22 posts categorized "Mediation"

October 11, 2016

Guidelines For The Design Of Integrated Conflict Management Systems Within Organizations

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By The Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR)


In 2001 a committee of the ADR in the Workplace Initiative of the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR) prepared these guidelines for employers, managers, labor representatives, employees, civil and human rights organizations, and others who interact with organizations. This document explains why organizations should consider developing integrated conflict management systems and provides practical guidelines for designing and implementing such systems. The principles identified in this document can also be used to manage external conflict with customers, clients and the public. It is the committee's hope that these guidelines will provide guidance, encourage experimentation, and contribute to the evolving understanding of how best to design and implement these systems.

Why Organizations are Developing Integrated Conflict Management Systems.

Organizations generally move through four phases in addressing conflict. Organizations in the first phase have no defined institutional dispute resolution processes. Organizations in the second phase have introduced rights-based grievance procedures -- some ending in adjudication processes such as peer review and arbitration -- for the resolution of conflict. Today, all unionized organizations, most government agencies, and most medium and large-sized non-unionized organizations have internal rights-based grievance processes. Some organizations have moved to the third phase, by introducing specific "interest-based" processes, often some form of mediation, to supplement rights-based processes. Increasingly, organizations are moving to the fourth phase, by developing "integrated conflict management systems." These systems include both grievance processes and mediation, but go beyond them, introducing a systematic approach to preventing, managing, and resolving conflict.

Organizations have moved to integrated conflict management systems for several reasons:

First, grievance procedures and most mediation programs are not available to address many kinds of interpersonal disputes that cause significant workplace disruption. Moreover, many in the workplace are unwilling to use these procedures. An integrated conflict management system introduces and focuses on other tools of conflict management -- referring, listening, anonymous problem identification and consultation, coaching, mentoring, informal problem-solving, direct negotiation, informal shuttle diplomacy, generic solutions, and systems change. These are the processes most employees are willing to use and are the processes most likely to prevent unnecessary disputes and to resolve conflict early and constructively.

Second, while the more formal dispute resolution processes such as grievance procedures and mediation are necessary, they are insufficient because they usually address only the symptoms, not the sources of conflict. An effective integrated conflict management system addresses the sources of conflict and provides a pervasive method for promoting competence in dealing with conflict throughout the organization.

For these reasons, when implemented effectively, integrated conflict management systems decrease the highly visible costs of conflict -- government investigations, legal costs and lost time associated with defending against charges and lawsuits -- and address many less visible costs of unaddressed conflict: loss of valuable employees due to transfers, stress leave, early retirement; movement to a competitor; loss of productivity; petty sabotage, waste, theft of intellectual property; increased health insurance claims; and the loss of public confidence when organizations are accused of allowing discrimination, harassment, unsafe working conditions, fraud, or other unacceptable behavior.

Effective integrated conflict management systems share these five characteristics:

  1. Effective integrated conflict management system provide options for preventing, identifying, and resolving all types of problems including "non-hierarchical" disputes between employees or between managers; and is available to all persons in the workplace -- workers, managers, professionals, groups, teams involved in disputes, and those close by ("bystanders") who are affected.
  2. Effective integrated conflict management systems foster a culture that welcomes good faith dissent and encourages resolution of conflict at the lowest level through direct negotiation.
  3. Integrated conflict management systems provide multiple access points. Employees can readily identify and access a knowledgeable person whom they trust for advice about the conflict management system.
  4. Effective integrated conflict management systems provide multiple options for addressing conflict, giving employees the opportunity to choose a problem-solving approach to conflict resolution, to seek determination and enforcement of rights, or to do both.
  5. Effective integrated conflict management systems provide necessary systemic support and structures that coordinate access to multiple options and promote competence in dealing with conflict throughout the organization.

