Handling conflict or interpersonal drama in a company setting is something you most likely associate with substantial bills, stress and potential legal action, but Auckland-based coaching practice, In the Room, is here to not only stop things from getting that far, but use such issues as a springboard toward improved creativity, employee engagement and organisational performance.
“Research has shown that interpersonal conflict in business is a major and costly concern affecting leaders today,” says founder, Louisa Dellabarca, who hails from Cambridge in the UK. “But despite often having an intuitive sense that the human system is under strain, it can be difficult for leaders to know how to address these problems. There can be a tendency to turn the other way and hope for the best which can lead to crisis down track. Our approach is to tackle these challenges head on, with compassion and curiosity. Put simply, I facilitate courageous conversations and coach businesses around the power of clear and open communication.”
Louisa’s passion and fascination for high-performance teamwork stems from large-scale event management in London followed by the high-pressure world of Formula One. For the past six years she’s worked as a business coach in Auckland, establishing In the Room at the end of 2019.
Louisa emphasises bravery and commitment are needed for all parties to come together “to discover what’s really going on” in order to treat the symptoms of conflict and “shift from disconnection to trust”.
“My role is to support leaders, partners and teams in conversations they need to have but are avoiding,” she says. “Problems can arise when people feel they’re not being heard or are being overridden by more dominant personalities. It affects everything from mental health to productivity and ultimately the corporate bottom line.”
It’s her role to engage parties in powerful conversations that moves them forward and into a shared sense of purpose. It can be confronting, but the rewards are high. The costs of not addressing the problems are also potentially significant.
“I’m always a neutral party. When you’re resolving conflict or helping people through crises it’s essential that you have that impartiality which is one of the reasons this type of work lends itself to an outside agency.”
Are there industries that you specialise in?
“I haven’t found myself specialising in one particular industry yet. Fundamentally we’re dealing with the psychology of groups so there is no domain in which this kind of work is not relevant. The only pre-requisite is that everyone engaging in the process must be willing to accept a level of discomfort in order to stand up for business objectives and the wellbeing of its employees, which means they must understand the correlation between the two.”
“In the Room is all about helping leaders foster and maintain healthy relationships across the organisation, but that is undeniably challenging where the pressure of constant uncertainty and change is moving the goalposts on a daily basis. In today’s environment all organisations need to become masters of adaptation, learning and growth to stay afloat, and the tools Louisa employs are essential in that regard.”
“The modern leadership challenge is extremely stressful,” continues Louisa, “particularly within the old-school institutional environments where there is huge pressure to deliver on profit whilst navigating modern metrics.
“Young people are increasingly more insistent that their work be purpose-driven. They’re insisting on an organisation that looks after their wellbeing and reflects their values. The old business model of giving directives from the top is not going to stand going into the future.Start-ups tend to be more agile and able to respond faster to situations. But if you are in a leadership role in an organisation that has relied on certain structures for eons, it can be extremely hard to respond quickly whilst making sure the entire organisation is engaged and looked after. We need new models for helping leaders handle acute organisational distress and we are just one of a new wave of boutique services stepping up to offer such support in these difficult times.”
Would it be fair to compare what you do to a kind of group therapy?
“Yes, a little. I first meet with the founder or the leader to explore the issue from their perspective. Then, I meet with everybody who needs to be part of the discussion. We talk through individual perspectives, the challenges, what’s a stake and so on, and if there’s a particular situation in which people don’t feel free to talk. You know, address the elephant in the room.”
(Louisa points to an actual elephant in her room! Well, an impressive sculpture of one.)
“Generally, when I’ve spoken to everybody, I will have an intuitive sense of what needs to be aired. You must invite a conversation where everyone will be fully heard. So yes, you could say it’s like group therapy except the focus is much more on the present and future rather than digging into past pain.”
It sounds like it could be quite an emotional experience for some?
“It can be. Tears or palpable frustration are common, but I am able to manage those situations and it is often in those moments of vulnerability that the energy in the room shifts. A big part of my role is to create an environment where it’s safe for emotion to emerge without it overwhelming; to help everyone realise that it’s completely normal, and in fact necessary. I see this as a big problem in all walks of life, not just business, repressing feelings and emotions because we think we’re think we’ll be punished in some way if we admit what we really feel. But emotions are energy. If they don’t have a natural outlet there will always be a greater cost along the line. A leader that allows for people to be real in this way without them fearing some personal cost is going a long way towards creating a successful organisation in my view.”
THE SCIENCE OF SPEAKING
So many issues in the office (and the home), stem from our inability to walk in someone else’s shoes and relate to their perspective.
“Each of us view a situation through a filter of our own experience, values, cultural agreements, and upbringings, much of which is unconscious. In every case of conflict or crisis you’ve got multiple versions of the same event. The idea of one ‘single truth’ needs to be gently teased away from the argument. Acceptance of different perspectives is one part of the process, the other is finding what unites, the humanity that binds in each situation.”
“The key to this is honesty, and, perhaps more dauntingly, vulnerability. That’s where the magic lies.” Quite literally, with Louisa naming studies that have shown changes to the electromagnetic field of the heart which impact brain function positively when people “let go of control” and allow their feelings to have a voice.
“It’s like a quantum shift,” she continues. “All of a sudden, people open up to creativity, imagination and innovation. New ideas begin to flow; genius can happen. The group may need to make one change, one tiny change that they all agree upon and then everyone realises, ‘Oh my gosh, we needed to do this.’ Suddenly, you’ve got the next step, and that all important trust within the group. Done just once, it can create an important shift, done iteratively it will be transformational.”
Louisa’s work centres around a progressive branch of social science known as ‘energy psychology’.
“We’re in the constant grip of fear-based responses these days with the stresses and pressures of modern life, whether it be the barrage of social media, constant sensationalised news, and now the overexaggerated fear of death by flu and the ever-present reminder of this danger via the presence of facemasks. These pressures constantly trigger our sympathetic nervous system, ironically collapsing our immune and growth mechanisms—the ones we need for creativity, health and adaptation—and instead charge our muscles with stress hormones needed for fight or flight. We don’t think straight, and we become overwhelmed and make poor decisions.”
Heart coherence is a state of physical being achieved through simple breathing mindfulness practices that can counter these modern stresses, creating internal balance and healthy brain function.
“Through very simple exercises your body can achieve a completely relaxed state, your mind opens, and you have imagination and clear thinking at your disposal,” says Louisa.“You have access to creativity. You have access to what some people say is a super-consciousness, others have described it as ‘a state of flow’. We can achieve it individually, or we can achieve it in groups. I apply these techniques during a facilitation, albeit very subtly.”
Louisa rues society’s conditioning to separate science from spirituality, insisting that science can now easily explain miracles including everything from the spontaneous remission of incurable disease to extra sensory perception such a clairvoyance and telepathy, and it’s this mindset that she wishes to change.
“I care deeply about our ability to organise ourselves and reach our potential be that in the business context or otherwise. If we can learn new skills based on the cutting edge science that is proving we are powerful beyond our imagination when we deploy the magic of the heart, then not only will our organisations and the people they employ be better off, but our societies will be stronger and we will be more able to tackle the global challenges facing all of us.
“At its very core, my business is about the power of heart-led conversations to bring people together to become far greater than the sum of their parts, to solve big, wicked problems and to birth new creations out of chaos. I believe this model is needed right now like never before- and across all domains of life, not just business.”