Tim White was a high-ranking gang member from the South Side of Chicago. He sold drugs, spent years in and out of jail, and lived a violent life. In prison, he “found” religion and has since become a Baptist minister. One day, he was talking on the corner with the leaders of two rival gangs, trying to convince them to stop a gang war from erupting. On the street, other gang members came over, guns came out, and finally White convinced everyone to leave before the cops showed up.
What’s the purpose of conflict coaching? To resolve the conflict! But to do that, you need to be thrown-off balance. The status quo isn’t working for you; business as usual simply perpetuates the cycle of conflict you’re experiencing. You need to break out of that, and this is what a conflict coach can help you do. It is, and has to be, uncomfortable. But just how uncomfortable? Some coaches seem to model their practices on a Hollywood version of a drill sergeant, while others offer a more moderate approach. Which is the more effective style?
“Hey, Manager. I’m having a conflict with John and Sue. Can’t work it out. Let’s get a conflict coach in here.”
If you can say this openly and directly to your manager/supervisor, you’re lucky! Many people are reluctant to admit they cannot resolve a dispute that a situation has escalated past a manageable point or even that they have a conflict at all. You may have come to the conclusion that a conflict coach will help – but how do you ensure your manager comes to the same conclusion?
When you are asking for a conflict coach, you have to be able to phrase it in the right terms to the decision-maker(s). You have to make it sound like it’s for their benefit, which is certainly not a stretch in this case. What’s in it for them?
In a word, money. Conflict impacts the bottom line by:
John Curtis, a Kingston, Ontario-based Mediator, teaches a class on the challenges posed when people make decisions based on their “Fast Thinking Brain”.
Expecting to go into mediation without coming to some sort of impasse is like going hiking and being surprised the path up the mountain is not paved. If two parties could agree on a solution, they wouldn’t need mediation; it is reasonable to expect that they encounter obstacles, hit roadblocks, and occasionally feel stuck. Temporary stalemates need not derail the entire process or make it unnecessarily difficult or painful. When hiking, you take water, walking sticks, packs, energy snacks, and maybe a Sherpa to carry you the last ¼ mile. When mediating, you depend on the mediator’s tools of the trade.
You have an important meeting in 30 minutes; it takes 20 to drive to work, five to run to your office, and a minute or two to compose yourself so you don’t look like you just did a five-minute run.
If you want to see how singing is done, you watch Aretha circa 1960. If you want to see how soccer should be played, you watch Pele. If you want to see a master director, watch Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. If you want to see mediation at its best, watch “Saving the Last Dance.” Gary Friedman demonstrates how effective mediation can be. I have been using this video as a teaching tool for years because it captures the essence of what mediation is: a collaborative process that can deliver mutually satisfying results.
Whether you are trying to resolve a workplace conflict, get a raise, purchase a home, or choose a vacation destination with your spouse, the key to a successful negotiation is understanding your interests and those of the other party. Interests are what underlie what the parties say they want. If you don’t know that, you don’t know what the currency of the negotiation really is. Like a traveler with foreign money, you don’t know the real value of what you have and/or what the other person really needs.
Chocolate chip cookies – good. Oreos – good. Chocolate chip cookies stuffed with Oreos – very good? Depends. Sometimes, combining two effective- or delicious – things is incredibly powerful. Or it’s a mess. Mediation and arbitration are two separate and effective methods for resolving disputes. Today, many businesses are taking advantage of a streamlined process that combines the two. It starts out as a Mediation and if things can not be resolved the Mediator switches hats and become an Arbitrator. What are the pros and cons of pursuing this option? Is med-arb a palatable combination for you?
Have you ever watched an MMA fight? You’ll see fighters who are loath to give up even when their bones are at the breaking point. Then there are others who “tap out” if a hold starts to feel uncomfortable, if they feel tired, if they don’t want to deal with the strikes that may be coming. This is a good way to look at caucusing; sometimes, you just have to say, “Ok, enough. I don’t’ have anything else.” Other times, you have to fight the good fight and give it your all. Often, mediators turn to caucusing when they feel uncomfortable, when they feel tired, and when they don’t want to deal with the emotion and tension that is coming.