How bad does it have to be to make it worth calling a mediator? When to mediate

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2022/07/how-bad-does-it-have-to-be-to-make-it-worth-calling-a-mediator-when-to-mediate/

Many of us often face challenging and difficult situations.  We usually manage those as well as we can.  Most workplace tensions are not managed with the assistance of an external third party. So, how bad does a situation have to be to justify bringing in an external facilitator or mediator to help?  When is the situation officially a ‘conflict’?  

Workplace conflict is everywhere

ACAS estimate that workplace conflict costs British businesses just under £30bn a year.  That breaks down to roughly £1000 cost per employee.  These figures include the tangible costs, such as legal fees and the cost of management time spent. They also include other costs that may not be immediately apparent, such as lost productivity and retention/recruitment costs – 800,000 people of the 10 million involved in a workplace conflict will leave the organisation within years (resignations/dismissals).

The overt and the covert

‘Conflicts’ include issues that have escalated to a very visible dispute.  But they also include situations where latent conflict issues may not yet have overtly surfaced, but are present, bubbling away under the surface. The manager may be aware that there are issues that need to be addressed between two members of their team, but they are, perhaps, hoping that the issues will sort themselves out without them needing to be involved.

They usually don’t go away on their own.

When is it time to try mediation?

Here are some points to help consider when to mediate:

1. When the disagreement is starting to get in the way of your team working well and you need to rebuild the relationship

Conflict can be constructive – a well-functioning team needs to be able to air different perspectives and views to avoid group think. But we need teams that are ‘conflict competent’ to manage those discussions constructively. Mediation is particularly valuable to restore relationships – so when an ongoing relationship between yourself and the others is crucial, it can really help.

2. You’ve already had a go at resolving things informally, directly

You’ve raised that there is an issue and tried to get it resolved

But things are still difficult and it’s getting in the way of getting the job done.  This would be a good time to step it up – it’s time to get a bit more help.

3. Before the tensions escalate – and the costs

It is generally considered better to start mediation as soon as possible during the disagreement.  ACAS advice that the earlier the disagreement is dealt with, the less chance there is of things getting worse.

Prompt mediation will help reduce the amount of time and money spent on the dispute and open a dialogue with the other party before they become too fixed in their position.

It’s worth noting that some lawyers consider that bringing in mediation later in the conflict, once parties have had a chance to receive legal advice is preferable. Thisis so that they go into the discussions better informed.

4. The people involved want to resolve the issues quickly and discreetly

If the people involved want to resolve the situation but need some facilitation to do that, the situation is ripe for mediation. There are lots of benefits to this approach over other dispute resolution approaches – including speed, privacy and control. 

What is mediation anyway?

Mediation is a quick way to resolve disagreement at work and is:

  • Less formal
  • Flexible
  • Voluntary
  • Confidential 

Conclusion

If workplace tensions are getting in the way of your team delivering what they need to do – and there have already been efforts to resolve the issues that haven’t worked – then it may be time to consider mediation.  If this describes your situation, click here to arrange an informal, no-obligation call with Pip to consider whether mediation could help.

Mediation: When to Shuttle

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2022/05/mediation-when-to-shuttle/

If you’re keen to mediate but aren’t sure about having a face to face meeting, then you may be wondering what your options are.  You may have already heard of shuttle mediation.  Here is the low-down on the option of shuttle mediation.

What is shuttle?

Shuttle mediation is when your mediator meets each of the parties separately to discuss their issues and needs with them. The mediator will discuss what each side would like to raise and what requests they would like to make of the other side/s.  The big difference between shuttle and other mediation is that there isn’t a joint meeting for all the parties together.

Is that less effective?

Maybe a joint meeting isn’t going to be helpful

Not necessarily.  It depends.  It’s true that for many mediators there is a magic in that joint meeting.  It gives each of the parties involved in the dispute a chance to hear directly from each other about what the issues are that matter, what impact the conflict has had on them, and what they want to be different in the future.  You do still cover those points in a shuttle.  But it can be incredibly powerful to hear that directly from the other party themselves. There can often be a very tangible shift in the room once the parties have heard from each other.  It can be transformational in the parties’ understanding of the dispute.

