14 posts categorized "Impasse"

July 22, 2019

Learn to Embrace Workplace Conflict

Conflict in a workplace is unavoidable. The ability to deal effectively with conflict is an important skill for everyone in a workplace and is essential for leadership.

Trying to avoid conflict is the least helpful method for dealing with workplace conflict. Rarely does conflict disappear when ignored.  It is much more likely to escalate, to blow up a small problem into a much larger event.

“The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of conflict, and to be able to bring swift and just resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader – the inability to do so may well be your downfall,” according to Mike Myatt in an article for Forbes.com.

The failure to be able to resolve workplace conflict can lead to a loss of productivity, and block creativity and collaboration.   Another frequent consequence is the departure of talented employees who choose not to stay in an uncomfortable environment where they may experience bullying or a poisoned atmosphere. 

Recently I was working with two leaders of a well-established small business. The leaders were struggling with long-standing conflict between them.  As in many conflict situations, communication problems played a big part in the conflict.  Lack of information, unclear communication, different interpretations of information were all mixed up in the turmoil. 

Without sufficient information both leaders were making assumptions. Then all of that was escalated by an increasingly heated emotional climate as each focused on blaming the other rather than resolving the conflict. 

Both leaders had good intentions and wanted the company to succeed. The stakes were high. Their unresolved conflict was causing negative ripples amongst employees and customers, and significantly interfering with the company’s stability.   

The situation can be even more difficult if the participants in the conflict are trying to manipulate or mislead the others.

As a leader do not let yourself be caught in destructive crossfire of conflict in your workplace.

Develop the skills to be use conflict as an opportunity for growth and leverage differing opinions to stimulate the innovation and development of your team.

Build your conflict resolution skills this fall.

Join the course Fundamentals of Mediation at Munn Conflict Resolution Services in beautiful London, Ontario.

Early Registration Discount ends Wednesday, August 21!

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of MediationSeptember 25, 26, 27, 30, and October 1, 2019 – 5 days – 40 hours.

    • Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Ontario.
    • Early Registration Discount ends Wednesday, August 21!

Click here for full details about our Mediator Education Program.

 

Read the full article by Mike Myatt here

February 7, 2019

To Caucus or Not To Caucus in Mediation?

Caucus-only mediation has become increasingly popular in many mediations for business, insurance, even more personal situations such as estate and workplace disputes. Recent research shows that the caucus-only mediation approach has negative consequences.  As an experienced mediator, that research conclusion was not a surprise to me.

During a caucus, the disputing parties are in separate rooms, and the mediator moves back and forth between the rooms, communicating their negotiation messages.  When caucus is used for most or all of the mediation, the disputing parties are rarely in the same room, hardly talk with each other or may not even see each other.

Caucus is contrasted with joint session where everyone meets in the same room. Sometimes the mediation starts with a joint session where the mediator explains the guidelines of the mediation. After that the representative for each party may have an opportunity to briefly outline their party’s perspective in an opening statement. Sometimes the opening statements and even the beginning joint session are omitted and the parties spend the whole mediation in separate rooms.

Caucus-only mediation shifts power away from the people in the dispute to the mediator. This has negative consequences which wipe out much of the value that mediation can provide for the participants.

My experience over more than 22 years has shown me that mediation is more likely to resolve the conflict and more likely to result in a durable resolution, if the parties spend a high proportion of the mediation in joint session. It turns out that researchers have reached conclusions along these lines.

The report I read recently is a study of the court- connected mediation process in Maryland, published in January 2016. The study considered the effectiveness of various mediation strategies in reaching agreement. The study also measured attitudinal shifts of the participants toward each other and their belief in their ability to work together, over the short term (immediately after mediation) and longer term (3 to 6 months later).

