Successful Supervisor 92 Avoid Playing Favorites

September 8, 2018

In my blog last week, I shared a bit of information on how to avoid playing favorites. This week I want to go deeper into that aspect of supervision, because it forms one of the most significant pitfalls that leads to loss of trust in any group.

First, we need to recognize that we do have “go to people” for certain jobs. It is literally impossible for any human being to not have people they favor over others based on their skills, track record, or any number of other reasons.

It is the appearance of always playing favorites that really causes the damage to trust, but that fact also contains the seeds of how you can avoid the problem. Simply do things that are not in your normal pattern on rare occasions, and people will stop thinking of you as playing favorites. In fact, I like to use the word when deciding to do something unusual.

How do I know?

How can you tell if you are coming across as playing favorites? Keep in mind, there will be a difference between what you think and what other people might observe. In your own mind you are simply selecting the best person to do the job in each case, but if you always make the same call, then it will eventually come across as playing favorites.

It is not just that the person is doing a good job but also the fact that you are noticing and praising the person more than others that exacerbates the issue.

One good way to detect if people are thinking you are playing favorites is to watch their body language when you make an assignment. Another method is to have a trusted employee who is part of the larger group and simply ask that person if there is a problem. If it looks like there may be an issue, here are some ways you can mitigate the angst.

Ways to reduce the problem

Let’s say I wanted to assign a work chore to someone, but I realize that I have gone to this person the last several times this chore has come up. The best approach is to ask myself if I really need to keep going to this person, or if this situation is a lower risk than usual, so it would be a good opportunity to let someone else have a shot at it.

Suppose in this case I have picked up some grumbling about playing favorites. In explaining why I am suggesting a different person than my usual choice, I could explain that I don’t want to appear to be playing favorites and that I believe it is good to have deeper bench strength in the organization. I could also explain it as part of a greater emphasis on cross training in general.

By actually using the word “favorite” I send a signal that at least I am clueless about how people may be feeling. I project the flexibility to allow others to grow if they are interested. If the job is technically challenging, I might offer to have the person who normally takes this assignment train another employee this time around.

This action reduces the image of an heir apparent and simultaneously adds to bench strength. In this case, I m showing a willingness to let others try provided they are properly trained. Allowing people to volunteer also breaks the stigma of playing favorites.

Another typical way of showing favoritism is when a supervisor does not apply the rules with the same rigor for some individuals. If you let a person show up late with no penalty but do write up another individual for the same problem, you are playing favorites in a very visible way.

I do not advocate that you should treat everybody the same way in all circumstances. That is because people have different needs in certain circumstances. However, when it comes to enforcing rules or other policies, you must treat all employees the same way or you will become known as a supervisor who plays favorites.

In summary, playing favorites is a real trust buster, but you can use the techniques in this article to mitigate any damage and still have the ability to use your “go to person” in cases where it is critical to do so.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 91 Mentoring a Successor

September 1, 2018

Some supervisors forget that it is an essential function to develop at least one successor to grow into their position. This article will discuss why having a successor is essential and give some tips on how to do this gracefully and seamlessly.

Why is Having a Successor Important?

When you mentor a person to take your job, what you are really doing is growing other leaders. John Maxwell calls this the leadership legacy. I call it the most important function of any leader. When you groom other people to move up in the organization, you are really paving the way for you to move up as well.

Often, I run into supervisors who are reluctant to train others on their function because of job security. What if the understudy gains more skill than me and comes into favor with the higher ups? Could I become expendable?

This narrow mindset really shows a misunderstanding of how the world works in the vast majority of cases. If you want to move up yourself, become known as a developer of people.

Below, I have listed several ideas on how to select and mentor an understudy. You may have other techniques that work well too.

Select more than one candidate

Supervisors make a mistake when they select the obvious choice to train and put all emphasis on that person. This practice will disenfranchise others who might aspire to grow as well. Instead, have several people you consider as potentially capable of moving up and rotate your energy among these people so a kind of competition develops.

It is important to point out there is good competition and bad competition. Work to develop an atmosphere where each understudy sees a chance to move up, but no guarantee. Don’t have an heir apparent, but rather have several strong people who each have their own strengths and development opportunities. Work with each one individually and give each one extra things to do in order to gain more skills.

Delegate More, Micromanage Less

The reason most supervisors micromanage too much and don’t delegate enough has to do with risk. It is easier and quicker to just do the task herself. If she spends the time to train a protégé, then there is a chance he will do the task wrong, which means rework and a negative feeling of failure for the protégé.