Necessary System Support and Structures

To implement an integrated conflict management system successfully, an organization must develop support throughout its infrastructure, including:

  • Sincere and visible championship by senior management and workplace/union leaders who communicate and implement the goals of the integrated conflict management system, often led by one person who is the acknowledged "keeper of the flame."
  • A "continuous" oversight body composed of representatives from all key stakeholder groups. Managing the system requires dedicated resources and constant communication among all critical stakeholders. Regular meetings of the oversight body are necessary to increase coordination and communication.
  • A person or persons who function as an internal independent confidential neutral. It is essential that the person (or persons) who function in this capacity are independent and impartial, and that organizational policies protect the confidentiality of employees who speak with them. This person does not act as an advocate or representative for either employees or management, does not perform the functions of a collective bargaining representative, and performs in a manner that respects that role.
  • A central coordinating point (office or group). This group spurs the development and implementation of the system, administers some of its resources, and monitors internal and external best practices. It ensures coordination between access points and works with the oversight body to ensure that the system is responsive to information it produces and to changing circumstances.
  • System evaluation and monitoring mechanisms. Feedback loops ensure that there is a connection between conflicts, resolutions, identifying the need for systemic change, and assessing trends. Harmonious communication requires that each function know of, talk with, and refer to others, and that some accessible people know the entire system and any changes that take place in the system. Evaluation is key to a system's success, as it informs the organization of the strengths and weaknesses of its design, thereby allowing the opportunity for continual improvement.
  • Critical mass training, "just-in-time" on-the-spot training for individuals as needed, and educating managers, supervisors, union personnel and human services personnel.
  • Alignment. The organization must ensure that its mission, vision, values, and published policies are in alignment with the philosophy of conflict competency and that its human resource strategy supports the integrated conflict management system.
  • Institutionalization of incentives. Performance management and evaluation systems should reward continual as well as exceptional conflict management, resolutions which preserve or enhance existing relationships, and collaborative and creative problem solving. Participation in integrated conflict management system processes should be an element of performance appraisal and management.
  • Communication strategy. An interest-based communication strategy should be developed through discussions with workplace stakeholders and carefully implemented from the start of the process.
  • Cost Allocation. Costs should be allocated in a manner that gives managers and employees incentives to deal with conflict early and effectively.
  • Resources. Sufficient financial and human resources must be allocated to the system. While an organization must allocate funds and resources to develop and implement an effective, integrated system, the organization can expect that costs of maintaining the system will be matched or exceeded by savings resulting from conflict prevention and early and effective dispute resolution.
Design Considerations

There is no ideal integrated conflict management system that will fit all organizations. Each organization must design a system tailored to its specific needs and culture. Each organization will, however, face certain design decisions that are central to the fairness of the system. Certain principles are critical to the fairness of processes within a system and to the system as a whole, including voluntariness, protection of privacy and confidentiality, impartiality of neutrals, qualifications and training of neutrals, diversity and accessibility, prohibition of reprisal and retaliation, respect for the role of collective bargaining agents, and non-preclusion of statutory and workplace rights

Practical Guidance

The guidelines provide practical guidance in several areas: 1) determining whether an organization needs an integrated conflict management system; 2) phases and components of design and implementation of a system; and 3) critical elements in designing and evaluation and monitoring program. The guidelines also include a description of some highlights in the evolution of conflict management systems in the United States and a short bibliography.


Ann Gosline, Co-Chair, Mediator/Arbitrator, Litchfield, Maine
Lamont Stallworth, Co-Chair, Professor, Loyola University and Center For Employment Dispute Resolution, Chicago, Illinois
Myrna Adams, Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Norman Brand, Mediator/Arbitrator, San Francisco, California
Cindy Hallberlin, Counsel, Brown and Wood LLP, Washington, D.C.
Carole Houk, ADR Counsel, Department of the Navy, Washington, D.C.
David Lipsky, Professor, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Jennifer Lynch, Q.C., President PDG Personnel Direction Group, Ottawa, Ontario
Nancy E. Peace, Arbitrator, Mediator, Trainer, Boston, Massachusetts
Mary Rowe, Ombudsperson, MIT, Cambridge Massachusetts
Anne Thomas, Director, Office of Equal Opportunity, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico


October 08, 2016

The Mediator's Stance: Omnipartial Defined

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One of the nine elements of the Mediator's Stance is being balanced and omnipartial. So when I investigated my colleague, Joseph Maurer's great website at OmniMediation I found...and loved the name of his firm but also his description of omnipartial.

