Updated: Aug 13, 2019

It is a fact of life that people fall out and conflict arises. When it does, what should the parties do about it? Resolving conflict is not as easy as initiating it!


If you are one of the parties involved, conflict is very stressful and your attitude will probably vacillate between:


  • wanting to “stick the boot” into the other party;

  • not knowing what to do; and

  • wishing it would all go away.


If it is a conflict in the workplace and it is your job to manage the people involved, you will probably have a view on who is at fault and go through similar thought processes.


As a mediator, I am bound to say that mediation is the best way to deal with conflict - the involvement of an impartial and independent third party helps bring a resolution in 70-80% of cases. And it does so quickly and at a tiny fraction of the cost of other methods of conflict resolution.


However, it doesn’t usually make sense to bring in a mediator at the very first sign of conflict. After all, it might well blow over.


So when is the right time to call in a mediator?


Every case will be different but it is possible to draw from experience some general rules of thumb:


1. The earlier mediation takes place, the greater the savings in terms of costs, time, disruption of business, sleepless nights and damage to relationships.


2. Where court or tribunal proceedings are contemplated, it is essential that the parties obtain legal advice before mediating: a mediator cannot offer legal advice.


3. If the dispute is one which, if not resolved, will end up in the County or High Court, the Civil Procedure Rules make it clear that the issue of proceedings should be a last resort - so mediation should precede that step.


It is usually best to wait until the parties have identifed the issues between them and have some idea of the amount at stake. This probably means waiting until the parties have obtained any appropriate expert evidence. Often the parties wait until after service of a pre-action Letter of Claim and Letter of Response, though this is not strictly necessary because the parties can set out their respective positions before that point in Position Statements drawn up for the mediation.


4. In employment cases, where a claim is to be made against the employer, the Claimant has a period of three months from the problem at work happening to issue a claim, and so the normal procedure would be to wait until a claim form has been issued and the employer has responded.

5. In a workplace case (eg where employees are not getting on) managers will want to see if they can resolve the situation by normal management procedures before suggesting mediation to them. However, it is best not to wait too long: it is not uncommon for a mediator to find that employees have already been through a grievance procedure, had a “mediation” with a manager, are on medication for anxiety or depression and have been off sick for several months. Needless to say, by this stage people can be very sceptical and cynical about any efforts to resolve the situation.


6. Whilst the general rule is “the earlier, the better”, mediation can take place at any stage of a conflict and it is never too late to mediate. Where court proceedings have been issued, mediation can even take place after the trial and while waiting for judgment or even pending an appeal against the judgment!


If you have a situation where you wonder whether mediation might be helpful, please contact me, Roger Gilbert on 07903 462 015 or Trish Groves on 07548 653 392 for a free, no obligation chat. Alternatively, email us at info@practicalmediation.co.uk. We offer a range of mediation services as well as team or individual coaching.

In my recent post on 12 Beliefs of Effective Communicators, I mentioned that poor communication - whether intentional or inadvertent - can have very negative consequences on health and wellbeing, not only for the person on the receiving end of the communication, but also for the communicator and everyone else in the vicinity.

What do I mean by poor communication?

  • Communication which is unclear, so that the person on the receiving end does not understand what is being said to or asked of them.

  • Communication which leaves the person on the receiving end feeling diminished. For example, using a raised voice; blaming someone for a problem; or telling someone expressly or impliedly that they are worthless.

  • Manipulative communication. "If you don't do as I say, X will have a very low opinion of you."

Communication like this sparks off fear and anger and other similar negative emotions.


A typical scenario in the workplace [Using the male gender for ease]


X perceives that a colleague, Y, has spoken to him angrily or critically. X feels angry and hurt and interprets all Y’s subsequent actions and words as critical or aggressive. Because X feels unable to speak to Y about it, he starts to behave in an unhlepful way towards him. Y starts to feel angry towards X and behaves accordingly.


