ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 13, 2011

What Team Leaders Need to know About Stress and Conflict


Join Mary Jane Saras, LCSW for her workshop, “Conflict Resolution Simplified,” on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 2:15 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the PRSA 2011 International Conference, Oct. 15–18 in Orlando, Fla.!

There are some warning signs for team leaders to watch out for when it comes to high stress on a team. When stress hits the hot button, there is a natural tendency for all of us to revert to behavior we learned in our original organization, the family; things we learned for security and survival. These behaviors come to work with us in unique and powerful ways when we are tense and feel overwhelmed. So, if your teammate is behaving like a baby, you’re right. And if you are responding like a thumb-sucking toddler, you are!

In “Conflict Resolution Simplified,” I’ll give you a new perspective on warning signs to watch out for on your team, and why some of these “early warning signs” do come to work with you, even if you didn’t want them to.

Let me share a story. Janine was the most positive employee one could want; a real on-time and get-it-done star. A problem began to escalate when she started a campaign to make sure everybody knew how wonderful she was. She talked and talked and talked and … you get the idea. Suddenly, she was unable to give anyone else credit for good work or good ideas. And when she was told to “soften” her “love Janine” campaign, she went silent. She still did her job, but it was as if she had the mute button on.

Here is what team leaders need to pay attention to: EXTREMES.

If someone flips to very different behavior, pay attention. When real change occurs, it occurs over time. Sudden shifts are often responses to stress, a desire to pretend the problems away by using a megaphone or else going to the opposite pole. It’s like a child promising, “I’ll be good”. It actually has a name — “flight into health”! However, this only works for a short time. Our patterned behavior is deeply embedded in our nervous system, and often a radical change is a cry for help without wanting or knowing how to really ask. When Janine went silent, she was saying nonverbally she did not have a clue about what a real behavior change would look like.

Next, pay attention to pattern repetition. Sometimes it is the same word or phrase used over and over that will catch your attention. Saying “It’s ALWAYS my fault” is the sound of a Victim;things will NEVER change” comes from someone dubbed an Avoider; and threats to go to “my friend, the lawyer” is the sign of a Rebel. These are great big poster-sized warning signs. The world of always and never, pattern repetition, and flipped behavior are in the realm of high stress and trouble.

Let’s get back to Janine. Her team leader took her out to lunch and asked some open-ended questions to find out why the changes had been so sudden. And of course, there was a long story of family feuding and lots of competition with her younger sister. Couple that with the fact the sister had just gotten a major promotion at work and you begin to see Janine’s stress struggle — needing to make herself the best. When told to soften, she was again the kid who did not measure up, and she did what she did as a kid — buttoned her mouth.

In my session on Tuesday, “Conflict Resolution Simplified,” I will review patterns around conflict, for example, The Avoider, The Procrastinator, The Persecutor, and even, The Victim. The good news is, there is a technique to change these patterns to their positive opposite with a bit of work. I’ll give you the strategy to change into The Initiator, The Realizer, The Visionary, and even, The Explorer.

See you in Orlando, real soon!!!

Mary Jane Saras, LCSW, is vice president for Leadership Development for Creative Energy Options, Inc., a consulting firm dedicated to redefining leadership and optimizing workplace relationships. Saras provides workshops and programs on leadership development, conflict resolution, communication skills and team building.

Stay Connected with the 2011 PRSA International Conference