Join QLI President and CEO, Patricia Kearns, PT, and Director of Neuropsychology, Dr. Jeffrey Snell in this insightful webinar about the neuroscience of conflict. Discover why conflict is important, learn how core beliefs influence thoughts and actions, and get a mental checklist for navigating conflict.
Speakers: Tim Benak, Dr. Jeff Snell, QLI President and CEO Patricia Kearns, PT
All right. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us for a webinar Monday here in Studio Q. Webinar Monday doesn’t sound the same as webinar Wednesday. I’m so used to that just rolling off my tongue. We appreciate you joining us. We’ve got an exciting webinar today on the neuroscience of conflict. And I’m going to assume the reason you joined is because you learned so much from the neuroscience of gratitude with both of our wonderful presenters. So we did that a few months back and we hope you joined, and if not, reach out to me and we can send you the recording on that.
So just a quick reminder that there will be no CEU credit given for this presentation, and I know you know that because you’ve read the description. Enjoy it anyways, just to hang out and learn a little bit. So I’m trying to see the number of people we have joined with us today. Looks like we got 60 people on with us right now. 59. So we appreciate y’all taking the time to join us on Thanksgiving week. We enjoy giving these presentations, and then we hope that you learn a little bit.
So just to step back, I always think it’s important to give you guys a look into why we think that this topic is important, especially for this audience. So primarily, 80 to 90% of everyone that’s on typically for our webinars is in the work comp industry. And the remaining is a percentage mixed professions in the medical field. And now let’s acknowledge that those industries can have quite a bit of conflict both internally and externally that impacts your day to day. And this presentation will teach you that what happens in your brain during conflict, as well as proven best practices for navigating intellectual and creative differences, which we know, especially here at QLI, based on our culture, that those can help you both on your personal and professional lives.
So joining me today are two leading experts in the science of building better brains and better workplaces. I’ve got QLI’s president and CEO, Patricia Kearns, and director of neuropsychology, Dr. Jeffrey Snell. So Jeff, I’m going to start with you. I always start with you, just because you don’t like to be introduced for very long. So it’s short and sweet and then you move on. So you-
No. Go ahead, get a couple of cheap shots in. Get your start. Here you go.
You’ve been at QLI now 22 years.
Yeah, just over 22. Came here as an intern in 1998 and was fortunate enough to be offered a position, and this is a fantastic place to work, so I’ve never had to go out and look for another job in the meantime.
There it is. I think we wrapped up for the day. That was it right there. And Pat, this is your second time in Studio Q for a webinar. You’re in here all the time giving presentations, but for this audience and for this purpose, this is your second time joining us and I appreciate you hopping back in the studio with me this morning.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Yeah. Thanks for including me.
Yeah, absolutely. 10 years as a practicing clinician. And then you’re on 20 years now. So 10 years now as the CEO. Or coming up on?
Patricia Kearns, PT:
That’s correct. Yeah, coming up on.
Okay. Extremely influential in developing our clinical program, as well as what everyone’s going to hear about today. A driving force in cultivating the culture that we have at QLI. So if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Yeah, absolutely. So yeah. I’m a physical therapist by background, and as Tim said, had a chance to be part of QLI’s incredible clinical program for a decade, and was lucky enough when our brilliant founding CEO decided to step down, lucky enough to take on this role. So it’s been quite a joy to be part of this group for nearly 20 years. January 1st will be 20 years for me. And I’ve learned a lot along the way, including about how to manage conflict really well. Not something I knew coming in, but definitely glad I’ve learned it along the way and excited to share today.
Absolutely. And so if you don’t mind, I’m going to share a quick story.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
So my introduction to QLI was at the Young Professional Summit, it would’ve been 2015, and there was this crazy guy talking about a presentation called Take This Job and Love It, who I’ve now come to know as our director of creativity, John Pearson. And the reason I tell the story is the premise that there was a … Part of that presentation really made me realize the importance of conflict and how healthy it can be. He gave a story, or talked about how growing up, if you played sports, you’ll be on a sports team and your coach can tell you’re doing a bad job. You’re not doing very good. You need to practice more, you need to do all those things. And you take that as a team player as, “I need to be better, I need to work on this, please coach me. I want to learn more. I want to be a driving force on my team and help us reach a goal.”
But so often I was in a management position in my past life, and any of those conversations that you had in a professional setting turned quickly to interpersonal conflict. You were trying to coach somebody and it was, “Oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Presented correctly, I’m sure. I was young in my management career as well, so maybe I wasn’t presenting it correctly.” But it just really resonated with me on this concept of once you get into a professional career, any type of coaching or conflict is perceived as always negative. Negative, never positive. So that was my first introduction. And I left that Young Professional Summit, went home, talked to my wife and I was like, “I need to work for QLI.” That was the first thing I said. And secondly, at least a company that has a culture like QLI.
Which, wrapping it all together, that’s why I think that the work comp industry as a whole can benefit from this, because there’s a lot of great takeaways.
