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It would, of course, have been very easy at this stage for Pat to get locked into the urge to stand by her fellow managers, to close ranks. Thankfully she resisted. Equally, she didn’t want to alienate her manager colleagues either after being ‘at the helm’ for such a short time. Conscious that she wasn’t in a position to speak accurately on behalf of other managers, she got agreement for a meeting with managers and staff attending.
Attending to the other view Rather than act as messenger of bad news, Pat sat down with her managers beforehand to check out the their view of how things were going and share her perception. She described observations of some very good areas of practice along with other things she wasn’t so happy about.
She displayed a chart showing the staff turnover figures in relation to the rest of the company – purely objective facts – and told the managers that she thought turnover could be reduced if the whole department faced the problem together. There was some reticence but all acknowledged that to just carry on as if everything was okay, doing nothing about it, was not an option. They agreed to the meeting and also agreed to begin by hearing what staff had to say…. after all it was them that were leaving!
Wanting to avoid a slanging match Pat spent considerable time in the days before the meeting encouraging all those involved to speak openly and honestly and, to listen carefully without getting defensive. She
highlighted the damage that could be done by making accusations and assumptions about other people’s intentions. The other key ingredient for this to work was to check that what they heard someone say was what the person actually meant.
Pat opened the meeting by putting things into context. She mentioned recent achievements, the hard graft by staff, the frustrations felt by managers, that some ‘issues’ had been raised by the consultative council, and the apparent desire by all to improve things. She gained immediate agreement. This was all real and true, as experienced by everyone in the room – a solid starting point. She went on to outline the concerns raised by the staff reps, checked with them that it was accurate, then bit by bit began to withdraw, letting others do the talking. Various staff members described how they felt.
Initially, it felt like a barrage and the managers’ responses varied from
silence to the inevitable outbursts of denial and defensiveness:
“That’s all very well but that’s only because…..”.
Look, you knew what the job was like when you started…”.
Before Pat had time to jump in, one of the management team saw where this was going and suggested to his colleagues that they all listen carefully. This, after all, was what people were experiencing and no amount of arguing would change it for them. He pointed back to the staff leaving figures still on the wall.
Flushing out unmet needs Pat decided to probe a bit deeper to check out staff needs, “Why are these things so important to you?” The answers she got served to lift the lid off the box, homogeneously labelled ‘staff ’, but which actually contained a whole range of very different, individual, emotional human beings. What apparently amounted to a generalized desire to be valued, in fact, unfolded into a whole variety of unmet needs.
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACESue, for example, said she needed to know her team felt good and were ‘looked after’ – contented staff are productive staff. She also felt torn.
On the one hand she wanted to be seen as a solid company person, a good shift leader on the other, she empathised with the frustrations of her staff and found it hard to rationalize the management line she was expected to take.
Dave described something different. He quite accepted that his ideas might be considered and turned down if they were not possible but to be dismissed out of hand as if he was some irritating schoolboy ‘boffin’ beggared belief.
For James, it was important to feel competent at whatever he did. He didn’t mind being trained and coached, but to be set up to fail was almost intolerable.
Another person added that for her it was simply about needing to be treated like a sensible adult with a genuine interest in her work and with something to offer. She also thought a bit more ‘give and take’ would go a long way to let her know that someone had noticed how much extra time she’d put in.
An off-the-shelf quick fix wasn’t about to meet these diverse needs.
Martin, one of the managers, made the point that deadlines were tight and things often had to happen quickly, so there wasn’t always time to discuss how things were done, especially when staffing was short. The staff response was direct but measured, “If folk felt better about their ‘lot’ at work, short staffing wouldn’t be such a problem and if we were treated better we’d be more likely to want to and, be able to help.” “So what do you suggest we do?” Pat visibly smiled when she heard her most junior manager ask this gem.
Inviting solutions In a flash came the first suggestion. To make sure time was spent when a person first joined the company, training and helping them to do the job properly, giving them maximum chance to succeed, and then to keep reminding them how well they’re doing. Pat wanted to capitalise on this so asked managers if there was any reason why that wasn’t possible.
