Archive for Conflict Management

How to Prepare Parties for a Mediation

prepareMany of us are in a role to support mediation for our agencies or organizations. There is empirical data that demonstrates the most successful mediations occur when both parties come to the session prepared. Yet, there are many instances where the parties participating in the mediation don’t have a basic understanding of what to expect or how to leverage mediation. As professionals in this field, we all have an opportunity to improve the quality of mediation sessions by helping participants prepare. Here are some strategies we have found valuable when preparing parties for mediation:

  • Encourage the parties to ask questions before mediation to gain an understanding of what to expect. Of course, they can always ask questions during the mediation, but it can be helpful to be in a better frame of mind if they know what to expect prior to the actual session.
  • Parties should discuss what they see as the root causes of the dispute, not just the specific concerns raised in the complaint or grievance.   For example, even if the complaint centers on discrimination, ask the parties to think whether issues of trust, respect, or work styles are important root causes.
  • Parties should be prepared to discuss these underlying issues and bring them to the awareness of the other person. For example, in a complaint involving harassment the root cause may be how one party feels the other person communicates with them.
  • From both parties’ perspectives, encourage them to think about how resolving the dispute can improve the relationship now, rather than waiting for final adjudication, which can take years.
  • Both parties should keep an open mind and be prepared to listen to each other.
  • The parties should think beyond the mediation session. If some resolution is reached, think about how they will maintain the agreement so they’re not in the same place six months from now. It’s best to find a way to resolve the issue long term so everyone can move forward.
  • Encourage the parties to think outside the box as it relates to resolving the dispute. Let’s say it’s mediation about an employee not getting promoted. Both the employee and the manager may think the only resolution is the actual promotion. In most cases, that may not be a feasible outcome, but there are several other things that could be viewed as potential terms to a settlement. Encourage each of the parties to think about the following in preparation:
    • For the manager: Be prepared to offer specifics on where the employee fell short? If it was at the application review step, maybe offer some coaching from HR on putting together an application. A similar offer could be made for interviewing tips, if the employee did poorly during the interview.
    • For the employee: Be prepared to consider that maybe you weren’t the best candidate, but find out why, and be open to a plan to address any deficiencies. If your goal is to be promoted in the future, use this as an opportunity to get some advice and/or resources to be more competitive in the future.

It is key to get the parties thinking beyond the obvious, but it is important to encourage them to start thinking before the mediation. We have found it made a huge difference in their attitude about the mediation, and ultimately led to more positive results.

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6 Things You Can Do To Prevent EEO Complaints

preventionThere is no magic formula you can follow to prevent an EEO complaint. The best you can do is to take steps to minimize complaints by creating and maintaining a positive work environment. In our last post, we discussed talking managers through their first EEO complaint, but the next question is usually how to avoid complaints. We can all agree with Ben Franklin’s famous axiom, “an ounce a prevention is worth a pound of cure”. To that end, we offer the following strategies…

  1. Treat Individuals Fairly and with Transparency:

Another well-known axiom is that actions speak louder than words. This is especially true for managers. Employees will observe your actions to judge whether they mirror your words. They pay close attention to your interactions not only with them, but also your interactions with their peers. By treating employees under similar circumstances equitably and fairly, managers prevent complaints. Too often managers feel they don’t have to explain their actions and decisions based on the “management’s prerogative” protective shield. While that may be the case, the indiscriminate exercise of that authority, without also exercising appropriate transparency, will eventual sow seeds of discontentment that manifest as complaints. Successful managers find ways to exercise transparency without compromising their managerial authority.

  1. Open Lines of Communication:

Promote open, two‑way communication with your employees. Encourage employees to discuss their problems and concerns before they escalate into a dispute and possibly an EEO complaint. One common example happens when managers become so busy, they fail to take steps to address performance‑related issues when they are minor and only react when the issues become major. Without communication and immediate corrective action, employees may be unaware that they are not performing at the appropriate level. Communication also helps with transparency, if you are communicating with your team, they feel more involved and less likely to think you are hiding things from them or being secretive. No matter how busy you are as a supervisor, communication is time well spent.

