It is so trite. But it also is true. Trust is vital.
When we have the someone's trust and they feel confident in our abilities they will follow. Mediator's call this rapport.
It was allows mediators to influence the process in a positive way the guide the participants toward resolution.
My friends Jarl and Steve picked up on the issue of trust in today's posting. As always it is full of wisdom:
Only a very small percentage of the things you feel anxious about will actually turn out to be as bad as you fear. Poorly trained minds grab hold of scary thoughts and join them together like cars on a long train. The cumulative weight of these worries creates a momentum of it’s own. Habitually looking for what might go wrong eventually becomes a way of life that prevents you from noticing just how rarely things actually do go badly. The healthy alternative is to expect positive outcomes through actively developing your ability to…
Jarl and Steve
The Manager’s Guide to Mediating Conflict by Allison Love is a timely book that provides easy to grasp guidance on how to manage the inevitable: conflict in the workplace. Importantly, she focuses more on the skills and mindset of the mediator, especially through her second chapter that allow the manager to navigate tricky situations with confidence and ease.
Click here for more details and to purchase online.
Here is today's post. It reminds me of my caution to meet participants in mediation where they are on the path of life. Wishing they were somewhere else will not help. As Jarl and Steve point out, we are all marching to the collective drum of our consciousness:
"The world marches to the drum beat of the collective consciousness. You are on the continuum of its evolutionary movement. Every choice you make is informed (and limited) by what you’re able to perceive. Right and wrong are largely subjective. When others’ behavior appears to be misguided, remember that they are also taking action and making choices in alignment with their level of consciousness. You can’t rush evolution. If you want to experience a different (and in your opinion) better world, the best course of action is to model the behavior…"
You want to see.
Jarl and Steve
"HR was always meant to be there for all (and not just management)."As more and more HR professionals take on the mediator role and adopt the mindset of the mediator through the mediation stance, I believe that we will have more productive and happy workplaces.
|Professor and author John Ford|
In this article, I want to explore the role of intuition and suggest that at the heart of the work of conflict resolution, whether by professional mediators, or HR managers is our ability to sense what to do or not do, intervention wise. To do this, we first need to develop our capacity to sense through feeling and images. Secondly, and at a cognitive level, we need to develop rules of thumbs or what some call ‘heuristics’ to guide us in our interventions.
The Role of Emotion in Conflict
Imagine an employee receives a performance review that she considers unfair. Her manager has rated her poorly for her ability to get along well with others. All her other scores are excellent. The interesting question is whether the thought that it was unfair came first, or the emotion. Some neuroscientists, like Damasio suggest that before there is conscious awareness of a feeling, there is a visceral emoting in the body and that therefore, even if just by a millisecond, emotions precede thought. In this situation, one can imagine a range of emotions including the initial surprise, anger both toward her manager and maybe even herself, disappointment, and fear about what this means for her job security with the company.
Beyond the emotion, there is the thought that it is unfair. This cognitive perception is based on the expectation that something different should have happened. In other words, that there is a gap between what is (the poor rating), and how she would like things to be (all excellent). And while the initial thought pattern may have been stimulated by the raw emotion, it doesn’t take long for most unexamined minds to perseverate and to generate ongoing justifications, explanations, arguments and demands that continue to feed the range of emotions. Except now, instead of the stimulus for the emotions being external, they are internal-her own thoughts that blame the other.
And then, most likely, there will be some form of behavior associated with the emotions and thoughts. When humans experience stress there is the well known fight or flight response. Thanks to the work of Shelly Taylor at UCLA, we now know that there is also the capacity to connect (to tend and befriend), especially in women, and where the fight and flight response is associated with the release of the hormone adrenalin, there is oxytocin, which some refer to as the trust hormone.
