Mediation can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues

Crucial Conversations. Difficult Conversations. Dreaded Conversations. Whatever we call them, there comes a time in the workplace when emotions run high and the going gets tough, and despite all the training and all the practice, conversations break down before they get to where they need to go. In the workplace, when it comes to issues around diversity, around mental health, illness and bereavement for example, emotions, fear of doing more harm, or fear of invading privacy and fear of lack of skills in dealing with the outcome may prevent the conversation from even beginning. Unfortunately, often in these situations, a crisis will ensue before a productive action step is taken.

My colleague Michelle Phaneuf and I collaborated with Morgan Craig-Broadwith of the Canadian Mental Health Association (Calgary Chapter) to demonstrate in front of a live audience a workplace mediation around a mental health issue.  In our simulated workplace environment, a Vice President has offered the opportunity to two vital workplace players to settle their differences with the help of a mediator. Performance has suffered, communication has broken down, rumours are circulating — in short the entire workplace is impacted by the behaviour of two key people.

Mount Royal University Continuing Studies videotaped the session, and we will post that when it is edited and polished.

Bratislava_window_by_C_Munroe

A mediator can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues, empowering people to reach a resolution before a crisis.

The audience asked some good questions.

When is it appropriate to call a mediator? In the workplace, it can be particularly helpful to call a mediator when poor or no communication between two people in an interdependent working relationship has an impact on others around them and work productivity.

How often is a mediation successful?  The earlier the intervention, the  more likely the success.  Mediation is most successful when the process is voluntary; when the participants have the skills and wherewithal to speak and advocate for themselves; and are well informed about their rights. Mediation can be  mandated by an employer, and still a mediator can invite people to participate.  In fact, when mandated into a room, people have an opportunity to save face with colleagues.

What role does the mediator have to hold people to account who choose not to participate? The mediator’s role is only to facilitate the process, and to ask the difficult questions, not to provide or suggest solutions. A combination of conflict coaching and mediation ensures that participants have the opportunity to explore all their options both inside and outside the mediation process.

What information from the mediation does the mediator share with their client? At a minimum, the mediator will share information about the process and the timing.  The mediator will discuss information to be shared with the participants, and together they will agree on wording and who, if anyone, will receive the information.

What is the benefit of having two mediators? Two mediators have a greater opportunity to work together to hear all concerns. It is particularly helpful to hire two facilitators when dealing with a group larger than two.

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Did you know that up to 78% of Short Term Disability claims are related to mental health concerns? Working in the conflict business, I am becoming increasingly aware of the impact of mental health issues in the workplace.  So last fall, I signed up for Mental Health Works, a 2 day program put on by the Canadian Mental Health Association (Calgary region) targeted at managers and HR Professionals dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

I walked away impressed with their simple yet effective strategy for managers to enter into the accommodation or performance management conversation in a meaningful way.  It is based on 3 simple steps:  I notice; I’m concerned; Let’s focus on solutions at work.

Barndoors

It struck me immediately that it looks very similar to the structure we use in a mediated conversation, and that it is aimed at being preventative.   Mediation too, or a structured conversation with an impartial facilitator, can be preventative and will provide the safe space many need for full disclosure.

So my colleague Michelle Phaneuf and I approached Morgan Craig-Broadwith, the Manager of Workplace Wellness for the CMHA, Calgary Region, and we decided to put on a learning breakfast with a simulated mediation based on a mental health issue.  There were two purposes to the event:

  • To demonstrate a mediation with a simulated scenario.
  • To open a conversation about mental health in the workplace.

We conducted the role play live and unscripted in front of an audience of about 30 people, mostly from the HR community in Calgary.

As the role players became safer and more trustful the employee, played by Morgan, disclosed that she was dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Her manager’s reaction was shock, and fear: a genuine reaction born from surprise.  Similarly, the employee experienced the accusations and mistrust from her manager that many people in the workplace face.

While the parties did get up and over Conflict Mountain and began searching for options, we had to cut the mediation short before writing up a full agreement to allow time for questions.  I think if we do this again we need to allow at least ½ day for the entire event.

  • We got some excellent questions from the audience:
  • What should be considered when writing up an accommodations plan?
  • What do you do when one party does not seem to hear the apology of the other and they appear to be spiraling around the same issues?
  • What is important about the written agreement and how do you make sure it is specific enough and hold the parties accountable to it?
  • What do you do when participants get frustrated and are uncooperative?