Once something has been delegated, do not hover over the person to make sure it is done your way. This practice also has to do with risk. Take the risk the other person will mess up a bit and will need to learn by failing. That is how we all learned to walk and talk.

Tell the protégé that you are not going to micromanage him, but you will be available to help if he gets stuck. Support rather than hovering is the best paradigm.

Don’t Play Favorites

The practice of playing favorites will almost always result in lower trust among the group. Avoiding this problem is rather simple; operate outside your normal groove for some small percentage of the time. By the way, you get to select a time when choosing another person to step up will involve less risk.

Go on vacation and leave your PDA home

When you go on vacation, make it a real vacation, and do not try to run the place as if you were on the job personally. Let the person selected for this backfill feel the true responsibility of running the place.

I guess it would be OK to take your cell phone in case of a real emergency, like the place is on fire or something, but back way off and tell your protégé that he has the ball for the next two weeks. “Only contact me in the event of a true emergency.”

Ask the understudy to keep good notes about what things worked well and what things backfired, so you can do a solid debrief once you return.

Give lots of feedback along the way

Make sure the person in training has a good sense of how he is doing. Avoid burdensome written reports every couple days, but do keep the person in the loop at all times. If the trainee figures out a better way to do the job, then be sure to reward his creativity and initiative. Your way of doing things is not the only way possible.

Always remember my favorite quote: “The highest calling for any leader is to grow other leaders.” If you have a reputation of doing this well, then your own star must rise as well because you will be viewed by higher management as one of the elite leaders in your operation. You will also be well respected by the people working for you and will be building higher trust daily.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 75 Handling a Trust Betrayal by Upper Management

May 6, 2018

Last week I discussed a process of recuperating from a trust betrayal between a supervisor and an employee. This article deals with the situation where the supervisor has lost trust in upper management.

Unfortunately, this situation is common, and it can be as problematical as the downward loss of trust between the supervisor and employee.

Picture a loss of trust between a supervisor and her manager because she feels she is being required to support a policy or decision that she believes is wrong. What advice can we give the supervisor who finds herself in this common but delicate situation?

1. You must support the decision to your people even though you are trying to get it reversed. Reason: if you tell your people you are going along with it simply because it is an order but you think it is wrong, you are undermining the authority of your superior, and that is a certain black mark on your reputation.

Too many black marks and you will find yourself on the outside looking in. When you publicly support a decision that you privately don’t agree with, employees might sense a lack of transparency. I will deal with how to prevent the loss of trust in this case later in this article.

2. Seek to understand the nature of your disagreement. If it is a matter of style and you think there is a better way to handle this issue, then push back with your logic about why a different approach is wiser.

Be flexible and ready to negotiate to find a win-win way of framing up the problem. Often there is a third approach that will satisfy both you and upper management.

3. If instead you believe upper management is violating one of the values or advocating some policy that is unethical or illegal, then you need to decide if you are willing to die on that hill.

Point out the reason for your belief in clear but gentle terms to give your manager the opportunity to give a counter point.

Be willing to listen and be flexible, but do not bend on a matter of principle. In the end, you may have to indicate your desire to work somewhere else if an illegal policy is being contemplated. Just make sure of your facts before becoming adamant.

4. It is a delicate discussion to stand up to a superior in this way, so remain open minded for a solution that is a reasonable compromise as long as the values are not breached.

When arguing your case for why you feel uncomfortable with a decision, avoid the logic that it is not going to be popular with your employees. Supervisors are sometimes called upon to administer unpopular policies, and you need to step up to the challenge of doing that or leaving your position.

In trying to explain unpopular decisions, you must support the management position, even if you argued against it strongly before or after the decision was made. This is one of the most difficult challenges any supervisor will face.

You cannot say, “This is a really dumb decision but we are going to have to do it anyway.” Here are some considerations to think about when this situation arises:

1. You should tell your employees the decision with the sensitivity that you would want if the roles were reversed. Often people need to be reminded of the larger picture and that some sacrifices are required for the greater good. Say something like “There were other possible alternatives, but our management believes this path is the best one for all of us in the long run, so we are going with it.”

2. Often the organization is facing a decision that might temporarily disappoint employees but be beneficial to customers or some other stakeholder. Remind the employees that we cannot win every point and that the bigger battle is more important to their long term objectives.

