Working Dynamics



August 2007  


Welcome to the quarterly Working Dynamics Newsletter. Our goal is to highlight ways we can communicate more effectively, have stronger work relationships, and manage conflict constructively in our work lives.

Susan Gunn, Working Dynamics

In this issue...


Getting on to the Solution

geometricHave you ever observed colleagues in conflict when they "get stuck" at one place and are seemingly unable to get to a solution? They have little new to add, so they rehash their story and repeat their position over and over to whomever will listen. It is as if they've hit an emotional wall and are unable to find a creative exit or come up with a satisfying way out of their situation.

Perhaps you've even found yourself reacting more emotionally than rationally in a conflict situation and wondered how to get "unstuck" yourself. Conflict and emotions go hand-in-hand. Yet, getting to the source of a problem and reaching a new beginning, takes a measure of rational thinking. Favorite authors of mine Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith write about workplace conflict. They suggest someone needs to risk saying what is honestly going on to get beneath the surface. A few concrete steps you can take to communicate in a way that turns the attention toward solutions:

  1. Start by focusing on yourself to understand more of your own emotions as they relate to this conflict situation.
  2. Use curiosity, open-ended questions, and empathic listening as probes to take you beneath the surface.
  3. Take a risk by bringing a deep level of honesty to what you see, hear, and observe, recognizing that the more honest you are with yourself, the deeper you can go with others.
  4. Be willing to accept whatever you find beneath the surface without shame, anger, or judgment.

These tips come from Resolving Conflicts At Work: A Complete Guide For Everyone On The Job.

More books by this author ...


Why is it REALLY Hard to Listen Sometimes?

bubblesOkay, the importance of listening is not news! We know we should show interest in what the speaker is saying, be patient, not interrupt, and use "minimal encouragers" like nodding our head or saying "go on" or "uh-huh." Further, we probably know that "reflecting back" what we've heard and summarizing key points are very good ideas.

Knowing what we should do doesn't make it easy. Why not?

  1. We think we know what the person is going to say. It seems so easy to anticipate what the other person will say. We jump to conclusions especially fast when we don't find the speaker interesting, or we think we've heard what they are saying before. And in doing so, we fail to really hear the message.
  2. We practice "selective listening." It isn't difficult to fall into the trap of hearing only what we want to hear. When we hear only what will reinforce what we currently believe, we get a limited view that is quite likely a biased one.
  3. Our minds are going at breakneck speed. When our mind jumps ahead of the speaker, our attention has clearly strayed and makes hearing almost impossible. Impatience, distractions, and not giving full attention are certain barriers to really understanding what the other person is trying to say.
  4. All the "noise" doesn't make it easy. Our physical environment is usually rich with noise — ringing telephones, conversations, and myriad background distractions — some of which is beyond our control. Yet, some of it we can, and should, minimize.
  5. To listen or to daydream; that is the question. Okay, it is tempting to escape into a daydream at times. And sometimes it feels necessary to plan what we'll say next. The question isn't whether we should daydream or not, but how big the loss is if we do.

Starting small is a great first step. Promise yourself that you will follow the advice of JUST ONE of the tips below FOR ONE WEEK. See how it works for you. You'll be better at it by the seventh day. Research says our actions become habits after 21 days.

  • Listen fully (listen beyond words; observe manner, tone, etc.).
  • Consciously slow your thinking when listening to someone.
  • Cut out any distractions you can when someone is speaking to you.
  • Focus intently on the speaker to reduce the tendency to drift to one of those many competing thoughts in your mind.

Being regarded as a good listener is a high compliment. Achieve this for yourself with a little extra time, a little self-control, and a little concentration. The rewards could be more satisfying work relationships and being heard more often yourself.



graphicI am hearing the term "back-story" a lot recently — the back-story on political candidates, on our food before it reaches us, on cell phones, and on and on. No longer is it used just by authors and journalists, the term seems to be gaining in use for a wide variety of purposes. By definition, "back-story" is the story behind the main story. It can include past history, unstated agendas, information that comes from secret sources, unconfirmed rumor, and/or material that is too long or too complicated to include in the story (Wikipedia definition). Therefore, the back-story can be a very real element of the larger story, but not always "reported" for any number of reasons.

Considering the notion of back-story in workplace conflict might be useful. Everyone has their take on a disagreement based on past history, input from others, their agenda etc. Most people think their viewpoint makes the most sense. And they may not have reported or even recognized all of the influences that have formed their opinion. Communicating the back-story might be your ticket our of a painful, protracted disagreement. You may have that one piece of information (how and why you see things as you do) that might untangle the conflict, and you hadn't voiced it before. Or perhaps learning your conflict partner's back-story could shed a new light on your opinion and possibly change the outcome.

Use your curiosity and ask some simple questions to better understand. Start with yourself — how did you come to see this situation as you do? Next, learn from your colleagues — what is their back-story or how they view the situation today? Conflict in the workplace can be a complex matter. Focus on the back-story to steer conflict into a useful direction.

Contact Working Dynamics for assistance ...


About the publisher

Susan Gunn is president of Working Dynamics, a Richmond, VA, consulting firm. Working Dynamics builds collaboration and success in the workplace through development programs and conflict management. Learn more about us at

"The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today." — Chinese Proverb

According to The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything by Stephen M. R. Covey:

  • Only 29% of employees believe that management cares about them developing their skills.
  • Only 42% believe that management cares about them at all.

Henry L. Stimson, Politician (1867–1950), is quoted as saying:

The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.


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