The study found that in the short-term the greater the percentage of time participants spend in caucus, the more likely the participants are to report:

  • the mediator controlled the outcome,
  • the mediator pressured them into solutions,
  • the mediator prevented issues from coming out,
  • less satisfaction with the mediation process and outcome,
  • less satisfaction that the issues were resolved with a fair and implementable outcome,
  • increased sense of powerlessness,
  • increased belief that conflict is negative, and
  • increased desire to better understand the other participant “presumably because they did not better understand the other party as a result” of the mediation.

In the long-term, the study found that the greater the percentage of time participants spent in caucus the more the researchers observed:

  • a decrease in participants’ consideration of the other person,
  • decreased self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to talk and make a difference),
  • decreased sense that the court cares about resolving conflict from the time before the mediation to several months later, and
  • greater likelihood of the participants returning to court in the 12 months after mediation for an enforcement action.

Another finding was that the percentage of time spent in caucus had “no statistically significant impact (positive or negative) on reaching an agreement”.

Recommendations for more effective mediation:

The recommendations from the researchers were:

  • Encourage mediation “practices that focus on eliciting participants’ solutions and reflecting back to participants”.
  • Discourage mediation “strategies that are heavily focused on caucus and [mediators] offering their own solutions and opinions”.

When selecting a mediator, my recommendation is to:

  • Choose a mediator who is able to proceed with the mediation mainly in joint session using an approach which invites the participants to express their interests and ideas for solution.

My recommendations for lawyers and representatives:

  • Help your clients understand the benefits of joint sessions.
  • Help your clients accept that conflict, though uncomfortable, is better managed than avoided.
  • Help your clients develop strategies to listen  and express themselves effectively in the mediation.

My recommendation for using mostly joint sessions changes if there are special circumstances such as a safety risk which can be managed by using only caucus.

Although participants may feel more uncomfortable in joint sessions, my experience and this research confirms that avoiding the discomfort of conflict does not work as well for the participants.

While they may be able to reach an agreement using caucus, it is likely less effective for the participants in the short and long term. Mediation creates an opportunity to have the difficult conversation that is most effective for the resolution needed by the participants.

Nothing will lower your credibility faster than avoiding conflict.

–Morris Shechtman, 2003

Read the full report here.

 

Build your conflict resolution skills this spring.

Register for the Mediator Education Program at Munn Conflict Resolution Services this spring in beautiful London, Ontario.

Early Registration Discount ends Monday, Feb 11!

If you are considering becoming a professional mediator, our schedule gives you the opportunity to complete sufficient training to apply for the Q. Med. designation this spring.

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of Mediation – March 20, 21, 22, 25, & 26 – 5 days – 40 hours.

    • Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Ontario.
    • Early registration discount ends Monday, February 11 !

Course # 2 – Mediation Beyond the Basics – May 6, 7, & 8, 2019 – 3 days – 21 hours

Course # 3 - Advanced Mediation – June 3, 4, & 5, 2019 – 3 days – 21 hours

 

January 13, 2019

How Not to Be Stupid

How not to be stupid is a subject that is smart to think about. Stupidity is not lack of intelligence but a symptom of intelligence being overridden in a complex environment.

A recent post by Shane Parrish in the Farnam Street Blog describes an interview with Adam Robinson (@IAmAdamRobinson) who developed a definition of stupidity as “overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information”.

In other words, if something is crucial, it’s very important. If it’s conspicuous, it’s easily available and probably I already know it. Therefore it is stupid if I overlook or dismiss very important and easily available information which I already know. That stupidity can cause errors. If I am driving and make an error in changing lanes, it could lead to death or injury of me or someone else.

In his research Adam Robinson identified 7 factors which cause errors. These are

  1. being outside of your circle of competence, or outside your normal environment,
  2. physical or emotional stress, or fatigue,
  3. rushing or a sense of urgency,
  4. fixation on an outcome, or doing a task that requires intense focus,
  5. information overload,
  6. being in the presence of a group, where social cohesion comes into play, and
  7. being in the presence of an authority or expert, even if you are the expert.

