Two employees – maybe one of them is a supervisor — are involved in a nasty spat that’s dragging everyone down. Now it’s time for someone to step in – and that someone is you.
Take your cue from veteran mediator Jeffrey Krivis and apply these tested techniques:
1: Understand the basic structure of a negotiation. Negotiation usually takes place in stages. Sometimes, the stages don’t exactly fall in the same order, but the basic parts are usually there:
- Convening. Determine whether it’s a good idea to talk to all of the parties during a joint meeting or whether it is best to talk to the parties separately before bringing them together.
- Opening. Generally, with all parties present, lay out each side’s statement of the case.
- Communication. Allow the parties to express whatever legal or personal issues might affect the negotiation.
- Negotiation. The heart and soul of the mediation. You create an atmosphere in which you and the parties can be flexible and innovative.
- Closure. The final stage. Everyone is aware of all the relevant information and you work to create an outcome both sides can live with.
2: Stagger the presentations to shift the balance of power and keep the parties off balance. Traditional mediation theory generally holds that each side should have an opportunity to make a full statement. But when it’s clear that this approach will result only in each side’s shooting bullets at each other, it makes sense to stagger the presentations so that the focus shifts.
3: Check the reliability of your information. Double-check that the information you’ve received about a conflict is true. A great way to do this is to break perceptions into components: reports, inferences, and judgments.
- Reports: The basic element of exchanging information is to report what we have seen, heard, or felt.
- Inferences: A statement of the unknown based on the known.
- Judgments: Conclusions that evaluate previously observed facts and either approve or disapprove of something.
4: Appeal to the parties on an emotional level to help them understand each other’s position. When you appeal to emotions, you’re seeking to get the parties to acknowledge some sense of responsibility for their actions. By the time your employees bring their problems to you, they will probably be fairly well entrenched in their beliefs about who’s right and who’s wrong. An emotional appeal forces each party to consider how the other might feel and what that person might have gone through as a result of the conduct alleged. Some people, in fact, operate through “emotional” intelligence rather than through reasoned logic. For them, connecting emotionally with the situation helps them better understand the other party. At this point, too, you might hit upon some outside factor that’s influencing behavior – divorce, death of a loved one, etc.
5. Think creatively about ways people can cooperate rather than clash. In every negotiation, there is a tension between the desire to compete and the desire to cooperate. Be on the lookout for signals that support a cooperative environment or some point of agreement. That’s where the most creative solutions are born. These kinds of “joint gains” are often born of conflict.
6. Deliver bad news with pacing and patience. Most of us will actively resist accepting new or difficult information that is unceremoniously dropped on us, and parties in a conflict are no different. When you have bad news to deliver, parcel it out slowly to give them time to absorb it. The “slow drip” is one way to pace yourself, softening up the parties and ensuring they are receptive before you give them the bad news. This is all about timing, too: Try to avoid delivering the bad news when there are other outside tensions that might have the parties on edge already.
7. Use the “one-step” approach – prepare a proposed agreement based on the ideas of all the parties. This approach allows for circulation of a draft agreement or memorandum that is subject to comments and criticism by both sides in a safe way. Neither side is being forced to accept the agreement, but you’ve prepared it with the knowledge that the parties will most likely accept it. You then present it in such a way that the parties are asked to accept or reject the proposed agreement as outlined in the draft.
8. Sweeten the agreement with an apology, an acknowledgement of misunderstanding or some other symbolic gesture. Always tap into your employee’s primary reason for presenting his conflict to you and try to couple any agreement with a “soft” statement, such as an apology or a gesture of appreciation. It will help achieve a more durable agreement. Saying something like, “Your years of loyal and competent service …” will go a long way toward easing into an agreement.
9. Trust your intuition and see where it takes you. Intuition can be a powerful mediation tool when combined with your education and experience and intuition. If, for instance, you trust your intuition that one party reached a conclusion based on inadequate or inaccurate information, you can follow that intuition and seek to verify the facts to turn around a perception.
10. Realize that every conflict can’t be solved. You’ve tried everything, and nothing’s worked. Now it’s time to realize that not every negotiation is going to have a win-win outcome. Not everyone can live together in harmony. There are times you just have to accept that both parties are going to leave the table equally unhappy. Isolate the participants if possible and just move on.