  1. Enforce Zero Tolerance:

Clearly demonstrate to employees that illegal discrimination is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. When violations do occur, take immediate action to correct the situation and prevent recurrence.

  1. Support Diversity:

Acknowledge the uniqueness of different perspectives and lead your staff in accepting diversity as a positive, life‑enriching experience. It is also important to appreciate and encourage diversity through personnel actions. Always seek quality and diversity.

  1. Seek Early Resolution and Take Advantage of ADR:

Resolve complaints at the earliest possible moment by bringing parties together to help understand and settle their differences. Keep in mind that ADR is a perfect tool for resolving disputes and avoiding future complaints. While ADR can be offered in response to a complaint, it does not limit a manager from taking advantage of ADR earlier. Employees may approach management requesting assistance regarding a concern. This may be a perfect opportunity to use ADR to resolve the matter‑before it turns into a complaint or grievance.

  1. Hold Subordinates Accountable:

Hold employees accountable for their actions. Employees must understand the expectations of the managers from both a performance and conduct standpoint. Allowing poor performance or ignoring inappropriate conduct will only make your vulnerable as a manager. When managers do not address poor performance or do not address inappropriate or unprofessional behavior, employees will feel that such behavior is tolerated or condoned. Failing to hold employees accountable becomes a feeding ground for EEO complaints, especially complaints of harassment.

What other strategies have you employed, or have advised managers to implement?


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I’ve Been Named in an EEO Complaint? Help!!!

SOSAnyone who has been a supervisor in the federal government for more than a few years has likely been named as a responsible management official (RMO) in an EEO complaint.   Many of you in HR, ADR or EEO programs are probably asked for help or advice from managers when they encounter their first complaint.   In this and future postings, we’d like to discuss some strategies for helping supervisors manage how they react to EEO complaints.

Many managers recoil with the prospect of having their integrity questioned. Those are the managers we want to help. Talk them down from reacting on a personal level. We find it helpful to remind them that the EEO process is driven by a complainant’s belief that he or she has been wronged, whether that belief is true or not. In many instances the employee feels the EEO complaint process is their only course of action, while the manager feels the complaint is a personal attack or considers the complaint baseless or even frivolous. Managers are often perplexed as to why an employee would even consider claiming that they intentionally practiced discrimination. They often have feelings of anger, bewilderment, and betrayal when one of their employees alleges that they have discriminated against them. Just as the complainant may have strong feelings that they have been discriminated against, managers are also likely to believe fervently that they have done no wrong. This is when it is important to redirect the manager’s viewpoints regarding the employee’s perspective and the EEO complaint process.

Generally the manager is focused more on the employee filing a complaint against them and not about the issue the employee is complaining about. Here is where you need to guide the manager to separating the issue from the employee. Managers do not realize that their words or actions may be seen as manifestations of illegal discrimination. Often it is not addressing an employee’s concern or perception that leads to a discrimination complaint in the first place. Focus the manager on sharing perspectives with the employee, discussing ways for moving forward and exploring possible solutions. Both the EEO complaint process and ADR, not only lend themselves to this type of interaction between management and complaining employee, but actually require it.

While we remain mindful that employment discrimination still exists, those of us in this field know that the root cause of many EEO complaints is poor communication.   Even when no one has intentionally set out to discriminate against another, illegal discrimination can be interpreted from seemingly innocent acts. Because each employee and manager brings a unique set of values to the workplace, misunderstandings abound. The key is in how we handle them. If the misunderstanding manifests in the EEO complaint process, we have to help managers understand that, first and foremost, the employee has the right to avail himself or herself of the EEO complaint process and that the manager can use the complaint as an opportunity to open or improve communication with the employee. This is a far more productive reaction to EEO complaints than becoming defensive. Ultimately, our challenge as EEO, HR, ADR and diversity professionals is to coach managers through their initial reactions with an eye on helping to resolve the dispute.