Alone, each of these factors influence us powerfully to make mistakes. When the factors are piled together there is a dramatic increase in the odds that “you are unaware that you’ve been cognitively compromised,” according to Adam Robinson.

For example when I am driving, if I am in a hurry to get where I’m going and I am talking on the phone through the car’s bluetooth, I am much more likely to make a driving error.

Sometimes the stupidity is engineered purposely to defraud or manipulate. Sometimes it’s used for a more benign purpose, such as a magician providing entertainment.

Not being stupid is important. The third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind cancer and heart disease, is automobile accidents. Another chilling statistic is that “210,000 to 440,000 people die every year in the United States from hospital error.” I think the statistics for Canada are similar.

How can we avoid being stupid?

For me, I am going to try not to be stupid by being particularly aware of the risk of error when one or more of those 7 factors are happening.

For example, that means deferring decisions until I am rested, and not rushed. When I’m mediating, it means using the meeting time efficiently and avoiding a last-minute temptation to rush the details into a written agreement.  It means hanging up the phone when driving, if the traffic is unusual or I don’t know the area.

But often minimizing or eliminating the 7 factors isn’t possible.

When I am working – or driving - in circumstances where unavoidably one or more one of the 7 factors are occurring, it comes down to being alert to my tendency for errors and trying to make sure I do not overlook or dismiss information that is crucial and right there in front of me.

How will you avoid being stupid?

Read the full article by Shane Parrish here.

 

Would you like to develop your conflict resolution skills?

Register for the Mediator Education Program at Munn Conflict Resolution Services this spring in beautiful London, Ontario.

If you are considering becoming a professional mediator, our schedule gives you the opportunity to complete sufficient training to apply for the Q. Med. designation this spring.

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of Mediation – March 20, 21, 22, 25, & 26 – 5 days – 40 hours.

  • Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Ontario.
  • Early registration discount ends February 11 !

Course # 2 – Mediation Beyond the Basics – May 6, 7, & 8, 2019 – 3 days – 21 hours

Course # 3 - Advanced Mediation – June 3, 4, & 5, 2019 – 3 days – 21 hours

 

December 4, 2018

The Gift of Being Wrong

As a special gift at this year-end, let’s give ourselves the freedom to be wrong. Get unstuck from the pressure of being right. Go ahead and make mistakes.

Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.

- Peter T. McIntyre

 

Long before modern self-help writers, St Augustine is credited with the observation: “ Fallor ergo sum”, I err therefore I am.

 

For many of us, our schooling has taught us that being wrong is a bad thing and that success in life comes from never making mistakes. Very often learners in schools are penalized for mistakes, and not encouraged to embrace the learning that develops from those mistakes.

 

This always-being-right bias can leave us blind to our own errors, until it’s too late to fix the problem. Think of the cartoon coyote chasing the road-runner off the cliff, running out into the air, and not falling until he looks down and realizes he’s no longer on solid ground.

 

"Our love of being right is best understood as our fear of being wrong."
― Kathryn Schulz

 

Kathryn Schulz is the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. In her TED talk on being wrong she summarized the 3 assumptions we make when someone disagrees with us.

 

  1. The Ignorance Assumption: “… The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is that we just assume they are ignorant. You know, they don’t have access to the same information we do and when we generously share that information with them, they are going to see the light and come on over to our team.”
  2. The Idiocy Assumption: “When it turns out those people have all the same information and they still don’t agree with us we move onto a second assumption. They’re idiots. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle and they are too moronic to put them together.”
  3. The Evil Assumption: “When it turns out that people have all the same facts that we do and they are pretty smart we move onto a third assumption. They know the truth and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.”

Turns out that when someone disagrees with us, the wrong is that we think the other person is wrong. Our ego is so busy trying to protect us from being wrong, that we completely lose the idea of  objectively analysing which of us is right, or wrong, or whether each of us is somewhat right and somewhat wrong.

