Workshop: Learning from animals to handle workplace conflict

Join us on October 18, 2013 at University of New Hampshire School of Law

Participants have fun while tackling serious topics!
Participants have fun while tackling serious topics!

Looking for an innovative and creative workshop that addresses workplace conflict?

Even for the non-animal lover, this will get your attention! Robin Eichert joins with Melinda Gehris and Carol Hess in this non-traditional approach to a common workplace topics. Using animals as a metaphor for exploring and understanding conflict, we tell stories, share photo images and videos for a humorous and light perspective, while allowing participants to process the material for lessons that they can apply in any situation after leaving the session.

“Robin, I want to thank you for the wonderful training you, Melinda, and Carol recently provided to our management team here at Families in Transition. In our effort to administer beneficial training for our management team, your presentation — engaging, informative, and valued — embodies the type of instruction that families in Transition seeks to continue to provide. The knowledge and awareness our team gained from “Handling Workplace Conflicts” will help our managers better serve their staff and subsequently our clients.”
— Cathy Kuhn, PhD, Families in Transition

This workshop is for you, if you can answer yes to any of these questions:

  • Is your team stuck in old habits of working together in non-productive ways?
  • Are managers struggling to deliver difficult messages?
  • Would you like your workforce to have a higher level of engagement in their work?
  • Do you see the value in working through conflict rather than burying it?
  • Are some employees in your organization struggling in their position?

Who should attend?

Anyone in the workforce can benefit.  These skills can be used effectively by leaders, managers, team members, and individual contributors.  We welcome any employee who wants to develop and enrich relationships with their co-workers for mutual benefit.

What’s the format?

Hosted at the beautiful UNH School of Law campus in Concord, New Hampshire, we’ll start at 8:00 a.m. for a half-day, interactive workshop, ending at noon. Lunch is included.


Give me a call or email so we can determine if this is right for you and your team.

Are you ready? 

Register NOW! Don’t miss this innovative workshop!

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The most difficult time to offer workplace compassion is when we need it the most

A lesson taught by a special cat

Henry shared a lesson about life just before his death.
Henry modeled an important life lesson just before his own death. (Thank you, Carol, for sharing this wonderful picture of Henry.)

On Wednesday morning, I walked into the restaurant to meet two colleagues for breakfast. We were planning to put the final touches on our workshop entitled “Handling Workplace Conflict: Lessons we can learn from animals.”

As I approached the table and started into my seat, Melinda immediately began talking, quickly but not in a panic. She said, “We have a glitch.” I listened to the events that had unfolded that same morning for our missing colleague, Carol. She had found her cat of 18 years, Henry, in the field behind her home, unable to move. Knowing the last several weeks had been creating some signs of declining health, Carol and her husband realized that this was serious.

Tears started to gently roll down my face and Melinda’s as she told me a bit more about Henry’s life. The irony — and beauty — of this situation was front and center in our minds. Here we sat, on the morning of a workshop that the three of us had been planning for a year, a program devoted to the lessons animals teach us, and Henry was becoming a beacon of our beliefs.

With Carol and Henry in our thoughts, Melinda and I worked through the scenarios of the workshop’s agenda, deciding on options that addressed the unknowns of whether or when Carol could join us. We left the restaurant, not knowing what would happen next, but confident it would all work out the way it should.

And it did.

Carol called Melinda after Melinda and I had arrived at the training location and gave the sad news of Henry’s death. She said she was on her way and would be there shortly. When she arrived, she told us that she couldn’t imagine a better way to honor Henry, participating as we originally planned. I marveled at her composure, knowing she had within the last 90 minutes, lost a long-time family member, friend, and companion.

She then told us more details of the morning, providing evidence of what we knew: animals are important teachers. After she and her husband had retrieved Henry from the field, everyone was together on the porch. The reality was settling in and Carol sat sobbing. Henry felt her emotion and though difficult to move, he made his way over to her and softly placed his head on her foot. This incredible gesture of sensitivity, warmth, and compassion is not just touching, it shows the depth of his understanding of the situation and his willingness to do something about it. In his simple but profound way, he offered an important lesson for us in life even in moments before his death: Be present. Be kind to others. Even when it’s uncomfortable to do so.

Much too often in the workplaces, we hesitate to offer such a caring act, especially in moments of stressful conflict. We worry about how it might be perceived or if it’s appropriate. Or maybe we think it is not needed or necessary.

Yes, I do see acts of kindness in the workplace, often for those easy moments, like celebrating a milestone event, or helping when someone is ill or going through a tough time. Even then, it is reserved or inhibited in some way.

Yet in more challenging situations, when someone has made a mistake or made you mad, it’s not quite so easy to be generous with support. But that’s when we need compassion the most. By opening up lines of communication during the worst of situations, we build trust with the other person, allowing understanding that will move us towards resolution. The absence of caring and curiosity stifles what makes the strongest relationships possible.

We need to take our cue from Henry. Faced with pain, uncertainty, discomfort, and sadness, yes even death, Henry did something remarkable. He reached out to care for the other person instead of focusing on his own needs.

