Contrary to conventional wisdom, conflict can be a source of innovation and great decision making, but only if approached constructively.
In addition to the tips we provided in our last article, here are some other mediation practices you can experiment with as you continue to “try on your own Mediator Hat.”
Focus on Values
Professional mediators pay a lot of attention to values, which are well-intentioned principles that drive our behavior. On a team, for instance, someone may prioritize getting work done quickly, while a colleague may prioritize thoroughness. Both values are legitimate and important, but likely result in opposing behaviors.
Rather than concentrate on those opposing behaviors, mediators help clients understand how their values guide their actions. This approach frames the dialogue in an affirmative way and creates a platform for mutual understanding. Even if you still disagree with someone’s behavior, acknowledging his or her values opens the door to a more productive conversation.
This is not always an easy task, however, especially when our own values feel threatened. Practice this thought experiment: Reflect on a hot disagreement you’ve had recently. Identify which of your values were most threatened, as well as which values of the other person were most threatened.
Use Reflective Listening
Many people know about Active Listening, in which you listen to someone empathetically. In mediation, we take it a step further and call it Reflective Listening.
The distinction is that in Reflective Listening we mirror our clients’ exact feelings and values back to them, so that they feel heard. If you want to wear the Mediator Hat during your next conflict, try the following steps of Reflective Listening:
- Allow the other person to speak without interrupting (this is hard enough for some people!)
- Echo and summarize what you heard, but not only the facts; play back to the person the emotions and values they expressed
- Check with the other person to see whether you understood correctly
- Ask open-ended questions for clarification
Here’s an example of how you can incorporate reflective listening into your daily life:
You: Is something wrong?
Your coworker: Of course something is wrong! You didn’t tell me about the happy hour that you and all of our coworkers went to. Honestly that was so messed up of you. I thought we were friends.
You: I hear what you’re saying. It sounds like you feel angry, hurt and ignored, and that friendship and inclusion are very important to you. Did I get that right?
This response may sound a bit unnatural; a simple apology could work fine in some scenarios. However, reflecting a person’s feelings and values makes them feel understood and allows the conversation to move forward.
“Right vs. Wrong” is… well, Wrong
Conflict can make us feel that there should be a “winner” and “loser,” especially for those of us with competitive personalities. In the workplace, wanting to “win” a conflict is counterproductive. Even if you and a colleague disagree, it is important to remember that you are not adversaries when the ultimate goal is the organization’s success.
As a mediator, I have observed that people frequently come to their first mediation session with an “I’m right, she’s wrong” attitude. This immediately closes the door to curiosity and creativity, and instead fosters a defensive and hostile atmosphere.
Rather than try to prove you are right, it is more effective to go into the situation as a problem solver. This does not mean avoiding the emotional factors. In fact, venting is the first step of the mediation process and is crucial for healing. Yet once you’ve exhausted the emotive bit, it is time to brainstorm solutions that work for everyone and the organization, not just ones that make you the “winner.”
With this and our previous blog post, you now have a beginners’ guide to try on your own mediator hat. We will continue to post unique concepts and tips to help you build healthy relationships and get better results.
In the meantime, let us know if you have any sticky situations we can help you with, or topics you’d like to see on the MM blog. And please comment below with any insights you’ve gained from trying on your own mediator hat!