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The Missy Method for Reinforcing Good Conflict Behavior

by Tammy Lenski
May 2011

From the Conflict Zen blog of Tammy Lenski.

Tammy Lenski

When we adopted our rescue mutt Missy 18 months ago, there was really just one thing she did well: Bark. She had two speeds: Barking and sleeping. It was easy to understand why we’re her fifth home, harder to figure out how we’d become her last home. All that barking made it hard to think at all.

What we finally figured out is the Missy Method. And it applies to conflict behavior in humans, too.

While working with a group of bank executives and managers a few weeks ago I shared the Missy Method for supporting and encouraging more effective conflict and customer service behavior in their teams. This is what I told them:

When there’s a behavior change we’d like to see – whether our own or someone else’s – we tend to focus our attention primarily on that problem behavior. We put our energy there.

With Missy, trying to get her to stop barking consisted of actions like: Loudly calling out Quiet!. Getting up and moving quickly from the room, so she’d follow us out of curiosity and stop barking in the process. Distracting with toys. Working hard to get her attention at all. Instantly starting to play with our other dog, hoping she’d join in. Each of these actions had a bit of success, but we knew we’d lose our sanity long before she gave up barking incessantly.

What did it take? One clicker and the space between barks.
We had to learn to click the minute she paused her barking, to reinforce the behavior we did want. Bark, bark bark, pause — instant click of the clicker and a piece of kibble to reward. It was astounding how quickly she understood and how wide the gap between barks became as we upped the ante — longer pauses before she’d hear the click and get the magic treat.

Today, Missy barks only occasionally, does it for the right reasons (someone is coming to the door, for instance), and stops when we ask her to. And boy does she wag a lot now, too.

It’s not enough to teach staff better conflict resolution skills and repeatedly correct the misses. You’ve got to reinforce the hits, too. You’ve got to click between the barks.

Biography


Dr. Tammy Lenski helps people resolve conflict in ongoing business and personal relationships and bring their "A" game to difficult conversations. Since founding her NH-based conflict resolution firm Myriaccord LLC in 1997, Tammy has worked with individuals and organizations worldwide as a master mediator, executive coach, speaker, and educator. Author of the award-winning book, Making Mediation Your Day Job, she recently received the Association for Conflict Resolution’s prestigious Mary Parker Follett award for innovative and pioneering work in her field. Her second book, The Conflict Pivot, was released in 2014.

 



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