The relationship deteriorates and before long they are not speaking to each other. Colleagues in the workplace take sides. Some do not like the atmosphere and look for other jobs. X or Y starts a grievance procedure against the other. One goes off sick with depression for six months.


Unfortunately, such scenarios are very common. They cause great mental distress for the parties. It is not uncommon for both to end up on anti-depressants.


Such scenarios also cost businesses a lot of money in terms of:

  • loss of productivity

  • wasted management time

  • paying wages of someone who is off sick

  • dealing with a stress claim

  • agency fees for finding a replacement when X or Y leaves (usually 25% of annual salary)

  • training the replacement

  • solicitors’ fees if one of the parties starts a claim in the Employment Tribunal (typically £250-300 plus VAT per hour)

How can we avoid this?


The best way to pre-empt problems is by training people to become better communicators in the first place.


Once problems have arisen, the parties need to be provided with an effective process to help them to resolve their differences. This may mean enlisting the aid of an impartial third party to mediate between them.


Training


Training can be challenging because very often people believe that it is not their fault if others are upset by their words, voice tone or behaviour: they think other people need to “toughen up!”. However, effective communicators understand that, if people are reacting badly to what they are saying or doing, they need to change what they are saying or doing.


Trainers may therefore need to help someone achieve a complete 180 degree change in their perception of the process of communication.


Assertiveness training and neurolinguistic programming (NLP) offer many effective - and easy to learn - techniques to help in communicating with and listening to others. These are best learned through experiential learning - it is easy to dismiss something someone else is telling you or which you read in a handout; it is much more difficult to ignore something you have discovered for yourself in a role play.


The role of mediation


Once conflict has arisen, it can be very difficult to bring it to an end. This is where mediation can be very helpful.


If you have not come across mediation before, it is very different from the two main traditional methods of conflict resolution which are:

  • fighting it out; and

  • agreeing or imposing a process where a third party (eg judge, director, or teacher) listens to the parties, exercises the judgment of Solomon, and tells them who is in the right, who is in the wrong and what they must do from now on.

By contrast, in mediation, the parties in conflict are brought together in a safe and confidential process and helped by an independent and impartial third party to talk to each other and work out a solution for themselves. This is successful more often than not (often surprisingly so), and the successful outcome is far better for the parties: people are much more willing to buy into and stick to an agreement which they have freely made themselves than a regime which has been imposed upon them.

The basis and essence of mediation - and why it works - is that the parties in conflict are helped to communicate with each other honestly and clearly. The experience of a successful mediation is itself a lesson in how to communicate with others, and one of the important features of any mediation, where the parties have a continuing relationship, is to help them think about how they will resolve any disputes in future, and agree a plan for doing so.


In a workplace situation, the objective of mediation is to help parties to be able to work together, not for them to become great friends. However, it is amazing how often the mediation process can cause fear and anger to melt away and repair damaged relationships..


Recently, after a successful mediation, a member of the HR team said: “I nearly burst into tears when I saw X and Y talking to each other and smiling. I haven’t seen X smile for a long while”. Prior to the mediation, X had been off work sick for eleven months due, from their point of view, to things said and done by their manager Y - who was also very stressed by the situation.

"I may need help with a situation at work!"


If you have a situation where you wonder whether training or mediation might be helpful, please contact me, Roger Gilbert on 07903 462 015 or Trish Groves on 07548 653 392 for a free, no obligation chat. Alternatively, email us at info@practicalmediation.co.uk. We offer invidual and team coaching and a range of mediation services.

In my work as a #mediator and a counsellor, I have often seen how poor communication - whether intentional or inadvertent - can have very negative consequences on health and #wellbeing, not only for the person on the receiving end, but also for the communicator and everyone else in the vicinity. 

What do I mean by poor communication? In summary, communication which leaves the recipient feeling, confused, diminished or manipulated.  The inevitable consequences of such communication are anger and fear. Once these genies are out of the bottle they affect everyone and it can be very difficult to get them back in.

