When two people are in conflict, having someone play the mediator role is often very helpful. There is an important caveat that the mediator needs to do a good job or things can get worse. This article has some tips on how to mediate a conflict effectively.
The first order of business is to get the two parties to calm down and stop shouting at each other. Typically when two people are in extreme conflict they interrupt each other. They do not even hear the points being made by the other person.
The mediator should get the parties to sit down across from each other in a quiet room. She should speak in a low and calm voice. One helpful technique is to get the warring parties to agree on something. I like to get an agreement that both people would like some kind of resolution. That way they can go back to work feeling better.
By getting both parties to agree on something, you have established a platform that you can build on.
It helps if the mediator has a few basic objectives in mind from the start:
You want to end up with both parties feeling better.
Each person needs to feel heard and understood.
There should be some form of agreement on deportment going forward.
Dispense with the idea of one party being right and the other being wrong.
Seek out areas on which both parties already agree.
State the area of disagreement as clearly as possible. Get to the root of the issue.
Rule out any uncivil language or gestures. Keep it constructive.
Keep deliberations conversational
Keeping both parties calm and civil is a top priority. If they regress to shouting or other inappropriate actions, stop the process and regain control. It is essential that both parties feel heard and respected along the way. You are seeking to facilitate understanding first before the agreement. It is a good idea to ask for cooperation in the dialog. If they forget, remind them of their intent to help.
It helps to document areas of agreement so there is a list of things both parties agree upon. That list forms the basis for forward progress during the session. It also contains evidence that both parties can refer to later.
Sometimes Reversing roles is helpful
If each party cannot see the logic in the other person’s argument, getting them to reverse roles can help. By taking the side of the other person, then there is at least a full understanding. That can represent progress toward an agreement.
A resolution can be to agree to disagree
Sometimes full agreement is not possible. It does not prevent the two people from working well together in the future. Make allowance for there being two legitimate ways of viewing a topic and move forward with that understanding.
Before adjourning get both parties to verbalize any agreement
It is important for both people to say what was accomplished in the conversation. Full agreement was not possible. At least the rancor is now resolved and both parties can part ways feeling better.
Playing the role of the mediator is a tricky assignment. You can be more successful if you follow the ideas listed above.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. 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 www.Leadergrow.com, email@example.com or 585.392.7763.
Section 2.7 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Coaching. Section B reads, “Skill in coaching supervisors and managers on methods and approaches for supporting employee development.”
I have always had a keen interest in coaching of supervisors and managers. I believe their role is pivotal, and their situation is often challenging. Throughout my career, I spent roughly 40% of my time actually working with supervisors in groups and individually to develop and sharpen their skills.
Successful Supervisor Series
From 2016 to 2018 I wrote a series of 100 blog articles specifically aimed at creating more successful supervisors. I am sharing an index of the entire program hereso you can view the topics covered. The index has a link to each article on my blog in case you may be interested in reading up on certain topics. Note: After you call up the document, you will need to click on “enable editing” at the top of the page in order to open the links below.
Use for Training
You may wish to select articles at random or as a function of your interest, or an alternative would be to view one article a day for 100 days. You could use the series as a training program for supervisors.
In that case, I recommend having periodic review sessions to have open discussion on the points that are made. There will likely be counter points to some of my ideas that apply to your situation.
Some examples relating to Employee Development
Most of this series deals with the development of the supervisors themselves, but many of the articles deal with supervisors supporting employee development. I will share links to 10 specific articles here as examples from the series:
I hope this information has been helpful to you. Best of luck on your journey toward outstanding Supervision and Leadership.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org or 585.392.7763
This article is about perspective. No two people will see a phenomenon the same way. As our fingerprints are all unique, so is our perception of what is going on around us. A simple way to demonstrate this is for me to hold a quarter out in front of me while I am facing you. I will describe a round metal object with an embossed head on it with the word “Liberty” around the circumference. You will describe a round metal object with an embossed picture of an eagle sitting on a branch or some state-specific rendering. We are both describing the exact same object, yet we see it differently.
The same phenomenon happens when two people see any kind of situation at work or at home. They see the same thing, but it has a different appearance depending on their personal vantage point. This means they will draw different conclusions about what just happened and the significance of it. Taking the next step requires each individual to react to the stimulus in an appropriate way. Each person is free to react however he or she feels is appropriate for the situation. Even if both people perceived exactly the same thing, what would seem appropriate to one person might be the wrong thing to do for the other. All this discrepancy leads to squabbles about actions taken.