Thanks Joseph!

Omnipartial Defined

"The essence of omnipartial mediation is that the mediator is on the side of all parties to a conflict. It is a stance more engaged than an impartial or neutral position, while staying committed to creating a process that does not unfairly advantage any party at the expense of any other party.

The mediator does not give advice on what parties should do. Nor does the mediator make decisions for the parties. The mediator does advise, suggest, encourage parties to consider new information, new ways of understanding, new ways of conceptualizing – and this process can never be 100% neutral – ideal perfect neutrality is impossible!

The omnipartial mediator uses the ‘power of process’ to lead a process committed to empowering the parties to making their own decisions. We will support all parties to the conflict to present their views and understand the views of others. At the same time we will help the parties to consider those views – challenging understandings to confirm, strengthen, build on, and even transform those views in the service of opening the road to conflict resolution.

You remain in charge. We ask tough, honest and empathic questions, while managing a process where all answers are acceptable – answers including “I don’t know” or “I don’t want to say”.

Finding the balance between support and challenge is our art. It is firmly anchored in our uncompromising commitment to remain an ally to everyone in the process by being an ally to the process itself. We’re on your side, and theirs – right where you need us to be to drive the building of relationships and resolutions."


A clear description of Confidentiality in Mediation


Joseph Maurer's description of confidentiality in mediation is also one of the clearest I have read:


We understand that privacy is important. From the start, all communications are held in confidence.

In a personal context this means that we won’t repeat anything you say – the things you choose to share, the stories you tell, the offers you make – all stay confidential.

In a legal context this means that communications made or submitted during the process from the moment of its inception shall be confidential to the extent permitted by law under California Evidence Code Sections 1115-1128.

No new evidence is created in the mediation process and all communications are ‘off the record.’ That is, nothing from the mediation is admissible in court, nor is it subject to discovery or compelled disclosure in noncriminal proceedings. The mediator can not testify about party communications or conduct in court.

Omni Mediation and the parties may disclose information about the process to their respective support people such as attorneys, therapists, provided that all such persons are also informed that the information is privileged under the terms of our agreement. How this process shall be managed between Omni Mediation and the parties shall be an ongoing conversation through the process as needed. As stated above, we recognize that privacy is important.

Confidentiality is a cornerstone* of the mediation process. Mediation is perhaps the most confidential forum and process available. It is a safe forum for the private reality testing of potential agreements, and a safe forum for making sure communications are heard and understood by other parties. We are happy to discuss any concerns you have in the management of this process in case the parties do wish to potentially release some information in a controlled manner. But that’s up to you. The process is confidential – full stop."


* On this, I differ. Confidentiality is the ideal but not an essential element of the mediation process. (JF)

October 05, 2016

USPS FY 16 Mid-year REDRESS® Results


by Jeff Slye

Based on performance results it is easy to see that REDRESS® mediation has been a very successful part of the Postal Service’s EEO process. Clearly the Mediators have played a significant role in this success story. 

Through the 3rd quarter of FY16, nationally there have been a total of 10,354 informal EEO complaints filed with the USPS. The Postal Service’s fiscal year runs from October 1st until September 30th. Through June 30, 2016, a total of 3,685 of these informal cases have been mediated through our REDRESS® program. And of the 3,685 cases that were mediated, 1,996, or 54.1% were resolved at the table. This is a significant number of cases where the parties resolved their differences during mediation.

The consistent performance of REDRESS® mediation has been beneficial to the EEO function in forecasting yearly EEO formal complaint volumes. The EEO formal process is much more costly to the Agency in terms of processing costs as compared to the informal process. When complaints are resolved during REDRESS® mediation in the informal process, the Postal Service has avoided significant costs associated with potential formal complaints.

In addition to the percentage of cases resolved at the mediation table, another important measurement for EEO is the mediated flow thru rate as shown in the last column of the above chart. This rate reflects the percentage of mediated cases that go on to file a formal EEO complaint.

The difference between the percentage of cases resolved at the table and the mediation flow through rate are the number of mediated cases that are settled, withdrawn, or has decided not to pursue a formal complaint after the mediation is conducted.

