Archive for the ‘Topic – Conflict Resolution’ Category

Mediation matters

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

As a result of my last post on Steps and the process they went through in reforming, I received an email asking me about tips on successful mediation.

ACAS and CIPD have published an excellent guide, “Mediation – an Employer’s Guide”.  If you are considering implementing a mediation process in your organisation, I think it’s invaluable. It is also very helpful if you just want to learn more about the process of mediation. If, however, you don’t read long documents, just don’t have time to read the booklet, or want to hear someone else’s views on mediation, here goes.

Mediations are probably some of the most enjoyable things I do in the work environment . This is partly because I have seen how beneficial they can be to both the individuals involved and their organisations, and partly because they are exciting to facilitate. I considered for several minutes whether I should use the word “exciting” in case it sounded frivolous – but I do find them exciting.

They are exciting because I never know what is going to happen and I always feel I have to be at the top of my game when dealing with them. The participants will react in all sorts of ways – dependent upon what I say and do, and what the other person or persons say and do. I think my overall tip is that a mediator needs to go into such situations with the “I can handle” belief as opposed to the less confident “I need to handle”. If a person is approaching the handling of mediations with the latter attitude, I would suggest that they undertake some co-mediation before undertaking them alone.

Many people advocate meeting with the participants several days before the mediation in order that they know you, understand that it is a voluntary process, understand how the process is likely to unfold and have the opportunity to ask you any questions. I see the sense in that, but there are also times when I would not meet individuals until the day of the mediation. This would particularly be the case where I am working as an internal ediator (i.e. as a fellow employee) and the individuals are working closely together. I need them both (or all) to know that I am independent and that I have not taken sides with either party prior to the mediation. So, if it also meets their needs (and it often does as they have already decided the mediation will not work!) then I explain to them individually on the day what is likely to happen, my role, etc.

Whichever process I follow though, I never discuss the issues that we ae meeting about and at the start of the meeting when they come together I always ask each person to confirm that this is the case. This is really important for me so that I enter the situation with no ‘baggage’ or information that I might otherwise let slip into the conversation, and so that the parties know that I am impartial.

As for the process itself, the key to a successful mediation is encouraging and enabling people to talk in terms of facts as opposed to adjectives. By the time we have got to the mediation stage, they are almost always viewing their relationship or the situation in terms of adjectives. They are often running on negative emotion, which is great fuel for generating a lack of objectivity.

Once we are in a room all together, one person gets the chance to explain the situation from their perspective. Using only facts. I stop the monologue whenever an adjective is used – unless it is the person explaining how something made them feel. And the other person(s) cannot interrupt – hence why I call it a monologue. They can each make notes to remind them of points they want to make, but they can’t interject. This makes them listen – which, after sticking to the facts, is the second most important aspect of a mediation. Using monologues also stops arguments and disagreements – up until getting together for the formal mediation they will often have jumped into the situation, and no listening takes place.

And facts generally get people to start to listen – because facts have been missing for so long, so they hear a different story. If I have mediated successfully, I have helped to change the record.

By the time the other person then gets to give their monologue it is usually a little easier for the mediator. And if you achieve that as the mediator, the rest of it is relatively easy.

At the conclusion, I always encourage them to write down what they have agreed. This is so important. It means that they have clarity on what they have agreed, and have almost ‘a statement’ that they can read or give to other interested parties – which limits the potential for reverting to adjectives!

I remember one that I facilitated where the individuals would not even look at each other at the start – they sat back to back with their arms folded. Gradually, as they listened to facts they became increasingly engaged. The making of a written note for future reference, a look over the shoulder, moving the position of the chairs – all great signs for the mediator! After 4 hours together, they understood what had actually taken place, accepted each other’s position, agreed a ‘statement’ to give to the other members of their team and decided to go out for a meal together that evening.

Their manager called it a “miracle”. I was pleased with the impact on productivity and performance it had for the team, but I wouldn’t have called it a miracle. I just enabled people to deal in facts and listen to each other.

One of my previous posts gives additional assistance and structure for mediations – “Can you afford not to do this?” explains a model called CUDSA which I always use in such circumstances.

If this generates any other questions for you, I’m happy to try and answer them. Alternatively, what are your tips for other mediators?