But it doesn’t always work like that.  And there may be numerous reasons why it could be unhelpful to have the parties in the room together.  Maybe the power imbalance is very pronounced.  It may be too intense for one or all parties.  Maybe there is a concern whether the physical or psychological safety of the parties can be managed by the mediator.

It’s worth remembering that a joint session isn’t the only way to progress your mediation to an agreement.

Here are my top three reasons why you could consider a shuttle mediation approach:

  • Less pressure

You can progress your mediation in a way that is less confrontational, less challenging.  This could mean the difference between completing your mediation and not.  S

Shuttle mediation gives parties a chance to manage the pace themselves
  • More space to think and catch your breath

Shuttle is conducted in stages and the mediator alternates between private meetings with each of the parties.  While the mediator is not with the party, they have a chance for reflection and/or rest – mediation can be a draining experience.

  • Still scope to get an agreement

The mediator will still provide the parties with the space and support to resolve the issues that are in dispute.  

When wouldn’t you shuttle?

If you have a workplace conflict with parties who work together, want to resolve their dispute with a shuttle mediation and are unwilling to conduct a joint meeting together… then I would have some reservations.  If the objective for the mediation is to resolve the working relationship, then they are almost certainly going to need to be comfortable being in the same room with each other. But there may be other support that could help the parties work through their issues.

Workplace Mediation: What’s in it for me?

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2022/04/workplace-mediation-whats-in-it-for-me/

5 Reasons to Mediate

If you are facing a conflict situation at work, it may be that you have already considered mediation as one of the options available to you to resolve the conflict. But what are the factors to consider as you weigh up your options?

To help inform your decision, this blog outlines the top five benefits of the process.

It works.

Mediation is staggeringly effective.  CEDR estimate 93% of civil and commercial mediation cases achieve an agreement – 72% on the day of the mediation and a further 21% settle shortly afterwards.  That statistic is similar in the workplace. The TCM Group resolve 93% of their workplace mediations.  Other sectors differ somewhat but are still high – community mediation resolve over 80% of cases, in family mediation over 70% of cases resolve.

If you want to resolve the issue, why wouldn’t you try mediation? 

It is private.

A key attribute of mediation is that it is confidential, with rare exceptions (safeguarding, threats of harm).  This means that we can explore options without prejudice, i.e. without the concern that you are making concessions simply by discussing those options. If an agreement is reached, that agreement or action plan remains confidential between the parties unless they all agree that it may be shared, e.g. with an HR representative.  But if they don’t all agree, then the agreement is not shared and remains confidential.

That stands in stark contrast with other non-confidential dispute processes that can leave employees feeling exposed and under attack.  It’s hard to see how process that leave staff feeling defensive is setting anyone up well to resolve issues. See David Liddle’s Transformational Culture for more on this.

You are in control of the solution.

The parties decide what actions are needed to resolve the dispute. The mediator will support the parties to identify what is needed for them each to move on.  This means the parties are in control of the agreement.  Their actions are the actions they choose and agree; the actions that are relevant and important to them. That may include actions that could not be considered as part of the ‘settlement’ in other processes.

The parties are also not subject to the judgement of others. The whole process is focused on what needs to happen/change in order for the relations to be restored, e.g team relationships. It is not about determining who is right and wrong. This means that mediation works best when parties want to repair the working relationship: they want to resolve the situation. Putting aside the need to be right – and replacing that with a need to be understand and to understand.

It is quick – and relatively inexpensive

Mediation can be fast to arrange, which means that conflicts can be nipped in the bud before they escalate, causing stress and costing businesses more in lost productivity and staff time.  Once parties’ availability is confirmed and your mediator is appointed, the process can move very quickly. The whole mediation may be conducted over one day, whether that it online or in-person – with initial private meetings taking place in the morning and a joint meeting in the afternoon.  

You have the freedom to set out the actions you want to include.