As you can see by the questions, this made for a rich discussion, and each question merits a blog of its own. I have fodder for months, as you can’t do justice in a few sentences for any one of these questions.

ImageYesterday’s presentation and role play was absolutely excellent, likely one of the most beneficial ones I’ve been to in a long time. (Joellen Short, CHRP Candidate, Long View)

Thanks to everyone who participated. We would love to hear more of your feedback. If you were a participant at this event, I am very interested to know if it has influenced your perspective on using a neutral facilitator for those preventative facilitated dialogues.

A Simulated Mediation – mental health issues in the workplace

Leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal agains...

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal against Detroit Red Wings, Stanley Cup Playoffs, 1942 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to resolving disputes, leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh.

There may be mixed feelings to the news of returning hockey this week, but one thing is for certain: we can all learn something from Scot Beckenbaugh, the mediator who managed the NHL talks in a frenetic and final 48 hours this weekend.

Define your role.

Beckenbaugh’s experience is in the business of negotiating labour disputes in a wide range of industries for the US Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. He does have extensive experience with sports negotiations, but his business is not hockey.  He has declined interviews and comments about the talks this week.

  • You can support good dispute resolution by making a deliberate decision yourself about when and how to get involved.  Support those with the authority who are most closely involved and have the expertise to own the content, the final decision, and the stories. Be transparent about your role.

Listen openly and critically.

Winnipeg Jets Defenseman and union negotiator Scott Hainsey told reporters that “Scot was great for a number of reasons…When it got to points where you didn’t know what to do next – or you had an idea but you didn’t know if it might upset the other side – you could go to him and talk to him about it and there was a way to work your ideas through a third party who was able to really help the process.”

  • Asking powerful and provocative questions and listening actively to the answers will help others clarify their thinking. You will learn a lot too, and when the decision is finally made, you will understand if and when it is the right one, and when it is necessary to step in.

Remain loyal to the process.

Over a 48 hour period and in marathon days Beckenbaugh held both sides to the process.  There was not enough trust for parties to meet face to face, so Beckenbaugh managed the process by shuttling between them, building trust in his engagement, and in the process of conciliation.

  • Decide on an appropriate process for reaching a resolution and hold everybody to it.  Even when you don’t have a ready answer you can demonstrate leadership by managing an effective process to get to one.

Providing ready answers and solutions is the easy part of being a leader. The mature and effective leader knows when to step back and how to empower others to reach their own conclusions. Active listening will aid understanding for all, and strategic choices about your role and the process will foster good long-term decisions.

When it pays to say No

Getting to Yes, Getting Past No, The Power of a Positive No. William Ury has written some of the most seminal books on negotiating. Putting the theory into practice can be a challenge. David Savage spoke at our Workplace Fairness Lunch recently and we learned from him that a positive no is a great place to start in negotiation because it allows room to create positive boundaries and gives space to consider.

I can think of more than a few times I should have said no.  Why do we always say yes?  As a consultant with bills to pay I recognize the fear of not being certain where the next job is coming from.  As a parent I recognize the apprehension of being judged. As a member of the community I see the impact of perceptions of neighbours.  It takes courage to say no. In fact David reminded us too that our toughest negotiations are with ourselves:  What am I prepared to be courageous on? What am I prepared to trust you on? We often don’t take the space and time to consider these questions. They deserve careful consideration.

The other thing about starting out with no is that it provides an opportunity to build accountability.  There is never a better time for examining consequences and accountability than when you need something from each other.  I recognize this sentiment too.  I commit readily to committees (notice the name which instills a sense of commitment guilt) and one or two meetings in I begin to think, what is my role? How can I contribute? It is all too easy at this stage to take a backseat in a meeting or two as life intervenes between committee get-togethers.  How do you continue to hold yourself, and others, accountable? And what happens if you don’t?

Well as David Savage reminded us, you need some naysayers at the table! Once again, no is good.  The critics will minimize the group think. Imagine the committee meeting surrounded by agreeable nodders, and then the frustration that sets in afterwards once reality reveals the difficulty of meeting the commitments. Naysayers and reality-checkers will help you be realistic from the start and avoid the pain later. In fact, Dave suggested to appoint critics, as many as 2 in 10, if they are not readily apparent.