Paul

 

Leading through change

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Handling change effectively can be really satisfying. We are generally not the instigators of change, almost always the recipients of some change or other and are sometimes required to implement it.  This makes it important – but it isn’t always managed as if it’s important. It needs the human touch.

If we reflect on some of those times when we have been recipients, we may well be able to come up with examples of how the change was managed well. We can almost certainly come up with examples of occasions when it was not dealt with as well as it could have been.

Because of the emotions that experiencing change can generate, it is an area of management where the manager can have a particularly positive or negative impact. And whilst the manager may also be affected by the change process, he or she will do well to invest some time into managing it well – if they want as motivated and effective staff as possible post-change. It is a short-term investment of time that reaps long-term gains.

In my previous blog post, I described four 4 types of people we encounter during change – The Entrenched, The Overwhelmed, The Whirling Dervish and The Learner. And where they sit depends largely on their ability and willingness to deal with change.

Having previously described their probably reactions, I said that in this post I would give you some hints on how to manage the different individuals. This will help you to assist them as effectively as possible – or understand how you need to be managed in order to deal with the change as well as possible.

The Entrenched – You need to attend to The Entrenched person’s emotions or stress. A phased introduction of the changes will help them, as will clearly linking them to their past successes.  Don’t expect too much too soon from them, or you may have another Overwhelmed person. Find safe places and situations for them to test their learning, and use Learners as role models.

The Overwhelmed – The Overwhelmed person needs to be shown understanding in dealing with their stress and fear.  They need lots of support and encouragement for the future, and they require protecting from rapid empowerment or responsibility. Ensure that they can achieve some quick or easy wins. Finally, use effective colleagues to promote their confidence – you cannot do it all yourself!

The Whirling Dervish – Whatever you do, don’t empower The Whirling Dervish or let them loose with a wide remit! You need to limit their influence over others, hold them accountable for anything you ask them to implement and give them plenty of feedback. Ask them to address core issues and solutions, not symptoms and quick fixes. Help them recognise and address the true extent of their abilities.

The Learner – You need to help fill any gaps in The Learner’s personal knowledge. Focus them on processes rather than the task. Give them the freedom to model learning for others, and consider offering them new and demanding roles with high impact opportunities.  Learners can sometimes take on too much and become all things to all people – support them and ensure that this doesn’t happen as you don’t want to lose your Learners.

If you have been able to identify your own ‘preferred’ position, do some of these tips on how you should be managed make sense? Or as a manager, can you see how they would work with your staff?

Remember, attitudes are caught, not taught. If you as a leader or manager are negative about change, your staff are likely to follow the example you set. And effectively managing the human dimensions of change can have a really significant impact on the performance of a team or business.

Paul

The Human Dimensions of Change

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

There is much change taking place at the moment. Here in the UK there are many people, particularly in the public sector, soon to be looking for different jobs, and many other people are having their roles changed due to organisational restructures. Difficult personal times.

And they are often made more difficult than they need to be by how they are handled. I have for some time worked on the basis that there are four main categories that people experiencing change fit into. I have seen these labelled as The Entrenched, The Overwhelmed, The Whirling Dervish and The Learner. I have absolutely no idea who came up with these classifications, but if you know, it would be great to be able to mention them and give them the credit.

So which are you? Or where do those people you manage fit? By understanding more about how change impacts on us, we can help ourselves – and our colleagues – to cope with such situations more effectively. Here’s a little more detail to help you to understand the categories.

The Entrenched – An Entrenched person has the ability to learn and capacity to change, but is generally not particularly willing to engage in this. The change experience can lead to them feeling frustrated or angry, and to be frightened of what the future holds. They are confident of their proven skills and their past performance – and as such, may well work harder to seek to justify their existence and prove that there is no need for change. They can struggle to understand the organisation’s change in attitude towards previously valued behaviours. They also tend to dismiss the reasons for the change.

The Overwhelmed – Like our Entrenched colleagues, our Overwhelmed people are not willing to engage in the change. Where they differ from the Entrenched is that they don’t particularly have (or believe they have) the capacity to change or the ability to learn the required new skills or processes. This potentially makes them feel powerless, fearful and unhappy. In order to deal with these emotions they can avoid issues and block stressful events. They can blame and commiserate – and hope that normality will return. They also tend to avoid risk, focus on the safe and known tasks and look busy.