So with that, I’ll go ahead and pass the mic on to you guys.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Absolutely. Well, thanks everybody for being here. I realize that we did the Neuroscience of Gratitude a couple months ago. So let me start by saying we’re grateful this week of Thanksgiving, thankful for all of you. And thanks for coming back, those of you that attended both to talk about conflict.
Conflict is Important
Patricia Kearns, PT – [00:05:48]
So as Tim said, conflict is an important part of QLI’s culture, which may sound a little strange to everybody. We’re all nice people and we like each other and we get along as well, but the reason that conflict is important is because there is no progress without conflict. And today we’re specifically going to talk about healthy intellectual conflict, conflict that’s targeted at ideas or situations. The pursuit of excellence requires growth or change, and change is conflict. And if we resist change or resist the diversity of thought that creates change, then there’s only mediocrity. So no intellectual conflict, no excellence, or as our founding CEO used to say, “Conflict is the price you pay for excellence.”
So now I’m guessing that most of you, when you think of the word conflict, progress and excellence are probably not the first words that pop into your mind. So if everybody who’s joined us today would open your chat box really quickly and type in a word or two that comes to mind for you when you think about the word conflict. And be honest. If you say progress great, but I’m guessing that’s not always the case. Very good.
All right. Yeah. So I’m going to leave this one closed here, but I’ll read them on my side here, Pat.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
A lot actually coming through. So we’ve got vulnerability, stress, upsetting, toxic pain, uncomfortable, overcoming, hostility, growth. We had growth, stressful, difficult, disagree, opportunity, challenge, resolution, obstacle, anxiety inducing, avoid, tension, difference in opinion, uncomfortable, stress, anxiety, uncomfortable again. One-sided, which is an interesting take on it. For sure.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So I was visiting with a really new group of QLI team members recently about managing conflict, and when I asked them this question, pretty consistently out of the group came a negative emotion, anxious or scared, or I think one of the young ladies said, “Like I want to throw up.” And when I started at QLI, if you asked me how I felt about conflict or what came to mind, those would’ve probably been my emotions as well.
So as neuroplasticians, we know that we are not born disliking conflict. So as young children, we aren’t born thinking, “Oh my gosh, conflict is bad.” But we’re typically exposed over our lifetime to an abundance of what’s the opposite of healthy intellectual conflict, we’re typically exposed to emotional conflict that’s directed at people. And of course that emotional conflict is unhealthy and unproductive, and what elicits those emotions, all of those negative emotions.
Now, we’re typically much less frequently exposed to healthy intellectual conflict targeted at ideas or situations. So Tim, your example of being on a sports team. We all have a common goal to win the game, and the conflict from that coach is not personal. It’s really about skill sets or about play on the court. So if you had that experience, that’s amazing, that’s super healthy, but most people don’t necessarily have that experience or have an abundance of that experience. So if you think about maybe how you experience conflict growing up, whether that was aggressive or maybe the avoidance of conflict, neither of which are healthy, and how you continue to experience conflict at home, or at work, or in the media or social media that you choose to consume, we’re often left associating negative thoughts with conflict.
And of course, 2020 has been quite a year filled with more conflict, I think, than usual. And you usually only have to either turn on your TV or open your favorite social media platform to see an abundance of examples that really reinforce your negative feelings about conflict. So after years of repetitive exposure to engaging in emotional conflict, our brains, over time, become wired not only to associate conflict with negative feelings, but to respond to conflict in a negative way. So we get lots of wiring about conflict, both in how we perceive it and how we respond to it. And then on the flip side of that, if we don’t have consistent modeling of how to navigate healthy intellectual conflict, we also end up deprived of the support and the repetition that our brains need to develop these productive skill sets.
So lots of repetition on the negative side of conflict, not enough repetition on the positive, healthy, intellectual conflict side of things. And then in addition to that, and Jeff’s going to talk about this in a moment, our brains, as we get older, have the tendency to work against us when conflict arises.
So all of that sounds like really bad news, I know. But believe it or not, and our goal is to have you believe this at the end of today’s discussion, we can learn to view conflict as good, maybe even exciting. That’s where I’m at. I think conflict is exciting. We can learn to view conflict as good and exciting if we are willing to separate negative emotional conflict from healthy intellectual conflict, if we can separate the two. So Jeff, I’m going to turn it over to you so you can talk to us a little bit about why our brains perceive conflict as negative.
What Are We Truly Reacting To?
Dr. Snell – [00:11:03]
Well, thank you very much, Pat. With the last Neuroscience Of presentation, we really took things at a cellular level, talking about neurotransmitters that were involved. We’re going to bump it up a few different levels for this one, and for this discussion, we’re going to talk more about how our brains process information. How we automatically make decisions and process information coming in, and then how that results in our thoughts, our actions, and our behaviors.
