Michelle Brody PhD, is an executive coach & clinical psychologist. She brings 25 years of experience in both corporate and family settings to the challenging problem of interactional conflict. Michelle’s speciality as a coach is to guide teams that have complicated dynamics to help them reach greater levels of collaboration, improve communication and resolve tension. Michelle is the author of two books, Stop the Fight and her latest book Own Your Armour; revolutionary change for workplace culture. Michelle is also a master trainer of psychologists, professional coaches and HR professionals and she is a regular public speaker.
Podcast Episode Summary
This podcast conversation explores the mindset shifts team members, or indeed anyone, have to make to resolve interpersonal conflict and the consequences of negative team dynamics at work. Michelle Brody reminds us that when you think about conflict you are up against biology, we have to understand the threats we perceive, the armour we put on and the impact that armour has on others. Michelle’s book could be considered a graphic novel, its illustrations help cut through the complexity inherent in human dynamics and helps illuminate what’s at play in interactional conflict.
Points made over the episode
- The red thread that weaves throughout this podcast is the idea that conflict is cyclical and unless and until we can recognise our contribution that interactional conflict is not neutral and that armour is a suit and not a characterisation of the person conflict is likely to persist.
- Michelle started her career after college as an Investment Banker but she realised she was not interested in numbers or financials but in the interactions between people. She was curious why cultures were built on fear. She then pursued Clinical Psychology
- Michelle pivoted into Coaching because she wanted to have a bigger impact in terms of helping others figure out what was happening in the dynamics at work.
- As a psychologist you learn about the different types of defence mechanisms people employ to keep safe. Michelle became curious about how one person’s defence could trigger another’s and how that then gets locked in as a cycle.
- Conflict cycles show up everywhere, in communities, in couples, in families at work
- Michelle then conceptualised these patterns as armour, armour a person puts on to protect. She recognised that armour is a form of self-protection but it is also aggressive.
- The number one important thing to know about conflict is that it is cyclical and the second thing to know about conflict is that the problem is not difficult people but that armour is put on for a particular reason.
- There is always a good person and when they suit up you get an evil twin.
- When we think about conflict you have to remember we are up against biology. The automatic response system to threat is our nervous system.
- We get ensnared by conflict when we label or judge people. We make attribution errors of others. As soon as we attribute to another we then start to react and put on our own armour and we start the cycle.
- There is a natural preservation phenomenon at work too we look to keep ourselves innocent.
- We forget to enquire to try to understand what is happening and instead we label.
- Often we give feedback erroneously by pointing out a person’s behaviour as a property of them. “Your anger is causing problems on this team” The impact of this feedback is not changed behaviour but more anger.
- Begin with a description of the person in two ways, how you see them when things are going well or as a core self and then as the evil twin. Be curious.
- It is important to separate the person from their armour.
- A threat can sound like a strong word but threats are what our nervous system respond to.
- The kinds of threats that show up at work include; a threat to livelihood, a threat to belonging, a threat to fairness, control, authority and reputation or a threat to success
- Our family of origin and past life experiences has an incredibly important input into the kind of threats that grab us.
- Michelle has an image in her book that encapsulates of Psychology in one page. Our family of origin and all its embedded dynamics create in every human a set of longings and sensitivities which then create our motivations and particular sets of threats.
- If we can understand our Psychological Map we can have so much more power over our reactivity and understanding of others and their impacts on us.
- Armour comes in many different forms & Michelle’s book invites self-analysis. How do I feel threatened? How do I react to that threat? What kind of armour do I put on? What are the unintended consequences or impact of my armour?
- It is easier to work with a team if each person does this analysis first
- The ideal or best possible world is a team where there is 100% trust and everyone can show up as their core selves. Often teams do not show up this way & negative dynamics are instead at play. A Leader will often try to rescue the situation but it takes psychological understanding to really decode what is happening on the team.
- Michelle works 1:1 with each team member to see how they are threatened, the armour they put on and the unintended impact of their armour. It is difficult for people to notice their threats when the intuitive mindset is to believe that the problem is outside of them.
- We often do not notice our impact we have to be nudged there.
- It is important to remember two things: 1. We all wear armour and 2. There is a difference between a person and their armour.
- A person who seems sceptical is often simply wearing thicker armour.
- It is wise to give each team member a copy of the book before a team offsite. Self-analysis and a commitment by all to do pre-work lessons the heavy lifting needed on the program.
- Teams have a lot of work to sort out between roles, goals, norms, stakeholder expectations etc and the final frontier is team dynamics. A frontier that is often missed
- There are intractable situations. Certain circumstances defy change. When the threat system around the team is too intense, when a strong willed Leader refuses to acknowledge his own armour are just a few.
- HR is often employed to make a decision between an employee relations investigation or coaching. You cannot employ both simultaneously. The threat is too large to allow for the openness of coaching.
- Michelle shares a story between two suits of armour to explain what might be going on if a Leader is demanding more initiative by a team and the Leader is frustrated with the team. Michelle seeks to elicit the “thirst’ by way of team enquiry.
- If you find yourself in conflict some great questions to ask include;
- what am I missing?
- What do I know about what is happening here?
- How are you feeling about this situation?
- We all want Psychological Safety in our workplaces and one of the best ways to get at it is to be vulnerable and to be part of the solution, by recognising that in some maybe small way you might be contributing to the unsafety
- Own Your Armour: revolutionary change for workplace culture by Michelle Brody PhD.
- Stop the Fight: an illustrated guide for couples by Michelle Brody PhD.