It is at this point, when she storms into your managers office, or goes over his/her head to HR that the first outward ‘fight’ signs of conflict emerge. Of course, if her tendency is to bottle things up, then it may be harder to detect, and yet the energy of the unresolved emotion will continue to haunt the relationship and may lead to indirect or passive aggressive behavior. Some may try a different tack, and seek to talk openly about the situation and seek to learn rather than to defend.
Resolving the conflict at the level of the behavior is the easiest but also the least durable. In essence, they both agree to conduct themselves in a civil and professional manner and to communicate about difficult issues. The issue of the actual performance review may also be settled at a substantive level. Depending on company policy the review may remain, be changed, or be linked to a performance improvement plan. However, until the emotions that informed that initial perception of unfairness are addressed, any resolution will be at best, superficial.
If this conflict surfaces, it will not only be her emotions, but also her managers. It is not just the employee that has feelings about this. Her manager may be outraged that she went to HR, and like her is concerned how this is going to impact his/her job security. This too must be addressed.
It is at this point that most have justice/revenge/payback etc on their minds, and through insular thought processes develop elaborate stories that cast each in the role of victim, while blame is used to distance themselves from responsibility. Only if the emotional energy can be addressed, the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation as the deepest form of conflict resolution may arise.
The challenge for conflict resolvers is to work with the emotional energy that holds the key to the lasting resolutions of the conflict. As I have already suggested, my experience is that to do so effectively we are operating intuitively.
Intuition as Emotional Intelligence
Intuition can be defined as knowing without knowing why. Unlike conscious thought, in which theory is applied to facts, intuition is sourced from the unconscious and without being fully aware of the underlying reasons or theory, we have a spontaneous sense of knowing that emerges primarily as a feeling, hunch, or sense that we consider strong enough to act upon. The interesting observation that even intuition must make it’s way to conscious awareness, points to the key factor that distinguishes the two: the source of the knowing.
To reference the now well known four quadrant emotional intelligence model of Goleman, intuition is a heightened sense of self and social awareness, that allows us to manage both ourselves and our interventions in a relational setting. Obviously, as conflict resolvers, being emotionally competent is a given, and our ability to master how and when we say or do what (intervene) when supporting a conflict resolution conversation is vital.
How then do we develop our intuition? Frances Vaughn in her early classic, Awakening Intuition, suggests an approach that allows our whole being to be a more receptive sensor to what is going on. She suggests that we quieten our minds, both before and during situations where we need our intuition. She encourages a sensitivity to feelings and images as the primary way in which we get in touch with intuition. And she warns that if we have not cleansed our own emotional bodies, our projections, transference, and our triggers, we will be distracted us from picking up on the subtle messages that are being sent. She points to meditation as a key tool that allows intuition to come into conscious awareness without interference.
Clearly this is part of the puzzle. Doing our own emotional work is the price we pay for the privilege of meddling in the conflicts of others. However, there is another way that we can develop intuition, and paradoxically it is through the use of heuristics or rules of thumb. I say paradoxically, because heuristics can be developed by the conscious or thinking mind.
In essence a heuristic is tool that helps with decision making. For example, in health care, young doctors are told, when you hear hooves, think of horses, not zebra’s. This helps minimize the unfortunate tendency of newcomers to assume that the disease is exotic rather than common most of the time. When confronted with a lot of data, it helps to rapidly come to the best solution most of the time. A heuristic is a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation.
Interestingly, Gerd Gigerenzer in his book, Gut Feelings, suggests that this is exactly how intuition works. Intuition, he suggests is really the application of unconscious rules of thumb, some developed through knowledge, and others already evolved, which allow us to focus on a small sample of information to reach conclusions, much in the way that Malcolm Gladwell describes ‘thin slicing’ in his book Blink.
So, for our purpose, what heuristics are available to guide us when it comes to decisions that we must make when helping others resolve conflicts. In other words, what are our simple rules of thumb?