Based on performance results it is easy to see that REDRESS® mediation has been a very successful part of the Postal Service’s EEO process. Clearly the Mediators have played a significant role in this success story. We thank you for the time and effort you put into each and every mediation session.


October 04, 2016

The role of Human Resources in the management of employment related conflict

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In an interview conducted in 2001 Cornell's Professor Lipsky was asked....What do you feel is the role of Human Resources in the management of employment related conflict?

I think it is actually critical. I know from my own experience there are quite a few HR managers who feel they are really involved in that or in some cases need to be involved in employment conflict.

I recently attended a seminar, where a very prominent HR person spoke of 10 or 12 things that are going to be more of a priority in the HR realm in the 20th century and he did not list conflict resolution or conflict management. I called this to his attention, and it just didn’t register on his radar screen, he felt this would still be best handled by council/attorneys and thus not a priority for him.

On the other hand, we have been doing a great deal of research and visiting a number of companies. In the process we found that in a number of corporations ADR, conflict resolution or whatever you want to call it, is still not a priority, however in the vanguard companies it definitely is!

With the vanguard, at least the ones we have been talking with, the HR department has been solidly in the middle of conflict management and resolution. They do indeed, whether you go to GE, Ford or TRW, or numerous others…the HR professionals will say this is a top priority for us and we need to design a system that will enable us to meet this need.

For the full interview


Workplace Conflict: An Inevitable Fact of Life

Conflict is an inevitable fact of any organizations life. Organizations that accept this truism, do so for many different reasons, and those that do, are able to access the beneficial potential of conflict.

The impetus to accept organizational conflict and work with it rather than against it, has, for the most part, been driven by the desire to avoid pain. The direct and indirect costs of conflict (not resolved or poorly resolved) has been a big motivator.

According to Cornell's Professor Lipsky "across the board, the primary motivators are cost and time (Both are terms used to discuss cost)." 

But there are also organizations who are driven by hope rather than fear, and in coming to terms with the fact that they will always have conflict, seek to deal with it as creatively as possible.

Again, according to Lipskey "in the vanguard companies . . .the HR professionals will say this (conflict management) is a top priority for us and we need to design a system that will enable us to meet this need."

The report of the Association for Conflict Resolution, (formerly Spidr, AFM and Crnet) on guidelines for the design of integrated conflict management systems will go a long way to provide direction to organizations, however motivated. 

According to the report, organizations that are managing conflict effectively share these characteristics:

1. They provide options for all types of problems and all people in the workplace, including employees, supervisors,professionals, and managers.
2. They create a culture that welcomes dissent and encourages resolution of conflict at the lowest level through direct negotiation.
3. They provide multiple access points. Employees can readily identify and access a knowledgeable person whom they trust for advice about the conflict management system.
4. They provide multiple options -- both rights-based and interest-based -- for addressing conflict.
5. They provide systemic support and structures that coordinate and support the multiple access points and multiple options and that integrate effective conflict management into the organization's daily operations.

The reality remains, that wherever an organization is located, it operates in a legal environment that will influence how it views and responds to conflict.

April 01, 2016

The New SHRM Competency Guidelines: Should HR Professionals Mediate Internal Workplace Disputes?


For many years the gold standard for HR certification in the USA, endorsed and supported by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), was provided by the knowledge focused HR Certification Institute that awarded the Professional HR (PHR) and Senior Professional HR (SPHR) designations.

All that changed when in May 2014 SHRM announced a new competency based certification process that they would administer as an alternative to the HRCI certification, with two new certification designations: the SHRM certified professional (SHRM-CP) and the SHRM senior certified professional (SHRM-SCP).

Henry G. Jackson, SHRM president and CEO at the time said: “We view SHRM certification as the next evolution of certification for HR professionals. Certification started out as testing for knowledge. Now it’s evolving to how to demonstrate competency.”

Many expressed surprised at the way things were handled. At the very least, it has been awkward and created confusion among HR Professionals as HRCI seeks to maintain, and SHRM now seeks to grow, its certification numbers! Exactly how this tension will play out, remains to be seen.