 

"The secret to being wrong isn't to avoid being wrong!   The secret is being willing to be wrong.  The secret is realizing that wrong isn't fatal."
Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

 

Then  we treat the other person as if our wrong assumptions are right, thus damaging and even ending relationships, not because they disagree with us, but because of this pattern in our own heads.  

 

"For a scientist, this is a good way to live and die, maybe the ideal way for any of us - excitedly finding we were wrong and excitedly waiting for tomorrow to come so we can start over."
Norman Maclean

 

For 2019, I invite you to join me in a challenge to take off the blinders and embrace being wrong. Usually the people who disagree with us are not ignorant, stupid, and evil. They are people like us who can be wrong even if we are right.

August 16, 2018

Use Your Power!

When I talk to people involved in a conflict, often both tell me they feel powerless. It is a very common perception.

There are many sources of power. A few examples are: formal authority, institutional, expert information, access to resources, procedural, moral and personal power. As a mediator, I am alert to the use of power between my clients and I can help them use their power more effectively.

Use of power is a method of resolving conflict. Many of us use the power of unilateral action at an early age when we grab the toy we want from another toddler. Later in life we learn other conflict resolution methods that are rights-based and interest-based.

In addition to unilateral action, another method of power-based dispute resolution is authoritative command. The manager can resolve workplace conflict by deciding the outcome, assigning work, or transferring someone to another position. While authoritative command may seem efficient, it may not be fair, just, or ultimately effective in resolving the conflict.

Power is not static. During a relationship or during a negotiation, power shifts from one person to the other. Power is not a fixed commodity which someone can give us or take from us.

If my company is experiencing conflicts with the landlord of our rented premises, I could use my power to take unilateral action. Although the landlord has power to set the lease terms within the limit of the applicable laws, I have the power to move my company to another location, and even buy a building to avoid future landlord conflicts.

The risk is that I may lose customers who are used to the old location, and possibly create an opportunity for another entrepreneur to locate in my old premises and offer competition to my products or services. That option tilts power to the landlord.

If my business is one-of-a-kind, not reliant on customers coming to the location, or the old location is hard to rent, the power dynamic shifts in my direction.

When we are involved in a conflict it is helpful to analyse our power relative to the other person. Ask, What power do I have in the situation? As in the examples above, the manager or the landlord has power, and at the same time the tenant or the employee has power also.

One of the most effective strategies is to shift from “power over” to “power with”. If I try to use my power to make you do something you would not otherwise do, it is going to be difficult. If I choose to use my power to work with you to solve our mutual problem, I am much more likely to be successful in getting a full, long-lasting resolution.

Would you like to develop your conflict resolution skills?

Register for the Mediator Education Program at Munn Conflict Resolution Services this fall in beautiful London, Ontario.

If you are considering becoming a professional mediator, our schedule gives you the opportunity to complete sufficient training to apply for the Q. Med. designation in 2018.

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of Mediation – September 26, 27, 28, October 1 & 2, 2018– 5 days – 40 hours.

Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Early registration discount ends August 22!

Course # 2 – Mediation Beyond the Basics – November 14, 15, & 16, 2018– 3 days – 21 hours

Course # 3 - Advanced Mediation – December 3, 4, and 5, 2018– 3 days – 21 hours

February 7, 2018

Just Listen!

The feeling that you are not being listened to is very frustrating. Relationships have been ended because of this feeling, in families, in workplaces and in business.

One reason this breakdown in communication occurs is that listening is not a skill generally developed and practiced. By comparison, reading, analyzing, and speaking are skills that are regularly part of educational programs.

Hearing is not the same as listening. Although it is a common saying, we seem to need frequent reminders. Just because I am speaking a language you understand and you can hear my words, I cannot be sure that you are listening to me. Vibration of the eardrums is not enough.

Many of us have not thought about how we listen. At the same time effective listening is the social glue that enables us to form meaningful relationships and connections.

