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workplace mediation case study

I was approached by a large organisation to support with a conflict situation between two colleagues. There was a significant breakdown in trust between them. The participants of the mediation were a very senior manager and one of their reports.

 

The relationship was at a point where they found each other intolerable and were barely on speaking terms. 

After getting a briefing from HR about their concerns and some background to the conflict, it was decided that mediation would be a suitable next step for both employees. I spoke individually with both participants to fully understand their perspectives about the conflict situation prior to the mediation. 

The senior manager took the view that they needed more respect from their colleague, especially in team meetings, where they felt that some of the approaches and behaviours they had witnessed were unhelpful. In particular, the senior manager felt his report was shutting down conversations and when the senior manager challenged his report about this, it was felt that it made them aggressive.

 

The senior manager wanted more time to explore ideas and not be brought down to earth with a thump by practical, negative constraints by someone they wanted support from. They wanted to have blue-sky thinking and freedom to manage their part of the business in a creative way. The dysfunctional dynamic had caused intense annoyance and frustration for the senior manager.

The more junior employee was confused about why his manager was becoming emotional and volatile.  By contrast, they felt that they had practical and legitimate concerns which they felt they must raise as they wanted to protect the organisation from financial and staffing issues in the long term. They felt that a lot of time was wasted in meetings with tangential topics that led nowhere and were usually 'pie in the sky'. 

The mediation allowed both of them to express what they thought and how they felt. Although there was friction, they acknowledged the dysfunction that they were experiencing. At times, the senior manager was trying to performance manage their junior colleague during the mediation. Several times, I asked them to recognise this and move away from this behaviour to listening and explaining. They agreed a Working Plan which set some ground rules about how they were to behave together in the future.

 

At a follow-up meeting about a month later, the plan was holding but it was clear that the underlying issues around approaches to work and communication still needed addressing as the underlying friction was still there - although it was less overt.

I worked with the more junior of the two participants with conflict coaching. Here, we used the NEO PI-3 psychometric assessment to analyse their personality from a variety of different angles. It was clear that they were highly pragmatic and lacked imagination. It was this ability to see the concrete details which had made them a strong 'critical friend' to their manager in the past but now was having the opposite effect as they were perceived as being too critical. They came to realise that the way they were trying to be heard (albeit well- intentioned to support the business from risk) and this was the main friction point. 

Follow up conflict coaching sessions worked on how to position information to the senior manager in a way that they would find acceptable i.e. not in team meetings or with a hostile tone. When 1-1 dialogue was taken away from the public setting and information was presented in a way which was less challenging, both participants began to go back to the strong, and in fact complementary, working relationship that they used to have. 

The insight that conflict coaching gave allowed the relationship to become stable and sustainable. With strategies to communicate that were more positive, the two formed a strong working relationship going forward.

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