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31 Days to Becoming a Better Leader


Day #16: Group Dynamics and ConflictConflict


Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means. 

-Ronald Reagan

In human emotional systems, we see the good, bad, and ugly of others in good times and in times of stress. We show up like we showed up many times, like we did and do in our family of origin. We have developed behaviors and responses over time, and sometimes are not aware of these behaviors or responses. This is not a judgment of good or bad. It is just recognition of reality. We are, in fact, influenced greatly by our family of origin.

In learning about ourselves, we learn about how we influence others. If a leader is anxious, then that anxiety is contagious and spreads throughout the team. If we remain calm, then others respond calmly or limit their emotional state and might be able to limit their responses. Leaders influence others by our state of being.

Over the past 10 years, I have been studying the work of Murray Bowen, M.D. His work as a psychiatrist with families is important to leaders in any field. His body of work is referred to as Bowen Family Systems. There are eight concepts that guide our thinking and our discovery process of learning about ourselves. Basically, we learn to manage ourselves.

Groups are like families. We behave like we do in our family. We respond to others and they respond to us as we do and did in our family or origin. Learning about ourselves takes us out of responding emotionally and into thinking about group emotional systems and discovering our role in that system. We impact the system.

Learning about ourselves isn’t changing who we are. It’s discovering how we can manage ourselves. If you review the podcast about Guiding Principles, you will discover how personal guiding principles help us to manage ourselves. To manage conflict and other group dynamics, it’s imperative that we understand ourselves and what guides our behavior.

Here’s a list of the eight Bowen Concepts and how those are useful in observing group dynamics.

8 Concepts of Bowen Family Systems

  1. Triangles– Triangles exist when there are three people in a relationship. Triangles are neither good nor bad – they are. Anxiety moves around the triangle.
  2. Differentiation of Self– Strong grounding in personal guiding principles in which a person does not depend on the approval of others for decisions makes a differentiated person. Each person in a group emotional system thinks for themselves, rather than opting in to the will of the group in what’s called “group think.”
  3. Nuclear Family Emotional System– The basic family unit is where we learn patterns and behaviors. By observing our family, we learn about ourselves and gain abilities to observe other emotional systems.
  4. Family Projection Process– We all inherit problems and strengths from our parents who have projected their fears and hopes onto us. Observing these patterns frees us to be independent and function in basic self.
  5. Multigenerational Transmission Process– We all possess learned behaviors that have been taught to us knowingly and unknowingly through multiple generations.
  6. Emotional Cutoff– This is where we avoid or minimize contact with people with whom we have unresolved tension.
  7. Sibling Position– Bowen continues the research of Walter Toman on the patterns of sibling position. Being aware of our position, as well as the position of others in our emotional systems, provides insights on behaviors.
  8. Societal Regression/Societal Emotional Process– There are parallel patterns in society and family systems.

Observe how these concepts enlighten your ability to observe the behaviors of others and your own behaviors. We don’t change the behaviors of others. We change our behaviours and others respond to us.

Next: Day #17 – Corporate Culture

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