Mortimer J. Adler wrote in How to Speak, How to Listen:

“We all realize that the ability to read requires training…the same would appear to be true of speaking and listening … training is required … Likewise, skill in listening is either a native gift or it must be acquired by training.”

Active listening is taught for use in many professional contexts and is applicable to any communication setting. An active listener listens with full attention, observe non-verbal components of what is said, clarify any unclear points, may paraphrase what is said, and ask the speaker to expand.

A mediator working with two or more people who are involved in a conflict, helps to resolve the conflict by facilitating active listening through words and body language, and in that way creates an opportunity for the disputing parties to understand one another.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” ― M. Scott Peck

Listen Actively = Understand + Retain + Respond

Understand

First, we must understand what the other person is saying. In most cases, this occurs without a lot of effort. Some possible barriers which can limit comprehension, include:

  • Language
  • Use of jargon or slang
  • Differences in culture, age, education, or other factors not shared by both speaker and listener.

In Eyes Wide Open, Isaac Lidsky recommends simplifying understanding by asking “Can you explain that like I’m five years old?.”' Removing jargon and explaining things in simple language results in improved comprehension of complex topics.

Retain

As an active listener we must understand and retain what the person has said.

That retention of details cannot be limited to the part of what they said that is relevant to our reply. In order to listen actively we must focus on what the speaker said without thinking about what we will say next.

One of the challenges of listening is suppressing our ego long enough to fully consider what they said.  No matter how many times we may have heard from other clients or friends in similar situations, we do not know what this particular person is going to say until we listen to them.

Possible barriers to retention include:

  • Cognitive biases and selective listening (See Common Ground Blog, March 3, 2017)
  • Distractions, internal or external, such as fatigue, noise, or mobile devices.
  • Issues with memory, such as dementia.

Respond

Tell them what we understand. After listening to understand and retaining what we heard, then we need to communicate what we understand them to have said. This allows the speaker to assess your level of understanding.

“To be an active listener, we must try to go beyond the words and form a rich picture of the other person’s emotions and intentions,” in the words of Shane Parrish, Farnam Street Blog.

In responding we need to let the speaker know that we have paid attention to their words and also observed their non-verbal communication. When you disagree with the speaker, resist the temptation to try to add meanings to your response that align with your own perspective. This is not listening; this is debating.

 The same possible barriers apply to responding as to understanding and retaining.

 

“Anyone can talk,   

   but to listen is a gift,

     we should all exchange”

J. Benson, Haiku to Live By: Life affirming messages, to hearten your day

 

Build your active listening skills to resolve conflict.   Join us for Fundamentals of Mediation, a 40 hour, 5 day intensive mediation course. The next course dates are March 21, 22, 23, 26 and 27, 2018 in London, Ontario, Canada. Early registration discount ends February 12!

 

 

October 19, 2017

New Hybrid Dispute Resolution Process Supports Reconciliation with First Nations

What should First Nations do when disagreements arise about treaty rights?

The courts have been one possible means of resolving disagreements. Historically there is often little trust by First Nations in Canada’s justice system. 

Mediation has  been very useful for resolving disputes.  Compared with court proceedings the cost is much less and there is more control by the parties involved in the disagreement. However the setting, the format and the assumptions underlying conventional mediation may not fit comfortably for treaty disagreements.

An new hybrid dispute resolution process is described in a recent issue of Macleans magazine. Authors John Beaucage, Alicia Kuin, and Paul Iacono have developed a culturally sensitive team approach for resolution of disputes in support of reconciliation.

 The article describes two goals which are necessary to bridge the cultural gap and sort through many layers of conflict before problem solving occurs:

  1. To create an atmosphere and setting that is culturally appropriate for all of the parties to the dispute.
  2. To ensure that the dynamics of conflict involved in the dispute are given the space and time needed to be voiced.

The new hybrid process starts with meetings with members of the First Nation communities in their communities. In the second stage the representatives take part in four talking circles which include appropriate ceremonies.  The third stage consists of the representatives talking about solutions and ultimately writing out the parameters of their preferred solutions, which are then taken back to the communities. 

