Six Questions to Ask for Successful Collaboration

Collaboration Word Cloud

The biggest problem with collaborative problem solving is the collaborative part.

Many new leaders became leaders because they know how to get things done. This individual ability to solve problems, applied in a team environment, can become a weakness as the new leader pushes strongly for a solution that others resist.

I have been that new leader who pushed too strongly too early in the process. That approach rarely worked for me.

As I began working to develop better collaborative problem solving skills, I read How to Make Collaboration Work by David Straus, and I learned an approach for reaching better group decisions. Straus’ basic premise is that collaboration follows six predictable steps or stages.

Personally, I apply what Straus teaches by asking six questions of both myself and others as we work to solve problems together. Over time, I have found that the approach works well.

If possible, I suggest using the questions in the order listed here. If you are already engaged in a collaborative effort that has gotten stuck, you can use these questions to identify where you got off track and to get the discussion moving forward again.

Is there a problem?

I might see a problem. Others might not. Before we can reach an agreement on the best solution for the problem, we have to agree that a problem exists.

How do you define the problem?

How you solve a problem hinges on how you define the problem. If you define it one way and I define it a different way, we will never agree on the solution.

What are some possible causes for the problem?

Once we agree that there is a problem and that we both define it the same way, we can analyze the causes. If we assign different causes to the problem, we will not be able to agree on how to solve it.

What are some different ways we could solve the problem?

This is the brainstorming and creative stage. We want to identify as many possible solutions as possible so that we can pick the best one rather than the first one that we identify.

What would a successful solution look like?

Most of the problems we solve using this process could be solved in many different ways and every solution will have its own set of benefits and drawbacks. At this stage of the process, we agree on the criteria we will use to evaluate the possible solutions. For example, if we must trade quality or time in order to save costs, how much quality or time are we prepared to sacrifice to save money?

Which of the possible solutions best fits the solution criteria?

Finally, we can wrestle with deciding which solution best fits our agreed upon criteria.

This series of questions helps people to identify hidden assumptions or conclusions they might bring to the table that would hinder reaching a conclusion that everyone can accept. The process can sometimes get messy, and it can take some time. The benefit in sticking with it is that the time you invest in the process will pay you back in faster and better implementation due to better buy-in, commitment, and enthusiasm.

Conflict De-escalation Strategies: Control Your Tone and Body Language

Face-to-face anger

The perception of threat is the primary cause for conflict escalation. The most important word in the previous sentence is perception. If you have no intention of causing the other person harm (either physically or emotionally) and they perceive that you do intend to harm them, your real intentions do not matter. With regard to the affect your actions have on the conflict, it only matters that they perceive you to be a threat.

The leverage point for de-escalating the conflict is their perception, and the strongest impact you will likely have on their perception is your tone and body language.

One commonly referenced study on the impact of non-verbal clues in the communication process comes from Albert Mehrabian. In this study, Mehrabian found that when we communicate about feelings and attitudes the received message (the receiver’s perception and interpretation of the message) is based on a combination of word choice, vocal tone, and facial expression. Meharabian expressed this observation with his “Liking Formula” that says:

Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking

Mehrabian’s study has been misquoted, misapplied, and misconstrued by many people to say that 93% of every message we convey to others comes from our tone and body language, and that interpretation is simply not true. What is true is that in ambiguous situations where we are conveying like-dislike and other emotional context messages to others, people place more emphasis on the tone and body language than they do to the words. The practical implication of this observation is this:

If your words do not match your tone and body language, people will believe your tone and body language before they will believe your words.

To become a master of conflict resolution, you need to learn more than a basket of tips, techniques, strategies, and phrases. You need to develop the ability to observe your tone and body language to identify inconsistencies between the words you are using and the non-verbal messages you are conveying.

When you find yourself in a conflict and you are working to resolve it successfully, choose non-threatening tones and body language so that your words of resolution will match the non-verbal messages you send.

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

This article is from the De-escalation Tips series. Use the links below to read more from this series.

Using Apology to De-escalate a Conflict

sorry-sky-writing

Apology is a powerful — and often under used — conflict resolution tool. One reason for not apologizing that I often hear in my work with clients is the concern that apologizing either totally admits fault for the conflict or reveals a weakness.

While these concerns may be legitimate in some situations, they are overblown in most cases.

The perception of threat is the primary reason for conflict escalation, and removing this perception is the leverage point for conflict de-escalation. Apology works so well because it makes you less threatening to the other person.