What is interesting, is that the new SHRM competency guidelines are very explicit about how HR professionals manage conflict as part of their relationship management obligations and in particular state that senior HR professionals should be able “to mediate difficult employee relations situations as a neutral.”

However, when I talk to HR professionals, most are not fully convinced that mediation is a required HR skill.  For the most part they think that mediators are like attorneys and that mediation is a formal legal process. In addition, they express concern about their ability to remain neutral.

Mediation is a conciliatory process that is premised on an acceptable third party not making a decision on behalf of those in dispute. Rather, they support the conflicted participants to find their own way. Here’s how I define mediation:

Mediation is a conciliatory process in which an acceptable third party intervenes in the conflict or disputes of partici­pants, in our case, employees, with the goal of supporting them to reach agreement.

A myriad of benefits flow from adopting a mediating approach including the obvious stronger buy in, more creative solutions, emotional closure and a positive impact on the bottom line.

More informally, what this means, is that when you sit down with two employees to facilitate a conversation and help them to work something out without telling them what to do, you are effectively mediating. HR professionals, not just employee relations specialists, do this all the time!

What matters most is whether you are acceptable to the employees who are in conflict. Which means they are willing to give you a chance to be their conflict resolution guide. Even when mediation is mandated, if you as the mediator are not accepted, there is not much that you can do.

And if you are deemed acceptable, you do your best not to take sides. You are neutral, impartial, balanced and equally there for all.

If our definition of mediation was premised on attaining pure neutrality, we’d never get to mediate. Which is why I prefer to say that mediators need to be acceptable and strive to be neutral.

Whether or not you are taking sides is for the participants to determine.  What we do know is that HR professionals do mediate conversations between conflicted employees all the time, whatever they may call it.

Maybe it in the striving to be neutral, rather than the attaining, that allows the mediator to be effective. And this, I believe, is well within the grasp of most HR professionals. Especially when all you want is for two employees to get along and do their job!

That said, it is not just senior HR professionals that according to SHRM, need to be neutral. Early level HR professionals are expected to develop a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR representative.”

And mid-level professionals are expected to “develop a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR professional serving employees and the organization.”

Clearly SHRM thinks it’s possible for HR professionals to be neutral mediators of internal workplace conflicts.

But what about the HRCI, and what is the full extent of the SHRM relationship management competency obligations?


20% of the questions for the Professional in HR (PHR) and 14% for the Senior Professional in HR (SPHR) certification tests are devoted to employee and labor relations. Employee and labor relations is considered an important part of any HR professional’s responsibilities and is described as follows:

“Developing, implementing/administering and evaluating the workplace in order to maintain relationships and working conditions that balance employer/employee needs and rights in support of the organization’s goals and objectives.”

When we drill down to see what functional responsibilities and knowledge HRCI requires, we find many references to the word investigate, and significantly the word mediation is mentioned only once:

“Investigate and resolve employee complaints filed with federal agencies involving employment practices or working conditions, utilizing professional resources as necessary (for example: legal counsel, mediation/arbitration specialists and investigators.”

 Clearly the HRCI certifications do not place much emphasis on mediation, other than as a process with external professionals in the context of cases filed with federal agencies.

Their general tool of choice is the investigation. This inevitably leads to a focus on rights more than needs, and not the emotional underpinnings of the conflict.

In addition there is a provision stating that HR professionals should have, “Techniques and tools for facilitating positive employee relations (for example: employee surveys, dispute/conflict resolution, labor/management cooperative strategies)”

Still no mention of mediation as an HR skill, but HR professionals are expected to be able to support positive employee relations through facilitation.  Mediation is of course a form of facilitation. We facilitate conversations and allow them to reach their agreements.

Given that HRCI has been the gold standard for so long it’s no wonder that not much emphasis has been placed on mediation here in the USA.

However, a case can be made to say that HRCI expect HR Professionals to have conflict resolution capacity and to be able to facilitate as well.


But what about the new SHRM competency guidelines. What exactly do they say about mediation and conflict resolution more broadly?

The SHRM competency model identifies nine competencies that define what it means to be a successful HR professional. Relationship management is one of them.

