Archive for Coaching

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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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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Improving Your Influence in an Organization… Step 1: Determine Where You Are

This is a part of a series of how you can improve your influence in your organization. Today’s post focus is on assessing where you currently are.Untitled

Whether you work in the federal government or private sector, your image and reputation is everything. This is true whether you are an employee or a manager, although being a manager creates an even bigger burden because you have to worry about your personal reputation and image, as well as that of the unit or group you manage. In order to improve your influence, image or reputation, you must first take an honest of assessment of where you stand today.

An easy place to start is to see how you were rated in your last performance review. Did you manager tell you what you were excelling in and what you need to work on? Take that advice as a starting place to improve. Many times employees discount the review believing the manager doesn’t understand how hard they work, but frankly, you have to take it seriously unless you already have another job lined up. What if you weren’t given anything specific to work on? It never hurts to ask your manager for specific feedback, and it is almost guaranteed your manager will appreciate your initiative. Here are some ways to approach the conversation:


  • For those who haven’t been giving specific feedback on areas for improvement. I’m always looking for ways to improve. Based on your observations of my (or my unit’s) work, what’s an area I can work on?
  • For those who already know what they need to work on: You’ve told me I need to work on my writing skills. I did some research, and there is a writing course being offered next month that I’d like to attend. What do I need to do to be considered for the class?
  • For the superstar who get’s consistently high ratings. I think it is important that I work on skills that will help position me to take on more responsibility. What do you think is one area that will benefit our work unit and help me to develop my leadership skills?

 Develop a plan to work on the areas identified for improvement. If you think you have no need for improvement, you are likely to stay exactly where you are. In addition to asking your manager for feedback, you can ask friends, mentors, colleagues or work with a coach. The point here is the get an honest assessment of how you are viewed.  

Here are the keys to Step 1:

  • Find out how you are viewed by your manager and colleagues.
  • Select at least one area for improvement or growth.
  • Develop a plan to improve in that area.
  • Consider a career coach.

Just by engaging in Step 1, you will already begin to improve how you are viewed.   Next time, we will talk about Step 2: creating strategic alliances.

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