Emotional Heuristics For Conflict Resolution
The sad truth is that there is no library of heuristics to guide how we respond to emotions in a conflict resolution setting such that our intervention decisions are more likely to guide the parties to resolution. For the most part what we have are lists of interventions that can be used. The question of when which intervention should be used is the task that lies ahead of us, unless we continue with an essentially random approach that relies on big chunks of trust that each new conflict resolution practitioner will get it right.
I have included at the end of this paper, some of the more classic interventions that I and my colleague Eileen Barker have been developing. We use it in conjunction with our core beliefs about emotion (also included). And while helpful, the reality it that we need to start developing is a list of markers that essentially say, when this occurs, do this most of the time.
Let’s take an example. Imagine, you as a HR manager are asked to facilitate the conversation about the performance review issue I referred to above. One of your beliefs is that feelings are not the same as behavior and that a possible intervention you are considering are communication preferences aka ground rules. Over the years I have developed an informal heuristic that says:
When emotions are high and trust is low, be explicit with behavioral ground rules.
I have found this to a helpful guide, and in these circumstances where there are strong emotions between the employee and her manager and low trust levels this would be a good idea most of the time.
Let’s imagine you do, and the conversation is going well. However, as the employee is telling her manager how upsetting the performance review is, and how she is afraid that she won’t be able to support her child if she loses the job, she starts to cry. My belief is that everyone is responsible for their own feelings, that the expression of feeling is healthy, and that it is not my job to fix or change what others are feelings. The classic question, of whether to offer tissues, if you have any, could be the basis of another heuristic. I know that some colleagues who will immediately offer a tissue, and others that make tissues available but fall short of offering them. So, as you can see there are two possible heuristics:
When tears appear, acknowledge the emotional content and intensity and offer tissues.
When tears appear, acknowledge the emotional content and intensity and make tissues available, but do not offer them.
My practice is to follow the latter practice on an intuitive basis. My gut tells me that I am right, but I don’t really know why. My out loud thinking is not evidence based science, and hopefully will be taken to another level through research.
An interesting rule developed by a foreign student, was to always laugh when others did, even if he didn’t know why they are laughing. My sense is that most professionals working with others in conflict know what to do without always knowing why. As we evolve our capacity to both resolve and to teach how to resolve conflict, acknowledging the role of intuition is vital. Having a methodical way of increasing our capacity to respond intuitively will help newcomers to the field avoid unnecessary and painful lessons. The last thing I want to suggest is that we become robotic. But we do need to look honestly at what we do, when and why and look for the general lessons.
1.Human beings are emotional and have feelings.
2.All (both externally and internally stimulated) emotions/feelings are valid.
3.Feelings are not the same as behavior.
4.We can change when we allow ourselves to feel.
5.We can choose how we relate to our emotions.
6.No one is responsible for anyone else's feelings.
7.Appropriate expression of emotions is healthy and empowering.
8.Don't try to “fix” or “change” the feelings of others.
9.The essence of emotion is motion. Moods are about stagnation.
10.Emotions are part of an open system and can be perceived both consciously and unconsciously.
• Do Nothing
• Acknowledge the emotional content and intensity (empathy)
• Validate the sense their emotion makes to their identity
• Reframe from truth to perceptions, from the past to the future, from demands to needs and from blame to problem solving
• Establish and use communication preferences (aka ground rules) to address negative/unproductive communication
• Acknowledge impact, and explore intention
• Risk surfacing what your gut tells you-the deeper truth
• Explore thoughts connected to the emotion
• Describe and make explicit the pattern/dynamic
• Ask, “What would I be feeling?”
• Elicit and draw attention to apology and other conciliatory gestures
• Explore issue of forgiveness
• Reinforce positive moves
• Use humor and laughter
• Be welcoming and hospitable
One of the reasons that coaching has become so successful is that we contract out accountability for our goals to another person. That person-the coach-checks in with us on a regular basis to see how things are going without taking responsibility for the accomplishment of the goals themselves.