The Whirling Dervish – Our Whirling Dervishes really rather look forward to the change, and are willing to embrace it. Unfortunately though, they tend not to have the capacity to make the required changes and learn the new skills. This leads to them being ready to get going with the changes and wanting to implement change – any change. They can be over-confident in their own abilities and as such seek positions of influence. They want quick action and visible results. They are surprised by and unsympathetic towards colleagues who demonstrate caution or concern for the future. They can have a particularly negative influence on Overwhelmed colleagues – as they attempt to lead such people down the garden path.

The Learner – Our final category of people has both the willingness to embrace the change and the capacity to learn the new skills. They tend to be a little anxious, but they are optimistic as they can see the positive benefits – they tend to have a balanced approach, being able to see the pros and the cons. They focus on any problems rather than apportion blame. They are not afraid of making mistakes, and can find humour in difficult circumstances and use it to help others.

Have you been able to – even roughly – label yourself?  Perhaps you can identify where some of your colleagues fit?

This human dimension to change is really important – and the more we understand it, the better we can cope with it – or for managers, the better they can assist others.

In my next blog I’ll give some ideas as to how we can help and manage people within each of these categories to deal with change more effectively.

Paul

How do you respond in difficult situations?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

I mentioned the ‘Responses to Dominance’ model in my last post about the Sky Sports sexism furore. I have always found this an interesting and helpful model for enabling us to understand how people may respond differently to ourselves in the same or similar situations.

The model (also sometimes referred to as the ‘Conflict Continuum’) has three named positions on a horizontal line (the continuum). At one end of the line there is the Withdrawal (Avoidance) position, and at the opposite end is the Resistance (Confrontation) position. And in the middle of the line the point labelled Acquiescence (Diffusion).

The model is labelled as a continuum because a person can take any of these positions – but can also change their position on the continuum at any point. People will often adopt different positions in different situations, however, usually a person will have a ‘preferred’ or default position when finding themselves in a position of conflict.

It is possible to develop the Sky Sports scenario further in order to illustrate the model. Let’s say, in our hypothetical situation, that there is a camerawoman who works for Sky Sports who has witnessed the now public sexist incidents (and possibly other similar situations) that have occurred within the Sky Sports studios and elsewhere where Sky Sports have been reporting from. ‘Camerawoman’ is a bit of a mouthful to keep repeating, so let’s call her Jill.

When Jill has witnessed one of these incidents and recognised the sexism, it may well be that she is a little concerned, wondering if whether it the sort of workplace she wants work in. It may be that it takes a few such incidents for her to be concerned. Whenever it occurs, she will probably think about her options. Jill could start looking for another job, or hand in her notice immediately. This latter course of action can sometimes be followed when the situation has a severe impact on the person and possibly brings about a deterioration in their health. Both of these responses would be examples of Withdrawal – as Jill is taking herself away from the situation.

Alternatively, it may well be that she decides that whilst she doesn’t like it, she’s going to tolerate it as she has a lot of friends at the company – and whilst she will tolerate it, she also doesn’t want to rock the boat. So Jill may witness such an incident and one of her male (or female) colleagues might say something like, “You’re okay with this banter, aren’t you – you know we’re not sexist?”. Whilst Jill is uncomfortable with this sort of workplace behaviour, she could replied, “Sexist? Don’t be daft, of course you’re not – it’s a good laugh”. Here Jill would be diffusing the situation, and therefore providing us with a good example of how someone Acquiesces.

Jill’s final possible position on our continuum is that of Resistance. People can resist, or confront, in two ways – through the use of either Negotiation or Power. If Jill chose to give feedback to those involved by explaining what they were doing and how it was impacting on her, she would be confronting the issue through Negotiation. To do this successfully she would be having an Adult (TA) conversation with the other individual(s). It has the potential to be a win-win situation – as the behaviour will cease, Jill will be happier, her colleagues will learn and they will probably be stronger as a team. If you want to build a mature team or organisation, this is the approach that needs to be used – hence why there is such a push for mediation to be used in the workplace.