So Pat, like you said earlier, change involves conflict and we are constantly faced with change. In order to understand why dealing with conflict or conflictual situations can be difficult, I want to bring in some information about how our brains, our minds, process information, and the role that our learning history plays in how we anticipate and respond to conflict. We don’t just react to the world around us. We think we do, but there’s an even stronger influence on our reactions that’s a deeply buried set of beliefs or assumptions that guide our decision making. These internal core beliefs operate at a subconscious level, and from these core beliefs combined with our external situation and information arise our conscious thoughts.
Now again, it has a positive effect because with every situation that we encounter, we’re able to use that information that we have stored deeply within our brain to quickly filter and process information and make decisions. You don’t have to start every decision making process with a blank slate. You can use the benefit of your experience, but as that information passes through this filter of core beliefs, it can also result in biases and expectations that color our thoughts and our feelings and our actions.
So at the heart of it’s not reality, it’s not truth to which we react, but it’s our internal beliefs that shape what we perceive as reality and as truth.
Core Beliefs Influence Thoughts and Actions
Dr. Snell – [00:13:00] Our automatic thoughts allow for tremendous efficiency of cognitive processing from the wealth of information we have streaming in at any given point. As a point of neuroplasticity, they represent the over learned information with which we’ve been surrounded throughout our lifetime. Our experiences, and our knowledge. Rather than facing every situation is completely new and having to problem solve through it, we bring our collective understanding of the world with us. Not only our experiences, but the information that we’ve been told by others. The experiences we’ve observed from others. This allows for a very rapid and efficient processing of information. But like I said, it can also bring unhelpful assumptions that negatively influence our thoughts and actions.
As a psychologist, I’m interested in uncovering those internal belief systems to build and encourage those that are supportive and helpful, and to challenge or change those that aren’t. These core beliefs, as I mentioned, can be helpful in terms of quickly categorizing or working through problems of understanding familiar or new information, but from a negative perspective, these core beliefs can also result in bias, in distortions of reality, and in unhelpful assumptions. The internal core beliefs that are unhelpful. Core beliefs that don’t align with reality, they’re based on assumptions rather than facts. We refer to those unhelpful internal belief sets as cognitive distortions. Just like a lens you look through that gives you a distorted view of a scene, these internal beliefs can distort our perception of reality, causing us to react or think in a way that isn’t helpful, or that isn’t well aligned with reality.
There are three major categories or classes of cognitive distortions that result from these core beliefs. A distorted view of the self, “I’m a failure, I am worthless, I am unlovable,” basing yourself worth on the opinions of others, or even one step beyond that, on what you perceive to be the opinions of others.
There’s also a distorted view of the world, assumptions of others actions, assumptions of others’ thoughts and feelings, and misconceptions of what others are thinking, intending, or meaning. We often make assumptions on what other people are thinking or feeling on the basis of what we observe, and then we react as if we absolutely know what that person is thinking or feeling. That can get you into trouble, because if you’re not aware of it, you’re reacting to what you’re thinking. You can’t truly know what the other person is thinking.
In a case like this, I’ll tell you now, you are terrible at mind reading, but it doesn’t stop you from acting as if you aren’t. That distorted view of the world can also be conceptualized as a distorted view of the broader environment in which we exist. A distorted view of the future is one that’s a little bit more self explanatory. It’s an internally held belief that things are always going to be the way they are now. A fallacy of permanence. Despite living in a world where things are constantly changing, we somehow want to hold onto the idea that things will always be the same, even when they aren’t that great. It’s something that with the residents and patients that we are working with at QLI, is a really serious false belief that this point in your life, where you’re having some of what are likely the biggest struggles you’ve ever had to deal with, that things are always going to be this way. That things are never going to change. Things change. They have, and they will.
Core Belief Examples
Dr. Snell – [00:16:38]
An example of the distorted view of the self and how that can influence our thoughts. “If everybody doesn’t like me, then I’m no good.” What you’re doing with each of these assumptions is you’re putting your feelings into the hands of someone else. You’re passing along control for how you feel about yourself, to not just what you’re told by others, but what you also assume by others. As you can see, such thoughts can be crippling when it comes to leadership, because it’s really rare that any single decision is going to be met with universal approval. That everybody will be happy with every decision that you make. That leads to decisional paralysis, if you cannot make a decision because you can’t make everybody happy.
If you think of conflict as an adversarial interaction, for example, that you and at least one other person disagree about something, then this cognitive distortion can make you question your own self worth because of that lack of approval inherent in disagreement. If your self-worth is predicated on the approval of others, and you suffer from the cognitive distortion that your self-worth is outside of your own control, then you’re likely to avoid conflict at all costs. So this particular cognitive distortion is often at the heart of aversion to conflict. It’s the personalization that Pat mentioned earlier.