Please share any strategies you have used to assist managers through claims of discrimination.

So what if a manager asks what he or she can you do to prevent or minimize the likelihood of a complaint being filed against them? We’ll take that on in our next post!

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Join our New LinkedIn Group!

linkedinWe are delighted to announce that we have formed a group on LinkedIn called EEO and Diversity Professionals. We created this group as a virtual gathering place for EEO, diversity, conflict management (i.e., ADR) and human resources professionals to exchange perspectives and learn about the latest developments in our fields.  The group is founded on the notion that EEO, diversity, HR and ADR professionals share common interests and that their success is often predicated on their ability to collaboratively address complex human resources issues by creatively integrating their EEO, diversity, HR and ADR expertise.

We recognize there are a number of superb LinkedIn groups covering these important topics albeit in a highly specialized format. While we believe these groups are extremely valuable, and we plan to continue our active participation in these other groups, we want to fill what we believe is a gap by creating a place where subject-matter-experts from EEO, diversity, ADR and HR gather to get the latest news from our fields and participate in in-depth discussions. Our conversations will be broad and inclusive to be of interest to professionals in the private and public sectors; those who are employed by firms or agencies as well as those who are self-employed. We’ll tackle problems, discuss cases, and share employment and contract opportunities. We will ensure there is plenty of interactivity by publishing routinely informative and thought-provoking blogs. We’ll also invite experts from these fields to post blogs, comment on the latest rulings or directives from EEOC, MSPB, OPM, courts, and other regulatory bodies, and share best practices.   We hope this gathering place will generate tremendous synergy, advance unique ideas, and afford comprehensive solutions to problems we encounter in our respective fields by applying our combined knowledge, experience and expertise.

So, if you enjoy exchanging ideas, engaging in robust discussions and sharing perspectives on human resources topics involving EEO complaint processing, developing and executing successful diversity and inclusion strategies, and managing conflict in the workplace, this is the group for you.  If you are interested in joining, click here!  

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Improving Your Influence, Part 5: Manage Conflict Effectively (Conclusion)

interestsThis is a continuation of our last post, Manage Conflict Effectively and the conclusion in our series Improving Your Influence. We’ll use the example we started in the last post (link here) to illustrate the next strategy: focusing on interests, rather than positions.

To summarize our example, Jim tells you he’s unhappy that Mike, his supervisor, routinely returns his work for revisions. He claims Mike is unreasonable. You help reframe the problem so that it focuses less on Mike, but more on what Jim can do to minimize the need for revisions by discussing it with Mike. Jim is skeptical, but open to talking to Mike. Reading the following example, think of positions as the “what” and the interests as the “why”.

Jim: Mike, I’ve come to tell you that I’m frustrated with the number of edits you’re making to my write-ups. Your edits seem trivial and unnecessary. I would prefer that you only send me edits that are related to grammar.

Mike: The edits are necessary and my prerogative as the supervisor of the unit. The edits will continue until the write-ups reflect my style.

Clearly the conversion didn’t go anywhere.   What are the positions (the “what) expressed by Jim and Mike? Jim wants less edits. Mike will continue to make edits. What are their interests (the “why”)? In this case, we know Jim’s interest is not having to do more work on the write-ups after he submits them to Mike. We aren’t sure of Mike’s interests, because Jim hasn’t probed to find out.

Jim reports back to you on the conversation, and you decide he needs a little bit of coaching on how to focus on the interests, not positions. You suggest that he approach Mike again, but his time focus on the need for (the “why) the edits/revisions rather than the fact Mike sends the work back. Here is what that conversation may look like:

Jim: Mike, I’d like to talk a little more about the revisions. I’m pretty frustrated with the number of revisions, and I was hoping we could discuss why you are making so many. I’ve brought my last submission with your notes. Maybe you can help me understand them a little better so I can give you what you want the first time.

