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How conflict management is like Parkour

“I can do Parkour for the rest of my life without even moving, just efficient thinking.”
~ Ryan Doyle

If you are not sure what Parkour is, here is how Wikipedia describes it:

Parkour (sometimes abbreviated PK) is a method of movement focused on moving around obstacles with speed and efficiency. Originally developed in France, the main purpose of the discipline is to teach participants how to move through their environment by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping. Traceurs (parkour practitioners) train to be able to identify and utilize alternate or the more efficient paths. 

Better yet, watch this video “Ryan Doyle parkour in Mardin” to get a feel.

Since I can barely move around obstacles even in a slow fashion without knocking something over or bruising myself, Parkour is quite fascinating for me to watch.  It also strikes me that conflict management is like a verbal Parkour.  They have a few things in common.

While obstacles that parties in conflict  face are not made of brick and concrete, they can sometimes give an impression that you are running into a wall.  As conflict management practitioners, we help our clients navigate through their own obstacle course.   We use a variety of tools and interventions, depending on the skills of the participants and the nature of the course.  We may encourage storytelling to build trust.  We give parties an opportunity and space to be heard.  We question to uncover hidden negative assumptions and blocks.  We reframe to deepen understanding.  We trust the process to turn polarizing into problem-solving.  But we can’t run the course for our clients.

Traceurs take the most direct path through an obstacle. They want speed, but they can’t compromise safely.  Similarly, in a conflict situation, the desire to reach an agreement as quickly as possible has to be balanced against long-term relationship goals and the risk of false conformity.  Just like one cannot expect to run a Parkour course successfully without proper training, we have to respect the time and pace it takes for the clients to prepare to deal with the issues effectively.  Rush too much, and you risk the collapse of any agreement.

According to “Two Theories on Parkour Philosophy” from Parkour North America, “Parkour is a means of reclaiming what it means to be a human being. It teaches us to move using the natural methods that we should have learned from infancy. It teaches us to touch the world and interact with it, instead of being sheltered by it.”  This need for self-expression, human connection and meaning is also at the core of conflict management.  Just like traceurs feel the surfaces with their hands, our clients need to develop the trust in their ability to handle raw emotions without damaging their sense of self-worth.  The hope is that through better self-awareness and more effective methods of social interaction, they may be able to drop the armor that shields them from the world and express themselves with openness, clarity and respect.

And there is more on Parkour philosophy and practice from Urban Discipline: “It is as much as a part of truly learning the physical art as well as being able to master the movements, it gives you the ability to overcome your fears and pains and reapply this to life; as you must be able to control your mind in order to master the art of parkour.”  Ryan Doyle in the video above talks about mental rehearsal as a necessary step to program both the mind and the body for the course.  Conflict management is also about mastering the mind.  It’s about identifying old, unproductive patterns of dealing with issues and envisioning new possibilities.  It’s about gradually focusing the mind on positive behaviors that create new pathways in the brain and strengthen them with enough repetition to turn them into a habit.  It’s about turning uncertainty and negativity into curiosity and creative search for solutions.

The physical environment is essential to Parkour.   While the influence of the physical environment on conflict management is less understood, research shows that  it has a big impact on cognitive function and decision-making.  The ‘broken windows’ hypothesis tells us that that public places with signs of decay and neglect encourage crime and antisocial behaviour. A recent study shows that messy surroundings also make people more likely to stereotype others.   In contrast, interacting with nature dramatically improves cognitive function and restores our ability to exercise directed attention and working memory.  It turns out that the mere presence of plants in an office setting boosts one’s ability to maintain attention.  This interplay of our physical world, perception and behavior is of special interest to me.   As Alva Noë put it,  “Consciousness requires the joint operation of brain, body, and world.”

Last but not least, Parkour is also an art.  It encourages people to appreciate the beauty of the movement and the surroundings.  Art has a role to play in conflict management as well. From storytelling to visuals to improv,  art can help people get in touch with their own emotions and cultivate self-awareness.  Creative expression and creative play lower defenses and open up the mind to new possibilities, leading to insights and breakthroughs.

And sometimes Parkour encourages a different form of art, as in the video below (Hat Tip to @christophemorin on Twitter)

parkour motion reel by Suchablog

Can computer games help us make better decisions in life?

World of Uncertainty Supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a team at Queen’s University Belfast is exploring whether people can be trained to make better decisions by improving their ability to recognize and make allowances for their subjective opinions and biases. This interdisciplinary project harnesses leading-edge expertise in mathematics, statistics, critical thinking, knowledge management and educational psychology.  The team has developed a prototype that could be built on by commercial games manufacturers and turned into an e-learning or training tool for professionals and for the general public.  Here is how the researchers describe the “World of Uncertainty” game:

“The game uses multiple choice questions on a variety of subjects. However this is not just an ordinary quiz. Its main purpose is to improve and calibrate players’ certainty and sense of probabilities rather than subject knowledge. Thus the topic of the quiz or difficulty level became irrelevant so long as the player enjoys the quiz and is motivated to achieve higher score. On answering each question, the player has to indicate his/her confidence as accurately as possible using interactive slider. As a player adjusts the slider, corresponding payoffs for correct and incorrect outcomes will be shown. This payoff function designed to encourage the honest and accurate confidence judgment. In addition to immediate feedback, players can access results of all completed quizzes and calibration charts from personal profiles. Detailed feedback helps to correct over/under confidence in quantifying internal probabilities.”