Thank you, Henry, for modeling the behavior we should all follow. Another fine lesson from a beautiful animal.

What stories do you have that illustrate when compassion has been offered during a difficult time? How did it impact the situation? Share your thoughts below for us to learn more.

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Eichert presents at NHBSR 2012 Spring Conference

Lots of people think about the environment when they hear a company talking about being socially responsible. The environment is very important and there’s much more we can all do to help protect our natural resources.

Door prizes! (I don’t remember them being that funny, but as you can see, I was having a good time!)

But the reason I joined New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR) is because I believe that socially responsible businesses should value their people, too. NHBSR works hard to educate and promote best practices for businesses who strive for exemplary treatment for their people and the planet. Members are leading the way and I get inspired when I hear of the many initiatives that exist within our state.

So I was excited to be an invited speaker at NHBSR’s 2012 Spring Conference. Mirjam IJtsma and I teamed up to present “Engaging Employees in Social Responsibility;” we facilitated an interactive session where participants collaborated and shared ideas that helped us all leave with a fresh outlook. You can download our presentation here.

The theme “Walking the Talk: The Profitability of Values” directly addressed the issues in environmental and social responsibility that business leaders are confronted with daily.  Three tracks of sessions allowed attendees from large and small companies alike, as well as beginning to leader positions in sustainability practices, to find the perfect opportunity to learn and share best practices.

I found the keynote speaker, Andrew Winston of Winston Eco-Strategies and author of the Green Recovery and co-author of Green to Gold to be the highlight of the day. He was entertaining, but even more importantly, he offered new information and insights into how businesses should be creating new paradigms that help consumers use fewer resources.

Is your organization providing a socially responsible culture for your employees? Do you have some ideas that you’d like to share? Tell us here! We can all learn from examples of how you are creating a desirable workplace for your employees.


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Oh chute, this is easy!

This was the first time Grace was exposed to the barrel and chute at agility. Rachel, our trainer, and I were focused on helping her feel comfortable just walking through the barrel without the chute extended.

I was a presenter at a workshop yesterday discussing best practices for successful hiring of employees. Before we started, I was talking with one of the attendees, wanting to know if there was a particular thing that triggered her to come. She said that she was always interested in learning more about HR topics, adding that “if you’re a good manager, you have interest in HR”. Her view—and I agree—is that if you aren’t interested in developing the people who you manage, you’re probably not a very good manager.

Step 2: She actually walked through the barrel! Accomplishing something that we think is easy could be very challenging for someone else. Rachel knew that the feel of the nylon and the enclosed space might create anxiety for Grace, so it was important to have patience and empathy for the roadblocks in Grace

It makes me think of the seminar I’m attending this weekend with Grace for dogs that are fearful. As I mentioned in a recent post, I do wonder where the point of progress stops for her. But I wouldn’t be going if I didn’t think it would help her (and me), so I suppose I really do have faith that it will yield some improvements.

As a dog owner, parent, or manager, there is a commitment of time, energy, and effort to constantly be focused on the development of others. It can be a rewarding process or an exhausting one, linked to the results you see and the effort put in return. When days turn into weeks, and then months, it’s natural to forget how far someone has come in their development. We start to focus on what’s left to learn, what needs to change, rather than all we’ve accomplished. I realize that lately I’ve focused on the annoying barking that I hear from Grace when I’m in the middle of a conference call or that incessant whining when we’re in the car. I’m not remembering those things that she has overcome.

Months later and lots of time spent supporting and encouraging, Grace loves running through the extended nylon chute. It

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your own progress, or that of others, it might help to stop and reflect on what has been accomplished. That can give you renewed confidence that more is yet to come.

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Learning anything complex takes time—don’t shortchange the process

As she gets familiar with the weave poles, my job is to guide her through with a treat but I think she's more interested in watching our wonderful photographer friend, Annie Card. Thanks to Annie for all the pictures in today's post!

One of the agility obstacles that Grace and I have not spent a lot of time with is the weave poles. When first learning this particular skill, the poles are “open” to create a channel that the dog walks through. Eventually, the goal is to have poles “closed” or set in a straight line so the dog then weaves around each pole in a zig-zag pattern. The most advanced dog will fly through as fast as they can – speed is required for winning agility dogs.

At a recent class, Grace did really well with these poles—considering how little we’ve worked with them. She readily goes in but she sometimes veers off in the middle or enters after the second pole instead of the first. There is also a standard for how you enter the poles and even I can’t remember if it’s right or left, so I’m fairly confident that Grace doesn’t remember that yet, either. We both have some learning to do.

The thing that amazes me about agility – and I believe it’s true about so many things—is how simple it can look on the surface but how complex it is to truly master it. Agility can provide a fun and non-competitive activity that has benefits of exercise along with mental stimulation. Yet it provides the opportunity for mastery of a complex craft; there is so much to know about the nuances of every move, yours and the dog. I’m starting to realize that it can take years to develop sufficient knowledge and efficient skills that encompass every single movement of your hand, the words you use, and the placement of your body. All of it (and most likely much more) determines the dog’s ability to perform.