And how else can you continue to hold yourself and others accountable? Well, negotiation is not a one-time event. It is a circle; it builds relationships and trust.  Once you leave the table, it is important to review what you have learned, gained, and lost as well as the status of the relationship. Maintaining relationships with the other parties is important so that you can review and improve the process and outcomes. Finally, you can take your learning from each discussion to help prepare for the next.

On David Savage’s website, you can find some useful videos on getting ready to negotiate, and the qualities of a master negotiator. They are here: http://www.savagemanage.com/videos.html.

Using David’s suggestions, I made a brief checklist for my own reference which I plan to use every time I am invited to join a committee. I am going to post this where I can see it, read it and review it regularly! Thank you David!

  1. Prepare by clarifying your interests, vision, and boundaries before the first meeting.
  2. Take time to build relationships, engaging in face-to-face discussions.
  3. Share expectations and understanding early: authority, resources, goals, timing, accountability.
  4. Be persistent, and say no until you are ready to agree.
  5. Take care to serve the other other’s and the group’s interests.
  6. Embrace conflict and diversity and positively engage challenge.
  7. Evaluate the commitments and create mutual accountabilities. Ask, what happens if someone fails to perform?
  8. Document.
  9. Review, reconnect, review.
  10. See 1.

Dave’s full negotiation checklist is posted here: http://www.savagemanage.com/downloads/Negotiation%20Success%20Checklist.pdf.

When does it pay to be indirect?

Consider this list of words: prevaricate, pussyfoot, quibble, shirk, sneak. They resonate with negative connotations. They also all describe what you might call idiomatically “beating about the bush”, another phrase with a negative connotation.  We are acculturated in the western world to believe that the more assertive and direct we are the more effective and business-like we are. We are often rewarded for directness, sometimes indirectly by way of compliance.

When does it pay to be indirect?

We are culturally loaded. Our communication and conflict styles are influenced by our world view, or factors such as:

  • The environment (public/private and intimacy or familiarity)
  • The topic and our commitment to it
  • Our culture (upbringing, religion, sex, age, language, job, community, family environment)
  • Our speaking code
  • Our listening code

Our world view also wires how we speak and listen to each other, and dictates or influences our assumptions.  In our western world view we value the individual, and we value directness.

Indirect communication has a higher value in cultures which also place a higher value on community than the individual. As our communities become more diverse it is becoming increasingly important to question our assumptions and reactions to certain communication styles.

Your EQ will help you respond more effectively.  Consider yourself, the other, and the situation.  Emotional intelligence and self-awareness opens our eyes to how our cultural loading influences how we hear and respond. We can learn to adjust, though at times that adjustment will feel quite counterintuitive. For example it is difficult to practice an indirect gaze when speaking or listening, when we are used to a direct one. Change starts with questioning our assumptions about another’s speaking and listening habits.

Let’s talk about face-saving. In a culture which values direct communication, face-saving may be perceived as negative behaviour. What is it? When we recognize it is happening, how do we respond appropriately and effectively? For a start, let’s recognize that it is not necessarily a negative behaviour.

Face-saving may reveal itself in many different forms. Here is some typical behaviour, what might be behind it, and some tactics which will help to improve communication:

What you notice: quiet, withdrawn behaviour.
What might be behind it: A desire to preserve privacy and reputation, and secure approval from you or from others.
What to do:

  • Offer your ideas.  “I am wondering if you have ever considered…”
  • Define the topic in neutral, business like terms, and maintain focus in the conversation on the topic.
  • Use positive language.

What you notice: defensive, protective behaviour.
What might be behind it: A desire to protect others in their community and their and the community’s reputation.
What to do:

  • Be inclusive of others.
  • Provide space and time to allow check-ins with other stakeholders.
  • Be patient.

What you notice: openly agreeable behaviour, compliance.
What might be behind it: A desire to preserve peace, and maintain community.
What to do:

  • Build relationships. Take the time to get to know each other in relationship over meals, coffee.
  • Reinforce the value of open communication and transparency.
  • Gently confront discrepancies and apparent discontinuities. “I am confused. Can you help me understand…”

For further reading, check out this article by John Ng on mediation http://www.mediate.com/articles/the_four_faces_of_face.cfm#_ftn14, and articles/interviews by Stella Ting-Toomey http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/stingtoomey/index.htm.