When we follow up after a mediation that has produced an agreement, we are essentially doing the same thing. We are not taking responsibility for the implementation of the agreement, but we are creating a forum for participants to report back on how things are going and to explain both the successes and challenges since the agreement was reached.
There was a time when I considered a follow up a courtesy, something non essential but ‘good’ to do. More and more, I am of the view that follow up is a vital part of any mediation, especially in workplace mediations where the disputants have worked out new behavioral arrangements.
Reasons to Follow Up
First and foremost it signals care. The participants know that you share in their desire to succeed. In addition, it signals your realism. We all know how hard it is to change habits. Over time, people develop dysfunctional ways of relating to one another. Agreeing to change behavior is one thing. Actually changing it is another. It also signals an opportunity. Fine tuning an agreement or making adjustments based on lived experience is not a sign of failure but of maturity. By following up you are creating an opportunity for the participants to trouble shoot and consolidate lessons.
The entire focus of the follow up meeting is learning. Following up is not about blame, but continuous improvement.
How to Follow Up
My preference is to follow up about 45 days after a mediation has produced a behaviorally specific agreement. Sometimes I check in with each of the participants by way of a phone call. At others, I actually convene a meeting where we all share how things are going.
I establish rapport by listening reflectively to whatever is said when I call or we start our meeting. As much as possible I validate emotions and explore whether it is possible to reframe any frustration as care, disappointment as commitment, and anxiety as courage.
Once I sense that the participant/s are comfortable and ready to open up, I orient them to what we are about to do. I remind them that the process is still confidential and may use open ended questions such as:
I may also used close ended questions, as needed, such as:
When we follow up in a shared meeting I get participants to share specific situation that have been challenging. Based on what they share, we may do some additional skill building and then I have them do what I call a ‘Take Two.’ They get to replay the situation and with some supportive coaching and encouragement, see that it could have worked out differently.
To make sure that follow up gets the respect that it deserves, I now include it in my proposal when asked to mediate. I explain that it is an important part of the process and just the way that I work. In many ways, mediators are like coaches, asking the accountability questions, while leaving decision making and implementation responsibility where it belongs-with the participants themselves.
I will always be indebted to Dan Dana for introducing the concept of the manager as the mediator to me. It formed the basis of his powerful training – with the same name- that helped shift the managerial paradigm for thousands of managers who have benefited from his training. Dan was the pioneer who blazed the trail. In this short practice note I want to consolidate and reiterate his fundamental insights, and of course add my two cents!
A review of the history of conflict management in the workplace suggests that the way in which decisions that impact the employment relationship have been made, have shifted from a focus on the power dynamics, to who has the legal or contractual right and finally to what is in everyone’s best interest. Yet there is a way, like the evolution of our triune brain, in which each iteration has built on the other. So to talk about a purely interest based approach does not make sense, as the rights and power dynamics are always being considered, if not consciously, then unconsciously.
In fact, Managerial Mediation represents an approach to addressing workplace conflict that is supportive of interest based relationships, yet also addresses rights and power. It allows managers to bring employees together with the stated purpose of reaching an understanding based on what is important to them (their interests) within the bounds of the law, contract, and policy (their rights), without the manager having to impose the decision him or herself. It does so within the context of the existing power differentials that do exist between the employer and the employee, between the supervisor and the employee and even between two peers (their social power).
Managerial Arbitration also has the potential to address power, rights and interests. It is an approach where the manager brings employees together, listens to their ‘stories” and makes a decision for them based their status in the organization (their social power), their rights (by virtue of applicable company contract, policy, and law) and finally, but to a lesser extent, their and the managers own interests.
The vital difference that makes the mutual decision of the employees’ superior to that of a decision imposed by a wise manager is that there is buy in through commitment to their own decision. In addition, when we create a forum where the perception of right and wrong will be inferred from a decision, as is the case with arbitration, the communication that takes place is more likely to be adversarial and combative. By contrast, when managers facilitate two employees trying to work something out, as with mediation, the communication is open, there is more opportunity for reflective listening, and of course creative problem solving.
