No New Year's Resolution - I'm Going to the Conference Instead!

By Roy Baroff, CO-OP®
Faculty & Staff Ombuds, NC State
Member, IOA Board of Directors

I know, we are now in February!  How can one still be thinking of New Year’s Resolutions? I was worried about this too until I recently heard someone say “Happy New Year” and it was January 31st! And, when asked, the person indicated they wished people Happy New Year until around November. I’m not going that far, as February works for me. So, here goes:

 No New Year’s Resolutions – I’m going to the Conference instead !

With each new year (or New Year), we routinely face the challenge to change our lives!!!  We are inundated by the idea that this time, this turn of the calendar, will be a catalyst for our next best self. I know this to be true as I saw it on Facebook, Instagram and even Linkedin!!  And, that’s what I was thinking when tasked with drafting a blog post for IOA as one of its Board of Directors.

I joined the Board last April and it was, and remains, a time of exciting positive change for the organization (I’ll not review the list!).  And, I thought, this will be easy –  I’ll just write something about ombuds’ new years resolutions like - listen even better or be more impartial or take better care of myself – well, you get the idea.  So, I started to write that post; however, along the way I started thinking about what I was doing in my day to day ombuds interactions and how I ended up talking about one-sided conflict resolution or abrasive managers. The answer from the past is the IOA Conference...and the answer for the future is the same – New Orleans is just around the corner!

Here’s the point or two: I’ve not only met some fantastic people at conference, I’ve also brought some important ideas back to my office. Ideas that help me help people navigate the twists and turns of their path. So, I thought I’d share a few ideas and how I’ve incorporated them into my day-to-day ombuds work.

First idea - One-Sided Conflict Resolution

I attended this pre-conference workshop led by neuroscientist Nicole Gravagna, PhD a couple of years ago. I was intrigued by the title and Nicole lived up to the billing. A small group met for the day to explore our brain, literally (we built play dough models) and figuratively (how we become more resilient). Here’s my model!

Our focus was on the ACC (anterior cingulate cortex). Can you identify the other parts of the brain? (Hint: brain stem – corpus callosum – amygdala – hippocampus – thalamus)

Gravagna explained that, based on neuroscience, the ACC activates in the presence of conflict, when making decisions under uncertainty, when feeling social exclusion, and when feeling physical and emotional pain. Thus, the stronger your ACC, the better you are able to observe and consider how to respond. With a stronger ACC, you are more able to make choices and be more resilient.

The idea is that you can resolve (or perhaps at least better manage) conflicts from one side – your side. You accomplish this by responding differently to the situation and by making informed decisions as opposed to reacting in the moment. According to Gravagna, you strengthen the ACC through “noticing” activities like meditation that taps into two of three brain inputs – sensation, emotion and thought. When you sense something and think about it you notice in a way that strengthens your ACC.

I now routinely share this idea of one-sided conflict resolution with people coming to the ombuds office. It’s something that everyone can do, no matter the situation. We talk about people taking care of themselves to be stronger and then more able to make choices and take actions to support efforts to resolve conflicts.  This is usually in the context of other options too, as I’m a big fan of multiple paths at the same time (that’s a post for another day).

And, if you want to learn more about the ACC and this idea of one-sided conflict resolution, then check out Gravagna’s book, Mindset your Manners: Master Conflict and Change the Rules.

Here’s the second idea – dealing with abrasive people.

Last conference, I took a lot from an outstanding plenary talk by Dr. Laura Crawshaw who founded and leads The Boss Whispering Institute that focuses on research, training and coaching of the abrasive leader.  Dr. Crawshaw first defined what she means by an abrasive leader as “any individual charged with managerial authority whose interpersonal behavior causes emotional distress in coworkers sufficient to disrupt organizational functioning.” And then she proceeded to explain why folks act in this manner, how they often don’t know they are perceived as abrasive, and how they can be coached and change to become better leaders and workers.

I often share this idea of being abrasive without intent and people seem to find it helpful. It allows for another perspective on what they perceive as a “bad” boss and can create a shift in thinking about someone as a “bull” to someone who is “abrasive.” And, as ombuds, we know that these small shifts in perspective, in how people frame problems, can lead to solution ideas we had not considered.

So, here are two ideas from the last two conferences. I work with them on an almost daily basis and, as you can certainly imagine, there are more than two that await you this year! Thus, as I wrap up this “New Year’s” post, get registered for conference!  The sessions are in, the schedule posted and there is so much to learn!

See you in New Orleans!

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Comments on "No New Year's Resolution - I'm Going to the Conference Instead!"

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Mark H. Patterson - Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thanks, Roy. You inspire me to approach all my sessions at Conference with curiosity about "what am I going to take back to my institution from this session?"

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