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Volume 5 | Issue 10

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

What Lies Beneath

The Bridge that Spans the DivideWhat Lies Beneath

Solving a conflict whether through mediation or other conflict solution techniques requires that the parties to the conflict are ready and willing to negotiate a resolution to their conflict.

Setting the stage for two employees to resolve their dispute requires the facilitator or mediator to know the emotional state of each party; in short, they are ready to sit down and work things out.

The mediator’s questions do not begin at the negotiating table; they start well ahead of that because the mediator needs to understand how the issues are perceived and where the key differences lie. Many of the articles about conflict resolution, and mediation specifically, don’t pay enough attention to the front end part of the process; the part that takes place before the parties enter the room to negotiate.

It takes patience and a degree of skill for the facilitator or mediator to uncover important information that will tell the mediator if mediation can proceed. For example, if threats and efforts to intimidate were made by one side against the other, and this is not discovered ahead of time, the mediation will fail.

Neither party will trust the process. One side will not want those actions exposed in that setting, and the party that received the threats will see the whole process as being rigged against him. That kind of information needs to be dug out by the mediator through a series of questions that, while often indirect at first, are designed to relieve anxieties and increase trust before mediation takes place.

Where the perceived safety of one party may be in question, it is likely that the issue is not appropriate for mediation and will require other action(s) by that company’s management. Where intimidation has occurred, repairing a workplace relationship between the two employees is unlikely.

A second obstacle that mediators need to uncover before mediation proceeds are what I sometimes call the level of intractability. Two employees at odds with each other to the point that it impacts their ability to do their job are already on tenuous ground. Their manager has very likely put them on notice to settle their differences so that everyone can get back to work.

It is easy to assume that, knowing their jobs are on the line, they are equally ready to put things behind them and work with a mediator to negotiate an agreement they both can live with.

If the mediator makes that assumption, he or she will sometimes experience an unpleasant surprise when it becomes obvious during a mediation that one party or the other, or perhaps both, are not willing to let things go and move forward.
The mediator’s job begins before the mediation starts, and companies that make that upfront process easy to accomplish will see the resolution of workplace conflict happen much more quickly.

A 1001 ways to miscommunicate potentially impact any workplace environment every day. Most of the time employees are able to work through those verbal obstacles just fine. The majority of the obstacles can be seen or anticipated and can be broken down. Yet, it takes very little to throw things “out of kilter”; the misuse of a phrase, a joke goes wrong, a word that has distinctly different meanings depending on the culture you were raised in.

In my mediation, I emphasize the need for employees to be clear in how they communicate as well as what they communicate. It is key to the success of the mediation, but it is key to the parties rebuilding their workplace relationship after the mediation. By changing the nature of the conversation, the parties begin to see alternatives and move away from their entrenched positions.

I never disclose to management what goes on in mediation unless the mediation exposes unlawful behavior. However, employee mediations sometimes do expose weaknesses or ambiguities in a company’s processes and procedures, and I give management feedback in those areas to the extent I can do so without disclosing what was discussed inside the mediation itself.

My message here is that I favor more communication between management and employees; not less. I favor more communication between and among employees; not less.

What are you doing to prevent conflict in the workplace? If you don’t think you are doing enough call us. We have the skills and the techniques to train your senior leaders, and your managers and supervisors.

We support small businesses here in Houston. Learn more about starting your own business by visiting the Services Cooperative Association here.

Food for Thought: 10% of conflict is due to a difference of opinion, and 90% is due to the wrong tone of voice. (Nia Mariz)


Jerry Cooper Books

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