3. It is important that you remember who is in charge and act that way unless the proposed action is illegal, unethical, or dumb. Which of those three problems are in play will determine the intensity of your push back on upper management.

When you took on the role of supervisor, you accepted a difficult position. You need to recognize the job is not always going to be an easy one and that you will be called upon to administer unpopular policies at times.

Think of this as a test of your ability to see the management perspective, but if the proposed action is unethical or otherwise violating the values, it is time to stand firm for your convictions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 74 Trust is Bilateral

April 29, 2018

Trust between individuals is bilateral. At any point in time, we have a balance of trust with every person whom we know.

Since supervisors have numerous relationships with different people who have different needs, maintaining high trust with everyone can get very complicated.

Trust is also directional; you will trust a worker at some level and the worker will trust you as well, but not always at the same level. In all your daily transactions with others, the trust fluctuates based on what happens, what is said, body language, texts, and even what other people are saying. It is a very complex and dynamic system.

I believe that if the trust in one direction is very different from the reciprocal trust for a long period of time, that relationship will be problematical.

Picture the situation between a supervisor and a worker who has a habit of lying to keep out of trouble. The supervisor has low trust in the employee because there is overwhelming evidence that there is a lack of integrity. The worker may trust the supervisor at some level, even if the relationship is a stormy one. The relationship is usually forced to endure because the worker wants to keep his employment.

Unfortunately with each low trust exchange, a kind of resentment builds up that may take years to resolve, if ever.

This article will deal with the typical situation of a supervisor who has lost trust in an employee. Next week I will take the reverse case where the supervisor has lost trust in her manager. That situation can be even more difficult.

Rebuilding trust is a situational thing, and not every situation calls for the formality offered below. These steps constitute a solid path toward reconciliation for a breach of trust between two people who have previously had a strong relationship that has been severely compromised.

The idea is to move swiftly and create an atmosphere of finding 1) the truth, 2) understanding of motives, and 3) a pathway to healing.

Nine tips to rebuild lost trust

1. Act Swiftly

Major trust withdrawals can be devastating, and the trauma needs to be treated as quickly as possible. Just as a severe bodily injury requires immediate emergency care, so does the bleeding of emotional capital need to be stopped after a major letdown.

The situation is not going to heal by itself, so both parties need to set aside normal routines in order to focus significant energy on regaining equilibrium.

Most often we see a situation where the employee has done or said something that lowers the supervisor’s trust in him, but it is possible that the supervisor is the one who let down the employee. If this is the case, the employee will often try to hide the negative feelings in order to stay out of trouble, so astute supervisors look for small changes in body language that can signal something has changed and initiate a discussion early.

2. Verify care

Both people should spend some time remembering what the relationship felt like before the problem. In most cases there is a true caring for the other person, even if it is eclipsed by the hurt and anger of the moment.

It may be a stretch for some people to mentally set aside the issue, but it would be helpful to do that, if just as an exercise. If the problem had never happened, would these people care about each other? If one person cannot recognize at least the potential for future care, then the remedial process is blocked until that happens.

3. Establish a desire to do something about it

If reparations are to be made, both people must cooperate. If there was high value in the relationship before the breach, then it should be possible to visualize a return to the same level or higher level of trust. It may seem out of reach if the problem was a major let down or ongoing issue, but it is critical that both parties really want the hurt to be resolved.

4. Admit fault and accept blame

The person who made the breach needs to admit what happened to the other person. If there is total denial of what occurred, then no progress can be made. Try to do this without trying to justify the action. Focus on what happened, even if it was an innocent gaffe.

Often there is an element of fault on the part of both parties, but even if one person is the only one who did anything wrong, an understanding of fault is needed in this step. Sometimes neither party did anything particularly wrong, but the circumstances led to trust being lost. In addition, the problem may be an act of omission rather than something that was done.

5. Ask for forgiveness

It sounds so simple, but many people find it impossible to verbalize the request for forgiveness, yet a pardon is exactly what has to happen to enable the healing process. The problem is that saying “I forgive you” is easy to say but might be hard to do when emotions are raw.

The loss of trust may be so severe that the injured party may not believe the person who is asking for forgiveness.

True and full forgiveness is not likely to happen until behavior has changed and the final healing process has occurred. It takes time to rebuild trust.

6. Determine the cause

This is a kind of investigative phase where it is important to know what happened in order to make progress. It is a challenge to remain calm and be as objective with the facts as possible.

Normally the main emotion is one of pain, but anger can accompany the pain. Both people need to describe what happened, because the view from one side will be significantly different from the opposite view.