An example of the distorted view of the world, “Things should happen the way I expect when I expect them. The world should treat me the way I want to be treated.” Again, the older you get, the more experience you have, you would think that this expectation would go away, but we still hold onto it. If anything, this year has called into question our beliefs regarding the predictability of the world. We live in a very dynamic world where things are constantly changing, and those changes are often unpredictable based on our past experiences. Our challenge is to identify what we have the power to change, and what we need to do differently to adapt to those situations that we cannot change. In truth, the world truly doesn’t take our feelings into consideration what we want and what we expect to be predictable and controllable. Doesn’t really line up with reality.
That last point on the slide, “If I don’t get what I want, it’s terrible and I can’t stand it.” Well, we often don’t get what we want. We think it would be nice if we did, but we survive. We shouldn’t catastrophize or overreact to those instances in which reality reminds us that the world is relatively oblivious to what we want and what we expect. If you think about it, actually, a lot of tales and stories illustrate the dangers of everybody getting what they want, when they want it. It’s not necessarily the best thing. Catastrophizing is wasted effort, and it’s energy that does nothing to foster change or adaptation. Again, our role, from an adaptive standpoint, is to change in ways that best match the reality in those cases where it’s beyond our ability to change the world to our liking.
Dr. Snell – [00:19:50]
Because the world in which we live typically doesn’t exist in absolutes. We often waste valuable time, effort, and resources trying to control that which is beyond our control. We become emotionally invested and we react to situations that are beyond our control, and that lessens our ability to act effectively. I’m not saying you should give up and just accept everything, but a more reasoned and analytical perspective of changing what is within your power and ability to change, but not expending effort fighting against things that cannot be changed.
Our irrational thoughts result in us setting expectations that are impossible to achieve. And expectations of ourselves and others that set us up to be disappointed, that set us up for failure, because they’re beyond our ability to achieve. Such thoughts are relatively easy to challenge, because we can recognize that they’re impossible. But, and this is the harder part, they are really, really difficult to change because these are deeply held beliefs that we have carried with us forever. Even when we actively become aware of these irrational thoughts and their impact on us, those thoughts are still there. It takes a lot of time to practice, first off, being aware of them, and then to practice changing them. That’s the good thing though. They can be changed.
There are a host of end results from these irrational thoughts that results from our cognitive distortions, and this is certainly not an exhaustive list of them. But if you look through these, you can probably find a few that are your favorites. We all have our own oldies and goldies that we hang onto. These provide reasons and rationalizations for our thoughts and our actions, based on assumptions that don’t fit reality. Let me point out just a couple. Selective attention. We tend to seize on things that support our expectation or belief, and we discount those that contradict our worldview. This is like cherry picking facts that support our belief, and discounting those that don’t align with our hypothesis.
And catastrophizing. Good god, we are all experts at this. Take a little piece of information of an event and extend it right out to the horizon. This also involves a sense of perspective. If everything in your life is going really well, a little minor inconvenience can be perceived as a major catastrophe. It generally takes a personal experience of substantial dimensions to change that perspective. Your perception of what is a disaster changes when you encounter a bigger disaster. Sometimes we’re so in the weeds in a particular issue that we fail to see the bigger picture, the context makes a difference in how we interpret a conflict. And we need to keep that bigger picture and perspective in mind, because that generally is a little bit more aligned with the reality of the situation.
Challenging Our Irrational Thoughts
Dr. Snell – [00:22:46]
So if you’ve never been aware of the fact that you filter your experiences and external information coming in through all those filters in your internal core beliefs, the next question becomes, “How can I change them?” How did they get there to begin with, through our experiences, through our expectations, we change them as well through our conscious awareness and through practice. Neuroplasticity involves practice and repetition, and this is no different because it’s changing a process within our brain. First awareness in practice repetition and conscious assessment of our thought processes, and the degree to which we are reacting to our own internal thoughts are the way the world truly is. And we do this through science, through experimenting, through experiencing, through practicing. We want to challenge and change those irrational thought processes through practice.
From a neurological perspective, we call this neuroplasticity. It’s a learning process just like any other. Changing our brains to more efficiently run routines through practice and repetition, and specifically to do so with internal beliefs that better align with reality. This is generally accomplished through our own direct experiences, but we’re capable, if we’re open to it, to learning through the examples and experiences of others.
So be aware of the role of your thoughts and emotions in responding to a situation, especially a situation that you’re anticipating is going to be a negative experience, because conflict generally has that negative connotation. Almost all of the responses that you put into the chat box to Pat’s questions earlier would be words that you would typically have a negative association with. So Pat, give us a little information on what to do about this.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Absolutely. So before we do that, I’m going to acknowledge that one of my irrational thought patterns is around perfectionism. That I feel like I have to be perfect at everything, and if I’m not perfect, then that’s a sign of failure. So when I started at QLI 20 years ago, if somebody offered an idea that was different than mine, or offered me coaching on something I could do differently or do better, I took that really hard because that perfectionism, irrational thought pattern was my filter. And so thankfully though, after 20 years of being surrounded by people who have absolutely no problem telling me on a regular basis that I’m not perfect, or there might be an idea or two or 10 better than mine out there. I’ve had a lot of repetition of, again, that irrational thought pattern, to your point Jeff, hasn’t gone away, but I have a much better routine of managing those irrational thoughts and overcoming them with more positive thoughts.
