Monthly Archives: April 2016

How to Reduce Conflict at Work

Fierce battles over decisions, finances, resources, power, and authority are fought daily, and combatants often inflict lasting damage, when the personal interests of ambitious managers take precedence over organizational goals.

Competition can cause managers to backstab one another, hoard information, focus on personal needs, and ignore facts that don’t support their views.

Functions that operate as silos create turf wars. And the costs are high. Creativity is lost, reputations damaged. Frustrated, some executives leave for more collegial settings. Here are ways to reduce conflict:

  • Hold retreats to build camaraderie. Put people through a process to build conflict resolution and interpersonal skills co-operationely to achieve goals.
  • Reward cooperative behavior. If you talk about collaboration yet reward individual achievement, you get the behavior you positively reinforce.
  • Encourage innovation. Process routine may minimize errors and cut costs, but it can close people’s eyes and ears to better ways to do things. Innovation can increase efficiencies.
  • Create a culture of collaboration. Open communications in person, on paper, and online can lead to shared information, trust across disciplines, and reduced turf battles.
  • Clarify responsibilities. Help your people know their roles and the roles of others. Everyone’s key task is to delight customers and gain market share.
  • Seek cross-functional initiatives. Encourage teams from different areas to work together in cross functional initiatives. Invite managers from other areas to visit your team meetings when working together.
  • Enter white spaces cautiously. Certain open areas represent opportunities for revenue generation, but rather than enter them without notifying others, meet with them to gain their buy-in or agree to leverage the space together.
Posted in Management and Leadership

The Socratic Method

A 19th Century painting by Gustav Adolph Spangenberg, depicting Socrates and his disciples.

The Socratic Method is a teaching method that relies on continually asking questions.

The Socratic Method is a pedagogical style named after its well-known exemplar. Unlike the great sophist orators of his time and the later Aristotelian and Scholastic teachers, who disseminated information through carefully planned lectures, Socrates (c. 470-399 BCE) engaged his audience individually and personally with a series of questions. These questions were designed to elicit a reflective and mostly skeptical perspective on various philosophical, political, and religious ideas.

In a well-known case, depicted in Plato’s dialogue Meno (c. 380 BCE), Socrates used his method to “teach” an uneducated slave-boy a set of Euclidean propositions, including the Pythagorean theorem. The central assumption underlying Socrates’s approach is that knowledge is innate—we do not acquire new information, instead education reminds us of what we already know.

Socrates’s Method was overshadowed in the Middle Ages by the popularity of classical orators such as Aristotle and Cicero, leading to an increase of lecture-centered pedagogy known as the Scholastic Model (also called the “banking model” because it assumes knowledge can be “deposited” in a student as money in a bank.) A further setback came in the seventeenth century with the rise in prominence of empiricism, the view that we come to the world as “blank slates” and must obtain knowledge through experience. Empiricism implies that innatism is mistaken, and thus challenges the pedagogy based on it.

The question of the effectiveness of the Socratic Method still receives attention from education researchers. Some contend that it constrains learning and fosters aggression. Others respond that, as with all teaching styles, the Socratic Method can be abused, but when used well it can be effective. It is still frequently applied in law schools, as memorably portrayed in the movie The Paper Chase (1973).

Posted in Education and Career Philosophy and Wisdom