Go beyond describing what happened, and discuss how you felt about what happened. Do not cut this discussion off until both parties have exhausted their descriptions of what occurred and how they felt about it.

Sometimes it helps in this stage to do some reverse role playing where each person tries to verbalize the situation from the perspective of the other.

7. Develop a positive path forward

The next step is the mutual problem solving process. Often two individuals try to do this without the preparatory work done above, which is more difficult. The thing to ask in this phase is “what would have to happen to restore your trust in me to at least the level where it was before.”

Here, some creativity can really help. You are looking for a win-win solution where each party feels some real improvement has been made. Do not stop looking for solutions just because they are difficult to find.

If you have gotten this far, there is going to be some set of things that can begin the healing process. Develop a path forward together. Realize that it may be difficult to reach a compromise easily.

One person may harbor a grudge for a long time, so keep looking for a win-win solution. What new behaviors are you both going to exhibit with each other to start fresh.

8. Agree to take action

There needs to be a formal agreement to take corrective action. Usually this agreement requires modified behaviors on the part of both people. Be as specific as possible about what you and the other person are going to do differently.

The only way to verify progress is to have a clear understanding of what will be different. It is critical to not have one person dominate the other during this exploration phase. You want each party to have an equal stake in following the agreed-upon action. That is not going to happen if one party feels bullied into agreeing on the suggested actions.

9. Check back on progress

Keep verifying that the new behaviors are working and modify them, if needed, to make positive steps every day. As the progress continues, it will start getting easier, and the momentum will increase.

Make sure to smell the roses along the way. It is important to celebrate progress as it occurs, because that reinforcement will encourage continued progress. If there is a another set-back, it is time to cycle back on the steps above and not give up on the relationship just because the healing process is a long one.

This process needs to be taken with a grain of salt and modified to fit the particular situation at hand. Every rift between people is unique, and the ideas here are directional, depending on the situation, rather than literal to be followed without reason.

Modify the process to fit your particular application and do not follow a get well plan blindly. If a step seems like overkill or is just not practical, then you can skip it, but for serious breaches, the majority of steps will help.

In many cases, it is possible to restore trust to a higher level than existed before the breach. This method is highly dependent on the sincerity with which each person really does want the benefits of a high trust relationship with the other person.

Achieving higher trust than before is really good news, because it allows a significant trust withdrawal to become an opportunity instead of a disaster.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 71 Building Trust When Your Boss Doesn’t

April 1, 2018

In my work with leaders who are trying to build higher trust within their organizations, the most persistent complaint I run into is a supervisor who says,

“Your material is excellent. I know this can make a huge difference in our organization, but my boss seems intent on doing things that destroy trust almost daily. How can I be more effective at building trust in my arena when the environment we are in is habitually trashed from above?”

This is an interesting conundrum, and yet it is not a hopeless situation. Here are six tips that can help.

First, recognize you are not alone. Nearly every company today is under extreme pressure, and restructuring or other unpopular actions are common. There are ways to build and maintain trust, even in draconian times, but the leaders need to be highly skilled and transparent.

Unfortunately, most leaders shoot themselves in the foot when trying to manage in difficult times. They do lasting damage rather than build trust during the struggle.

Second, realize that usually you cannot control what goes on at levels above you. My favorite quote on this is,

“Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.”

The best you can do is point out that approaches do exist that can produce a better result.

Suggesting your leader get some outside help and learn how to manage the most difficult situations in ways that do not destroy trust will likely backfire. Most managers with low emotional intelligence have a huge blind spot where they simply do not see that they have a problem.

One suggestion is to request that you and some of your peers go to, or bring in, a leadership trust seminar and request the boss come along as a kind of “coach” for the group.

Another idea is to start a book review lunch club where your peers and the boss can meet once a week to discuss favorite leadership books. It helps if the boss gets to nominate the first couple books for review.

The idea is to get the clueless boss to engage in dialog on topics of leadership and trust as a participant of a group learning process. If the boss is especially narcissistic, it is helpful to have an outside facilitator help with the interaction.

The key flavor here is to not target the boss as the person who needs to be “fixed,” rather view the process as growth for everyone. It will promote dialog and better understanding within the team.

Third, avoid whining about the unfair world above you, because that does not help the people below you feel better (it really just reduces your own credibility), and it annoys your superiors as well.

When you make a mistake, admit it and make corrections the best you can.