Mike: That’s a great idea. My overall philosophy is to state things succinctly in the most direct way possible.   Your writing tends to be well-crafted, but I’m looking for it to be more concise. These too sentences are examples of what I’m talking about… discussion ensues.

Jim: I think I get why I’ve been missing the mark. I think you’ll be happy with my next write-up.

Mike: Thanks Jim. I don’t like having to send the work back. It delays the whole process, so I’m hopeful I’ll have no edits on your next submission.

This example demonstrates how moving beyond the position (edits) to the interest (a write-up that is more concise) moved the entire conversation forward. Generally, in any conflict there will be both similar and conflicting interests. In this case, both Mike and Jim didn’t like having to ask for/do edits. That is a good place to start. Once Jim understood why Mike was sending back the work, he was able to see that Mike was looking for a specific style, and Jim can then focus on that with his next assignment.

By employing these 2 strategies (separating people from the problem and focusing on interests), you will help your co-workers, peers, or managers more effectively manage conflict. Ultimately, your advice will do a great deal to improving your influence in the organization.

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Improving Your Influence, Part 4: Manage Conflict Effectively

my wayIf you want to improve your influence in an organization, you need to avoid getting caught up with conflict and drama in the office. Being mired in conflict draws your focus away from your responsibilities, and more importantly, your goal to become more influential. While you may do a good job of avoiding conflict, your co-workers may try to pull you into theirs. In that case, you can actually add value (see previous post link here) by helping others navigate through the conflict.

We’ve taken these ideas from the book Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Uri. The focus of the book is on negotiating, but the framework outline in the book is applicable to navigating conflict. We’ll discuss how to leverage two of the strategies for conflict management: separate the people from the problem and focusing on interests, not positions. Today’s post will cover the first strategy: separating people from the problem.

Most conflict is driven by differences in personalities, differing beliefs, backgrounds, and all the other characteristic that make us unique. Conflict arises just about everywhere—at home, work, or even at the mall. Those who can navigate it effectively will have a distinct advantage. One of the ways you can manage the conflict is by separating the people from the problem. Most people have a tendency to state issues or problems in a way that can sound like a personal attack on someone else. For example, how many times have you heard a co-worker complain about their supervisor because the supervisor sent back a work product for more revisions? Rather than focusing on what needs to be improved, the co-worker blames the supervisor for being critical and takes little blame himself or herself. Next time you are confronted with this type dialogue, try reframing the problem in a way that takes the focus off the people (in this case the supervisor). Here is an example of what that may look like:

Jim: I’m sick of Mike constantly making changes to my work. My write-ups are always well written, but he insists on making edits to show me who’s in charge.

You: It sounds like you are frustrated when you get work back for revisions. Have you thought about talking to Mike about it?

Jim. Why bother? He’s totally unreasonable and I won’t get anywhere doing that.

You: If you have a conversation with him about his writing or style preferences, you may be able to avoid some of the frustration you feel when you get the write-ups back with edits.

Jim: I’ll give it try, just to show you how unreasonable Mike will be.

In this example, Jim is still a bit stuck, but by you framing the problem or issue away from Mike, you’re able to discuss a possible solution. If you agreed with Jim that Mike was unreasonable, you are really just allowing the conflict to spiral and feeding Jim’s anger. Here are a few other things to keep in mind when you are employing the strategy to separate the people from the problem:

  • Allow the person (people) to vent. Part of managing conflict is to let the person get their thoughts and feelings out. Let them do that before you redirect or reframe the problem.
  • Acknowledge the person’s perceptions. In our example, you acknowledged that Jim was frustrated when his work comes back with edits. If you don’t acknowledge the person’s perspective, the person will not likely listen to your advice.
  • Keep reframing the problem away from the object of the person’s conflict or anger. This will help you to focus on the solution rather than continuing to talk about the other person.
  • Don’t blame the other person for the Jim is blaming Mike returning his work without any acknowledgment that, as the supervisor, Mike is entitled to send back the work for revisions.

In the next post, we will use our example to illustrate the 2nd strategy: to focus on interests, rather than positions.

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