For example, let’s suppose a manager is discussing an employee with a severe attendance problem with her supervisor. The manager and supervisor may have different opinions about the problem itself. Perhaps the supervisor knows the lady has a child who has special needs, and this calls for more trips to the child’s doctor than would be normal. The supervisor wants to be lenient based on this knowledge. From the manager’s perception, this employee needs to be treated with the same set of rules as everyone else or it will be hard to maintain discipline. The manager sees an untenable situation that needs progressive counseling, while the supervisor sees the need for flexibility.
Differences of opinion about what is happening and what should be done in response to it create a great deal of conflict in any work place. Since what I see is obvious to me and the resulting call for action is a logical consequence of that perception, I will be pretty sure my way is right. The trouble is that another person will be just as sure his perception and remedy are right. If I know that I am right, and you see things differently, then by definition, you must be wrong. In most instances my reaction to this dichotomy is to try to educate you on why your perception is incorrect. You, of course, will try to get me to realize the error of my thinking. We are off to the races in conflict.
This genesis of conflict is going on in small and large ways within each and every day. Is it any wonder there is so much acrimony in the workplace and at home? This problem is ubiquitous. What are some antidotes so we can reduce the conflicts between people?
Seek to understand assumptions – In coming up with different perceptions of what has just occurred, the root cause is often based on differing assumptions. I might assume the bulb is burned out while you may be convinced the wall switch is off. A third person may think we are experiencing a power failure. We all observe a dark room, but we ascribe the cause to different assumptions. Each of us will come up with a course of action different from the others based on our assumptions.
Try reversing the roles – If you and I are at loggerheads over an issue, it is often helpful to call a temporary truce and ask you to verbalize my argument while I attempt to articulate yours. This process can create a kind of empathy that is helpful at seeing the other perspective or it can uncover flaws in the logic of either party. This method can backfire, though. I was once in disagreement with an individual and suggested a reverse role play. He said, “Fine, you start by stating my position.” I did my best to lay out his thesis. He looked at me and said, “You know, Bob, you’re right.”
Use Reflective Listening – Often perceptual arguments involve two people talking at each other, but neither party doing much effective listening. Reason: when each party is pretending to listen, he or she is actually spending nearly all mental energy preparing to speak. Reflective listening forces each individual to pay full attention to what the other person is actually saying. Once reflective listening is employed, it is not uncommon to have two people who were feuding suddenly realize they have been in violent agreement. They were expressing their opinions in words that sounded opposed but were really congruent.
Watch the language – Rather than say, “You are clueless, can’t you see that he has no intention of picking up the mess,” try, “I am seeing his actions somewhat differently than you do. Can you tell me why you’re assuming he will not pick up the mess?” Asking questions rather than making statements is a technique that can reduce the inflammation in perceptual disagreements. Aggression can make it difficult for a person to hear, let alone understand. As David Halberstam wrote, “…excessive amounts of testosterone leads to a loss of hearing.”
Agree to Disagree – Acrimony can easily be thwarted by simply agreeing to disagree. After arguing about an issue for a while, either party can say something like, “This issue is not worth arguing over, I am not going to convince you, and you are not going to convince me. Let’s not get hung up on it. Just because we see this issue differently is no reason we cannot respect each other and work well together.”
Do not blow things out of proportion – Much of the acrimony in personal disagreements can be avoided if people remember the petty squabbles from day to day mean very little in the long run. If an issue that seems worth fighting over today will be totally forgotten in a week, it is a good idea to relax and just let the other person win rather than duke it out for several days. Pick battles worth fighting and ignore the insignificant give and take issues.
Get a good mediator – Often a third person can step in and clarify the different opinions and help people sort out their differences quickly. Reason: The participants get emotionally involved in the fight and lose objectivity. A cool head that is respected by both parties can make some reasonable suggestions that at least soften the struggle.
Give in – Just letting the other person win is often a great strategy. Some people find this hard to do for reasons of pride or ego. Who cares who is right or wrong? In fact, in most arguments both people are a little bit right and a little bit wrong. The true winner of an argument is usually the one who quits the fight first.
Humans have a remarkable ability to drive each other crazy. This tendency is amplified by close proximity. It is the reason why you can appreciate and love members of your family until they come to visit for a week. At a distance, it is easy to manage disagreements most of the time, but when people are underfoot every day, the little things tend to become so irritating, the conflict begins to snowball.
I am reminded of the TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” where the characters do nothing but fight through the whole show. I rarely watch that sitcom because I find it exhausting. As one person adroitly observed, “I don’t watch TV to get an ear full of fighting, pettiness, cruelty, lack of respect, and sarcasm. I can get all that at home.” Since we all see things through a slightly different lens, and we process assumptions about what is happening through our parochial brain, we are going to have conflict. Expect it and take some of the evasive steps above to keep the volume down on interpersonal differences. Life is too short to be habitually annoyed by fellow workers or family members.