Each month I send out a newsletter. The title of this publication is Putting It in Context. My readers know that, while the subjects I cover may touch on a range of issues, they all center on the core themes of my books, speeches, training modules, and the other core services of my business.
I will occasionally take a risk and tackle a subject I don’t normally talk about, such as leadership, but I do so in the context of a specific subject or issue; otherwise, it’s like tossing a pail of water into the ocean.
Also, regardless of that month’s subject, I always tie the idea in the letter with my closing thought. Each letter ends with my “Food for Thought” statement. This closing is either something I want people to think about, or I connect it to something someone else said that is particularly relevant to the month’s topic.
Yesterday’s letter was about perceptions and misperceptions as it relates to conflict in the workplace, and how many people think that what works in one set of circumstances should work elsewhere. One of the subjects I touched on was that negotiations and mediations are not the same. The processes and techniques of each may overlap occasionally, but to assume they do so in most circumstances is a recipe for failure.
In my closing I reminded readers that “A successful negotiation requires compromise, but successful conflict resolution requires consensus. Sometimes the two meet in the middle, and sometimes they don’t”.
Experienced leaders and senior managers know the difference between the two, and avoid mixing the two concepts. Further down the chain managers and supervisors frequently do get it wrong in that they try to direct parties in conflict to compromise.
The parties may yield to that pressure in the near term, but it will re-surface at a most undesirable moment. In a conflict situation it is not the agreement that matters, but the consensus on which the agreement rests.
So keep reading my letters, and I invite anyone to call who simply has a question unrelated to a specific problem. No one will try to sell you anything. If you have a concern about something specific, then I invite you to call me at your earliest convenience. During the month of August the first ½ hour is free.
We can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or at (C) 832-452-8537; (O) 346-561-0612.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
We at CDC Integrated Services wish to take a moment to thank everyone who chose us to aid them with the issues brought to us during the past year. We are grateful for your business and wish all of our clients a safe and peaceful new year.
Peace and Goodwill to all.
From Jerry Cooper and the CDCI team
The story of Sisyphus comes from Greek Mythology. According to the legend Sisyphus was a king who ruled through guile, deceit, and cruelty. According to the story this king’s misdeeds were so severe that the god Zeus punished him by compelling him to push a huge boulder up a steep mountain, and his punishment was that he would never succeed in reaching the top of the mountain. No matter what he tried, at some point on that slope the boulder would roll back down, and Sisyphus would have to start over again. According to the legend he could not pause and do something else; take a break, have lunch, or even rest. He was condemned to push the rock up the mountain, and when he failed, to start all over again. Over the centuries philosophers have had a field day making comparisons between Sisyphus’ dilemma and our all too human shortcomings.
Ethics and Greek Mythology
So what does this story have to do with ethics? In more modern times tasks that are repetitive and have little or no value, whether performed in a corporate or government environment have become known as Sisyphean tasks. Companies and agencies are aware of the tasks that yield little or no value, yet they are reluctant for a variety of reasons to abandon them. It is here where ethics are often compromised. Employees are well aware that some work they perform has little or no value, and the temptation to skip the task, or take a short cut can be irresistible. Once an employee begins to skip this task or perform the minimum he or she thinks will do, it is a mindset that can poison the rest of his or her work.
Ethical failures matter regardless of the tasks from which it originated. This is why it is necessary that companies have regular conversations with employees and managers about ethics so that every decision and the work affected by those decisions are executed with an ethical framework firmly fixed in the employees mind. Where low value work is found to have infected an organization, employees should not suffer in silence, but challenge the need for the work to continue.
Challenging does not mean complaining about doing the work. It means the employee should apply quality assurance/quality control methods and tools to demonstrate that this type of work is detrimental the overall performance of a department or group, and that it should be abandoned or assimilated into a related set of tasks which do provide value. Where the type of work described here is found, the following steps are recommended:
1. Compare the work against existing standards. If the work is not described in a written standard or procedure, the work must either be amended to conform to the standard/procedure.
2. Can the work be measured such that the data can be used to determine actual performance against expected performance.
3. Can a value be assigned to the work that exceeds the costs expended to produce the data.
If the work cannot conform to all three, the work should be abandoned or rolled up into other work that is more cost effective.
Much of what I do as a mediator involves disputes between companies, employee disputes, intra and inter-organizational disputes, and disputes between individuals. I have mediated disputes between individuals and companies often vendors they did business with. When it comes to divorce mediation, I turn down most of those requests such that this type of mediation is less than 15% of my work.