Mediation is a responsive approach. The impact of conflict can be expressed, heard and understood by each side. This critical part of the process encourages empathy between the parties.  They have an opportunity to hear directly what the impact has been on each other.  This can often tangibly release the tension and – having been heard – frees the parties up to start talking about the future.

Would you like to talk more about how mediation and conflict resolution can help you?

The Right/Wrong Trap: Whose truth are we talking about?

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2022/02/the-right-wrong-trap-whose-truth-are-we-talking-about%ef%bf%bc/

In a disagreement, what is the most important thing to you – to be right, or to be able to move on?  For some of us, we need to have our position accepted as The Truth. And often in mediation, that need to be ‘right’, gets right in the way of the parties being able to resolve the dispute.

Focusing on what’s needed for a resolution is more helpful than thinking about issues in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Often parties describe their position and it tends to be in quite black and quite terms – they are right and the other person is, therefore wrong.  This is a trap.  If we think about issues only as right and wrong, then if we aren’t right, then we must be wrong. Being wrong feels like a judgment-heavy, uncomfortable position to be in. 

When we take a right/wrong view of issues, that makes it harder to get a resolution everyone is content with.  It takes us further from the win-win result. It constrains the discussion into a binary framework.  And we may feel we have little choice but to entrench and defend our position.

Focusing on right and wrong makes it almost impossible to think creatively about how to satisfy everyone’s interests and resolve the dispute.

Mediation focuses on the future, rather than right/wrong.

This is where mediation offer parties a different approach to that taken in other forms of dispute resolution.  Facilitative mediation not focused on right and wrong. In many cases, it’s not particularly relevant.  

It can be really challenging to move beyond that position. It is still natural for the parties involved in a dispute to fall into the right/wrong trap when talking through what’s happened.

Instead, the mediator will help the parties identify what’s going on underneath the surface of their position – what they really need to move on.

Why?  Because it’s a more potentially constructive area to explore than a limiting statement that ‘I’m right and they are wrong.’ And there may be a variety of meanings.

What people could mean when they say ‘I’m right’.

When a party in a dispute or argument states ‘I’m right’ – we can take that at face value.  They may well mean “I believe that it is my right to do/say/behave as I did”.

But there may be other meanings:

  • “I need my perspective acknowledged”
  • “I need my needs to be met”
  • “I want to be heard”
  • “I want the other person to agree to what I want”
  • “I want to be reassured I haven’t done wrong”

A mediator helps those involved in the dispute to address and explore what’s underneath the initial positions taken by parties. Part of that may be to support and coach the parties to move to a more empathetic stance. Seeking to understand how these issues look from other perspectives.  

What does the Mediator do?

Although controversial for some, in mediation and in disagreements more generally, it can be helpful to consider that we are working with at least three versions of the truth:

  1. The truth as I see it from my perspective
  2. The truth from your perspective
  3. The facts of the issue.  

All are important to understand to reach a resolution.

Understanding perspectives is key to resolution.

It seems to me that the cases where there are clear-cut issues of right/wrong are rare.  It’s all in the perspective. Instead of getting stuck in the right/wrong trap, seeking to understand those differing perspectives has been much more constructive in terms of getting the issues resolved and helping the parties to move on.

Reflections from a Career Pivoter: just keep swimming

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2022/01/reflections-from-a-career-pivoter-just-keep-swimming/

Are you someone who enjoys having some time for reflection at this point in the year? I love having a bit of space to step back and consider how the last year has gone, and I do use the opportunity to think about what I want to prioritise for the coming year. I tend not to set myself official resolutions, which feel too much like a to-do list.

The big thing for me over the last couple of years has been to shift my professional focus from international development programmes to mediation. Whenever anyone asks me about this, I tend to describe it as a slog, albeit a worthwhile one. It’s certainly been harder than I had expected. 

Granted, my career pivot came just before the start of the COVID pandemic. That made it harder in lots of ways – all those networking opportunities dried up for a while. But in that classic threats/opportunities way, it also made for a huge shake up in the mediation sector. When I trained, pre-pandemic, there was a distinct disapproval of the idea that mediating remotely was a viable option for parties. Once the pandemic started, I lost count of the mediators who used their early adoption of the online space as a marketing plug. 