Fourth, operate a high trust operation in the environment that you influence. That means being as transparent as possible and reinforcing people when they bring up frustrations or apparent inconsistencies. This can be tricky because the lack of transparency often takes the form of a gag rule from on high.

You may not be able to control transparency as much as you would like. One idea is to respectfully challenge a gag rule by playing out the scenario with alternate outcomes. The discussion might sound like this,

“I understand the need for secrecy here due to the potential risks, but is it really better to keep mum now and have to finesse the situation in two weeks, or would we be better served being open now even though the news is difficult to hear. My observation is that most people respond to difficult news with maturity if they are given information and treated like adults.”

If your desire to be more transparent is overruled by the boss, you might ask him or her to tell you the words to use down the line when people ask why they were kept in the dark.

Another tactic is to ask how the boss intends to address the inevitable rumors that will spring up if there is a gag rule.

Keep in mind there are three questions every employee asks of others before trusting them:

1) Are you competent?,

2) Do you have integrity?, and

3) Do you care about me?

Fifth, lead by example. Even though you are operating in an environment that is not ideal, you can still do a good job of building trust. It may be tricky, but it can be done.

You will be demonstrating that it can be accomplished, which is an effective means to have upper management see and appreciate the benefits of high trust. Tell the boss how you are handling the situation, because that is being transparent with the boss.

Sixth, be patient and keep smiling; a positive attitude is infectious. Many cultures these days are basically down and morose. Groups that enjoy high trust are usually upbeat and positive. That is a much better environment to gain the motivation of everyone in your group.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 68 Assume Best Intent

March 10, 2018

Assuming best intent is a simple concept that can save a lot of grief and acrimony in any organization. Human beings have a curious way of jumping to conclusions when something done by another person does not track with expectations.

We jump to assign blame and think of all the evil things that might be behind the action. In doing so, we fail to take into account a myriad of alternate scenarios that might explain the paradox as something more benign.

We have all experienced this phenomenon, and there is a simple antidote. Assume the best intent rather than the worst.

As a supervisor, you can teach the people on your team to assume the best intent if there is any doubt. This action will enhance the trust level between people and prevent unnecessary squabbles.

A place to view this phenomenon most easily is in e-mail communication, especially with workers from different shifts. One person will dash off a note and make a statement like, “Did you go home without cleaning up the machine?”

The person reading the note will say to himself, “Ed is clueless. He obviously is out to try to embarrass me with this note. I don’t care if he is having a bad day or not, he has no business accusing me of being lazy. I did clean the machine correctly before going home.”

So, what started out as an inquiry note from Ed, turns into the fuel for an e-grenade battle. The response coming back to Ed assumes the worst intent, so it is far off base in Ed’s mind. Ed writes back a blistering note, and we are off to the races.

Several days later, after numerous notes and escalating distribution lists some manager steps in and asks these two feuding juveniles to stop the food fight. All of this acrimony and conflict could have been avoided if the recipient of Ed’s first note assumed the best intent rather than the worst.

He would have stayed over the next shift change to talk it over with Ed saying, “Your note was confusing to me. I’m sure that I left the machine ready to run, but maybe someone else ran some product after I went home and messed things up again.” Then Ed could apologize for seeming to imply the other worker was too lazy to clean up on a shift change.

This technique is helpful for all forms of communication, not just the online environment. If we teach people to assume the best intent whenever there is a disconnect, it prevents people from going off on each other inappropriately. It creates a significant reduction in conflict, and since conflict often gets amplified in the pressure cooker of the work environment, this little remedy can save a lot of hurtful turmoil.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 66 The Mediator Role

February 24, 2018

Every supervisor is called upon to play the role of mediator between two parties who are having agreement problems. The severity of the problem will vary based on the specific circumstances and the people involved.

If we think about the extremes, a mild situation might be helping resolve an argument about a machine cleaning process between individuals working on a team, while a severe situation may involve physical threats where one or both of the parties may be in real danger or are facing termination.

For inexperienced supervisors, it is always best to err on the side of caution and have additional resources ready to assist if needed. It may not be appropriate to have a security person in the room with the people who are arguing, but it might be wise to have one in an adjacent room on call in the event of escalating rancor.

In the interest of transparency, I am not a professional mediator, so my homespun advice below may be in some ways only a primer leading you to more study on the topic. I have been in many situations where I was the mediator, and I still have all my fingers and toes. What I will share below are some ideas on how to expand the conventional approach to one that can have a more permanent impact on the entire organization.