Mastering the open weave poles -- staying inside!

In business, it seems we often don’t create this structured learning cycle. Because people have full plates and it is difficult to devote adequate time to training, employees are expected to perform at the highest level, immediately. Some managers provide the environment for risk-taking and mistakes, many do not. On-the-job training is valuable, but should be supported by strong mentoring and knowledgeable resources. If the learning process is rushed, incomplete or random, it can create so many issues, potentially ending in failure or blemishes on a person’s self-esteem.

"Look at me! I'm so GOOD at this!!" (Doesn't she look proud?)

When Grace goes through the weave poles right now, she thinks she’s a champion. She doesn’t even realize that we’ve only just begun. With each opportunity to build her confidence, we move to the next level. In agility, our instructor, Rachel works to make sure that the last experience for each dog on each piece of equipment is a positive one, so that they are excited to return for more. We need to stretch our physical and mental muscles, but we must also rest them, too, for the best learning.

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How much focus do you need to get what you want?

This is an example of a discrimination exercise, where the dog has a choice of two pieces of equipment. Your job is to ensure the dog goes to the place you intended. You will see Riley, Grace

Focus. No distractions. Having all your attention on something—it’s a good thing.

Until you lose your focus.

That’s what happened to me at agility last week. And I didn’t even realize it until a fellow classmate, Patricia, recognized it had happened to both of us. I loved our class last week. It turned out that there were only two dogs and so we had a bit more opportunity to practice some of the skills.

One of the first things we did was a front cross technique; as Grace exited the tunnel, I would cross in front of her from the left to the right, then I would ask her to jump, on the hurdle now on my left. I needed to make sure to pick up eye-contact with Grace as she came out of the tunnel, not quite that easy since Grace runs a lot faster than I do. After picking her up at the end of tunnel, I needed to guide her to the hurdle, now on my left, as opposed to her running right.

My first attempt was unsuccessful. So was my second.

Patricia was experiencing this as well, so Rachel slowed us down and showed us again. With a little practice and Rachel’s clear direction, we did it! Grace and Patricia’s adorable dog, Riley, did great—through that part of the exercise. Once we had completed that stage, we had several more jumps as part of the course Rachel had set up for us.

After we had gone through the course a few times, Patricia made the accurate observation that Riley and Grace had both made mistakes at the end of course. Once Patricia and I had successfully accomplished the task we were actively learning, we lost our focus.

I know I was assuming that the rest of course was “routine” and that Grace knew what to do. But as was so clearly evident afterwards, it was critical for me to keep my focus, helping her hit every tire and jump exactly as I knew she was capable of doing. But if I was unclear or wishy-washy about what I wanted her to do, she had a free pass to do what she wanted. She didn’t ‘miss’ intentionally—she just wasn’t clear what I wanted.

As we work with others on a project or learning a new skill, this can be the explanation why mistakes are made in places that were once mastered. Consistent focus is really necessary.

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Learning takes time and can be scary, especially when you are supposed to know what you are doing!

When Grace and I entered our agility class last week, it immediately hit me that learning takes time, repetition, and patience. I was walking around the agility room in familiar territory, feeling good about that. Yet I was simultaneously starting to worry if Grace and I would do well – or would we falter? Would we remember what we had learned from last year? Did I know when to do the front cross instead of the back cross? All sorts of questions started running through my head. I was feeling the pressure.

It was a bit scary. And all this for a fun agility course! In some ways, coming back was even more intimidating to me than when we went to our first lesson last year. At that point, expectations were low. Grace and I had no idea what to do and we relied on Rachel to instruct our every move. We were given lots of time to learn and pace our progress, without a specific deadline for mastering a particular skill.

But this time, I could feel an artificial expectation I had placed on us. It was clear that Grace wasn’t bothered by any lofty goal-setting. She wore a big smile and easily made her way around the equipment, prancing over the A-frame and skipping over the hurdles, whether she was supposed to or not! She was having fun and it helped me to remember not to put pressure on the situation.

With practice, she gracefully hops through the circular shape!

When we train others in the workplace – in fact when we are being trained – do we put unnecessary expectations on where we should be? I do believe we need goals, which are critically important to know where we are going and to stretch us past our comfort zone. But I also see, far too often, situations in the workplace where a manager has an unrealistic expectation for what a person should be accomplishing when they are learning a new behavior or skill. It takes time, repetition, and patience. (Oh, I already said that. But I think it bears repeating.)

Often, our training efforts get off to a great start because there is a strong focus and commitment to the effort, and we start to get lulled into complacency, believing the person being trained is all set. However as reinforcement and encouragement begin to wane, results suffer. Lucky for me and Grace, Rachel continued to provide that much-needed support. Having that guidance calmed my nerves and settled me back into having fun, which gave me the environment where I could learn openly, without being afraid of making a mistake. It is a big help to think of that now when I see someone moving through a new phase of their learning. In what ways can you encourage yourself, and others, to learn new behaviors?

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