I’m conscious that there are lots of people who have taken the opportunity presented by the pandemic to review how they are managing their lives and many are making changes.

Here are my three main reflections.

It really is scary to try something new – what if I fail? What if I can’t pay the bills?

It’s hard to get away from the fact that there are risks to shifting your career from the thing that has paid the bills, to something new. It may not work. It’s good to consider what happens if that is the case. Is there scope to take a portfolio approach and manage a couple of different work-streams? Perhaps gradually increasing the time you can devote to your passion-project as it becomes financially stable? 

There are some great tips in Herminia Ibarra’s Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. My main takeaway was that you don’t need to jump off the cliff to make a career change. You can start small. You can work out what direction you want to take your career by taking small experimental steps and adjusting your path along the way. Pivoting, even.

It takes a while.

And, for many people, it takes time. Those overnight successes usually had a lead in time stretching back years. The lead-in time was their hard slog.

One question I asked when I was starting out was ‘why do most people fail as mediators?’. The consistent answer was that they gave up too soon. It often takes a two, to three, to five years to get established with a good flow of work. That flow of work may or may not be full-time. 

That’s my next challenge.

Keep showing up. Doing your thing. Keep it up.

The best advice I had was also the most straight-forward. Keep plugging away. It may feel as though no-one is noticing what you’re doing – and in the crowded social media space it’s all too easy to fall into the comparison trap. Dave Owen, a hugely experienced and generous mediator, told me not to get distracted by this. Instead, just keep showing up and doing what you do. 

So, the best tip can be summed up in the words of Dory: just keep swimming.

Top Tips for Conflict in the Festive Season

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/12/top-5-tips-for-conflict-in-the-festive-season/

‘Tis the season to be jolly.  But for many of us, it’s also a time when we experience conflict during those much-anticipated gatherings with our loved ones.  That conflict may be very visible – or it could be bubbling under the surface.  It’s still conflict.  And it can still feel stressful, uncomfortable and even upsetting.

Here is a collection of my favourite conflict management and resolution tips.  Some have been picked up during mediation, others from working in conflict hotpots across the globe and others from simply living and working in situations where conflicts arise.  

Take heart – conflict is inevitable.

Conflicts are part of life.  In any discussion where you have multiple views, perspectives, ideas expressed, there’s almost certainly going to be a conflict between them.  This is a good thing because it makes our conversations richer and more interesting.  How dull would it be if there were only one way of looking at an issue?  See here for our previous post on why we really need some conflict, handled well.

The challenge is to embrace those differences, and continue the conversation.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Give those involved a good listening to.  Hear them out.  

Samaritans use the Listening Wheel as a prompt to utilise all elements of active listening: asking open questions; reflecting; reacting clarifying; summarising; using short words of encouragement.  For more on learning to listen like a Samaritan, see this wonderful book.

And ask questions in the spirit of friendly curiosity

Find out why they are saying what they’re saying.  What do they need to happen and why is that?  What interests or needs do they have?

If you find yourselves on opposite sides of an argument or issue, it’s all the more important to show curiosity. What has led them to reach the conclusions that they have done? A useful 1 minute summary is here.

Empathise.

And encourage those involved to put themselves into the other persons’ shoes.  Mediators will sometimes ask parties think through the issues from the perspective of the other party. As Gerry O’Sullivan says, “it’s important to ask the party to think like the other party with that other party’s thoughts, feelings and perspectives, rather than thinking about what they would have done in those circumstances.” It is a very powerful way to ease the antagonism/competition we often find in conflicts.

Try a different perspective.

To help maintain a sense of perspective when emotions start to run high, we can practise ‘distanced self-talk’, following the example of Marcus Aurelius.  If that doesn’t work for you, there are other techniques to support us to manage our emotions.  It gets harder to do that in a state of stress.  But that’s when you really need them. Here’s a bit more on managing emotions.

