Tag Archives: conflict

What Is the Future of HR—Business Partnership or Employee Engagement?


HR signI wrote last September about the relevance of HR in changing times. Recently, I’ve seen several articles on TLNT.com that caused me to again reflect on the future of HR.

Let’s start with a story from DisruptHR entitled “It’s Not Complicated. HR Is About the People,” dated June 20, 2018. That story presents a video by Andrea Butcher which argues that HR professionals should not necessarily become business partners, if doing so takes them away from focusing on the people. Focusing on the people drives business results, because people are what drive business results.

Then I read another DisruptHR story called “HR’s Job Should Be to Encourage Conflict,” dated June 13, 2018. In that piece, Amanda Ono says that the best employees want to learn and grow . . . and they will only do their best work if they disrupt the status quo. So HR should help them by encouraging conflict in the workplace that will change things. She proposes that HR

“Train people on what healthy conflict means. Train people on how to engage in healthy dialogue.”

This sounds like another way of emphasizing people in the organization, albeit emphasizing top talent that can influence change and improve results.

In another TLNT article, “You Can’t Build a Talent-Driven Organization Without HR,” May 3, 2018, Michelle M. Smith writes that HR is under increasing scrutiny for ineffective talent strategies and lack of a strong business perspective. The thrust of her article is that it is the responsibility of corporate leadership—not just of HR—to be focused on finding and developing top talent, but HR must support them. This, of course, is the gist of HR being a business partner.

“The CHRO [Chief Human Resources Officer] of a talent-driven organization must be a great business person, not just a great people person.”

So which is it? Should future HR leaders focus on the business or the people?

The truth is, you can’t do one without the other.

My heart is in employee relations and in developing a great place to work. But if I ignore the business needs of the organization, it will not be a great place to work. If I only focus on employee engagement, without engaging them in what the business requires, I will not be serving anyone well.

And so says Susan Gallagher, in “Fast Growth Means You Need to Pay Extra Attention to Culture,” June 19, 2018.  She writes:

“Culture is the most critical part of your talent strategy when guiding your employees through the stages of rapid company growth. Keeping your people connected to your company’s core values is essential before, after, and – importantly – during the growth period, which itself challenges your company’s beliefs and behavior.”

Although her focus is on growth, the importance of culture and employee engagement is true wherever a company is in the business cycle. Moreover, Ms. Gallagher says:

“Culture cannot be dictated from the top; it must be integrated into all levels of your management team and down through the rank and file.”

The title of this post—business partnership or employee engagement—doesn’t capture the complexity of the workplace. The right answer is . . . HR must focus on BOTH. It is HR’s role to help the organization’s leaders articulate the connection between employee engagement and business results.

As Susan Gallagher says:

“Put yourself in the shoes of different groups of employees and how they will be affected. Get granular and look at different constituencies of your workforce. . . . you want your people to be as invested in the change as you are and happy about making it happen.”

Now that sounds like a focus on employee engagement AND business partnership.

Which focus do you emphasize? Business partnership or employee engagement?

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Thomas-Kilmann Model (Reprised): When Compromise and Collaboration Are Difficult


How Do You Deal with Conflict? Use of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory in Mediation

I’ve posted a couple of times before about the Thomas-Kilmann model depicting five modes of handling conflict (see here and here). All of us gravitate to one or two of the  five conflict management styles.

As mediators, many of us are trained to use a compromising conflict resolution style—the style in the middle of the matrix, with moderate levels of assertiveness and cooperation. Many mediators also aspire to use a collaborative style—high in both assertiveness and cooperation.

As I reflected on the various styles of managing conflict recently, it occurred to me that there are two factors which often make using either compromise or collaboration very difficult during a dispute. These two factors are (1) lack of trust and (2) demonization of the other party.

1. Lack of Trust Means the Parties Feel They Are Likely To Be Abused

In order either to compromise with another party in which each side gives up something, or to find a win-win solution (the essence of collaboration), you have to see some parity between what you are giving up or gaining and what the other side is. Without trust, it is difficult to feel that you are not giving up more than the other side or that you are gaining as much as the other side.