Over 500 members of the general public, as well as many students from Queen’s and Dundalk Institute of Technology, have already tried out the prototype.  The prototype game allows you to increase your accuracy in answering questions and train to quantify your confidence.  It is available for anyone to try out at http://quiz.worldofuncertainty.org/.

By | 2011-01-20T18:37:02+00:00 January 20th, 2011|Learning, Peak Performance, Perception|0 Comments

Lucky charms for enchanting customer experience

Lucky charmsSome time ago I watched a TED presentation by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” on nurturing creativity.  Talking about the pressures of creative work, felt especially strongly after a hugely successful book, Elizabeth Gilbert described how writers and poets had relied for centuries on their creative genius, or muse, to keep them inspired and prolific.  They developed special relationships with their mystical helpers, often incorporating elaborate rituals into the writing process.  They attributed their success to the power of their creative genius and their misfortunes to the loss of the mystical support.

If you have a muse or a lucky charm, you are in good company.  It turns out that not only artists rely on their mystical supporters.  Athletes invite them too, usually with the help of performance jewelry, lucky charms and rituals to help them focus, calm down and perform better.

Rituals and symbols captivate our brains, which are wired to look for patterns and make predictions even where none exists.  Wearing a bracelet may not really cause you to perform better but if your brain sees the connection and you believe in it, the power of suggestion makes the brain respond as if it were true, triggering a placebo effect.  It’s the power of belief anchored in a symbolic object that can cause you to perform better.  Rituals serve a similar function.  A ritual is a set of actions that has a special symbolic meaning.   Rituals give a signal to your brain to prepare for something or shift focus, depending on the meaning and purpose of your ritual.

Both rituals and symbols set expectations, and, perhaps, brands can use them too as tools to create unique customer experiences that go beyond the function of the logos.

For example, in my daughter’s kindergarten, each day of the week has its alternative name that incorporates the type of food that the kids help to prepare that day.  Monday is the rice day, Tuesday is the bread day, etc.  Every Tuesday morning when we step through the school doors, we are welcomed by the wonderful aroma of the home-made bread baked in the oven.  We all have come to expect it on Tuesdays, and it’s a part of the school experience.

How can you get your customers in the mood to expect something wonderful?  There is a small toy store in my town, which has to compete with all those big chains around. When you have a five-year-old kid, you have numerous birthday parties to attend, and you need gifts.  We choose to shop in this independent toy store not only because of the nice inventory of toys and the friendliness of the store employees who are ready to assist you in choosing the right product. There are some unique thoughtful features in that shop that boost their customer experience.  For example, they provide a few tables with complimentary gift wrapping paper and bows so that the customers could wrap their gifts and kids could take part in the action.  You can also choose a free birthday card with your purchase.  This little gift-prep ritual makes a difference.  And when we are in a rush to get that last minute present, we know we can get it all done in one place without crowds of people and much waiting.

Either it’s the holiday season that makes me think of freshly-baked bread and pies or I am just hungry and my brain needs glucose, but my next example also involves a culinary tradition.  It comes from The Grossman Group, a consultancy that specializes in strategic leadership, internal communication and delicious Grandma Elsie’s Famous Pumpkin Chiffon pies, which The Grossman Group makes for their in-town clients every Thanksgiving as a sweet way to say “Thank you.”  Their out-of-town clients get the ingredients and the recipe in the mail to make their own pies.  And all other lovers of pies and communication can get the famous recipe on The Grossman Group website.  Now, that’s a treat and treatment that customers can appreciate.

How can your brand find a lucky charm or creative inspiration that can set it apart from competition?  Do you have a lucky charm or tradition that you want to share?

By | 2013-03-27T19:42:30+00:00 December 8th, 2010|Communication, Peak Performance|1 Comment

Friendly conversations make you smarter

ConversationIf you need to boost your brain power for an important task that demands working memory, self-monitoring, and the ability to suppress external and internal distractions, you now have an excuse to procrastinate by engaging in a pleasant chat with friends.  A recent University of Michigan study indicates that friendly conversations boost executive function while competitive interactions don’t.

Psychologist Oscar Ybarra, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and the lead author of the study, tested 192 undergraduates to determine which types of social interactions helped the brain power – and which didn’t.  After brief, 10-minute conversations in which participants were simply instructed to get to know another person, the subjects improved their performance on a variety of cognitive tasks.  Conversations that were more competitive in nature didn’t result in similar performance boosts.  Ybarra  explained:

“We believe that performance boosts come about because some social interactions induce people to try to read others’ minds and take their perspectives on things.  And we also find that when we structure even competitive interactions to have an element of taking the other person’s perspective, or trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, there is a boost in executive functioning as a result.”

It sounds like trying to understand other people boosts brain power, and empathy may even give your executive function a competitive edge.

By | 2010-11-11T16:47:16+00:00 November 11th, 2010|Peak Performance|1 Comment