Jill could also address the matter through the use of Power – either immediately, or perhaps if a Negotiated approach has been unsuccessful. Examples of the use of Power can be taking a person to an Employment Tribunal, or, perhaps specific to this type of workplace, releasing audio or audio visual recordings of the incidents to the wider media, knowing or believing that they would be picked up and broadcast more widely (Perhaps this is what happened in the actual scenario that led to Andy Gray and Richard Keys leaving Sky Sports?). How does this differ from the Negotiated approach? Well, Jill would probably be addressing this from her Parent ego state (TA) – particularly if she went straight for this course of action before trying to address it in any other way – and there is likely to be a win-lose result.

We have to remember – and this is very important – that all positions on the continuum can be appropriate. People need to use the method that is most useful for them at a particular time. If Jill had financial constraints, giving up her job might cause more stress than carrying on in an uncomfortable environment, so Acquiescence would be right for her at that time. And what might be right for the development of the organisation is not necessarily right for the individual.

In my next post, I’ll describe a model that really helps people address conflict successfully – in other words, a model to support the approach of Negotiation.

Paul

Sky Sports caught Offside?

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

What a furore – and all because someone of a different gender was carrying a flag and being an assistant referee at a Premiership football match at the weekend. And, it should be noted, doing it very effectively.

For anyone who lives outside the UK, perhaps a little background would be helpful. It doesn’t happen very often that a woman acts as an assistant referee in England’s top flight football League – but it did last Saturday.  During Sky Sports’ coverage, two presenters – Andy Gray and Richard Keys – were recorded making comments about the capability of the assistant referee to understand the Offside rule based purely on her gender. Further recordings then came to light with Andy Gray and another reporter discussing her physical appearance, and then a historical (December 2010) video recording of Andy Gray apparently asking a female co-presented to help position his microphone near the front of the top of his trousers. There have been various suspensions, and then yesterday Andy Gray had his contract terminated by Sky Sports, “in response to new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour”.

The suspension was announced late yesterday afternoon. I was interested to see how the Sky channels would report it. At 5 o’clock on Sky News it was one of the lead stories together with the UK’s quarterly economic growth (or lack of), Lord Taylor being found guilty of false accounting and the truly tragic death of 4 children in a house fire in Derbyshire. At 5 o’clock on Sky Sports the lead stories were Blackpool playing Manchester United and Arsenal playing Ipswich Town later in the evening. There was a note in the written updates at the bottom of the screen (amongst many others) mentioning Mr Gray’s contract termination. Markedly different prioritisations.

Andy Gray will be missed as a football summariser as he really is one of – if not the – best on TV. But I don’t have any great sympathy for him – other than not supporting the idea of a ‘warning’ and then sacking him for something that had happened a month before the warning, because he had already had the warning. What he said and did was stupid, wrong, unacceptable and sexist.  But I do think he looks like a bit of a scapegoat.

The internet, news programmes and papers are now awash with people talking about whether this indicates that football is (still) sexist, and producing statistics such as to the number of women attending football matches. But I think this misses the point.

The real point is whether Sky Sports is institutionally sexist.  Ok, Andy Gray has been dismissed and two other presenters have been suspended and warned. But what about the camera people, the sound recordists, the editors, the producers? Many of them must have seen and heard these exchanges. What did they do about them? If it is nothing, then surely they are as responsible as the reporters – perhaps moreso if in positions of authority.  Have any of them been disciplined?

None of these incidents took place ‘on air’ so someone has made them public. I presume, therefore, that someone found them unacceptable yet perhaps felt that they could not address the matter internally? A very good indication of institutional sexism.

And then Sky Sports didn’t see Andy Gray’s dismissal as a very important story – less important than two football matches that had been planned for several weeks. Yet Sky News viewed it on a par with a member of the House of Lords being found guilty of a crime and evidence that the UK’s quarterly economic growth was lower than expected. More evidence of institutional sexism?

Managers have a responsibility to address such behaviour when it happens – it’s sometimes referred to as ‘nipping it in the bud’. On the face of it, it appears that managers at Sky Sports may not have been exercising that responsibility effectively.

If this doesn’t happen, people of affected groups can start to feel marginalised (see my post on Allport’s Scale) and not part of the team. And if it is at a place where recording takes place most of the time, it can be relatively easy to make the evidence available in the public domain. And then the sky’s the limit ….

Paul