If there is a history between the parties which one of them believes shows bad faith by the other, then trust is minimal or nonexistent. Past inequity in the relationship makes one or both parties feel that they will probably be mistreated again.

In these situations, the mediator needs to do a lot of ground work before getting to the core issues in the dispute. Perhaps little compromises can be reached or little collaborations on minor issues can build trust, but it is likely to take time.

2. Demonizing the Other Party Destroys Incentives to Work Together

Unfortunately, in too many disputes, one or both parties views the other as evil incarnate. This might be because of the history between the parties, or it might be because their dispute involves an issue that one or both of them perceives as a moral issue (such as abortion, or restrictions on guns in schools, or the death penalty). But even economic issues can take on a moral lens (e.g., drug companies and other for-profit healthcare businesses should never make more than a minimal profit, or lawyers fees are too high, or no employee should get a larger raise than anyone else).

Once values and perceptions of morality and immorality have entered the equation, it is difficult to compromise or collaborate. The “other” becomes an evil person or entity, and ceding any ground or granting them any favors becomes repugnant.

In these situations also, the mediator must work slowly. It might take a long time to dig deep enough to find the common ground between the parties. (For example, the importance of school safety, or the need for some incentives to drug companies to encourage research into new drugs.) Discovering common values is the only way to dispel the demonization of the other party.

* * * * *

I have seen many situations where lack of trust and/or vilification of the other party’s character and intent have sabotaged a mediation. These are difficult cases. Sometimes I’ve been successful in getting the parties to come to some rational place where they can compromise, but sometimes their biases go too deep and settlement (at least for that day) is impossible.

Moreover, moving beyond compromise to collaboration is even more difficult. Only rarely do parties start at a point where they despise each other and reach a resolution where everyone wins. I think I’ve seen it happen once.

What has your experience been when mediating situations involving lack of trust or demonization of the other party?

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The Magic of Mediation


cloke-coverI recently attended a presentation by Kenneth Cloke, author of The Crossroads of Conflict: A Journey into the Heart of Dispute Resolution (and other books). Mr. Cloke is also the Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution. His presentation was for mediators, and he asked the audience of practicing mediators and students of mediation whether any of us had experienced the magic of mediation. Many hands went up, including mine. There are times during a mediation when a corner is turned, the impasse is broken, and the parties shift from argument toward resolution.

Then Mr. Cloke asked if we knew how to create the magic—to make it happen every time. And, of course, none of us did. Not really. We just knew that sometimes it happens, sometimes it seems that we did something that helped, and sometimes the parties get there with little or no assistance from the mediator.

In fact, Mr. Cloke said he didn’t know how to create the magic either. Not reliably. But, he said, there are things that mediators can do to increase the likelihood of the magic happening.

The first time I experienced the magic of mediation was not as a mediator, but as an attorney. The mediator in that case moved the plaintiff employee in a discrimination lawsuit from wanting to be promoted to agreeing to resign, in exchange for a reasonable severance payment and a few other terms. Although most of the work was done in caucus with the plaintiff, the mediator convinced this employee it was in his best interest to leave our company and start working in another field where he could pursue his passion. Hard work for the plaintiff and for the mediator, but I’m sure the man benefited from the change—we are all better off when we work in a job we love with people who think we are doing a good job.

That case was what convinced me of the value of trying mediation in almost any dispute. If a mediator could help an individual move so far in a single day (albeit a long day), then it is worth trying to resolve any lawsuit through mediation.