Finally, and this to me represents the new frontier, organizations are showing a willingness to address the emotional impact of their decisions. They are recognizing that when decisions are based on power, rights and interests alone, they settle the issues, but don’t necessarily resolve or reconcile them. If Managerial Arbitration was spread thin in its attempt to address interests, then it is really found wanting when emotional impact is considered. Managerial arbitrators of right and wrong, who adjudicate and impose decisions in the way they manage do not typically take into account an employees feelings.
By contrast, the manager as mediator is able to facilitate an approach that is informed by it all-the power dynamics, the rights at stake, the interests at the heart of it all, and significantly the way everyone feels about it. When they are successful, the employees address their challenges in ways that generate creative solutions that last.
It is worth remembering that if managerial mediation doesn’t work out-whether through a lack of skills, time or even willingness, the manager can always revert to the more directive managerial arbitration route and impose a decision.
Exploring alternatives with disputants (the things they can do on their own away from the table) requires tact and is best done after high levels of rapport have been established. Given the sensitivity of the communications, it is often done in the privacy of separate meetings (caucuses). Another frame we often use to describe alternatives analysis, is reality checking. We help the disputants explore the consequences of not reaching an agreement at the mediation and make their own informed decisions.
If the parties are represented, their attorneys can play a valuable role and become a mediator’s ally. You ask the questions, and the attorney answers them. As a simple example of what I mean, consider how helpful it is to be able to ask an attorney:
• How long do you think it will take to get to trial?
• And, will that forum-the court of first instance-represent the end of the road if you ‘win’ in court?
• By the way, if you are not willing to guarantee the outcome to your client, how confident are you that you will ‘win’, expressed as a percentage?
All of these questions are important reality checking questions that help the disputant explore the classic alternative (court) and are better answered by someone other than you, and importantly, by someone they trust. In a legal setting, normally that person is their attorney.
But what if the disputants are not represented?
As a mediator, answering any of these questions can be dangerous if only because it many appear that you have an agenda. You are trying to convince the disputant to settle because it will take so long, or because you don’t think they have a strong case. If that perception forms you will have compromised your perception of even handedness.
I once mediated a dispute that involved legal issues, and for which an EEO complaint had been filed. However, neither the complainant-a high ranking employee who was still employed, nor the manager were represented at the mediation.
When we got to the stage in the mediation where it is customary to reality check the disputants alternatives, we stayed in a joint session, and I commented that it was actually a pity that neither side was represented in the mediation. I explained that if we were going to reach a settlement they would have to conclude that what they worked out together was better than going to court. And that answering the questions that I would normally pose to their attorneys would compromise me.
They seemed to get it, but both reiterated that their counsel had told them they had strong cases. As mediators know, when impasse occurs you have to do something different. Clearly, being transparent about my dilemma wasn’t going to carry the day. I needed to change tack.
It then dawned on me that while attorneys were credible in this situation, the legal issues were not that significant, and that what it really came down to was whether it made business sense for them to litigate over the dispute.
I needed to introduce an agent of reality that would get them to shift.
Knowing that they were both business majors, I asked, what they thought an MBA student would recommend, if they were presented the fact patterns that they had presented to me. In other words, I was asking them to write a paper on what they thought the best course of action would be. Would they recommend settling and making peace or would they argue for litigation and all out war?
It worked! I could see the dissonance forming before me. Of them realizing that the brightest students would be saying, compromise, find a way to work this out and take care of business in a manner that felt fair to both.
As is so often the case, once the let go of the fight and committed to working out a solution, they were able to. I’m not saying it was easy, and that they just rolled over. But they were determined to work something out before I left.
As we finalized the terms of the memorandum of settlement they both joked with one another that it was those MBA students that had got them! Never discount the importance of reality checking, and of finding a credible agent of reality, even if they are not able to make the mediation!