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: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (C) 832-452-8537; (O) 346-561-0612.
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What Did He Say?
Every once in a while, when you are deep into a discussion, you hear something that sounds like “and the eagle flew upside down.” Your first reaction is what? What did he say? If the person was talking to you, your second reaction is, am I losing my hearing? So you ask, what did you say? The person typically will give an answer that removes the initial confusion, but it will not ease the sense of disquiet that the person listening missed an essential clue in the conversation.
It is a common feeling because many times we do miss important clues. During his career, Peter Drucker would tell executives he worked with that in a negotiation the most important thing about that negotiation is what is left unsaid. When saying that, one of the things he was alluding to is that neither side takes the time to learn what is important to the other party in the disagreement.
Whether you are negotiating a contract or helping two parties settle a dispute, the truth underlying Peter Drucker’s admonition is an enduring truth. Too many times I see parties in a negotiation assigning little or no value to the other party’s concerns. Having done this for some years now, I’ve learned to discuss this issue early either in a mediation or when hired to help someone through a negotiation.
When I am brought in to consult, I make it clear that the route to a failed negotiation is taking the position that winning on all your key points is all that matters. Some years ago I assisted in a negotiation that led to an impasse because the person I was helping went into the room convinced he was right and the other side needed to see it his way. Many of you reading this already know that the insistence on being right is rarely a winning strategy.
In this instance when my client successfully painted himself into a corner, I suggested we take a break, which he readily agreed to. During our meeting, I asked him what he wanted to do. His first reaction was that he could not give up his position, that the other party would “run the table on him.” I let him talk for a bit, and then I asked him, what are the two key points the other side raised, and why were those two issues important to them?
After a short conversation, it became clear he could not state clearly why those two issues were essential to the other party. He had not learned that before sitting down to negotiate, and he had not discovered it during the negotiation. I suggested that when they resumed the discussions, that he re-set the tone by asking just one question. What is it you want me to know?
It is a simple question, yet a powerful one. Surprisingly, it is one question both sides forget to ask. I recently attended a dinner where a gentleman with a great deal of experience in this field gave a speech, and it was downright eerie to listen to him talk about solving disagreements and using language very similar to the language I routinely use.
In the example above the two sides eventually resolved the dispute successfully, but it took a bit of effort to get there. (My client was young, successful, and brash). He had good control over his personal and professional life, except for his ego; which is common among very bright people.
I was reminded of this when I read the book, Multipliers, by Dr. Liz Wiseman. A number of the examples in her book resonated with me because of my own experiences in helping others to become better listeners. I urge those reading my letters to buy this book – after buying my latest book. It’s called The Battle for Ethics and Integrity in the Workplace: The Leaders Dilemma.
And this brings me back to the eagle flew upside down. When you experience such a moment, you will find you don’t have a hearing problem; you have a listening problem. There is a growing awareness of this, and more companies are providing training to their employees to become better listeners. Unsurprisingly, I find too many companies offering these classes to the wrong end of the organization chart.
It is hard to convince employees to engage in better listening exercises when those higher up the chain don’t walk the walk. Managers and senior managers have a hundred different ways of saying “make the problem go away, do it quickly, and as cheaply as possible.” We have all heard variations of that theme enough times to know it creates more problems than it solves. Still, it remains an all too common message employees receive.
The gap between agreement and disagreement won’t go away until you take the other side seriously and they perceive you are doing so. It applies equally to disagreements with coworkers as much as it does at the negotiating table.
When something you read raises a question, don’t be bashful. Give us a call. We can be reached at 346-561-0612, 832-452-8537, or at: email@example.com. You can also learn more about CDC Integrated Services by visiting our website at www.cdci-mediation.com
Food for thought: Beyond the precise meaning found in a dictionary, judgment is more than just the ability to make good decisions about what needs doing. It begins by thinking carefully and critically, which are skills that come through practice. You cannot acquire them by going to a conference or a seminar.
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
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.