Tag Archives: conflict management

“Wow, you’re quite articulate (for a black person.)”

“Hey, you’re really good at math (for a woman.)”

“I’m surprised, you don’t seem racist at all (for a white person.)”

“Oh, we’re going to the gym together, you wouldn’t want to come (because you’re overweight.)”

The subtexts can be so hurtful. Perhaps you have felt their sting based on your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other differentiating factor (DF.)

The panel at a NWEEO event included Julie Marshall, Ph.D. in clinical psychology, Nancy Cooper, J.D., and myself, with Jill Goldsmith, J.D. as moderator. We each brought a unique perspective and had a wonderful discussion. Here are some resulting thoughts.

What are micro-aggressions?

According to Derald Wing Sue, Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, micro-aggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward (people with a differentiating factor.)”  Litigation cases of this type are growing, according to two Portland judges.

Is it discrimination?

Nowadays overt discrimination is less frequent than it used to be. In my opinion many people are better educated and truly feel that people should be judged on their own merits and inherent value as human beings, not based on DFs. Still, some less enlightened individuals have discriminatory thoughts but know how to keep them in the closet to avoid legal or employer discipline, or unpopularity. Micro-aggressions come in two varieties: those of genuine innocent error, and those borne of closet prejudice that pop out like passed gas. Oops! No I didn’t!

The Micro-Aggression Tree

I love to study and teach the science behind business practices, looking for evidence of why we do what we do, and what predictable consequences may occur. How we treat other people can be likened to a tree that starts from a seed, grows roots and branches, and eventually bears fruit.

The seed starts out with its inherent DNA – the biological drivers that will shape what it becomes. Add nutrients in the soil, water, and sunlight; then the seed sprouts.

Micro-Aggression Roots & Fruits

When I bought my home I was excited that on the property was a big beautiful apple tree, heavy-laden with fruit. At harvest time I was excited to turn the apples into apple-crisp that I could freeze and enjoy at will with some ice cream. When I bit my first apple I spat it out. It was horrible! I had never before tasted an apple that bitter. Was it the seed (nature)? Was it the soil (nurture)? I had no idea. It didn’t really matter. I mourned over the uselessness of the fruit of my tree.

Roots of Micro-Aggression and Acceptance

Let’s walk through the creation of micro-aggressions:

  • Nature (DNA, instinct) plus nurture (upbringing, education) create beliefs.
  • Beliefs create thoughts.
  • Thoughts create words and actions.
  • Words and actions create micro-aggressions.
  • Micro-aggressions are based on nature and nurture.

To me, this logic is self-evident and intuitive.

Fruits of Micro-Aggression

Now let’s discover the consequences of micro-aggressions:

  • A micro-aggression is a message to someone that s/he is less valued or respected.
  • That message creates feelings in the receiver of hurt, anger, contempt, and isolation.
  • Those feelings lead to feelings back toward the micro-aggressor of distrust, disrespect, alienation and isolation.
  • The back-and-forth feelings result in working relationships of passive aggression, dis-harmony, poor communication, and misunderstanding.
  • Poor working relationships create a negative company culture low in trust, respect and engagement.
  • A negative company culture reduces productivity.
  • Low productivity means low profits.
  • The bitter fruit of micro-aggression is lost company profits that, if un-checked, can lead to the death of the company.

Bitter to Sweet

How can we change the fruit from bitter to sweet? We can’t change the seed, but we can add nutrients to the soil. We don’t want to uproot the tree, but we can prune it and bend it. We don’t want to cut the tree down but we can cut off the bitter branches and graft in sweet branches.

Your organization can turn the bitter fruit of micro-aggression into the sweet fruits of harmony, engagement, and profit. Please contact me. I will help.


Doug Lundrigan, MBA


Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 7.00.47 PM

We had a blast! We won awards! We were recognized by our peers and the C-suite for our excellence! Work was exhilarating and fun! Our competitive advantage was overwhelming! That was the best team I ever worked with. Have you ever had an experience like that when working with a team? You can!

A team is only as strong as its individual members, and is only successful when those members work well together, enjoy each other, and complement each other’s skills. The kind of high performance, engagement, synergy, and enjoyment achieved by the best teams does not come by accident, nor without cost. The only sure thing is, a great team is worth the work, worth the cost, and worth the effort to keep it together for the long haul. So, how do we do that? Keep reading, because if you can implement the concepts explained here, you will see real results.