  • During my years as a mediator, when I have seen the magic happen, it has usually been when the parties stop talking to me and start talking to each other.
    In one case, two branches of a family realized their family relationships were more important than the money one owed the other. They focused on preserving their relationship, and the plaintiff gave up her monetary claim, leading the defendant to make non-monetary concessions the plaintiff needed.
  • In another case, two long-term friends realized that litigation over a transaction between the two of them had gone bad was not the answer. They acknowledged that their friendship was probably over, but they decided it would be better if they just walked away from the dispute. I had proposed that as the only answer I saw—they were beyond being able to agree to the facts—but I was surprised to hear first one and then the other of them agree to this solution.
  • And in a third case, parties to a business dispute, who had not previously discussed settlement, were both able to discuss the matter rationally as soon as they got together. My presence was superfluous, other than to require them to be in the same room for the mediation. I wondered why a lawsuit had been filed in the first place.

Sometimes, a mediator can contribute to the magic, but usually all the mediator does is to help the parties look inside themselves and think about what is most important to them. When people realize that their dispute has taken over their lives, when they would rather be focused on other things, then the case can settle.

A mediator mostly helps by listening. A few guiding questions can get the parties talking and thinking. Questions such as:

1. Why is that important to you?
2. What did you expect to happen that would have avoided this conflict?
3. What would you like to have happen now?
4. Why do you care about this problem at this time?
5. Will you ever convince the other side you are right? If not, when will you stop trying?
6. What will happen if you don’t resolve your dispute?
7. What will change if you do resolve your dispute?
8. What are you not talking about that you still need to discuss?

The types of questions that can promote dialogue between the parties are endless. The point is to probe beneath the accusations and judgments that are where the parties begin. Often, these patterns in communication have gone on for years, so it might take time to get beyond them. Still, I wait in every case for the moment when the parties turn to each other. Then, maybe the magic can happen.

Mediators, when have you felt the magic of mediation?

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Reflecting Again on the Thomas Kilmann Model of Conflict Resolution


How Do You Deal with Conflict? Use of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory in Mediation

Thomas-Kilmann Model of Conflict Resolution http://www.edbatista.com/2007/01/conflict_modes_.html

Sometimes we have to relearn a lesson we thought we knew. I attended a mediation training program last week, and one of the presenters used a model similar to the Thomas-Kilmann Model of Conflict Resolution, which I wrote about on September 24, 2012, in one of the more popular posts on this blog.

The labels on the model last week were a little different. The Thomas-Kilmann model labels the five styles of conflict resolution as avoiding, accommodating, compromising, competing, and collaborating. The model last week labeled them (in the same locations on the grid) as avoidance, accommodation, negotiated compromise, competition, and interest-based bargaining. Clearly the same ideas.

I made the point in my earlier post that we each have conflict resolution styles that we prefer. Some people want to avoid conflict, others seek out competition, others are natural collaborators.

What I had to relearn was that each style of conflict resolution has its place.

The presenter last week advocated interest-based bargaining (which the Thomas-Kilmann model calls collaboration) as the highest and best method of conflict resolution. I don’t necessarily agree.

Interest-based bargaining (collaboration) may be best if the parties are interdependent and want to build an ongoing relationship. In cases like these where a conflict develops between two or more parties, searching for their mutual interests and creating a solution that fosters their future relationship is likely to be the longest lasting and most successful resolution of the conflict.

But in many cases that mediators handle (including most situations already in litigation), the parties only want to resolve the dispute in front of them. In these cases, negotiated compromise will probably work just fine. The parties may decide to move toward collaboration, if they can find mutual interests that offer more opportunities for settlement. But most of the time, it’s a matter of reaching agreement on how much one party will pay the other, and spending the time and energy to look for mutual interests is probably a waste. (Clearly, I lean toward the evaluative form of mediation, not the transformational.)

Some situations are set up to be competitions. When several businesses are bidding for a job, only one can win. The businesses are in conflict, and they are not expected to collaborate (in fact, such collusion might be illegal).

In other cases, avoidance or accommodation might be the best option. I got my car washed last weekend, and they did a lousy job, which I didn’t discover until I was back home. I weighed the merits of returning to argue that they should wash my car again for free against the time, aggravation, and $7.00 cost of getting another car wash in a couple of weeks. I avoided that conflict. I feel a bit like a schmo, but I think I did the right thing.