What you’re mention what you’re mentioning there I think also fits well with what Tim said earlier. That perfectionism is a big piece of it. And in a team setting where you have a coach that’s helping you, the best quarterback in the world, doesn’t complete every pass, the best running back doesn’t get a first down every time. So it is that you’re not going to be perfect in whatever it is that you do. So I think that’s a really good example of that distorted thought process that can kind of hamstring you and make you feel bad about the things that you’re never going to be perfect. No one is.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Yes. I’ve learned that well, like I said.
So at QLI, obviously we talk about conflict a lot and spend a lot of time trying to help our team members create a routine of believing that conflict can be good, and overcoming whatever their irrational thought patterns are, so that all of us can anticipate a positive experience around conflict. And so again, our goal is the same for you here today, because we find that the better your skill sets are around conflict, the better the outcome and the better you feel about it, the easier it is to get into a routine of anticipating a positive experience.
Mental Checklist for Navigating Conflict
Patricia Kearns, PT – [00:26:47]
I’m going to share today with you a really relatively simple mental checklist that I go through each time I’m presented with … Or maybe that I need to initiate conflict. So whether it’s coming to me, or I need to initiate conflict, this is the checklist I go through. And it’s a quick checklist that not only provides me a framework for how to work through the conflict, but I found it really helps me keep conflict at the intellectual level, and helps me avoid letting my emotions make it personal.
So if you attended the Neuroscience of Gratitude discussion, we went through in that presentation the five components of learning a routine. And I’m not going to spend a lot of time on those today. Certainly we can talk about them if anybody has questions. But with this mental checklist, you do need to apply the components of learning so that this checklist won’t be so clunky at the beginning and it really can be more automatic. Again, when visiting with some of our new team members, they look at this checklist, even though it’s super simple and think, “Oh my gosh, who does this checklist?” But again, with some repetition, this can be really become a really automatic part of your routine as you’re presented with conflict.
So as you think about this checklist, make sure you’re going through the components of learning really quickly. Find your motivation, push yourself outside of your comfort zone to practice these six steps in contextual or real life situations. Make sure you have some support, whether that’s a coach, somebody who’s helping keep you accountable, or written information, things like that. But make sure you have support to create success and that you get lots of repetition. And again, it might feel a little clunky at first, but they will eventually become automatic if you put some effort into them, and you won’t even realize that you’re going through these six steps when conflict come your way. And some of you may already have a routine built in for at least some of these steps that you do without thinking about them.
So my six step mental checklist starts with thinking through if conflict comes to you., or you need to initiate it, what is your intent around the conflict?
Step 1: What Is Your Intent?
So the first step at managing your irrational thought patterns is your intent, and it should be, to make this situation better or to help this individual is your intent to make this situation better or help this person get better, or is your intent around that you need to be right, or that you crave justice on something, that you want to get revenge on something. So are you frustrated? Think about your emotions with that. So again, is it truly to make the situation or person better, or is it some other intent?
Step 2: Who Is Your Audience?
Once you really have clarity on your intent and have yourself in a good spot, who’s the audience? You need to think a little bit about who are you going to have conflict with? What’s your relationship with them? Do you have a strong relationship or do you barely know each other, maybe what is their view of conflict?
Have they had any positive experiences with conflict, or are they going to tend to be a little resistive to the conflict? And what’s their level of confidence as well? So if you do tend to be a supervisor or manager for that individual, just the difference in titles may lower their confidence a bit. And it’s good to know all of that as you’re going in to the conflict so that you can adjust your style.
Step 3: What Is the Focus of the Conflict?
The third step, these two, third and four steps get a little more complicated, but the third step is assessing. And again, over time you can learn to do this very quickly, but what is the focus of the conflict? Are you talking about facts? And we’ll go over resolution techniques next. Is this methods, how we’re going to get something done? Is it goals, conflict, actually a step back from methods on, do we have an agreed upon vision or direction that we’re going? Or is it values based conflict? And sometimes there can be multiple areas of these happening within a conflict. Or sometimes we can think something’s a fact just because I, as a leader in the company think it’s a fact, that may not necessarily be true. So you really have to think about what’s the focus of the conflict, or are there multiple focuses of the conflict.
Step 4: Which Resolution Technique to Use
And then with that in step number four, what’s the appropriate resolution technique? So, if the conflict is simply around a fact like my husband and I arguing over dinner about who is the artist playing this song, that is a fact. You can use an authority like Google, or it can be directed. So if it’s fact based conflict, authority or directing, if it’s methods conflict, you can use compromise or collaboration, and I’m going to jump to goals and we’ll talk a little bit about the difference between compromise or collaboration.
