What messages should we give our Young Leaders?

This photo of our first cohort of New Dialogues leaders has been compared to the Apprentice. But unlike that show, characterised by outdated, ‘macho’ attitudes to business and collaboration, this group of dynamic, driven individuals embodies a new and progressive approach to leadership. 

“Everything I touch turns to sold” and “I think outside the box. If I was an apple pie, the apples inside me would be oranges”. If you are sickeningly familiar with this generic, largely unsubstantiated and meaningless brand of ‘wisdom’, then, like me, you have tortured yourself by watching the BBC’s Apprentice over the years. So why do I keep coming back for more? It makes reasonable, self-loathing TV and who goes out at 9 pm on a Wednesday anyway? But, more importantly, the Apprentice candidates are entertaining characters and thankfully not my colleagues!

Whilst reaching for a heavy pinch of salt and bearing in mind the need to create dramatic and sensationalist programmes, the troubling thing about the Apprentice and widespread attitudes on how to get ahead as a young leader in business is the championing of vitriolic, self-serving and uncollaborative behaviour. Throughout every season without fail, candidates turn on each other the instant something goes wrong, are rude and unprofessional, demonstrate poor communication, conflict management and leadership skills and seem nonchalant to the notion of collaboration. Cue pinch of salt, but if you were Lord Sugar, would you work with them?

CEDR Foundation’s New Dialogues Programme focuses on young and emerging leaders in business and the community, teaching communication, conflict management, negotiation and leadership skills. New Dialogues kicked off with a training day in advanced skills of facilitating dialogue and managing difficult or contentious conversations, kindly hosted by leading City Law Firm Allen & Overy.

I was delighted, along with 40 other young leaders from the worlds of law, government, business and voluntary organisation, to attend the inaugural session and benefit from the expert training. I was also able to witness first-hand a more constructive, healthy and progressive approach to collaboration and conflict management.

The day had a tripartite aim. Firstly, to understand and practice the skills needed effectively to open, explore and intervene in a difficult conversation, secondly, recognise and appreciate your conflict management style and that of others and how this affects the managing of relationships and disputes and finally teach and encourage a universal management skill-set.

Throughout the training, a core set of skills were honed in on. Under the umbrella of active listening, we focused on: Reflecting and Paraphrasing, Reframing, Summarising and the Use of Questions. Through a series of mock-scenarios, we had the opportunity to deploy these techniques, learning the benefits of each and how they might be used to break deadlock. This was accompanied by live feedback from CEDR’s conflict management coaches, but also from our peers. This skill set, which can be applied to one’s professional and personal life alike, fostered a more reflective, deliberative and ultimately more collaborative method of communication and conflict management.

At some point, we will all encounter conflict in the workplace and the need to engage in a difficult conversation. Touch wood I have not needed to have one yet, but my first simulated attempt proved it was no easy task. I found myself going round in circles, getting frustrated, becoming less and less empathetic and constructive and losing track of the need to formulate and agree on a way forward.

If you approach a difficult conversation unprepared, open poorly, fail to explore, fast-track to problem-solving or forget to conclude and you can all too easily make the situation worse. A difficult conversation, akin to a negotiation, is a multi-stage process that needs to be worked through in order to achieve a sustainable outcome. CEDR clearly identifies five stages: Preparation, Opening, Exploration, Problem-Solving and Conclusion. Each phase both relies and builds on the other. For example, skip Exploration and move straight to Problem-Solving and the latter will be based on an inadequate and incomplete understanding of the issues, jeopardising the effectiveness and longevity of any potential solution.

Collaborator or Avoider, Competitor or Accommodator or perhaps a Compromiser, which one are you? Integral to successfully engaging with and resolving disputes is self-awareness. One part of this is identifying and appreciating your conflict style and that of others. Being aware of the strengths and weaknesses helps you get the most out of people; no two individuals are the same. By tailoring your approach, you can more actively and genuinely work with people, avoiding that which will deter and potentially derail the conversation and instead focus on techniques that will bring you closer together. Furthermore, through a greater understanding of yourself, you can pinpoint conflict triggers and appreciate how your style impacts others and may help or hinder working with and resolving issues.

“Proud to be part of this initiative. Thank you CEDR for your vision and investment”, commented one participant. This and other positive feedback we received, and the experience on the day, highlights that the inaugural New Dialogues training was a tremendous success. CEDR’s mission is to work with people to develop the skills and processes needed to effectively manage and resolve conflict. New Dialogues embodies how we wish to achieve this; engaging and working with young people to challenge antiquated attitudes to conflict resolution and leadership and develop and foster a more forward-thinking approach, with better and durable outcomes.We are excited to continue this initiative in Spring of 2018.

For more information of this initiative, visit our website.

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