Managers today spend a significant amount of their time and energy attempting to reconcile differences and tensions that arise between competing groups and departments within their organisations. The current environment of tight budgets and limited resources coupled with ever demanding productivity and timescale requirements mean that much more is often now required to be achieved using much less, which requires managers to utilise more effective negotiation, problem solving and conflict management skills.
Such an environment can prove challenging for even the most experienced manager who can often be caught up in the middle attempting to facilitate negotiations between parties that are required to work with each other. Often using highly competitive negotiation techniques or simply imposing management solutions will not be effective since without ‘buy-in’ from all those concerned solutions will often simply not be implemented effectively.
Learning some key mediation techniques and strategies can very often make these types of management negotiations more successful and indeed will often produce considerably better results for all those involved. Mediation techniques offer a flexible and informal approach that managers can use to actively assist parties to work towards agreeing how to resolve a dispute or problem in a manner that will ultimately work for all those involved.
What kind of mediation techniques should a manager consider using?
1. Give all those involved the opportunity to tell their side of the story and to be heard
Simply giving the various parties involved the time and space to fully explain their side of the problem whilst others involved are encouraged to listen carefully can be very valuable. Often one or more parties do not feel that others have fully heard and understood their concerns.
2. Identify points of agreement and acknowledge areas of disagreement
In any negotiation or dispute those concerned will nearly always agree on far more than they disagree on. It can help create a more positive and constructive atmosphere by first highlighting the various things that those involved agree on before acknowledging and considering the areas of disagreement.
3. Reframe the conflict as a common problem to be solved by all those involved
Frame the conversation as an opportunity to work together to solve a common problem rather than as a competition for ‘who is right’ or as ‘us against them’. By describing the issue in non-judgemental terms, and framing it as a mutual problem, you acknowledge it as ‘ours’ making a common solution more likely.
4. Move focus away from any past blame towards future solutions
As part of the reframing exercise it is important to focus attention away from trying to establish who was in the wrong and move it towards working to achieve a future solution to the problem. It will often not be possible for each party to persuade the other that they are right and movement away from doing this can provide the key to developing a common solution.
5. Park sticking points
This can be one of the most effective mediation tools. When those involved get stuck on an issue, rather than the negotiation breaking down the point can be carefully ‘parked’ making it clear that it will be returned to later in the discussion. This allows progress to be made on other issues building momentum towards agreement. When the ‘parked’ points are returned to there is often much more incentive to work them out and allow a solution to be achieved.
6. Create opportunities to brainstorm and invite both sides to suggest ways forward
Conflict resolution works best when those involved are able to take a cooperative rather than an adversarial approach to working out differences. Ask those involved to brainstorm solutions directed to the identified points of disagreement. Let them offer any kind of solutions, then select workable suggestions and discard the ones that are not effective.
When used expertly, the use of mediation techniques can not only help agreements to be reached more quickly and effectively, but also the use of such techniques can help identify more innovative solutions to difficult problems.
“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein