Connection Trumps Conflict: 3 Exercises to Improve Your Leadership Communication Skills

I’m sure it’s happened to you: You’re in a tense team meeting trying to defend your position on a big project and start to feel yourself losing ground. Your voice gets louder. You talk over one of your colleagues and correct his point of view. He pushes back, so you go into overdrive to convince everyone you’re right. It feels like an out of body experience — and in many ways it is. In terms of its neurochemistry, your brain has been hijacked.

In situations of high stress, fear or distrust, the hormone and neurotransmitter cortisol floods the brain. Executive functions that help us with advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building, and compassion shut down. And the amygdala, our instinctive brain, takes over. So we default to one of four responses: fight (keep arguing the point), flight (revert to, and hide behind, group consensus), freeze (disengage from the argument by shutting up) or appease (make nice with your adversary by simply agreeing with him).

All are harmful because they prevent the honest and productive sharing of information and opinion. But, as a consultant who has spent decades working with executives on their communication skills, I can tell you that the fight response is by far the most damaging to work relationships. It is also, unfortunately, the most common.

That’s partly due to another neurochemical process. When you argue and win, your brain floods with different hormones: adrenaline and dopamine, which makes you feel good, dominant, even invincible. It’s a the feeling any of us would want to replicate. So the next time we’re in a tense situation, we fight again. We get addicted to being right.

Luckily, there’s another hormone that can feel just as good as adrenaline: oxytocin. It’s activated by human connection and it opens up the networks in our executive brain, or prefrontal cortex, further increasing our ability to trust and open ourselves to sharing. Your goal as a leader should be to spur the production of oxytocin in yourself and others, while avoiding (at least in the context of communication) those spikes of cortisol and adrenaline.

Here are a few exercises for you to do at work to help your (and others’) addiction to being right:

  • Set rules of engagement. If you’re heading into a meeting that could get testy, start by outlining rules of engagement.  These practices will counteract the tendency to fall into harmful conversational patterns. Afterwards, consider see how you and the group did and seek to do even better next time.
  • Listen with empathy. In one-on-one conversations, make a conscious effort to speak less and listen more. The more you learn about other peoples’ perspectives, the more likely you are to feel empathy for them. And when you do that for others, they’ll want to do it for you, creating a virtuous circle.
  • Plan who speaks. In situations when you know one person is likely to dominate a group, create an opportunity for everyone to speak. Ask all parties to identify who in the room has important information, perspectives, or ideas to share. List them and the areas they should speak about on a flip chart and use that as your agenda, opening the floor to different speakers, asking open-ended questions and taking notes.

Connecting and bonding with others trumps conflict. I’ve found that even the best fighters — the proverbial smartest guys in the room — can break their addiction to being right by getting hooked on oxytocin-inducing behavior instead.

Read the full article here.

Read more by Judith here.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Judith Glaser

Judith Glaser

Judith E. Glaser is the CEO of Benchmark Communications and the chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is the author of six books, including Creating WE (Platinum Press, 2005) and Conversational Intelligence (BiblioMotion, 2013), and a consultant to Fortune 500 companies.

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I was on a committee that closed churches. It killed me that we could close a church one week and the next week it would open with a different name and different denomination and cars would be parked up and down the street. Why? Why? Why?
 
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Recently I visited a Church and I was #1 put off by the timing of the meet and greet. 10 minutes after the Pastor had begun speaking he stopped for the m & g, which totally throwed the focus off from the sermon. Which made me think "wow" could that not have been done at the beginning or end. And #2 at no time during the sermon was a biblical passage given to back up what the Pastor referred to in his comments. I didn't go back as I didn't feel God's presence guiding that church.
 
— Darla
 
Solid article. I was once handed a list of 6 things I had done wrong over the previous 45 days. While some of them had indeed been things that had been discussed (usually in a 30-second conversation- nothing to indicate that they were real "problems") the vast majority of them were trumped up nonsense. When I asked this person why he never walked down to my office, less than 20 feet away form his, to discuss them, he told that he was unable to manage me. Pathetic. He then handed it to me to sign. None of the elders had signed it, and when I asked about that, he had one of them who was present in the building sign it. Interestingly, he never even signed his own name in the space provided. I asked for a copy signed by ALL of the elders multiple times afterward, and never received it. I later from one of them that he had not sought approval prior to giving it to me, despite typing their names on the document as though he had.
 
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