If it’s goals based conflict, you really want to use collaboration. And I’ll pause here and say that collaboration is the hardest resolution technique. Most people think they’re collaborating when they’re working together, but what they’re probably doing is compromising. So you have to evaluate in that process. Are we pushing each other and having intellectual conflict through collaboration to get to the best idea? So building on each other’s ideas, which may look like that’s not a very good idea, but here’s another idea. That’s not a very good idea, here’s another idea. But pushing each other really to the very best possible idea. Or, are each of you giving up something to get to a lesser idea which would be compromising? So usually you’re setting goals before you’re talking about methods. How are we going to get there, what are we going to agree that we want to get done, versus how are we going to make that happen?
And so if you can step back and really push each other and have conflict with nobody taking offense to their idea not being the very best idea, you can collaborate effectively to get to the best possible goal, and then whether you collaborate or need to compromise a bit to work through the methods of how you’re going to get there, it’s going to be okay. I always think about this with the legislature. So as we’re preparing, preparing for the next legislative session here in Nebraska, and coming off a really tough legislative session, what we see those legislators often do end up compromising over goals. And so instead of ending up with the best possible goal, everything’s been worked down in order just to make something happen, and then by the time you figure out how you’re going to get there from a method standpoint, everything’s just really muddied up, which is hard.
But with collaboration, that really requires people on both sides of the conflict to be willing to collaborate. So if somebody wants to use authority around goals, and the other person’s trying to collaborate, that’s never going to work out because really, collaboration is such a hard resolution technique. Both people have to have that mindset around positive, healthy, intellectual conflict, and willing to be willing to participate in that.
So the fourth, or the next resolution techniques are around values. So typically around values, we always hear, “Don’t talk about politics and religion when you’re in a social setting. And so we tend, a lot of times, around values based conflict to avoid that conversation. And that’s probably appropriate sometimes, especially if you don’t have the skill sets around it, the other option for values based conflict can be structural modification. So this is what you see when we have a team member that maybe gets terminated or resigns from the company. We didn’t align in our values between the company and that individual, and so parting ways is the best option. Or maybe through a divorce would be something that you would think of from a structural modification around values.
The other option, the other resolution technique for values based conversation. And this is something our team has really been pushed on this year, as we’ve had to navigate, like everybody, challenges around the pandemic or around the civil unrest. But we decided as a team that avoiding conflict doesn’t solve any problems. We all have to work together. So structural modification is also not an option or the healthiest process for us. And so the other option for resolving conflict that we have found helpful is simply to seek understanding. So to listen, not necessarily for the sake that you’re all trying to agree on something, but at least that you can understand the values and the viewpoints of the person across the table from you.
And if we’re willing to seek understanding, really, truly listen for not for understanding and not listen just to get a good rebuttal in, again, we may not come to terms on values, but at least we can work through the ugly conflict that can happen around values. So again, facts, method, goals, and values, and then those are the resolution techniques. Step three and step four are probably the ones that take a little more practice for this to get automatic. So when conflict comes at you, can you in 60 seconds or less identify what the focus of the conflict is, and what the best resolution technique is. Sometimes you have more than 60 seconds to make that decision, but sometimes you have to make some quick decisions, and this can be learned with some repetition.
Step 5: Are You the Best Person to Respond to the Conflict?
So step number five then is back to the who, and this time it’s considering, are you the best person to respond to the conflict? So sometimes I recognize that my title gets in the way. So back to step number two, if my audience is someone that I don’t have a strong relationship with, or their confidence isn’t very good, and maybe they haven’t had a lot of practice with positive, healthy, intellectual conflict. Then just by the nature of my title, it may seem too heavy handed for me to be the person responding to that conflict. So I may go to one of their peers to suggest that they help work through that conflict. So are you the best person to do it, or should you pull in somebody else with you or to handle that conflict instead of you?
Step 6: Always Follow Up
And then step number six is always follow up. So even when you have two people who are really seasoned and have good routines around positive, healthy, intellectual conflict, again, these irrational thought patterns that Jeff talked about still sometimes can creep back in.
So I have found that no matter how well you think that conflict went, it’s always in your best interest to follow up with that person and check in. Make sure that the relationship is still strong, make sure everything that you said landed the right way. And everybody feels good about the situation, just so you can prevent any processing after the fact to allow emotions to creep in and for that to turn into personal conflict. So the six steps, what’s your intent, who’s the audience, what’s the focus of the conflict, what’s the appropriate resolution technique based on the focus of the conflict, are you the best person to respond, and always make sure you follow up.
Okay. Tim, that’s my mental checklist.
It’s a lot. It’s a lot to take in. I think to your point earlier, the most important thing to remember about this is it is a skill and it’s something that you can learn with repetition. So I think looking at it, it can look daunting, but as long as you put some repetition and put some time in, it’s something that we all can get better at.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
If I can get better at it, anybody can get better at it, Tim.
