Article by Jim Jensen...
My people are complaining to me about other team members! Why aren’t they talking with each other? What do I do?
In healthy teams where trust, healthy conflict, and open communication is the norm, people go directly to each other to work through issues, resolve conflicts and maintain alignment. If they are coming to you instead, it’s likely an indicator that they either lack the trust, or the skills to work things out directly. In previous posts, I’ve talked about the value of educating your people about your vision of healthy team dynamics and healthy team norms. Here’s another tool for you to consider sharing with your team to help them understand your vision.
We have used this tool for years, and it seems to resonate with most of our clients. It’s a model that explains how interpersonal barriers between team members can develop AND suggests what to do to break them down. It’s called the *Victim/Warrior Model. Often when team members are stuck in conflict, it’s because they are stuck in the Victim loop, so I’ll explain that first.
It starts with an incident that we react to negatively. Perhaps someone says something that offends us, or someone fails to follow through with an important commitment. We’re hurt, disappointed, or angry. If we’re operating in the Victim loop, we automatically make assumptions. (He’s got to know the impact of what he said! She knows I needed her input so I could get my report in on time. She doesn’t respect my role, or our part of the organization! Etc.)
Moving clockwise and down in the model, the next step is that we attach blame. Who’s to blame? He is! Or, she is! At this point, at least in our subconscious mind, the problem is solved. He or she is the problem. There’s nothing more to be done. Moving to the next box, everything we see confirms our suspicions, because all of our observations are filtered through our unchecked assumptions. Without something happening to intervene, that cycle can continue to spiral downward. An indelible wedge has now been created in our relationship. We call this the Victim loop of the model, but who’s the victim here? Some might say it’s the person who is being blamed, but I’d like to make the case that in this scenario, we are victim. We’re the victim because we’ve given up our ability to influence the situation.
This dynamic can be avoided if we consciously choose to operate in the upper part of the model, called the Warrior loop.
Let’s say the same incident happens, we have the same reaction, and we make the same assumptions. But this time, before we go to blame, we check out our assumptions. We go to the person and have a conversation. “Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to check in with you and see if I can understand something better.” (**By the way, I call this a “front load.”) It’s important to have this discussion before we go into blame mode; it’s very hard to take blame out of our voice if that’s what we’re feeling. And very few people respond well to blame. But if we can go into that discussion with an open mind, open to getting new information, and changing our perspective, all kinds of healthy things can happen. Most likely our understanding of the circumstances will expand. We might find that his or her perception of the “incident” is very different from ours. Or, it might give the other person a chance to apologize if he or she was indeed at fault.
If we are really open and really seeking to understand, we may find that we contributed to the initial incident. Perhaps it was a communication issue on our part; we were not clear about what we were asking or expecting. Perhaps what we intended to say was not what the other person heard. What we say and what people hear are often two different things. If we do discover that we contributed, this is an opportunity for us to own our part. It might even give us a chance to apologize if we were indeed at fault. A number of amazing things can happen when we own our part. One is that we get to experience the honor and integrity that comes from taking ownership. Also, because of our willingness to be vulnerable, it can make it more palatable for other people to take ownership for their part. That can be a powerful thing.
Moving to the next box, everything we see broadens our perspective. All observations of our future interactions now come through the filter of this expanded understanding of our relationship dynamic. And, because we’ve worked through a challenge together, our relationship may now be in an even better place than it was before the incident.
Successful challenging interactions breed more successful interactions.
This upper part of the model is called the Warrior loop, because it requires vulnerability and courage. Many see these as opposite things, but according to Brené Brown you cannot have courage without vulnerability.
“Give me an example of courage that you’ve seen or witnessed in your life, or that you’ve done yourself, that didn’t require uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, which is the definition of vulnerability.” Brené Brown
Approaching a peer with no guaranteed outcome, expressing our thoughts and concerns in a way that we can be heard, being open to being influenced and changing our perspective, and owning our part… all of these are opportunities for vulnerability and courage.
I said earlier that this model seems to resonate with most of our clients. I believe it resonates because this dynamic is so common. All of us can “go there.” All of us play the victim role at times. How often do we operate on unchecked assumptions… that could be wrong? Might those unchecked assumptions be getting in the way of a better working relationship with someone? Might we be playing a part that we’ve not yet owned? The value of understanding this model is that it gives us a better chance to catch ourselves before we react out of negative emotion. It reminds us that our assumptions are not always correct. It puts us in a better position to choose our reactions, and our approach. It gives people a common language. It puts us in a better position to build and protect effective relationships with our peers.
Side note: The terms Victim & Warrior resonate and work fine for most of our clients. That said, the term victim can have different connotations to some. One of our clients liked the model but chose to present it as the Helpless/Hero model. Whatever you choose to call it…
I hope you found this helpful!
If this model resonates with you, and if you’d care to share it with your team, you can download a copy of it here.
* Working with Michael Srodes as part of Crux Move Consulting, we saw a version of this model years ago, but were unsuccessful in finding the original source. Hence, the reference, “Adapted from an existing model – author unknown.”
**Click here to read my blog post, Front Loading, and Two Reasons to Appreciate it.
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