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 2019