Relationship management is defined as “the ability to manage interactions to provide service and to support the organization.” Here is more of what they mean by relationship management:

 To manage interactions while providing supportive service, “HR professionals should maintain productive interpersonal relationships and demonstrate aptitude to help others to do the same.”

 They note that “healthy interpersonal relationships among employees at an organization contribute positively to employee and organizational success.”

This is the graphic SHRM provided to summarize the focus areas of the four different levels of HR. It’s like the bird’s eye view of the relationship management competency.


When we take a closer look at what is expected competency wise for each of the levels we see a focus on relationship management, conflict resolution and the skill of mediation.

 What is apparent, is that the focus of the skill set has shifted dramatically from what the HRCI certification entailed. The emphasis is on conflict management in the broadest sense and embodies many best practices from that field.

In addition, HR professionals are expected to be developing their conflict management competencies at all levels and that by the time you get to a mid-level, are expected to be able to mediate.

Most HR professionals have heard about mediation, but not all are confident in their ability to mediate successfully.

What is apparent is that to comply with the SHRM competency standards HR professionals need to be conflict resolution competent. They need to be able to handle their own conflict challenges well, and help out others with their conflicts. In a nutshell they need to be conflict competent mediators.

What is fascinating, is that SHRM, accurately in my view, identified what it is that HR professionals (and other leaders for that matter) do a lot of the time in the management of employees: mediate.

However, for the most part, they don’t know that they are already mediating. Certainly they are mediating informally more often than they realize.

This is encouraging as with a little training and guidance HR professionals make great mediators.

In conclusion, my answer is yes! HR professionals should continue to mediate workplace conflicts and disputes as confirmed in part by the HRCI and in full by SHRM.

And while concerns about neutrality are well founded, there is still a way to use the mindset and process of the mediator with diplomacy.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this question…

SHRM Relationship Management Competency

Key attributes that focus on conflict management:


Early level expectations focus on:

  • Listening without immediately providing the solution,
  • Making referrals of difficult situations to their manager,
  • Preventing transactional conflicts and when that is not possible facilitating their resolution,
  • Providing information about conflict resolution options, and
  • Developing a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR representative.

 Mid-level expectations focus on:

  • Recognizing potential employee relations issues in a proactive manner and resolving the issue,
  • Mediating difficult interactions, and escalating problems when warranted,
  • Developing a reputation as a neutral and approachable HR professional serving employees and the organization,
  • Fostering a positive team environment among staff, and
  • Facilitating conflict resolution meetings.

 Senior level expectations focus on:

  • Mediating difficult employee relations as a neutral party,
  • Developing policies and practices for resolving conflicts,
  • Resolving escalated conflicts among stakeholders,
  • Managing challenging issues in union and non-union environments,
  • Negotiating with internal and external stakeholders,
  • Building consensus and settling disputes internal to HR on policy and practice decisions, and
  • Facilitating difficult interactions among organizational stakeholders to achieve optimal outcomes.

Executive level expectations focus on:

  • Creating conflict resolution strategies and processes throughout the organization,
  • Negotiating with internal and external stakeholders to advance the interests of the organization,
  • Fostering a culture that supports intra-organizational relationships throughout organization,
  • Proactively developing relationships with peers, clients, suppliers, board members, and senior leaders.

October 29, 2015

What’s the difference between Empathy and Sympathy, and why has Sympathy got such a bad name?

By John Ford

Have you ever wondered about the difference between empathy and sympathy?

And if you have, why sympathy has got such a bad name?

I addressed these very questions in the recent pilot of my online course that focused on Challenging Workplace Relationships, but was prompted to write this after watching a short online video  narrated by Dr. Brené Brown.

In the video Dr Brown says that empathy fuels connection and sympathy drives disconnection. To empathize, she says, we must 'internalize the feelings of another'.

In the examples she gives she suggests that we sympathize when we avoid acknowledging others difficult feelings and also when we minimize the experience of another, such as when we ‘silver-line’ with expressions like, “at least you have a job,” after hearing that the person was demoted.

I agree that these last two practices (avoidance and minimizing) are not empathetic, but I am not sure that they are what sympathy is about. Or indeed the real reasons for sympathy’s bad name.