Typical Approach to Mediation

The process of mediation almost always involves getting the two parties together for a discussion, or a series of discussions, with an objective. The primary objective is to restore order and come up with a fair settlement.

The methodology is to get both parties to talk, make sure both parties are heard, look for areas of agreement, agree to disagree on some things if necessary, look for win-win solutions, seek cooperation, and document actions.

The overarching role of the mediator is to maintain safety for all parties as the discussion continues and guide the dialog toward a resolution. The typical discussions have several parts that may be handled in different order depending on the nature of the disagreement.

In general, it is best to start with establishing a safe environment where each party can hear the other. Next comes a fact finding approach where the perceived facts are given. Third is a search for potential resolutions, and finally there is an action phase where the parties agree on some steps to resolve the conflict.

What the Parts Look Like in More Detail

1. Create a set of ground rules that both parties can accept

The idea here is to review how the discussion will proceed and how to maintain order so both parties can make their points in safety. If the parties are especially hostile, it helps to have a brief list of rules for the specific situation. For example, some points might include:

• Talk only when it is your turn
• Be respectful in the language you use – no profanity
• Listen carefully when the other person is speaking
• No electronic devices should be used
• No weapons are allowed in the room
• Respect the role of the mediator

2. Establish what happened in the opinion of both parties

Often the problem is that the parties do not have the same understanding of exactly what happened, and this clarification phase obviates the need for further work. Once both parties can agree on what happened and the confusion is over, often they can shake hands and the incident is over. If they agree on what happened but are still at odds over the fairness or equity, then further analysis is needed.

3. If possible, try to identify areas of agreement

It is chancy to begin with who is right and who is wrong, because it presupposes there is a right and wrong way to articulate what people are thinking. Both individuals will have a deep feeling that their way is the correct interpretation. That is why the better approach is to look for areas where the parties already agree. Perhaps they can agree on a major objective for the group but are at odds over how to achieve that.

4. Look for peace in the valley

Of course, an objective is to end hostilities, but that is not the only consideration. A key area to pursue is how to modify conditions so the problem is not only solved but the culture has changed so it will not come back in a different form. A short term peace is good, but the objective should be long term accord.

Explore options with the individuals by asking open ended questions like, “What would have to happen for the situation to be acceptable to you?” Always seek to find win-win solutions so that both parties are satisfied. Often a solution that satisfies one party will be totally unacceptable to the other party. In this case, keep looking for other options that can be acceptable to both parties.

5. Try to reach a fair settlement

Crafting a “fair” settlement is high on the agenda, but this can be myopic. The focus should shift from what will suffice to calm things down now to how the environment can be modified to attack the root cause of the acrimony.

For example, if two administrative people are at odds over the formatting of a critical report, you may be able to get them to agree on one common format. Unfortunately, if the root cause is that their managers have differing views on what they want the reports to emphasize, then the agreed-upon solution will be short lived.

6. Maintain your authority

You go into the discussion as the authority figure, and it is important not to lose that position. That requires being as objective and neutral as possible, which in some cases is difficult to do.

These are some of the typical steps to achieve a resolution of a specific problem between two people, but the real mediation requires more than just getting the two people to get along. You need to extend the thinking beyond the two individuals so that you consider the culture these individuals are working in to accomplish a lasting solution.

Extend the Focus

The approaches above are not total long term solutions. If you can factor the things below into the conversation, your thinking process, and your leadership, you will emerge with more robust and lasting solutions.

1. Train people how to resolve future conflicts

Part of the human condition is that we all see things from our own perspective. It is natural that there will be differences of opinion from time to time. You want to focus your coaching remarks on processes that will allow people to get along even though they do not always agree. The key skill is for people to learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

2. Creating a preventive rather than reactive culture

Often the entire culture can become supportive of ways to get along amid the turmoil of daily stresses. The idea is to stress that the entire team shares a common goal at a higher level. We all want the group to be successful, and we know that fighting always detracts from performance.

Teambuilding exercises are very helpful for teaching groups to work better together with less acrimony. Building a culture of higher trust will obviate the future need for a mediator to sort out the issues.

3. Engaging the entire community

Working with the whole team to create a set of mutual values and agreed upon behaviors can go a long way to preventing the flare ups between two edgy people.

When operating in the role of a mediator, it is often tempting to focus on resolving the issues at hand, but that process does not prevent recurrence. Take a longer view and work on your entire culture and you will find less need to play the mediator role in the future.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763