After these steps are completed with the communities, the second and third stages are repeated when all the members of the First Nation Territory are ready to meet with the government representatives.

This process could also be used for First Nations and businesses to reach agreements  in a way which builds communication and lasting relationships by ensuring that the voices of First Nation people are heard.  Corporate Canada, pay attention!

Read the full article here:

http://www.macleans.ca/opinion/how-a-new-kind-of-resolution-process-can-support-reconciliation/

Join us in London, Ontario, Canada for Fundamentals of Mediation March 21, 22, 23, 26, & 27, 2018

Click here for more information.

June 25, 2017

Happiness in 5 Simple Steps


Would you like to be happier? The start of the summer season is a great time to bring more happiness into our lives. 

Recently I was working with people struggling in a long and complex conflict situation.  Afterwards I thought about how important it is to manage our emotional distress by shifting our focus to what we can do for ourselves to increase our happiness.

I found this distillation of ancient wisdom about happiness from the Stoics  in a recent post by Eric Barker in the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Simple steps but not easy.   Here’s a summary:

1. Events Don’t Upset You. Beliefs Do: Only the end of the world is the end of the world.

If you lose your job you might feel excited or devastated depending on your beliefs. If you believe that the job was bad for you and you will have no problem getting another job, you will feel excited by the opportunity.  If you believe that it was your perfect job and you will never be able to get another job like it, you will be devastated.  The objective event is the same, the emotion is different.

The emotion we experience is based on our belief. In Shakespeare’s words, “Nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”

Most of the bad feelings we have are caused by irrational beliefs. The helpful approach is to focus on those negative emotions about an event, rather than focusing on the event that we think was the cause of our negative emotions. 

Ask yourself what you believe about that event. And then ask yourself if it’s rational:

  • “If my partner dumps me, I’ll never get over it.”
  • “If I lose my job, my life is over.”

These are irrational beliefs, and if those are your beliefs you will likely be anxious, angry or depressed.

If you revise your beliefs and you can change your feelings: “Even if I get fired I can get another job.   I’ve been unemployed before and I got through it.”

 2. Control What You Can. Ignore The Rest: Worrying never fixed anything.

Remember the old serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

Much of what we experience as stress and worry are events over which we have no control. If we worry about getting laid off in a market downturn, our worry will not change the market downturn or the employer’s decision.  Worry is another irrational response that we need to train ourselves to leave behind for the sake of our happiness.

However if there is any part of the event that you do control, it’s better to stop worrying and take action. Improving the quality of your work so as to be as lay-off-proof as possible and looking for other job opportunities are both elements within your control.  Not only does this cut down your stress, it also means that you are spending your energy on action that will make a difference for you.

 The image with this article explains this point visually.

Image1

3.    Accept Everything. But Don’t Be Passive: Nobody recommends denial. Accept. And then do something.

If we choose not to get upset about irrational emotional responses or worrying, what should we do? Accept things as they are and then decide what to do about them.

Acceptance is not resignation; acceptance is the opposite of denial. We may wish things were otherwise but it is irrational to deny the reality facing us. We can think, “I should not be laid off,”  but that will not change reality if we are given the pink slip.  “Should” is a very popular way of denying reality.  Denial is another irrational belief and is going to lead us to those negative emotions as in step 1. 

Instead if we accept reality we can decide what we can control, and then take action on those controllable factors, as in step 2. Maybe this lay-off is going to lead to a new opportunity which you could not imagine in the old job.

 4. Choose Whose Child You Will Be: “What would Batman do in this situation?”

Now shifting away from the reactive to the positive, take a look around and realize that you are not alone on this island. There are mentors, teachers, role models and lots of other people to learn from.

Seneca said “ We like to say that we don’t get to choose our parents, that they were given by chance – yet, we can truly choose whose children we wish to be.”