As is often the case, words have numerous meanings. Sympathy’s Latin roots point to ‘similar feelings’ (sympathia and pathos).

However, the primary sense in most modern dictionaries suggest that sympathy means “pity or sorrow for someone’s misfortune.”

Sympathy as pity is dis-empowering and fuels disconnection. Comments like “I don’t want your sympathy” confirm this.

We want to be allowed to feel our feelings, rather than be rescued by the sympathizer who can never actually feel for us!

I agree that this sense is unfortunate and I suspect a reason for sympathy’s bad name.

But sympathy can also refer to the original Latin meaning and our capacity to recognize a common feeling. We sense that the other person may be feeling something similar to what we have previously experienced and sympathize.
As the listener, if we express our sympathy we may say “I was also ‘gutted’ when my team lost!”

The apparent danger is that unless we are careful we shift the focus away from the other. Now it’s about me and my team!

That’s another reason for its bad name.

So what then is empathy, and how is it different?

Empathy is our capacity to sense and understand what another is feeling from their – nor our – point of view.

This to me is vital. The focus is on them and how they make sense of their feelings.

So while I listen to my English friend bemoan their loss in the rugby world cup, I can sympathize as suggested above as I know what it feels like to lose.

But I can also empathize.

And when I do the shift is apparent. “I imagine you were gutted when your team lost! Especially as hosts. Must really hurt!”

As is suggested by Paul Bellet and Michael Maloney, our perspective becomes superfluous, certainly secondary to that of the speaker:

“Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another's shoes.”

At best my frame of reference and knowledge of rugby can help me to understand what my friend is feeling (sympathy), but empathy lies in my ultimate ability to demonstrate to my friend that I understand him and his woes.

Empathy builds connection, and is based on authentic attention to the other.

Sympathy can move us toward, but is not the same as empathy.

In the same way that avoidance and minimization are neither sympathetic nor empathetic.

Much ado about nothing?

Not so sure. Words matter.

Sympathy has its place, but there are dangers.

Which is why for life’s challenges,

I prefer empathy!

July 03, 2015

What's the difference between Mediation and Toxic Triangulation?

"We are always 100% responsible for our 50% of any relationship." 
Source Unknown
And yet in life, when things are challenging, we often observe how humans focus on the other's 50% while ignoring their own. 
This tendency to deflect responsibility is common in the workplace with employees blaming others while ignoring their own contribution to a problem.
And when they are unable to address their challenge directly themselves, they often turn to third parties-typically those with some power to address the situation in their favor. Their narrative may reveal a victim mentality. Regardless, they want their perspective validated and something done.
If your company has an 'open door policy' employees may go above their supervisors head to address their concerns with someone higher up the chain of command. And from time to time employees do go to HR.
This is where you have to be careful, as there is a thin line between actions that are helpful and those that are not! 
Triangulation occurs when a third person gets involved in the relational dynamics of two others. Toxic triangulation occurs when the third person doesn't restore direct communication, and instead distorts it and either unwittingly or intentionally colludes with the person who complained.
Here's what author's Wilmot and Hooker (on page 226 of their book, Interpersonal Conflict), have this to say about toxic triangulation:

"When people perceive that they are the low-power person in a conflict, their typical response is to try and form a coalition with another person....Three people find it difficult to maintain balance in a conflicted relationship. Usually they become structured as a "dyad plus one. Communication triangles are unstable, leaving one person out."
Ideally, employees who have a functional interdependency, address their issues directly, and find working resolutions themselves. 
When you become the go between for communication and use your influence or positional power to address a challenge on another's behalf, not only do you make it difficult it for yourself, but you support toxic triangulation!
This is what toxic triangulation looks like. B who has less power than A goes to C for support. C takes B's side and communicates with A on behalf of B:
As always, in challenge, lies opportunity!

The potential to take more of a mediative posture arises when we are that third party. You can support direct communication and restore responsibility for decision making to the two involved.

When you do that, and don't take sides, you are effectively mediating. You are equally there for both of them. Instead of contributing toward toxicity, you foster conditions for peace and harmony.
This approach is exactly what the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) expects as per their 2014 competency certification model. Here is a link for those interested in a short summary of the relationship management competency, which expects among other things, that senior HR managers "will mediate difficult employee relations as a neutral party."

