Do you remember talking about the “fight or flight” instinct in school? Have you seen it in action? During a team meeting recently, one person intended to “fight” and as the intensity of the interaction increased, it led to another team member to take “flight”. One was blaming, accusing and increasing the volume and intensity of their voice and the other person chose to stand up, walk out of the meeting, get in their vehicle and leave.
While not optimal conditions, this is better than non-engagement or ignoring of each other. The strong emotions needed to come out; otherwise the pressure and poison would continue to grow. In this situation the way the feelings and beliefs came out was a problem. Were the relationships damaged beyond repair? Will the team lose faith that they can work together? Technically this disagreement was about an operational issue, but in reality it was about the relationship.
Why do relationships go bad?
The tendency to “fight or flight” is a normal human reaction. It can be good because sometimes it takes a series of events for us to fight for what we believe and speak our truths. Then again, it can also be good to get away from a fight and clear our thoughts and think before we re-engage. However, if we continually flight or fight (or both), that’s what causes a relationship to fail. Relationships need engagement where both parties are heard, understood and action is taken to improve.
On the fight side, too often people fight based solely on how they feel at that moment without considering the larger picture. It is much more effective to:
We find that when you fight following simple rules, it is not really a “fight” but rather “intense fellowship”. Both results and relationships are improved through this approach.
Intense fellowship can be hard because our brains take in 11 million bits of data per second yet we can only process 40 bits. Unconsciously, much of what we see and hear etc. is ignored. Be careful not to overwhelm with too much data.
We also have a psychological habit of seeking out and hearing only data that supports our beliefs. If I believe Joe does not always tell the truth, then I will hear and see data that supports my belief. If someone else has a belief that Joe is honest and has integrity, they will see only the data that supports their belief. (For more on cognitive bias, click here)
We screen out all that does not fit the map in our head. While this can be a useful tool to allow us to handle more data, it can make us close minded to other possibilities. This is especially true when the added pressure of deadlines and limited resources are in play. This “stress” can lead to fight or flight that is too intense and damaging. Worse yet, it can rip apart a team if people begin to believe that the team is unable to get consensus.
As an alternative, there must be a dialogue where each person is able to understand the other’s affective, cognitive and conative perspective and decide on a course of action that is best for all parties.
In “the old days” when the world moved slower and the command/control (or hub and spoke) approach worked better, the leader could mediate and create connections and glue between individuals. Today, the individuals on a team need to be able to work together better, mediate among themselves and be their own “glue”.
We do believe that the leader is responsible for teaching good conflict (or intense fellowship) when negativity crops up to ensure that the team works it out. The goal is not to just get through the issue; it is to bring the relationship and results to a whole new level.
Most members of leadership teams have not learned to do this. Very few do it well. In a growing organization, it is a critical that this set of skills is learned at the leadership level, but also in the organization as a whole.
In having great dialogue, a good fight or intense fellowship, we have identified ten capabilities that increase the ability to have better interactions. They are:
When individuals are unable to separate what really happened from what they perceive happened. They are quick to make judgments and then act as if it is all true. This harms relationships and prevents openness.
People with hope and vision focus on actions that will cause progress. If they cannot see a way to hit the home run, they look for the double or they go for a base hit or a walk. They find some way to win.
Great listeners repeat back what was heard and will ask questions to get an even deeper answer. Instead of saying “that won’t work”, they will provide alternatives and are willing to allow time for the group to come to a consensus. (We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.)
Great organizations focus on what is possible, what they can get agreement on and what can be implemented. Individuals and teams that struggle at this will typically feel an intense desire to get “the best or perfect answer” resulting in nothing getting done.
This allows you to gain energy, stay engaged and quickly begin working on progress. Look for the positive in every situation.
Rather than dealing with either/or discussions, focus on the “and” discussion. You need a mix of new and old, team work and individual results, stability and change. This is a more sophisticated and practical view of the world that results in better relationships and improved performance.
People respond and are motivated differently. Sometimes you need to be loud and boisterous and at other times you need to whisper to get your point across. Be able to identify when to use power and when to be more subtle and gentle.
By looking for longer term solutions, and looking deeply at how to resolve issues, you will find larger success. You cannot just focus on the task without considering where the task fits into the plan.
Appreciating different points of view can actually make the picture clearer. Learn to be open minded to new ideas. Combining many ideas to make a plan will result in one that is resilient and sustainable. Focusing on the first answer is naïve. It is always better to hear multiple solutions and develop a strategy that uses the best of them all.
Continuously ask questions, read, talk, challenge others in a positive way to broaden your horizons. Add more tools to your toolbox.
If you are struggling because your team has too much fight or flight and not enough “intense fellowship”, call Candace at 800-786-4332, ext. 106 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org