Identify a person you really admire, a person who is doing something that you would eventually like to do, including living life well. Interview them about how they were able to accomplish what they did and the steps that you could take to get to that level.

Next time you face a challenge, think of that person you admire. Research shows that asking yourself “What would _____ do?” can have powerful positive effects on your behavior.

5. Morning and Evening Rituals Are Essential: Plan for the day, then reflect on the day.

Rituals can help you recognize whether you are  improving.

Every morning think about all the negative things that will be brought to you by the people you face, try to understand why they will behave that way, and then “forgive and love them for it”.

At the end of the day reflect on what has happened and what you can improve.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” is another quote from Seneca. We all have the potential to become better.

 

One final tip:

The final tip is from Marcus Aurelius, “Don’t set your mind on things you don’t possess as if they were yours, but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours.”

A few thousand years later, the research shows that gratitude still makes a difference to happiness. Subtracting cherished moments from your life makes you appreciate them more, makes you grateful and makes you happier.

“What if I never met my partner? What if my child was never born? I am so lucky to have them in my life.”

 

Take action in 5 steps and spend this summer being happier - and grateful that you read this blog post.

 Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts September 27, 2017.

Read Eric Barker’s full post here: http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/09/ancient-wisdom/

March 3, 2017

Thinking about Thinking: Conflict and Cognitive Bias

Next time you are experiencing a difficult conflict try thinking about how you and the other person are thinking.  When I read a recent post by Buster Benson I was struck by how cognitive bias contributes enormously to my day-to-day world of resolving conflict. Understanding more about cognitive bias certainly improves our conflict resolution skills.

Recently a learner in one of my courses expressed surprise when I said most people I deal with in mediation do not lie. However often they have very different perceptions about the same situation. Frequently those perceptions develop as a result of cognitive bias.

Let’s consider an example of employees in a workplace. One feels that having their reports corrected by a colleague is harassment. The other feels that this behaviour is being helpful. Or consider the joke that one member of the team does not find funny, and feels is intended to mock her.

According to the definition in Wikipedia, a cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation from rationality, in which inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. For example, when we choose to rely on details which support our beliefs and ignore those details which do not, we are demonstrating cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, ostrich effect or post-purchase rationalization.

It takes a lot of energy to think, and then to think about how we think. Being efficient humans, for good reason we rely on the shortcuts of cognitive bias. In his post Buster Benson said:

Every cognitive bias is there for a reason — primarily to save our brains time or energy. If you look at them by the problem they’re trying to solve, it becomes a lot easier to understand why they exist, how they’re useful, and the trade-offs (and resulting mental errors) that they introduce.

Here are four problems that cognitive biases help us address and some examples of the ways they contribute to make conflict situations more difficult.

1.  Too much information.   There is so much information in the world that we need some way to filter out the majority of it. Conflict situations often include the example above of relying on details which support our beliefs and ignoring details which do not, leading to several common cognitive biases, three of which are mentioned above.

2.  Not enough meaning.   How do we make sense of all the vast information out there? In conflict situations it is common to use our cognitive biases to fill in characteristics from generalities and prior histories, (for example, stereotyping and bandwagon effect) and to imagine things and people we’re familiar with as better than things and people we aren’t familiar with (for example, halo effect, and in-group bias). Another common participant in conflict situations is our tendency to think we know what others are thinking. Examples of this are illusion of transparency, asymmetric insight, and spotlight effect.

3.  Need to act fast.    We have too much information, not enough time to figure it out and we need to act fast without enough time to be certain. Ever since our cave-dwelling days, standing still invites danger. A factor in many conflict situations is our need to be confident in our ability to make an impact and to choose to do what is important, (for example overconfidence effect, and fundamental attribution error). Another popular area of cognitive bias which contributes to conflict is the tendency to choose what we know and preserve the way things are. Better the devil you know than the devil you do not. Examples of this are decoy effect and status quo bias.

