Helping business manage change


I’m delighted to have been asked to join the team at Paradigm Human Performance as a Senior Consultant.

I’ll be providing support for communications, alternative dispute resolution (especially workplace mediation), training and coaching – all vitally important for businesses managing change.

Other faces on the team include:
Tony Gaskell, formerly Head of Human Performance and Behavioural Safety at Magnox; 
Dr. Willem Jungschlager, Paradigm HP’s 'resident' clinical psychologist based in South Africa;
Shane Bush, the leading US proponent of human performance improvement and, of course,
Paradigm HP founder Teresa Swinton, who has spent most of her career overseeing human performance, safety and training in high-risk industries such as construction, rail, high voltage distribution and nuclear and other power generation.

Who’s to blame?

One little example of conflict which might have passed you by this week does a good job of illustrating how easy – and ineffectual – it is to play the blame game.

It concerns a flare-up at a Tesco Express store, where a grandfather was ordered by a new security guard to take off his flat cap while doing his weekly shop.

The guard quoted a company ban on hoodies and crash helmets.

Graham Cattermole refused to remove his beige cotton cap and eventually left without buying anything. He said: “If I had a crash helmet on or I was wearing a hoody and looked like a hooligan, I could understand. But I'm nearly 65 and I've got a walking stick - it's not like I'm going to hold the place up!"

He added that he would not go back to the shop in in Dudley, West Midlands.

Tesco apologised and said the manager would be happy to talk things over with Mr Cattermole.

To me the interesting point is that a spokesman said the security guard was new, and had since been re-trained.

A more productive attitude would perhaps have been to acknowledge that the induction and training programme - which allowed a confused new member of staff onto the shop floor to upset customers – should be carefully reviewed.

As it is, there seems to be nothing to stop this happening again.

How can I help you?

There are several different varieties of mediation – all suited for different purposes.

I provide facilitative mediation for conflicts in the workplace and anywhere else where relationships have broken down.

In a conflict, obvious or “common sense” solutions are unhelpful.

They can divert effort to getting an answer rather than looking deep enough to uncover the real problem.

Sometimes people think workplace mediation is about the mediator coming up with a good idea for settling the issues.

But when an outsider, with limited understanding of what is happening, suggests an answer it is often no more than a temporary solution which ultimately satisfies nobody.

My model of facilitative mediation offers a deeper and broader approach to problem solving and relationship building.

Workplace mediation is cheaper and faster than the alternatives – and is generally accepted to have a 90% success rate.

What’s the forecast?

“My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.” *

It’s easy to dwell on the past, but we are all actually going to live in the future. Starting now.

A main principle of facilitative workplace mediators like me is that we focus on the future. Nobody can change their past, but we all can decide what’s going to happen from now.

Mediation gives everyone involved in a dispute a chance to repair the past and build a better tomorrow.

For some parties that might mean feeling recognised and valued. For others it might mean feeling respected and understood.

Everyone stands to gain something different.

The key idea there is that everyone stands to gain.

Mediators call it win-win.

* US engineer Charles Kettering (1876-1958) inventor of the electric starter motor

Whose turn is it to shout?

The Party Leaders’ Debate on BBC TV last night (Wednesday May 31) was as much about entertainment as about informing the voting public.

It might have been fun to watch, but the sight of up to seven people shouting over each other didn’t help our understanding of the issues or, in some cases, where individuals stood on them.

A proper debate is - like conflict resolution - an opportunity to engage the other side, find your  common ground and work from there towards an agreement.

A good strategy is for each participant to

  • listen to what the others said
  • check their understanding
  • put their own case
  • ensure the other parties understand what they said
  • think about what was said
  • suggest possible ways forward.

It takes time and a commitment to make the process work.

But it’s not good television!

Who’s your new partner?

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

That quote from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk To Freedom is always relevant.

One of the reasons that workplace disputes can drag on, sometimes for years, is the sometimes understandable reluctance to work with the other party.

The problem is that reluctance can become entrenched animosity – and the other party can become the enemy.

When people get to that stage it can seem the easier option to shut off all contact.

But reaching a solution requires that all parties eventually work together, even if they don’t always enjoy doing that.

Note that Mandela talked about your “enemy” becoming your “partner”. That’s not the same as becoming your friend – although it’s a marvellous bonus if that happens, too!

Can you hear me?

One the things I learned as an amateur actor is that a good performance requires more than just waiting for your cue and saying your lines.

It’s essential to listen actively (and respond appropriately) to what the rest of the cast are saying – otherwise you might come across as wooden.

It’s the same when dealing with disputes.

If you are really listening, you can pick up all sorts of information that is not actually being said. And sometimes that information is invaluable when you are seeking a way forward.

Problems can arise in a discussion when people just sit there, waiting for their turn to talk, not listening and not hearing unspoken agreements and concessions which  - if recognised and acted upon - can lead to a realistic and mutually satisfying solution to the problem.


How much does conflict cost you?

When I asked one business owner about workplace mediation he said his company wouldn’t need it – it had systems to prevent conflict causing problems.

Good news!

He went on to tell me how a disgruntled employee had cost his business several hundreds of thousands of pounds and had possibly damaged its reputation.

Companies often take for granted the debilitating effects of unresolved conflict.

See if you recognise any of these:

  • lower morale resulting in lower productivity
  • valuable resources spent on managing conflict
  • damaged working relationships
  • problems with health and wellbeing
  • high rates of sick leave
  • high rates of staff turnover, which means resources diverted to retraining, recruitment and building relationships
  • formal procedures which consume much time and money but might not produce lasting solutions.

Workplace mediation offers the chance for businesses, small and large, to address conflict quickly, cheaply and, above all, effectively.

Whaddaya know?

Very often one of the first things people do when a conflict arises is to assume they can read other people’s thoughts.

Probably all of us have been guilty of thinking:

  • “He’s only doing that because…”
  • “Of course, she doesn’t realise…”
  • “They’re deliberately ignoring the facts…”
  • "I know exactly what he's up to..."

Sadly, we cannot read people’s minds – least of all when we are angry and believe we have right on our side.

The heart of mediation is supporting everyone involved to give their point of view and then – crucially – to listen to everyone else's.

It is not necessary to agree with everything that’s said, but you do need to accept that everyone has, like you, the right to an opinion.

One of the most common statements made during mediation is the surprised: “Oh, but I never knew that…”

It opens all sorts of doors!

What’s REALLY the problem?

People often suggest “common-sense” solutions to conflicts.

But such solutions rarely succeed because they address the obvious problems and overlook the real – often hidden – issues.

Take the greengrocer who finds two customers arguing over his last bag of oranges.   

His common sense solution? Open the bag and sell them half each.

Both walk away with the same number of oranges, but each is dissatisfied and secretly thinks they should really have had the lot.

A mediator would look past the stated desire for a whole bag of oranges, and ask what was really happening. They might then learn that Customer A juiced their oranges and threw away the peel while Customer B used orange peel for marmalade, and threw away the juice.

Understanding their actual needs gives both customers the opportunity to negotiate a solution in which they both win.  

© Osborne Mediation 2018