You may agree to disagree.

You may not reach an agreement or shared perspective on an issue. That’s ok. You can disagree on the substance without breaking the relationship. Here’s how:

  1. Actively acknowledge the other’s perspective using terms such as ‘I understand that…,’; ‘I see your point’; or ‘What I think you are saying is…’
  2. Affirm the other person’s views by highlighting areas of agreement, no matter how small or obvious. For example, say ‘I agree that…’ or ‘You’re right about…’
  3. Hedge your claims: say ‘I think it’s possible’ rather than ‘This will happen because…’ (Note: you can soften your own beliefs, but don’t minimise values! Avoid words such as ‘just’, ‘simply’ or ‘only’.)
  4. Phrase your arguments in positive rather than negative terms. Say ‘I think it’s helpful to maintain a social distance’ rather than ‘You should not be socialising right now.’
  5. Share your personal experiences – especially involving vulnerability – and this will encourage mutual respect. In contrast, reciting explanations or facts you’ve learned can sound argumentative and condescending.

Focus on the future

Many conflicts have several different dimensions – there will be the trigger event or comment.  But there are often many events, comments and hurts in the past that have contributed to the current situation.  Especially in family settings, the slights and hurts can last a generation.  Getting stuck in a tit-for-tat exchange of who did what to whom is unlikely to set the scene for a more positive relationship in the future.  It may be necessary to share your feelings and understand the impact of past actions.  But for the relationship to move on, it’s helpful to refocus on we want from the relationship in the future.

Why We Need Conflict in the Workplace, Handled Well – and 3 Tips for Constructive Disagreements

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/11/why-we-need-conflict-in-the-workplace-handled-well-and-3-tips-for-constructive-disagreements/

Many of us find conflict stressful and hard work.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier if those workplace conflicts just weren’t there?

Or would it….?

Teams with no disagreements can feel stagnant

A workplace without conflict

Let’s think that through for a moment.  

Imagine your workplace.  What if there were no conflict in your team?  What would that look like?  What would it feel like?

The dynamic is peaceful. No disagreements. Everyone’s personal style is aligned.  No clashes.  No opposing views.  

Hmm. No opposing views? Are we sure that’s really what we want?

Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas

Donatella Versace

Group Thinking Traps

In Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed demonstrated why having a team who don’t have opposing views and perspectives isn’t a great result.  

An intelligent individual
An un-intelligent team (of clones)
An intelligent team (of rebel thinkers)

Constructive disagreements

Without differing views and perspectives, i.e. without views and perspectives that conflict with each other, you may end up with a team of clones.  This matters, because we need cognitive diversity to strengthen our business.  

We want disagreement.  But we want constructive disagreement.  It’s important to be able to share opposing, conflicting views, without erupting into harmful conflict.  

We need constructive rather than destructive disagreements

Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But it’s how we handle it that makes the difference.  Will it be destructive or constructive?

Conflict is good in a negotiation process. It’s the clash of two ideas which then, all being well, produces a third idea

Luke Roberts

Responding in a considered way, rather than knee-jerk reactions

We may not be instinctively great at managing conflict.  We may go quickly into a fight or flight mode.  But we don’t have to stay in that state.

ACAS refer to ‘conflict competence’, which is our conflict handling skills. Like other skill sets, they can be developed and honed.

Tips for managing your immediate response include regulating your breathing and, taking our lead from Marcus Aurelius, practising distanced self-talk. 

Jaw, jaw – or war war?

There are also adjustments in our HR processes that can facilitate dialogue and encourage staff to exchange differing perspectives.  Do your staff have the opportunity to express views in a psychologically safe space? Do they feel heard?  

3 practical steps to manage workplace conflict better

We want to hear and use different perspectives

Remembering that we want disagreements, here are three ways to open up the space for those to take place constructively:

  1. Enhance conflict competence through training and coaching for leaders, managers, teams, staff to empower them to manage disagreements constructively
  2. Ensure that your processes are focused on resolution and dialogue; on opening up the space for dialogue and ensuring there are opportunities for staff to voice their opinions and ideas.  
  3. Add a mediation clause in your contract: conflicts and disagreements are inevitable, and we commit to resolve those through dialogue and mediation as the primary response.  That could save thousands in legal fees alone.

