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Managers as Mediators Brokering Employee Disputes


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Nothing damages team morale and employee engagement more than interpersonal conflict in the workplace, and like scars, old resentments can run deep. Positively and constructively engaging warring parties who either avoid one another or, worse, actively undermine or confront one another is always a daunting challenge but one that can be managed successfully if you approach the situation wisely and set up the parameters of the meeting correctly. Treating employees like adults, holding them accountable for their own "perception management," and providing them with career options at this critical juncture are essential. The good news: the proper intervention gives you a wonderful opportunity to reset both group and individual expectations and eliminate the drama from the workplace.

Published in: Leadership & Management
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Managers as Mediators Brokering Employee Disputes

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  2. 2. Paul Falcone is Author of . . .  101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees: A Manager’s Guide to Performance, Conduct, and Discipline Challenges  101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems: A Guide to Progressive Discipline and Termination  96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire  2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews  2600 Phrases for Setting Effective Performance Goals 2
  3. 3. Outcomes  Train managers to address problematic conduct or substandard job performance issues directly and honestly  Set high standards without simultaneously putting others down or turning them off  Structure a safe meeting environment for "warring" participants (eliminating need for defensiveness, attacks, and/or counter-attacks)  
  4. 4. Outcomes (cont.)  Build a culture in which team members can assume partial responsibility for problems and make themselves part of the solution  Realign teams, reset management expectations, and turn around group performance and productivity  Become a mentor and coach rather than a unilateral
  5. 5. Outcomes (cont.)  Heal old wounds and increase individual performance and group productivity  Get the team back to “normal” and eliminate that feeling of having to walk on eggshells around one another  Establish your reputation as a leader who takes on the toughest situations the workplace can conjure up 5
  6. 6. Common Scenario One particular department within your organization suffers from individuals who simply can't or won't get along. Unaddressed and often longstanding resentments poison the workplace, and productivity and performance suffer. In circumstances like these, it's only a matter of time until something major falls through the cracks and the drama hits the fan. Employees question: “When will management finally do something about this?”
  7. 7. Variations on a Theme Lack of trust, lack of recognition, failure to acknowledge the other person’s presence Mutiny on the Bounty—Anonymous Complaints that Kill Morale and Camaraderie . . . Gossips, Rumor-Mongers, Snitches and the Dreaded “Preemptive Strike”
  8. 8. Variations on a Theme (cont.) Paratrooping Behind Enemy Lines—When Team Leaders Won’t Respect Their Department Head Wounded Casualties Acting on Principal and Self-Defense . . . When that Proverbial Straw is Broken on the Camel’s Back When the Problem is at the Top of the Food Chain: Stopping Bullies in Their Tracks
  9. 9. Remedies  Preventing loss of control and storming out of the room in rage  Overcoming “This’ll never work—we’ve tried this before, and it just made matters worse”  Follow-up tips for staying in touch and preventing relapses into old habits
  10. 10. Remedies (cont.)  Treating adults like adults  Consequences with teeth (i.e., written “letters of clarification” and, when necessary, final written warnings for egregious misconduct)  When it may be time to move on . . .
  11. 11. General Rules of Engagement – Step 1: Meet with each individual 1-on-1 and simply listen to what each has to say Step 2: Ask, “What would [NAME] say if she were here right now to defend herself? What could her counterargument sound like? Step 3: Ask, “What would you like to see happen?”
  12. 12. Rules of Engagement (cont.)  Step 4: Inform the complainant that you’ll need to involve both supervisors (one tier removed from the action) to explore this further  Be prepared for complaint withdrawal (for fear of retaliation)  Counter with your / HR’s role in creating a friendly work environment and getting this fixed once and for all
  13. 13. Rules of Engagement (cont.)  Step 5: Explain the magic behind the conflict resolution process (a) Share the other person’s side of the story in advance of the group meeting so that the “what” is known and you could then focus your meeting on the “how” (b) “There’s no need for attacking or defending – we’re simply coming together as adults to solve a problem”
  14. 14. Rules of Engagement (cont.) Step 6: At the time of the group meeting, set the rules as follows. . . 1. “Don’t hold anything back. This is a once-in-a-career opportunity to fix this problem . . .” 2. “Everything you share has to be said with the other’s best interests in mind and in a spirit of constructive criticism.” 3. “Once you’ve walked a mile in the other person’s moccasins, determine what you’re willing to change about your own behavior in order to elicit a different response from the other person in the future.”
  15. 15. Rules of Engagement (cont.)  Step 7: End the meeting by repeating the agreements made and by asking both sides to assume good intentions until proven otherwise  When necessary, ask how you, as the supervisor and/or HR, should respond if this particular issue rises again
  16. 16. Gossips, Rumor-Mongers, and Snitches  Explain your perception of the problem clearly and accurately  Publicly apologize to the victim of the banter on behalf of the department  Reset expectations by appealing to people’s sense of fairness – “I expect more from you as a team, and I know you should expect more of yourselves as individuals . . .”
  17. 17. When It’s Time to Move On  “If you can’t see yourself as part of the solution and/or see others acting in a more benevolent manner toward you, then this may fall under the ‘Life is too short’ category and you may want to explore other career options. . .”  “I’m here to support you in any way I can, but if you really feel like you can’t or you won’t abide by these new expectations and literally start over by assuming good intentions, then leaving may appear to be a more viable alternative than continuing to work in an unhealthy environment. . .”
  18. 18. Time to Move On (cont.)  “So I’d like you to go home tonight and really think this through. If you can’t or won’t readapt your style in light of what I just shared with you, then it may be in your best interests to self-select out of a leadership role or look for opportunities elsewhere. But please don’t put me in a position to have to hold a discussion with you about a topic like this again because the conversation could have a very different outcome that could be detrimental to your career as a whole . . .”
  19. 19. Keys to Mediating Disputes  Open, transparent communication of the perception problem at hand  Objective observations rather than subjective judgments  Allow individuals to assume responsibility for their actions and provide options and choices so they’re in control  Respect whatever decision they ultimately make
  20. 20. Q&A: Questions & Actions Paul Falcone 20