Here are three tips for apologizing in a way that leads to de-escalation…

  1. Only apologize for your behaviors, words and actions, and never apologize for the other person’s feelings or interpretations.
    While it can happen, I seldom see situations where a conflict starts and escalates due solely to the actions of one person. So, there is likely some word choice, tone, or action that you contributed to the conflict escalation. When you are willing to take responsibility for your contribution, you tend to reduce the perception the other person has that you are a threat to them.Likewise, when you apologize for the other person’s feelings, you subtly imply that you are in control of their emotional state. For many people, when you claim ownership for their feelings you convey a threat signal.
  2. Maintain appropriate eye contact.
    Appropriate eye contact conveys respect and trustworthiness. As a result, good eye contact is a critical component of an effective apology.
  3. Make sure your tone and body language match your message.
    In his often quoted (and misquoted) communication study, Albert Mehrabian found that body language and tone are the majority contributors to the received message in face-to-face communication. For the purpose of this post, the key observation is that when the message conveyed by tone and body language does not match the message sent by your word choice, the listener tends to believe the tone and body language in preference to the words.

With these tips in mind, here are some suggested ways to successfully phrase an apology…

  • “I apologize for the tone I used.”
  • “I am sorry that I spoke in a way that was offensive to you.”
  • “I am sorry that I said/did ______.”

Please add your tips and suggestions in the comments section.

photo credit: butupa via photopin cc

This article is from the De-escalation Tips series. Use the links below to read more from this series.

Accept and Acknowledge Feelings to De-Escalate Conflicts

uderstanding-wordle

A common reason that conflicts escalate is the perception of threat one or both parties see in the conflict escalation cycle. Taking an action that makes you non-threatening to the other person is a powerful step towards de-escalating the conflict.

In many conflict situations I have observed a tendency by some people to minimize, criticize, or demean the emotions expressed by other people. I have also seen people attempt to tell other people how they should feel about a situation.

All of these actions trigger the perception of threat that tends to escalate conflicts.

If your interest is in de-escalating a conflict, I suggest that you do the opposite. I recommend that you accept and acknowledge the feelings other people express whether you agree that they should feel that way or not.

As I said in my post about Listening as a Way to De-escalate Conflict, the need to be heard and understood is a strong motivator in our relationships with other people. Accepting and acknowledging other people’s feelings goes a long way towards showing people that they have been heard and understood.

This article is from the De-escalation Tips series. Use the links below to read more from this series.

Listening as a Tool to De-escalate Conflicts

Listening intently

 

Recently, I read this statement: “They keep yelling at me that I’m not listening.” I would love to give credit to the person who said it, but I’ve lost the source. I think I saw it as a tweet in my twitter stream. I’m just not sure of that. In any case, I thought it was funny.

Funny? Yes. A good perspective for conflict resolution?  No.

When said in a tongue-in-cheek way while observing the irony, the statement is, at least to me, really funny. When said as a way to escape responsibility,  to  deflect the damage we do to others and to our relationships, or to blame the other person when we fail to listen, the statement reveals a pretty natural consequence of not listening to what others have to say.

In fact, failing to listen actually invites the other person to “yell at you.” Why?

Because failing to listen violates a need almost universally expressed by people in all cultures: the need to be heard and understood. Failing to meet another person’s need — or worse, violating a need — sends a threat signal through the other person’s mind that triggers the conflict escalation cycle.

In Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior Ori and Rom Brafman reference several studies that point to the need to be heard and how it affects people ranging from convicted felons to venture capitalists.

The specifics of the people’s lives and the events they are evaluating are different, and people on both ends of this cultural spectrum report higher levels of satisfaction with events — without regard to the quality of the objective outcomes — when they feel that the other person involved in the situation with them spent time with them and listened to their concerns.

For the prisoners, the other person was their attorney. For the venture capitalists, the other person was running the company where they invested money. Two completely different situations with completely different measures of success, and one primary human need cited as the driving force for satisfaction with the outcome: the need to be heard and understood.

In a previous post, I listed listening as one of Five Ways to Ee-escalate a Conflict. The reason that listening works so well is that it meets a human need. Looking for ways to meet the other person’s needs helps to take the perception of threat out of your interaction so that you can move the conflict towards resolution.

Will listening guarantee conflict resolution? No, it won’t.

Not listening, though, virtually guarantees conflict escalation.

Become conflict confident!

This article is from the De-Escalation Tips series. Use the links below to read more from this series.