15 posts categorized "Mediation Courses"

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

June 2, 2019

The Workplace Seven - 7 Ways to Gain Respect in the Workplace

Behaving with respect for others and being treated with respect seems simple and common sense. In extreme situations it may be easy to identify harassment, discrimination, workplace violence, or other human rights violations which could indicate a lack of respect in the workplace. Closer to the dividing line it is not so easy to distinguish respect from a lack of respect.

Recently I worked with a team in which there were complaints that some employees were not following the “respect in the workplace policy”. I was reminded that we cannot control anyone else’s behaviour.

We can control our own behaviour and make sure our actions merit respect in the workplace.  A common example is that when we hear gossip from others we can choose not to participate and disengage politely from joining future personal chat about people who are not present. The situation got me thinking about ways to gain respect in the workplace.

 

Seven Ways to Gain Respect in the Workplace

1.  Every day that you work demonstrate your unique value as an employee.

Each employee was hired to bring their unique talents to the workplace. Just like a professional athlete you need to bring your A game to work every single day. You gain respect from peers, supervisors and customers when you consistently make your full effort to complete each task in your job. 

2.  Smile. Stay positive and focused whether it’s a time of celebration or challenge.

A warm smile will take you a long way. When you are celebrating an achievement at work of you or your company, a smile communicates the positive moment better than words. Even when you are on the phone your customers or co-workers can “hear” your smile.

It is more challenging is to keep smiling and maintain a positive attitude when things go wrong. When there is adversity, the employee who stays focussed and brings their full strength to the job gains respect.

3. Be patient with your peers and yourself.

Recognize the strengths of you and your colleagues and make allowances for the weaknesses.We are all human and none of us is perfect. Show consideration by recognizing the strengths of others and being patient with their weaknesses.   Each of your fellow employees was also hired to bring their unique skills to the workplace.

Remember to be patient and forgiving with yourself, too. Compassion for yourself is a base from which you can extend compassion for others. Sometimes we tell ourselves negative messages that we would never say to someone else. That frustration with ourselves can spill over into our communication with others.

4. Go beyond the call of duty whenever you can.

Be the person who will stay late to finish a project or cover someone else’s duties when there is an emergency. While you need to follow the basic outline of your job, your willingness to do more than is expected will be rewarded with respect from your co-workers and others in your organization.

5. Know your limits. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

This is the shadow side of number 4. While you need to collaborate and do more than is expected in your job, it must be balanced with fulfilling the basics of your job. If you accept a workload which is too heavy, you may find yourself overwhelmed and not able to accomplish what you need to do.   Set boundaries for yourself so that you are consistently able to do your best.

6.  Listen to others.

Explain your point of view with care so they can understand you.Use your active listening skills to hear others and really understand what they are saying. Then after they have been heard, they will be more willing to listen to your perspective. Take the time to explain your ideas with care so that it is easy for others to understand.

7.  Collaborate with others. Build your skills as a conflict resolver.

There may be times when you need to work with people, even people you don’t like, in other departments and other layers in your organization. Accept that conflict will happen and be ready to work on finding a collaborative resolution that will work for everyone involved.

 

Struggling with conflict? Build your conflict resolution skills this fall!

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.

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

 

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

March 4, 2018

Let’s Get Serious about Stopping Sexual Harassment

It is essential for all of us to have basic knowledge of human rights law, how it applies in our workplace, and what to do if there is a complaint.   In January 2018, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario granted a female retail worker one of its largest-ever damage awards. The facts of the case illustrate how much remains to be done in educating everyone in the workplace; individuals, people leaders, those with complaints, and those who observe harassment.

The award of $200,000 was “compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” in the case B v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited.  The Tribunal found that the complainant was subjected to sexual harassment, sexual assault, racial discrimination, and a poisoned work environment.

The tribunal found that the male boss of the female complainant made fun of the complainant’s accent when speaking English, her skin colour, body, and country of origin. The boss described this as “jokes’’. The complainant was a single parent of a child with medical challenges who rented an apartment from her boss and lived above the retail store where she worked. In addition to the racist comments, the boss was found to have sexually assaulted and harassed the complainant in the workplace and in her apartment many times over the long years of her employment.

The complainant’s identity was not made public by the Tribunal and in the hearing, she was permitted to provide her evidence by video link from a separate room.

