Name: Susan Gunn
Company: Working Dynamics
City: Richmond, VA
Web site: www.workdyn.com
Years in this position: 13
Years in conflict training: 13
What inspired you to pursue a career in coaching, training or consulting?
I was working in the field of university career development in the early 1990’s when I became familiar with mediation. I became very excited about workplace mediation and its potential for leaders and teams. I started working then toward a career using mediation skills along with my counseling and professional development background. My actual move to owning my own conflict management business was a good eight years later after spending time building skills in workplace mediation and learning more through training classes and coursework. By the time I formed my consulting business in 1999, I knew resolving workplace disputes would be part of my work going forward, but not the entire focus. I broadened the focus to include assessment, training, and coaching in order to work with leaders and teams helping them address conflict early and with confidence and skill.
What do you like most about your career?
Being able to work alongside others as they grow and learn is probably what I like most. Whether I’m mediating, coaching, training, or consulting, I consider it an honor to be welcomed into others’ growth process. That aspect of my work is always gratifying. I also enjoy the independence and control that comes with running my own business.
How do you measure your success?
A couple of signs of professional success for me are the awareness my efforts have helped someone achieve their goals (awareness on my part and/or recognition from the individual) and knowing I’ve given my all on a difficult challenge. As a business owner, I feel successful if I see opportunities ahead and if I’m reaching the financial goals I’ve set for myself.
How do you stay on top of your field?
I try to take in as much new information on conflict as I can find time (reading, listening to speakers, conversations with colleagues, etc.). I’m always trying to learn new and more effective ways to deliver what I know and consider myself a continual learner in terms of being the best trainer and coach possible.
What other resources do you recommend? (Books, magazines, web, etc.)
I’m finding resources on the topics of mindfulness and practices that reduce stress interesting and ones my clients respond to. I find being able to help others be more aware in the moment and less reactive helps them. On my bedside table now are Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl), Buddhism, Plain and Simple (Steve Hagen), Three Deep Breaths (Thomas Crum), and Conflict Management Coaching (Cinnie Noble).
Tell us about a time/situation where you witnessed or were able to help an organization achieve a positive/constructive conflict resolution.
I worked intensively with a hospital Surgical Services department for close to a year. At the start of the project, employees and leaders reported cliques, gossip, blaming, withholding information, abrasive comments, blow ups, resentment, and talking behind others backs. With increasing tension and mounting issues, the leadership team had become less confident and more reactive. The CDP (the CDP 360 and coaching for the leadership team and CDP-I and training for all team members) was the catalyst for understanding and culture change for this team. The work was intensive; the shift was gradual. At the end of the year, employees started handling conflicts with co-workers directly and leaders were visibly relaxed, confident, and reported fewer complaints, greater collaboration, and a decrease in tension.
What has been most successful for you when selling CDP or BCC?
I’m not usually successful selling a tool itself. I’m vastly more successful when I present a solution for a person or organization. When a person or team is struggling with the ill-effects of conflict, I feel very confident recommending the CDP knowing the unique awareness and learning the CDP can provide for those who want a change. From my experience, the CDP along with coaching and/or training have been particularly helpful for persons, teams, and organizations that are conflict avoidant and want to gain the confidence and skills to engage constructively in conflict.
What trends or changes are you seeing in workplace conflict? What do you think is the cause?
Various factors we are all very familiar with – layoffs, more work for the remaining workers, unemployment, more pressure to produce/succeed, fear of losing one’s job, long-term economic stability, etc. – have put a tremendous amount of pressure on today’s workforce and leaders. We know the many negative impacts of this increased stress. One positive impact I think I’m seeing is leaders becoming more open about the presence of conflict in their workplaces. While the cost to the leader for putting his or her head in the sand and saying “we don’t have conflict here” might not have been great before, it surely is now. If today’s economic crisis and its many stressors result in just a few more leaders becoming more willing to discuss conflict in their organizations and address it, that is obviously a positive change.
What do you think is the biggest mistake companies make when dealing with conflict?
Companies make a huge mistake when they don’t anticipate conflict and have a plan in place for leaders and employees to respond to conflict skillfully and with confidence. All too often, companies are short sighted and wait until intervention is unavoidable and after a lot of damage has been done. Not preparing leaders and employees with self-awareness and skills to manage conflict they experience at work is a costly mistake for companies.
If you could give companies one piece of advice regarding conflict resolution, what would it be?
Consider how conflict fits with your organizational values and how it impacts your culture – how will it enhance your business and how can it hurt your company’s success? Then, look at how you can use that information to create a culture that encourages constructive conflict and next equip your employees with awareness and skills so they can use conflict for good.