“Apart from us being bogged down in paperwork and rushed off our feet you mean?” A predictable retort perhaps, but nevertheless a valid one for managers. “Tell you what,” Martin said to Pat, “You look hard at a more efficient method for doing managers monthly reports and we’ll build in regular time for coaching and short supervision meetings”.
A price worth paying, thought Pat, if it met staff needs. She found not only agreement but, for such a relatively small achievement, a disproportionate air of appreciation, almost enjoyment, that at last someone was listening and prepared to do something.
Other issues were raised, for example, what could be gained by involving staff in decisions about things that affected them and the effect the way managers spoke to people had on them – a revelation in itself to most managers. Pat was gratified by the way in which this potential keg of dynamite was not only generating solutions but also becoming a relatively non-threatening and even comfortable process.
Naturally, not all problems were solved but ‘trenches’ were being filled in, barbed wire removed, and this was a great start for what was bound to become a continuing process.
Review Comments In looking at the case study, it will become obvious that conflict, spoken or unspoken, existed because needs were not being met.
This was not because of ill will or deliberate sabotage on the part of mangers or staff, but for very human reasons, lack of time and lack of understanding of needs.
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACEWe all tend to live in our own model of the world, managing our behaviours from our own values and beliefs. In this naïve state, we also tend to believe that our model of the world is the ‘right one’, and we make our value judgements from that position.
When we begin to use the simple processes outlined in this book, we begin also to discover the needs of others, what is driving them, and what is important to them from their value ‘planet’. We discover that men are not just from Mars and women from Venus, but that some men live on Venus, some women on Mars and many of us live on neighbouring planets or we have houses on each of the planets. Our planet is determined by our core values, which govern our behaviours, our language and our source of happiness.
In accepting people as being different, in understanding their different needs, in expressing our own and being prepared to negotiate so both of us get what is important to us, we discover the magic of win-win.
Appendix 8 Successful Mediation There is a growing recognition of the role of mediation in resolving disputes in the workplace. Mediation can prevent differences of opinion escalating to the point where it reaches an employment tribunal or court.
The skills and mindset offered in this book can help the people in disagreement to work out a mutually acceptable solution with the help of a mediator.
While there are many ways to mediate successfully, here are some pointers for a successful mediation.
Pre-mediation There may be a need to talk to each party separately to convince them of the value of mediation and explain the process and the role of the mediator. It will be important to the success of the mediation that both parties elect freely for mediation once they understand the process.
Role of mediator The mediator is not there to provide a solution to the problem. The disputants are the problem owners and must also own the solution to their differences. The mediator will help them hear each other accurately and provide a positive focus.
Ground rules Invite the disputants to decide on some rules for the session so it is ‘safe’ for them to be open, honest and constructive.
These rules might cover length of session, time out, language, no blame,
CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACEaccusation, demand and no judgement etc. Chapters 5 & 6 provide useful information, which can be used to create mediation guidelines.
The mediator may wish to include the following two ‘rules’
1) Talk future rather than the past. Talk how you need to be treated rather than how you have been treated. This keeps the focus positive and avoids growing the differences, which can happen when people bring up the past and access their negative feelings about those moments.
2) Each party must paraphrase what the other has said, to their satisfaction before responding to what they have said. This not only ensures accuracy of hearing but reduces negative feelings. It is not uncommon in the early stages of a mediation for parties to need to paraphrase three times before the other is able to say ‘Yes that is what I meant’.
Positions Each party prepares a brief summary of their concerns, feelings, needs and the solution that would work for them. This is best if kept brief.
Meeting Parties meet with the mediator who explains the mediator’s role, and invites A to talk about his position, without any interruptions from B. B now paraphrases to A’s satisfaction before responding.
The mediator keeps the focus positive and ensures the parties really understand each other’s issues, needs, feelings, concerns and viewpoints i.e. that each party is attempting to understand the other’s situation and meet their needs.
The review questions from the end of Chapter 6 will help the mediator to achieve this.
Agreement Check that the agreement is acceptable to both parties. Put this in writing and invite both to sign it. Agree a review date.
If the parties are unable to reach agreement, they are free to pursue other procedures to resolve the issue. The approach outlined here can enable people to resolve their own disputes that could otherwise end up before employment tribunals, thus avoiding legal fees, compensation payments, bad publicity and stress for the individuals.
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