CEO Corner: August 2018

Thursday, August 30, 2018

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One of EDASC’s popular NextExec sessions this spring focused on Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Resolution. Many different topics figured in to this discussion on individual and group communication, including emotional intelligence, empathy, inclusiveness, giving difficult feedback, and resolving interpersonal conflict. These are all complex topics that deserve more detailed treatment on their own, but they will be presented serially and in summary form here.


  • Always endeavor to turn conflict into a win/win, a constructive rather than destructive outcome. If only a destructive outcome is possible, conflict should be avoided or at best managed. Sometimes conflict is necessary, sometimes it is to be avoided and usually it should be resolved or at least managed. Must be negotiated authentically and constructively.
  • Conflict can arise within (internal) or between/among individuals, and within or between/among groups.
  • It usually focuses either on content (substance: beliefs and values) or relationships (power, control, affiliation).
  • Two important things to ascertain:
    • What is the conflict really about?
    • What does a positive outcome look like for each party?
  • In communication, messages have both words and music – what is really being said, and how?
  • Dealing with conflict can range from Avoidance to Accommodation (giving in or placating completely), and approaches can range from Competitive to Collaborative.
  • Principles of Dealing with Conflict:
    • Separate People From Problem
    • Focus on Interests, not Positions
    • Invent Options for Mutual Gains
    • Use Objective Criteria
  • Important to make sure everyone feels heard – use reflective listening (“what I hear you saying is _____”)
  • Manage/reframe negative thoughts: when someone brings up an issue
    • Focus on their intentions and the facts more than them and their affect
    • Examine contributions of both/all sides
    • Question assumptions – is it about being right or solving a problem?
  • Neutralize unproductive behaviors
    • Aggressive/disrespectful/explosive: remain calm, interrupt attacks using person’s name, reconvene when person is calm and respectful; empathize
    • Doesn’t listen: acknowledge their wisdom too, redirect, support your ideas
    • Uncommunicative: don’t interrupt, be silent, schedule enough time, ask open-ended questions
    • Negative/pessimistic: anticipate and address risks, give person time to think
  • Giving difficult feedback: What is the goal of giving this feedback? Venting? Punishment? Correction? Improvement? Learning? Reflection? Encouragement to do better/different?
  • You are dealing with the listener’s filters, like it or not, and you likely don’t even know what they are. Find out, and acknowledge their feelings and what the precursors were. You may have to help the person navigate a new path rather than their usual reactiveness. It is always helpful to learn how people best absorb critique for optimal results.
  • You also have to express your feelings and ask for empathy yourself – “if you were in my position…”
  • Engage the employee in the problem-solving process
  • It can be hard to balance subtlety/tact and directness!
  • Focus on problems and interests to devise positive, mutual gains using some objective criteria

As an exercise, think of instances where you have needed this skills at work or perhaps even in other environments. Where have you seen things go wrong? Where have they gone productively?

This was a well-received program, and EDASC may decide to put on a more in-depth participatory workshop in the coming year. Please let us know your thoughts….

- John Sternlicht, CEO

Category: CEO Corner, Professional Development