When have you used each style of conflict resolution? Why did you approach the situation the way you did?

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Managing Yourself as a Mediator


MP900387517I wrote several weeks ago about communicating with high-conflict people. In the seminar I attended, Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute also made the point that mediators and counselors working with high-conflict personalities need to manage their own responses during problem-solving sessions. It is a sure bet that you will face resistance from the high-conflict person, so you need to control yourself.

Although the focus of Mr. Eddy’s program was on high-conflict personalities, anyone can become high-conflict when we deal with emotional circumstances, which many disputes are. Thus, most of what he said has applicability in almost all mediations.

Here were some of his tips:

1. High-conflict personalities have a hard time with problem-solving. They need a structure. Your role is to provide that structure, but NOT TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEM. Repeat again: Your role is NOT to solve their problem—that is THEIR responsibility.

2. Your focus should be on managing your relationship with the parties to the dispute, NOT to manage the outcome. Repeat again: Your role is NOT to manage the outcome—that is THEIR responsibility.

3. The three skills you need to have when mediating high-conflict disputes (or, really, any dispute) are

  • Connecting with empathy, attention, and respect
  • Structuring the dispute resolution process, and
  • Educating the parties about the available choices and the consequences of their choices.

Each of these skills is worthy of a post in its own right. But for me, the most helpful advice was to step back from managing the outcome to structuring and managing the process.

I know as a mediator I sometimes am too directive and occasionally too passive. It is too easy for me to jump to what I think the outcome should be, and then pushing toward that outcome or giving up when it seems the parties will never get there.

What I took away from Mr. Eddy’s program was a reminder to keep myself from owning the outcome. I need to remember that reaching a resolution is the parties’ decision, not mine. I learned that in my mediator training, but it is easy to forget. We all want to take control when we think we know best.

When have you taken responsibility for a problem that wasn’t yours to resolve?

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April is Workplace Violence Awareness Month—How To Address Potential Violence in Your Workplace


Image from the National Safety Council

Image from the National Safety Council

According to the Alliance Against Workplace Violence, April 2015 is the third year for a national observance of Workplace Violence Awareness Month. And April 28 is Workers Memorial Day, in remembrance of workers who have died at work.

I’ve addressed workplace violence before on this blog (for example, here and here), but the return of Workplace Violence Awareness Month is a good occasion to mention it again.

Workplace violence can result from actions of strangers, customers, employees, and relatives of employees. The best defense against workplace violence is awareness of the possible sources of conflict. Any strong workplace violence avoidance program should consider all these sources of violence.

 

1.  Recognizing Employees Who Might Become Violent

Obviously, businesses have the most familiarity with their employees. According to Exigo Business Solutions, here are seven behaviors to watch for in employees that can be potential warning signs of workplace violence.

  • A history of violence
  • Negative reactions to poor performance reviews
  • Drug or alcohol dependencies, which can lead to paranoia or aggressive behavior
  • Romantic obsessions which may lead to inappropriate behavior such as harassment or stalking
  • Requiring repeated instruction, repetition of errors and other concentration problems, which can indicate a troubled employee
  • Depression, which may lead to emotional or aggressive outbursts. Signs of depression can include a slowed work pace, blank facial expressions, inappropriate guilt/shame, etc.
  • Any verbal threats or other activity that is seen as ‘out of character’ for a co-worker

Note that some of these indicators are vague or difficult to determine. The best managers are familiar with their employees and notice when an employee’s behavior changes. They have a good relationship with their staffs, and employees in their organizations seek them out when there are conflicts or problems in the workplace.

 

2.  Developing an Effective Workplace Violence Prevention Program

An effective workplace violence prevention program should include

  • An assessment of the specific risks of violence at your particular workplace and an evaluation of the controls and policies already in place
  • Measures to ensure the physical security of offices and facilities, such as installing alarm systems, protective barriers, and routes for escape if danger occurs
  • Personal protective equipment, if needed, including personal-alarm systems and mechanisms for contacting security or law enforcement
  • A plan of action for responding to acts of workplace violence
  • Services to treat traumatized employees involved in an incident of workplace violence
  • Workplace-violence awareness training for employees.