Factors considered by the Tribunal in deciding the amount of the award included the seriousness of the abuse, and that it was repeated for so many years. The complainant was vulnerable as a single parent, the sole support for her family, and as an immigrant. There was also a serious impact on the mental health of the complainant, including a diagnosis of PTSD.

In the past, the Tribunal’s general damage awards have been in the range of $20,000 to $30,000. The Tribunal has issued one other decision awarding comparable damage amounts to a complainant. In 2015 PT v Presteve Foods Ltd involved two immigrant women who experienced serious, repeated sexual harassment and were awarded $150,000 and $50,000 in damages.

Workplace sexual harassment persists in Ontario. In these recent cases, women, single parents, and people new to Canada were demonstrated to be at risk.

It remains to be seen whether these two decisions are the beginning of a new trend of higher awards by the Tribunal intended to discourage workplace sexual harassment. Is this another ripple from #MeToo?

Human rights laws are for the benefit of the whole community. From my point of view, the starting point is that everyone in the workplace needs to have basic knowledge of human rights, how to do their work within the law, and what to do if there is a complaint.

Then the next challenge is appropriate training to handle difficult conversations and manage workplace conflict to produce the work environment we want for everyone, including alignment with the values of human rights.

LAST CHANCE this spring to join us for Fundamentals of Mediation, our 40 hour, 5 day intensive mediation course. The next course dates are March 21, 22, 23, 26 and 27, 2018 in London, Ontario, Canada.

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!

 

 

January 24, 2018

Guerilla Bridge Building - Conflict Management For Leaders

First there was guerilla warfare, then the concept was expanded to non-military ideas like guerilla marketing and guerilla bloggers. Now we have guerilla bridge building.

Conflict management skills are important for a leader no matter what the job title is. Left to fester, conflict can spread in the organization, consume resources, and become even more difficult to resolve.

A recent article posted at mediate.com talked about unanticipated mediation opportunities and gave examples from history. Author Peter Adler asked “Why not a new art and science of guerilla conflict management applied to the day-to-day politics that pop up when you are leading an enterprise?“  The skills to manage conflict are key for every leader and potential leader.

Imagine this: a CFO works in a family business, but is not a member of the family. The CEO is the founder of the business and reluctantly considering transition to retirement. There is a conflict between the CEO and his daughter, a 12-year employee who wants to be her father’s successor and is about to leave the company because of frustration with her father. This CFO has an opportunity to do some guerilla bridge building. The possibility of keeping this business intact and managing the transition to the second generation may hinge on whether the father and daughter can resolve their conflict.

The stories where family businesses are not able to do this are the ones that make news headlines. To me, the stand-out news items are the businesses which grapple with conflicts effectively, while managing to grow and prosper.

Where can you learn the skills to be effective at helping those in conflict to build bridges with each other? Many of us did not learn those skills in our formal schooling.  

Bridge building is also known as mediation. Leaning the skills of mediation equips leaders for effective guerilla bridge building whether they are in a large company, a small non-profit, or a community group.

Improve your leadership potential by building your mediation skills.

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!

Read the full article here: https://www.mediate.com/articles/AdlerEye1.cfm

August 10, 2017

Build your conflict resolution skills this fall ! Reserve your place in Fundamentals of Mediation starting September 27.

"Developing effective conflict resolution skill sets are an essential component of a building a sustainable business model. Unresolved conflict often results in loss of productivity, the stifling of creativity, and the creation of barriers to cooperation and collaboration," according to a post by Mike Myatt, Contributor, Forbes. *

Likely any of us who have been in a workplace with others can give examples of the effects of unresolved conflict. When I mediate in workplace conflicts I see the effects of unresolved conflict on the lives of those involved. 

Of course conflict is not limited to workplaces.  It's in all aspects of human interaction.

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 2017.

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of Mediation – Sept 27 to Oct 3, 2017 – 5 days – 40 hours 

Early registration discount ends August 22. - Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada.  

Course # 2 – Mediation Beyond the Basics – November 6, 7, & 8, 2017 – 3 days – 21 hours

Course # 3 - Advanced Mediation – December 4, 5, & 6, 2017 – 3 days – 21 hours

Last course dates before price increase in 2018!

*Mike Myatt's full post is here.

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.