A group becomes a team when it has collective goals, positive synergy, mutual accountability, and complementary skills (Robbins & Judge, 2007). Team member interdependence creates challenges in:

  1. communication,
  2. collaboration, and
  3. conflict management.

Like the supports to a three-legged stool, if any one of these three aspects is weak, the team fails. In order to carry its weight, to do its job, to perform well under pressure, your team needs these Three Legs. To discover how to develop your team’s strength in the Three Legs, read on.

Get With the Program
First, we need to make sure everyone is onboard. Let’s begin with Team Orientation.. It’s time to get to know each other, and yourselves. This part of the training will enlighten team members on the four stages of team development. The team will then discuss and form a consensus on their current stage in team development. The team orientation and training program proposed here will strengthen each of the Three Legs. The training elements include: pre-training assessment, training content, post-training evaluation, and intermittent reinforcement. Team members will complete a pre-training assessment, receive instruction on the four-stage team-development model described by Robbins and Judge (2007) and how to work with the diverse styles of others, and then participate in team learning simulations. Yukl (2006) suggests that an outside facilitator is most effective when conducting training simulations, based on an objective third-party perspective.

Charter: A GPS for Success
Now we need a way to keep track of all these great discoveries about the team, its members, and the ways in which they best work together. Effective teams construct a team charter to define communication methods, collaborative roles and responsibilities, and how to manage conflict. The team charter is constructed as each part of training on the Three Legs is completed.

Team leaders will receive post-training evaluation scores and conduct intermittent reinforcement training with members to hone skills and ensure real behavior change. A leader will attend team meetings to observe and coach toward improved execution of training knowledge and the terms agreed to in the team charter.


The First Leg: Communication.
No, a good team is not made up of carbon copies – a team needs different styles, different skillsets, and different ways of looking at things. Otherwise, you might as well just have a “team” of one, right? Instruction on differences and characteristics of communication styles will enable members to view each other’s differences in a non-judgmental manner. Next, members will review and compare self-assessments in a group discussion. Training will continue with simulations to practice adapting their communication to people of other styles. They will practice overcoming communication barriers. The team will also decide on, and describe to other team members, their preferred and most efficient methods of communication, whether by e-mail, voice mail, telephone, teleconference, or face-to-face meeting.

The Second Leg: Collaboration.
Okay, so the team members understand how they differ from one another. Now it’s time to learn how to embrace those differences, fill each other’s weaknesses, and create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This instruction will focus on collaboration that leads to synergy. Team members will use pre-training assessments to create a team skill inventory listing the total skills possessed by the team. Efficient division of tasks will be discussed using the team charter. Team members will record in the charter the roles, responsibilities and efficient division of labor.

The Third Leg: Conflict Management.
You didn’t think we could bring all these different people together in perfect harmony, did you? When people bring together different ideas and different opinions, conflict is inevitable. Conflict can range from a mild disagreement on some minor issue, to strong emotional objections to another’s opinion, style, or beliefs.

The goal of this part of training is to teach strategies enabling members to respond to all levels of conflict constructively. In the training workshop members will use a controversial political issue to practice some of the characteristics of high-performing teams: handling conflict directly, listening, consensus building, compromising, understanding, empathizing, respecting, and recognizing that team members can agree to disagree. Decisions on how the team will resolve conflict will become part of the team charter.

Custom Application
To explore the application of the above training program to your own team, you need a good handle on personality of the team. You will need to examine the current state of the team, how to fit the program to the unique challenges of this team, the specific results that are required, and the incentives for team performance.

Conclusion: Effectiveness of the Training
It really works! This training plan as outlined will transform your group to a high-performance team. Commitment to the team is proven to increase as dialogue and activities foster mutual understanding, cohesiveness, cooperation, and identification with the group (Yukl, 2006). This training itself will give team members an opportunity to become more cohesive, leading to further development of the Three Legs skills, and their application to the unique challenges of your team.

– Douglas A. Lundrigan, MBA

Robbins, Stephen P. and Judge, Timothy A. (2007). Organizational Behavior, Twelfth Edition, Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

Yukl, Gary, (2006). Leadership in Organizations, Sixth Edition. USA, Pearson Prentice Hall.