See 6 Tips for Creating an Effective Workplace-Violence Prevention Program, by Tiffany Robertson, September 3, 2014, on WeComply.com (a Thomson Reuters compliance blog).

Training should cover the warning signs of a potential violent act, how to report any concerns and what to do if violence does occur. Training should cover employee’s responsibility not only for their own safety, but also for that of their coworkers, customers, and any members of the public who enter the workplace.

Workplace violence prevention is a crucial part of any crisis management program. Involve your HR and your risk management personnel in advance.

Don’t wait for the crisis to occur.

For more information on avoiding workplace violence, see:

OSHA website page on Workplace Violence

What Are You Doing for Workplace Violence Awareness Month?, by Erin Harris, April 23, 2014, Crisis Prevention Institute

Behavior Management Strategies, Crisis Prevention Institute

Spotlight on Workplace Violence Prevention and Awareness in April, WeComply.com (a Thomson Reuters compliance blog)

 

If you have experienced a threat of workplace violence, what was the most important lesson you learned?

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Resolving Conflict in the Workplace: The Earlier, the Better


Image from Forbes

Image from Forbes

As a litigator and as a mediator, I have frequently seen workplace conflicts that have escalated beyond repair. Once a manager is convinced that an employee cannot perform, it is hard to change that manager’s mind. Once an employee believes that a manager or co-worker has engaged in harassment or discrimination, there is little likelihood of salvaging the relationship. An amicable parting of the ways is usually the most that a mediator can hope for.

This was one reason I moved from practicing law into Human Resources—I wanted to move further up the process of managing workplace problems, with the hope of fixing more of them. To some extent, I was successful. But unfortunately, I found that Human Resources comes with its own baggage. Too often HR is seen by employees as in management’s pocket and by management as ineffectual or not focused on the bottom line.

Nevertheless, I came to believe that the best chance of solving workplace problems is with direct communication between managers and employees, with HR serving primarily as a coach for both parties and a referee when emotions run too high or one party or the other steps out of bounds.

But both managers and employees often do not have the communications skills needed to resolve their conflicts. A recent article on Mediate.com, Integrating Conflict Management and Workplace Mediation Practices: A Blueprint for Future Practice, by Daniel Dana, Craig Runde (February 2015), makes this point.

Messrs. Dana and Runde suggest that mediators learn to coach their clients in how to manage their differences. The skills needed, they say, include expanded self-awareness, enhanced emotional intelligence, and improved conflict communications capabilities. Here are their suggestions:

Expanding self-awareness is typically approached by coaching, interviewing, or using assessment instruments such as the Conflict Dynamics Profile or the Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode Instrument.  When people become more aware of how they typically respond to workplace conflict, they are better able to employ constructive approaches and avoid defaulting into destructive or ineffective ones.

The human experience of conflict is replete with complex emotions, and helping clients learn to manage those emotions is of great importance for conflict management practitioners.  This includes improving awareness of what triggers one’s negative emotions in the first place and developing personal practices for managing those emotions and regaining a sense of balance.

Enhancing constructive communications involves learning about one’s behavior patterns and working on lessening the use of habitual destructive behaviors.  Those habits often escalate or prolong conflict.  Improved patterns increase the use of constructive responses, which clarify issues and develop sustainable solutions that benefit both parties.

Yet Dana and Runde recognize that coaching alone will often not be enough to manage workplace conflicts. There is still a role for neutral third parties—either internal or external mediators.

Again, following the principle that resolving a conflict sooner rather than later is the best way to preserve a workplace relationship, then internal company mediators serve an important role. But bringing in an external mediator is more effective than litigating a dispute.

What has your experience been with resolving workplace conflicts? Can people learn to handle most conflicts themselves? When is a third-party essential to resolving the dispute?

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