April 30, 2015

The Future of Mediation

By John Ford

"If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships - the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace."
Franklin D. Roosevelt

A coach once asked me to predict which way a drop of water would go around a rock up ahead. Of course there is no way of knowing: the water drop may not make it due to evaporation to the atmosphere, absorption by the river bank, and then if it does make it to the rock, whether it goes left or right, over or below. However, even if the future is uncertain, we can still comment on where the drop of water is at the moment.  Even its relationship to our imagined future. And of course about its past.

When did mediation start?

I wonder when the first human chose not to resolve a conflict or dispute of others by telling them the solution but supporting them to find their own. Especially where they had power to impose (make and enforce) a solution. And how many such interventions have been made through the course of human time.

Mediation is both an idea and a process. As an idea it promotes self-responsibility and embraces self-determination. It believes in the ability of humans to take care of their own lives. As a process it has evolved to a point where there are many difference approaches (facilitative, transformative, narrative, party directed, and evaluative) that all use the term mediation to define how the idea is brought to life.

The field of mediation

The idea and process of mediation appear to be enjoying an expansive phase in their history. A self-organized field of mediation has gained self-awareness of the uniqueness of the process and the importance of its role. Some call it a profession. International and regional membership associations for mediators that create voluntary standards of conduct are common.

Debate amongst proponents of different approaches at conferences of professionals who self-identify as mediators is lively. For the most part mediation has been based on intuitive insights of how to resolve conflicts - coupled with reflective practice. More recently we are seeing the emergence of an evidence based or scientific approach to mediation knowledge.

Mediation in contemporary society

Mediation continues to be practiced in many diverse ways around the world both by professional and community members. Mediation has found fertile ground as an idea in many legal systems. The motivation has been varied. Some have advanced more practical social benefits like cost savings while others point to the quality of the decision made in mediation, and more abstract values like self-determination.

The field of mediation has created specializations in a variety of areas such as family, workplace, elder, environmental, commercial and the like. And some professions like HR, realtors, and hospital administrators who routinely find themselves at the intersection of conflict have also started to embrace and internalize the process (skill) of mediation.

Governments of the world are increasingly including mediation as part of the resolution process to address civil right disputes especially in labor, employment and family arenas. Some even provide the mediator’s.

While there is a growing general awareness of mediation, specific awareness of mediation as a valuable or indeed as an applicable option, is low.

World Peace

One way we venture into the future is through vision statements. Like Roosevelt, my vision is world peace. My only question is how long will it take?

Clearly we are not there now, and as result I anticipate that the popularity of mediation as an idea and process will expand and contract cyclically but with a steady incline as we get closer to world peace.

And in my vision, peace is not the absence of conflict. At this point mediation and other collaborative, non-aggressive processes will have become the norm.  The violent and adversarial past will be something people read about and find hard to comprehend!

Humans are getting less violent and yet continue to invest in aggressive and violent approaches to conflict resolution.

Until then

In the more short term I anticipate more scrutiny of the mediation process, especially in the legal context, with developments being more evidence based than intuitive. The courts will be rich learning grounds for insights, in part because the participants will test the limits of competition within a collaborative frame of reference, such that mediation provides.

Where I see the biggest opportunity however, is not in the legal system. I believe that the biggest role mediation has to play, is as a process that is institutionalized within the social fabric of our interactions with one another, not just when we are at the court house steps, but when our differences are first emerging, wherever we happen to be.

The Reality

However, given the current low social awareness of the value or applicability of mediation, education of both end users but also providers will be crucial. I see this as an ongoing challenge. For example, currently in the United States, most HR professionals know about mediation but believe that it is something that other professionals do.

Interestingly, the largest professional membership organization for HR professionals in the world, the Society for Human Resource Management, has established competency standards for certification that expect senior leaders to be able to mediate difficult situations among employees.

As this happens, and similar positive developments take place in schools, businesses, clubs and homes we will seed the slow ongoing improvement in the ability of humans to live together in peace with others. Mediation will continue to have an important role to play.