Contact us to talk more about how to strengthen your business by ensuring that differing perspectives can be shared.

Dialogue is the most effective way of resolving conflict

Dalai Lama

The Art of Disagreement: How to disagree at work without harming relationships

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/10/the-art-of-disagreement-how-to-disagree-at-work-without-harming-relationships/

We can’t always agree. And how we disagree makes all the difference to our working relationships.

Disagreeing with a friend recently felt a bit like this

I disagreed with a friend on an issue recently. We had differing perspectives, both valid. It really felt uncomfortable because it was hard to agree to disagree with them – it felt as though they needed me to accept that they were “right”. I didn’t see it like that. And I’d have felt so much comfortable in the discussion, if we’d been able to reflect on our different perspectives without the need to determine who’s right and who’s wrong.

It struck me that there really is an art to disagreeing with someone. That applies in personal relationships with friends and family, as well at work.

It’s good to disagree, and disagree well

In Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed celebrates teams where areas of disagreement and differing perspectives are aired. Have you ever worked in a team like this? I have, but only once in my career. Team discussions sometimes felt pretty uncomfortable. For leaders, it can certainly be hard work to chair and facilitate those discussion. But the alternative – Syed’s teams of clones – are often the kiss of death for creativity and innovation.

Done well, airing disagreements can maximise team creativity and engagement. Handled badly, it can be toxic. 

You can’t avoid disagreements

So, how can we disagree well?

5 top tips for respectful disagreements:

  1. Remember disagreement is healthy and inevitable – you can avoid disagreeing with others, by not saying anything… or agreeing with everything they say. But that comes at a high cost to your authenticity. And you’re missing an opportunity to bounce ideas around – why wouldn’t sharing another perspective enrich the discussion?
We want to understand what’s underneath the surface
  • Listen actively to understand their view (‘seek first to understand’) and create space for dialogue – in mediation we talk about understanding what’s going on under the surface of the position statements that parties can find themselves stuck in. In that context, we want to understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ that is being described. That allows for more scope to find win-win solutions. In any discussion involving differing perspectives, there is real value in showing a sense of curiosity about why the other person has the perspective that they do. Bonus top tip: asking “why do you think that?” can come across as aggressive and is unlikely to open up the space for dialogue; try “could you say a bit more about what’s led you to think that?”).
  • Acknowledge/Reflect the other perspective – clearly valuing the other perspective can often be reassuring for the other party in the discussion. And you could help them feel more comfortable to discuss, getting out of the fight or flight mode they may find themselves in. It also allows the conversation to move forward, past the initial position statements and gets to the ‘why?’. Try: “this sounds like an important issue to you because of the impact that it is having on the team’s productivity.”
  • Identifying areas of agreement and separating those from the disagreements – this tip helps you organise and sort the issues that may be involved. It gives you a chance to reinforce the sense that you are perhaps on the same team, or that you share a common overall objective. Try: “it sounds like we agree that the issue is how to grow our customer base. We have different ideas about how to communicate with potential clients. Is that right?”
  • Use respectful language – it may seem obvious but it’s easy to slip into unhelpful language, especially if you’re finding the conversation stressful. Declaring “you’re wrong!” may not help progress the conversation forward; try instead “that’s interesting. Could you talk me through your thinking on this?”. 

Yes, but here’s another bonus tip:

  • Yes, but…” is fatal. I’d suggest using the word “but” sparingly because it’s commonly perceived as negating the preceding statement (“I like you but….”). Try: “yes, and…” instead.

Clarify your objective before you start

And finally, consider your objective – is it to be right and win the argument? OK – the risk is that you could achieve that at the cost of the relationship. If the relationship matters, consider a different approach.

Get in touch if you’d like to turn around disagreements in your team and maximise the opportunities for innovation and creativity.