4.  Not enough memory.  There’s too much information for us to remember much of it. What we choose to remember helps us create the filters we need for # 1 above and to fill in missing information for #2 above. It’s a self-reinforcing circle. Our tendency to edit memories after the fact is a contributor to conflict, for example, source confusion, and false memory. Another frequent contributor to conflict is our tendency to reduce facts and events to a few key elements, for example, misinformation effect and primacy effect.

 

Back to our examples of employees from the beginning. Of course the cognitive biases in action depend on the specific circumstances. The employees in a dispute about whether correcting a colleague’s report is harassment might benefit from considering how the cognitive biases of asymmetric insight and the illusion of transparency are affecting their perceptions of the situation. The team with the joke that is not shared by all might be experiencing perceptions framed by the cognitive biases of bandwagon effect and in-group bias. That group plus the one who does not find the joke funny may also be experiencing the cognitive bias of the illusion of transparency.

We need to use more logic when we think about our thinking. Simple to say and definitely not simple to do. Understanding more about how we form our perceptions, the illogical shortcuts we use and the errors those cognitive biases cause us can go a long way to helping us unravel the tangled mess of a conflict.

 Read Buster Benson’s article here.

  Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts March 29, 2017.

January 30, 2017

Help! I feel powerless!

Maybe it’s something about the bleakness of winter. In the last few weeks I have had several people ask me variations of the question, “How do I negotiate when the other person has a lot more power than me?”

“When the other side seems to hold all the cards, how you negotiate is absolutely critical,” wrote Roger Fisher and William Ury in the influential book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In”.

First of all, don’t be discouraged. Your skill as an interest-based negotiator and your preparation can create the opportunity for success. 

It pays to think positively and optimistically, and at the same time realistically. There is no point wasting your time and effort trying to negotiate the impossible.  Unless you can make the other side an offer they find more attractive than what they can achieve if you are not involved, trying to get a better deal with them doesn’t make sense. The company offering a young person their first job after graduation is not going to offer the CEO job, not matter how well the grad negotiates.

Power is not static, so that one person constantly has it and the other does not. As you negotiate, the power may shift from on negotiator to the other.  That’s where your negotiation skill and careful preparation can pay off.  Just because you feel powerless is not a reason to avoid trying to change the situation.  Here are 6  tips to increase your power. 

  1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.     The more important this negotiation is to you, the more thoroughly you should prepare. Learn more about interest-based negotiation if you need to improve your skills. Gather and make notes of the information and ideas to achieve the next tips.
  2. Enhance your alternatives.    It may seem odd that one important source of power is to develop your alternatives to walk away from this negotiation. The stronger your alternatives without this negotiation, the more your negotiating power increases.*   You may or may not choose to inform the other side about your alternatives.
  3. Build a good working relationship with them.     This can be the most challenging and at the same time most effective step. When communication breaks down we often feel that the other person is the problem. Treat the other person with respect. Take the time to listen to them and try to understand. Help them understand your point of view. Acknowledge the emotions. Good communication is an excellent source of negotiating power.
  4. Identify their interests.    The more you understand the other person’s interests, the better you may be able to satisfy them at minimum cost to yourself. Especially when you feel that you have less power, identifying the interests that you have in common with them may be a key to them starting to appreciate your interests.  
  5. Be open to creative options.    Increase your power to influence them by inventing a way to meet their interests AND your interests. This is where your thorough understanding of their interests and your interests makes a difference. In the negotiation after you thoroughly understand each other’s interests it’s time to brainstorm with them for ideas that will meet as many of the interests as possible.
  6. Measure fairness by using external standards.    When it seems that you do not have as much power, it is particularly helpful to find standards outside of you and the other negotiator to measure fairness. For example, the new grad hoping for a job offer would be well advised to gather information about the range of pay and other benefits for this type of job in this region.

  * For more information see What is a BATNA and why do I need one?

    Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts March 29, 2017.