Workplace Conflict: When it’s time for a mediator

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An organization, no matter what size, can find itself facing a conflict so entrenched, so ugly, that a key person is paralyzing the productivity of an entire group, a department is chronically unable to come up with a new idea, or leadership is in such disarray that partners aren’t speaking to each other and some are ready to walk.

Negative conflicts like these can literally bring a company to its knees, particular for a startup, which by its nature is already on fragile footing and taking risks.  Mediation is the tool that can help people come to the table, get clear on the issues, sort out their conflicts, and put the company back on track.

What is mediation anyway?

Mediation is a process by which a trained conflict advisor facilitates communication and negotiation and promotes voluntary decision-making by the parties to the dispute. Mediation serves various purposes, including providing the opportunity for parties to define and clarify issues, understand different perspectives, identify interests, explore and assess possible solutions, and reach mutually satisfactory agreements.

The beauty and benefit of bringing in a mediator is that an independent third-party facilitator brings fresh (trained) eyes to the situation, so often has more success in reaching resolution than the internal manager or team leader does. According to the American Arbitration Association, over 85% of all mediations result in a settlement.

How does the process work?

At Resologics, our process begins by holding interviews with all the key players to gather their knowledge and perspectives on the situation. We also test for trust every step of the way in these initial interviews, because “loss of trust” is a key indicator of how hard it will be to recover the relationships and resolve the conflict in a way that is productive for everyone. Is there still trust within the team and if so, how can they leverage it to help themselves get better? Who has it, who lost it, who still wants it, and who is beyond wanting it? Can this team – this company – be saved?  

Elephants squeezed into the room

A mediator can come into a team conflict situation in which there are so many elephants in the room it is hard to move! They may include past relationships, bad business decisions, blame, different working styles, personality types, conflict styles, strategic needs – you get the idea! Our relationship with a team includes shooting some elephants and riding some others.

Questions are asked, emotions are teased out. There can be painful moments, as when a key founding member quits, taking his equity, knowledge and dedication with him. There can be screaming; mediation textbooks call this kind of interaction “venting” – I call it a darn shame that it’s gone this far. But there are times when deeply-festering emotions need to surface if a team has any chance of surviving.

Breakthroughs often come from surprising places – one of the great satisfactions of this work. The “venting” wakes up a person who happens to hold the keys to change. The oppressive energy in the room shifts, and a glimmer of hope emerges. People begin to see the reality of their situations and the real conversation they need to have in order to alter that reality. We help them build a new story they can all hitch their wagons to.  The first steps to a new trust are taken.

The brass ring? Embracing constructive conflict!

Groups who call us in when in crisis mode have taken years to get to the stage they find themselves in. After mediation, course corrections will take time. We often continue our work with teams to help them nurture that trust in each other, make hard and necessary choices, and build momentum toward their new story. And they’ll not only get better at seeing the elephants, they’ll get better at dealing with them before they ever make it into the room.

How is your organization dealing with conflict? Do you know the warning signs of destructive conflict which, unaddressed, could lead to a dispute situation that requires outside intervention?  If you’d like to talk more about embracing constructive conflict, please feel free to schedule a conversation with us here.

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Mark Batson Baril

Mark is a conflict advisor and ombudsman for organizational teams. If you would like to contact Mark please e-mail him at mark@resologics.com

Resologics provides conflict advising services to organizations to help them avoid disputes, optimize team dynamics for better outcomes, and reduce costs. The resologics team can be reached at 800.465.4141 | team@resologics.com | www.resologics.com