in psychotherapeutic techniques.
Indeed, the techniques and the overall philosophy that I was most interested in learning about and trying out were those that were new to me because their basis was in psychology rather than business. In preparing for the session, these are the strategies that that I have depended on primarily because the offer far greater chance at resolving conflicts and producing a win-win solution than many of the techniques that are the foundation of most management conflict styles. I was myself surprised by how much more effective these skills were than I expected them to be.
What I also found to be true was that the skills that we have learned throughout this course were not at all what I expected "psychological" practices to be. In movies and on television shows about therapists, the therapist is shown sitting back and asking "And how did that make you feel?" over and over. I did not see how such an attitude or such a strategy could possibly be used in the workplace. What I now know is this is not at all how therapy works. The fact that the therapeutic skills that we have learned require all parties to an attempt to resolve conflict and friction must be actively committed to do their part.
Still, as committed as I wanted to be to the new skills that I was learning and as powerful as they seemed to me, when I was doing the readings I still had important questions about how to use the knowledge that I was acquiring. The major skills that we have discussed, including active listening and empathy, seemed to me to be too vague to be effective. I have been taught in other courses -- as well as by supervisors in jobs that I have held in watching the way that they attempted to deal with problems in the workplace was essentially to pull rank.
In other words, the traditional way in which managers reduce conflicts is by reminding workers that there is a hierarchy in the workplace in which each worker occupies a specific rank and that while managers attempt to be reasonable, part of conflict resolution is to reassert the ways in which the worker(s) who are involved in a conflict can do so with the framework of the company's established structure. This strategy can, in fact, sometimes be effective if only because it does indeed remind workers of how much power a manager has over them.
But I believe that those times when it is effective are when it is used on workers who have spent their lives in more traditional companies and are therefore congruent with the underlying philosophies of those companies. I do not believe that traditional management techniques would be nearly as effective for workers who have developed or who are developing their own professional skills and professional identity with the context of a newer firm, such as any of the start-ups that offer some of the best jobs today.
In contrast to this are the techniques that we used here, ones that are based far more in psychotherapy than in the business literature. When we were reading about these techniques I understood how they could be used in the context of a therapy session but I did not see how they could be successfully utilized during a meeting to reduce or resolve conflict between a manager and workers or between a manager and a group of workers in which there is an intrinsic and necessary hierarchy. Therapy is, after all, based in the idea that the therapist and the client are fundamentally equal, even if the therapist is an expert.
What I found in the readings as well as in reading background literature was that quite often the best way in which conflicts can be resolved in a win-win manner is for the manager to set aside much of the rules of hierarchy for the period of the conflict resolution (Dana, 2007). Workers are much more likely to be amenable to making fundamental changes in their attitude and habits as well as being much more likely to be able to become and remain dedicated to the company's philosophy and strategy if they feel that their concerns and daily conflicts will be met with an honest attempt to resolve the situation (Rowe, 1990).
In assessing the skills that I demonstrated (as evidenced in the scene that I taped) I was surprised at how difficult it is to name specific management and conflict-resolution strategies because they are all linked to each other, or at least this was the way that it seemed to me. When we were reading about active listening, for example, it seemed to me to be related to but also fundamentally different than empathy. In preparing for the exercise I therefore read about these two concepts and was committed to introducing both into the meeting. However, looking back at my performance I am struck by the fact that I cannot really separate the two in terms of what I was doing.
Looking back as I watch the video, I do not believe that combining different approaches is detrimental. I believe that in some measure it is most effective to act as naturally as possible while also being aware inside of what one can do to promote an atmosphere of a win-win possible outcome (Robertson, 2005). Trying to check off in my mind each of the skills that we have read about actually made it harder to engage in active listening.
For example, at about the 2:50 mark in the video I answered the "worker's" long discussion of the problems that she was facing with a nodding head, a "yes" and a "thanks for sharing that with me." I believe that each of these responses was influenced by the ideas of both active listening and empathy but I cannot separate the influence of each concept or assess what proportion of my response is one or the other. I don't actually know if it is important to be able to separate the two, and this has not been clear in our readings.
It seemed to me both during the interview itself and when I watched the video later on that this combination worked and that the "worker" did not seem confused by the fact that I blended "active listening" with "empathy." That the two should blend together is not at all surprising when one looks at the definition of each terms. "Active listening" requires providing feedback to a speaker in a way that makes him/her -- or them -- believe that they have been accurately and authentically heard (Mineyama et al., 2007) while "empathy" requires that the listener demonstrate that's/he understands from personal experience (which can be analogous rather than exact) what it would be like to be in the same position) (Rowe, 1990). We explored many of these same topics in Week Three and Week Four.
I once again demonstrated these two skills at about the 3:40 mark in the video when I nodded at what the speaker was saying and replied with a "I understand" statement in which I provided a summary of what she had said, ending with a question to her to check in to see whether I had gotten the gist of her statement correct. I was also aware of the importance of body language at this point because I found that I had leaned slightly towards her without even realizing it and was making eye contact in a more direct way than I usually do (Derber, 1979).
I believe that I incorporated the appropriate use of boy language, although this is the area in which I would like to improve the most. This was true from the very beginning when I took too long to get settled to start the interview. I think that if I were actually to act like this with a worker than I might make them feel uncomfortable because s/he might interpret my behavior as being either that I was nervous or that I did not want to be talking to her (Blake, Mouton, & Solving, 1984)
I am glad that I was able to incorporate more sensitivity to the messages that I might be sending to another person through even small examples…