Fortunately, it is also true that learning very simple changes to the way we communicate can vastly improve relationships.

I learned a lot about good communication skills from #assertiveness training. You may think that training to be “assertive” is all about learning to get your own way. However, assertiveness is quite the opposite: an assertive person listens to and takes heed of other people’s feelings and opinions. I summarise assertiveness as:

  • having the ability to express your own feelings, opinions, desires and needs in an appropriate way, while

  • recognising and accepting that other people have feelings, opinions, desires and needs which may well be different from your own; and

  • encouraging and promoting assertiveness in others.

Whilst it is not always easy to reconcile differing feelings, opinions, desires and needs, it is my experience that when there is a respectful free flow of communication, people have better relationships, work together more successfully, and feel happier. 

There are two aspects to assertiveness: learning how to communicate clearly and honestly ourselves, and learning how to to deal with and respond to other people’s confusing, aggressive or manipulative behaviour.  

There are many simple techniques to learn which make both aspects of our communications more successful. In this article I just want to share a list of assertive “rights” which were given to me years ago by Gael Lindenfield, a self help expert and author. They are all expressed here as "I have the right to…", but remember that others have the same rights too.

Each of these rights is a counter to the negative messages and beliefs, conscious or unconscious, which block honest and open communication. To see what I mean, pick one of the rights and imagine someone saying “You don’t have the right to…”. How does that feel?

Understanding these rights and using them to guide our behaviour forms a solid basis for effective communication and healthy and happy relationships. They have helped me considerably over the years and I have passed them on to many of my counselling clients. I hope that you will find them useful too.

The more people who are confident and happy and able to communicate clearly and honestly the better for all of us: a rising tide lifts all boats!

List of assertive rights

I have put some brief comments on the rights in italics. Should you have any further queries about any of them, please get in touch.

I have the right to ask for what I want (realising that other people have the right to say “no”). 

The corollory of this is that other people have the right to ask for what they want and you have the right to say “no”. This right is concerned with communication skills, not decision making. It is when people don’t feel able to say “no” that problems arise.

2. I have the right to have opinions, feelings and emotions and to express them appropriately.

3. I have the right to make statements which have no logical basis and which I do not have to justify.

Remember this right the next time a salesman asks you to justify your decision not to purchase his goods or services. The simplest answer to the question: “Why don’t you want to…?” is “I don’t”. If you try to justify your answer, you weaken your position and will get drawn into protracted discussions.

4. I have the right to make my own decisions and to cope with the consequences.

5. I have the right to choose whether or not to get involved with the problems of someone else.

This is very useful to remember when someone says something like: "You would do this for me if you cared about me" or "You are the only person who can help me”.

6. I have the right not to know about something and not to understand.

This is not about promoting ignorance: it is just affirming that, if you don't know or understand something, it is perfectly OK to say so and to ask for clarification. When you do, you may be surprised how often someone else will come up to you afterwards and say: "I'm glad you asked about that because I didn't have a clue what they were talking about”.

7. I have the right to make mistakes.

This is not about behaving rashly, but an acknowledgement that the fear of making mistakes is a major obstacle to personal growth. All successful people have made mistakes. They are an opportunity to learn and develop!

8. I have the right to be successful.

9. I have the right to change my mind.

10. I have the right to privacy.

11. I have the right to be alone and independent.

12. I have the right to change myself and be assertive.

Some of these statements may be things you already believe - ie they are statements which feel true for you. If there are some which don't feel true for you, then one way to convert these statements into beliefs is to regularly repeat them to yourself - your mind will soon relate them to experiences where they were or could be useful. 


If any seem too hard to believe, try putting the words "What if" at the beginning: for example: "What if I have the right to be successful?”

There is a lot more to successful and effective communication, but I hope that you will find that these rights or beliefs are a good starting point.

If you would like to learn more about how you can communicate even more effectively, please contact us at info@practicalmediation.co.uk


© 2018 by practicalmediation.co.uk.