Uncomfortable conversations: Love them or hate them?

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/09/uncomfortable-conversations-love-them-or-hate-them/

Who relishes a conversation that feels uncomfortable?  Alesha Dixon commented in an interview earlier this year – “I love an uncomfortable conversation. I really do. Because I’m not afraid to learn and to be wrong.”  Her comment has really stayed with me. It’s unusual to hear someone talking about difficult discussions in such a positive way.

How do you feel when you’re out of your comfort zone?

It’s not uncommon to feel threatened – as though you’re under attack. If you feel yourself going into flight-fight mode, you wouldn’t be alone. Dan Goleman referred to the “amygdala hijack” in Emotional Intelligence: Why It can Matter More than IQ. That hijack often doesn’t bring out the best in anyone. Steve Peters has described the brain’s reaction to the hijack as a chimp.

Feeling threatened?

It’s a threat

When we perceive specific threats in a social situation, it affects our ability to interact productively. Commonly these are threats to our social standing: having our competence undermined, feeling as though we’re being micro-managed; believing a situation to be unfair. Acknowledging the stressors that trigger our threat responses is a good way to ensure that the confrontation doesn’t get the better of you.

You’re wrong!”

‘Being wrong’ is a very emotionally loaded phrase.  It can get in the way of listening to other perspectives because it’s a rare person who is able to keep practising active listening, when they feel like they are under attack.

It can be scary to admit that you might be getting something wrong – or that you just don’t know about something.  If you’re trying to do that in the middle of a conflict, then that’s really tricky.

But it’s important. You may be missing out on an opportunity. Those emotions may get in the way of hearing a different perspective – really hearing it, without that sense of threat.

Managing your emotions

Thankfully there’s a lot of advice around about managing that emotional response during difficult conversations.  Much focuses on getting your breathing under control – whether as part of mediation, or just taking some deep breaths.

“Why is Marcus so concerned about this issue?”

There’s also a classic technique of ‘distanced self-talk’ – as demonstrated by Marcus Aurelius.  There’s a shift from thinking ”why am I feeling so upset?”, which is considered immersed self-talk, to a distanced self-talk question, eg “why is Joe feeling so upset?” (if your name is Joe). 

Sometimes, getting some support from someone outside the situation can make a difference to how those discussions go. If you’d like some support to manage difficult conversations, get in touch and I might be able to help.

How do you introduce yourself? Career changers and evolving professional identities

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/07/how-do-you-introduce-yourself-career-changers-and-evolving-professional-identities/
When do you change your ‘introduction label?

What do you do?

The first time I introduced myself as a mediator wasn’t at in a business setting, or a networking event.  It was to my new dentist.  He asked me what I do for work.  I paused, before replying “I’m a mediator and conflict coach”.  This was the first time that I had said described myself by the field I was moving into. It felt significant.

I’ve worked in conflict for a long time.  But after years working overseas, I trained as a mediator a couple of years ago.  Since then, I’ve been working on building a mediation business. My focus is on workplace and community disputes – and, more generally, disputes where emotions are running particularly high.

When to change your introduction label?

As a career changer/pivoter, I found it hard to identify the point when it’s ok to label myself by my new role, without being disingenuous.  It’s the same when you’re starting out in your career.  I’ve heard of career coaches advising that you should use your ‘new label’ when asked what you do, rather than continuing in a box that you’re moving on from.

There’s a whole discussion over whether these labels are really helpful or not – and what using your work as your primary identifier means for you.  But I’ll leave a discussion of labelling theory to the psychologists.

According to Second Breaks, it’s important to reflect your new professional identity:

When you fully accept the shift in your professional identity, you project a level of self-assuredness that people around you pick up on and respond to.

For me, this came after I’d been a qualified mediator for more than 18 months, with several mediations and conflict coaching calls under my belt.  I’m not entirely sure why it felt right to tell my dentist that I’m a mediator. But it felt good and I’ve continued to introduce myself as a mediator since.

What’s your experience of evolving your pitch and how you introduce yourself?