Conclusion and Q&A
Tim Benak – [00:37:26]
That’s awesome. I do want to throw it out there, we have Pat and Jeff here for a little bit longer. So if you have any questions, the chat is open. Please chime in. Anything you want them to dive in to a little bit more. One thing I wanted to ask Jeff, you mentioned observed behavior of individuals maybe around you, can impact maybe the negative reaction you have to conflict. Is that something that you think … I know the answer to this, but does that start at a young age? So back to the teams analogy. So if you’re on a team where no one really respects the coach or doesn’t receive coaching well, do you think that carries into your professional career later on in life? Is that something that is hard to break if maybe you grew up, and you mentioned that early on of your social settings, things that you learn early on. The observation of conflict for me, reflecting on I had some teams that were just terrible at listening to a coach. And that did. You could see it in how the team performed, and how everyone got along with that authority figure. So that was my question.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Jeff, you want to take that?
No, that’s a great one. I think it’s certainly the case, Tim. Because you actively have to teach and practice assumption of good intent when you’re going into any type of a conflictual situation. We just automatically leap to, based on what we see someone else do, we automatically leap to mind reading and a negative assumption. If what they’ve done has put us out in any way, or offended us in any way that there was negative intent involved there. And that’s not always the case.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
I think the best example that probably everybody has experienced within the last week is having somebody cut you off on the highway, you automatically are now justified in your anger and road rage at that person. Even though you have no capability of knowing why at that moment they changed lanes. It probably wasn’t that they woke up that morning going, “I’m going to figure out a way to this guy off today.” That’s not the way the world works. But it’s the way our minds tend to work, and so we actively have to interrupt that process and evaluate that. And oftentimes when you’re emotionally heightened, it’s not the right time to challenge that. When you’re already upset and you’re gripping the wheel like you’re about to tear it off the steering column, that’s not the moment at which to be emotionally detached and be the scientist saying, “Why am I thinking this way at this moment?” But if we could do that, we would have a lot less stress in our life because of those lack of assumption of good intent or our poor mind reading skills that we engage in.
For sure. Pat, you mentioned using Google to solve your … I still don’t believe Google sometimes. I know I’m right. Maybe there’s a remix done or something, but I know I’ve heard it from this artist, compared to what my wife thinks.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
My husband says the same thing.
I’ve heard it-
I’ve got a question for you if we don’t have one in the chat box. And that is with that number four on the mental checklist, which resolution technique. I’m guessing that like everything else in life and in the world, a conflictual situation isn’t necessarily a clean one issue. You probably have several layers of things that you’re looking at. How do you decide at any kind of given moment within that process, which of those techniques should rise to the top?
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Yeah. That’s a great question, Jeff, and I suppose it depends on the situation, and who’s involved, their experience with conflict, and maybe in any given conversation, the overriding focus of the conflict is so very often we see goals and values conflict really happening at the same time. So we may be trying to decide for an individual that we’re serving at QI, what, what are the goals of their program? And maybe that individual comes from a different life situation than some of our team members are involved. And so it’s so easy for us as human beings to start projecting our values on that situation, and starting and figuring out, “How do we understand the individual we’re serving in their values compared to our values so that we can really separate that first, and then get back to goal setting?
Or again, just even … I try not to pick on my husband too much, sorry. But let’s say Jeremy and I are having conflict over something, and we’re trying to decide what a goal is for Carson’s learning and education, but we both come from very different backgrounds. And so even though we’re having goals related conflict, our values start creeping into that process, and really muddying that up. And so we realize at some point we have to step back and say, “Okay, we need to really understand each other’s values so that we can truly get back to goals related conflict, and that is really, really hard to do when you get further apart from having a relationship. So if you have two team members going through that same process, trying to set a goal around something, and values conflict is creeping in, and they don’t have a super strong relationship, haven’t worked together for a long time. That gets really complicated.
I think at the end of the day, and this is what we try to teach our team members, that everything can be healthy, intellectual conflict if you really put the effort into it. And so if something is turning into emotional conflict and personal conflict, everybody has to be accountable for hitting the pause button, and stepping back and say, “Okay, why is this happening? Is it irrational thought patterns getting in the way? Are we maybe not on the right track as far as identifying what the focus of the conflict is? Is there more values conflict in here than we realize, and we need to step back and really address this from a different perspective?” So everybody really has to be accountable to that process, to making it positive and healthy.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
It’s kind of a long answer to your question, Jeff, but you might have something else to add.
No, appreciate it. No, that’s what I was wanting to know. We have a question that I’d love to respond to my part of it, and hear yours as well. And that from Janet, who said, “Are there good resources or books recommended regarding this topic?”: From the standpoint of our irrational thoughts, I would say if you want to get on the web and look up something called rational emotive behavior therapy, or REBT, that is the therapeutic approach designed at looking at and challenging these irrational beliefs. And you can find a lot of information on that on the web. The other would be cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, of which REBT is a subset. So that would be, from a psychological standpoint, some resources that I would recommend. And there are lots of books out there published. Pat, how about from conflict? What are some of the ones that really resonate with you?