It therefore something of a surprise that I was approached last year to mediate a dispute involving a blended family, and from that experience I have since been approached to assist in several other disputes, all of which involve disputes within a blended family environment.
Unlike divorce mediation where the mediator is tasked with assisting couples bring to closure a relationship which was destroyed and deal with the aftermath and its impact on children, the dynamics of blended families is underpinned by hope. Here are people trying to build a new family structure for themselves and the children they now share with their former partners. The families I have assisted want very much for their new family structure to work, for their children to be happy and to feel safe in the new environment.
I think what I enjoy best about this new aspect of my practice is how willing the parents are to do everything they can to make things work for the children. I do not diminish the obstacles the parents face in a blended family and I have made it clear to the parents that solving the more immediate issues is not the end of their journey. The children especially need a way of voicing their concerns and fears, and they need to do that with the support of a trained professional. But what is really rewarding is the pleasure and sense of accomplishment the new parents gain by climbing out from under the anger, frustration, and uncertainty about doing the wrong thing. The biggest thing they have to learn is that the best solutions begin with small steps. The children cannot be expected to immediately love the new mother or the new father, but it is a major step forward if the children like being around the new parent.
I have treaded very carefully in this new environment, and so far the feedback has been positive.
Conflict is a necessary part of the competitive process between and among organizations and individuals, but this is not the generally held view. When a conflict manifests itself/ rises up among individuals in a group, management sees this as a bad thing, and reacts accordingly. It is seen by many as a crisis to be addressed quickly. This view and the approaches taken to address conflict based on this view can create an environment that makes solving the conflict more difficult.
A crisis mentality impedes rather than accelerates the dialogue necessary to breakdown the disagreements that produced the conflict. In an effort to move the parties past the perceived reasons for the conflict/dispute, management often tries to referee the issues, and these types of efforts rarely succeed for the simple reason that one party or the other in the dispute will perceive that management is taking sides. The manager may believe he or she is trying to sort the issues out, but the manner in which the questions are asked of do the opposite. Ms. Sonja Carberry makes a similar point in a recent article in the Investor’s Business Daily. In her article she recommends that, when attempting to unravel the reasons for the conflict, the questions should be presented with a soft touch to avoid being perceived as interrogating the party being questioned.
The reality is that conflicts in the workplace are resolved more successfully when the parties are allowed to work through their differences in an open and honest dialogue that is free from the heavy hand of management. Yet when the conflict does begin to affect the work place environment or the status of the work, the use of an impartial third party to facilitate or mediate the conflict is almost a necessity. A conflict in the workplace that is impacting the work process cannot be resolve by management without coming down on the side of one party or the other, and the only way to address such conflicts in a way that minimizes the negative impact on the work processes is to use a third party mediator.
Good negotiators do not negotiate extemporaneously, but almost always work from a script or plan. Like moves a chess player makes, negotiators execute a series of actions designed to overcome differences between parties in dispute and thereby bring an end to the conflict. Each move or action in a negotiation is structured in a manner that encourages the parties to discuss, and to ultimately select alternative outcomes consistent with the needs and requirements of the parties.
Mediation is much like negotiation in the sense that mediators also initiate actions. The key difference is that in a mediation the actions are based on a series of questions and comments constructed in a way that encourage the disputing parties to select positive outcomes, which in turn allow the parties to step back from entrenched positions, and explore alternatives. In this environment the mediator is not the negotiator and does not drive the conversation in a particular direction or toward a particular goal. While he or she may be an experienced negotiator, and may used techniques common in negotiation, the mediator should only use those techniques sparingly as a means of facilitating and fostering dialogue between the disputing parties.
In a negotiation, the negotiator is an integral part of the problem solving process, and is key to how the actions and moves play out between the parties. It is a problem solving dynamic that attempts to dismantle/disarm previously intractable concerns, and compromises are reached in stages as each aspect of the dispute is broken down and resolved.
Where a mediation is clearly different is that here the parties in dispute negotiate with each other, and the mediator is not a direct participant in the negotiations. His or her role is to facilitate the negotiators in their efforts to resolve the dispute, and should only intervene in the process for specific reasons. Some of those reasons include establishing a pause to collect data/clarify information, so that the parties can assess where they are at and document any agreements reached, to gain entry at a point the parties are approaching impasse, assist in assessing options, promote dialogue over argument, and verify each parties understanding of remaining actions. It must be emphasized that it is the mediators responsibility to control the environment, that responsibility must be executed with a light touch.