Patricia Kearns, PT:
There are a number of books. Fierce conversations is one that comes to mind. There are a number of books around conflict. I’m blanking on a couple of others. And I guess just from the standpoint that a lot of this is something that we’ve really just put the effort into developing at QLI, starting with Dr. Hoogeveen, Kim Hoogeveen, our founding CEO with this process. And then again, continuing to develop it over time. So with an understanding of CBT and those irrational thought patterns, with the belief that, again, conflict can be intellectual targeted towards ideas or situations rather than emotional and targeted towards people working through this process over the course of … I’ve been here 20 years, but QLI celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this year, just working through this process of figuring out how can we have conflict at a really fast pace and keep it intellectual? It’s been a work in progress over that time.
And then we did have another question, which is a fairly specific one, but I think would be beneficial for the individual asking as well as a lot of other listeners to listen to. So Abby, “I’m in a leadership position and I have two employees that just can’t seem to get along. They definitely struggle with expressing a seek to understand point of view. How do you recommend I come at this from a leadership perspective when it starts to interfere with our culture?”
Patricia Kearns, PT:
There’s a lot going on there.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Yeah, there is. And I we’ve experienced that over time. We have a non-negotiable expectation that people do have to get to know each other, and like and respect each other. I think even earlier in QLI’s history, and I see this at other organizations, my sister and I are having this conversation. I don’t think it’s the expectation at most work settings that you actually have to like each other. And so we give the example around here that if you have a scale of zero to 10, and you think about the person in your life that you like the most, that you love, they’re your favorite person in the world, you can share all your deepest, darkest secrets with, trust them with anything, they trust you with anything, that person is a 10 on your zero to 10 scale.
The rest of your team members at work, the people you work with on a regular basis should be at least a seven on that scale, compared to what your 10 is. And so that’s a non-negotiable expectation that if we’re going to work together and be able to have healthy intellectual conflict, that has to, or it goes better at least, if there’s a strong foundation of liking and respecting each other. And so oftentimes we’ll work through a process of setting aside the work topics, set aside the professional related topics, and we’re just going to spend time personally getting to know each other. Do you know families, what you enjoy doing? Do you know what your fears are, what your dreams are? I know that may sound a little hokey and soft, but making sure that there’s time for that personal relationship building, and then making sure the expectation is strong that if we’re going to work together, we have to like each other. And it’s possible if both sides are open to that. It really is.
Perfect. I think that was a fantastic answer for the-
Pat, I think it also kind of addresses the mind reading piece of it. Because as you get to know a person better, you get to know how they think, what they feel, what they value. And so you’re not imposing your perception of what they’re thinking. You’re actually getting to hear what they think.
I heard this analogy one time, and it’s a little … Somewhere, I don’t remember where I heard it. But it was the analogy of concrete. And concrete starts soft, squishy. So you start those conversations with that and it hardens into a very substantial foundation. So I think I take a lot of my approach to just personal relationships that way, especially on the professional side. You can quickly turn a personal relationship into professional one, if you have that personal understanding of who they are.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
So I’ve always looked at it like that.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Well, if we don’t have any other questions, I think we will wrap up. Thanks. That’s what I’ve started. Sending aside time to force them to get to know each other, it’s a slow process, but definitely worth the effort.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
As always, if you guys have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us. You can either reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve had a few questions about if it’s being recorded. Yes, it is. If you’d like a copy of that, feel free to reach out to the web. The email address I just mentioned. Qliwebinars@qliomaha.com, or myself, Tim.email@example.com, and I can share that here with you.
Also, please always check us out on social media. Teamqli.com, as well as qliomaha.com. If you guys need any resources for the residents that we serve, the population that we serve for brain injury or spinal cord injury, please check us out there. And then the crazy guy … Oh, there’s the best picture. We forgot to end it with the picture.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Absolutely. This is how we hope everybody feels right now after talking about conflict. Everybody’s like, “Woo, this is awesome.”
It is so crazy. When I was looking at this when you sent it this weekend, no masks.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
I miss it. I miss it so much.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
I suppose we should qualify this as this was a pre-pandemic picture.
Yes, absolutely. And shout out to Pat, we’re in the same room. We’re not able to socially distance, and so we both have masks on and been talking the whole time. So shout out to you there. And hopefully it didn’t come across as us trying to catch our breath through a mask.
But please check us out next month. We’re going to be the crazy guy that I talked about at the young professional summit who I’m sure a lot of you have heard to speak. Our director of creativity, John Pearson, will be giving a presentation on emotional recovery, which is always … We always save it till December, just because it is a fantastic time of the year to really talk about that topic. So please join us for that. You’ll be getting an invite shortly after this presentation.
And as always, we hope you have a great rest of the day, and we look forward to you joining us next time. Take care.
Patricia Kearns, PT:
Yes, and happy Thanksgiving. It is that week. Take care.
Categories: Brain Health