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Mediation

Mediation

Mediation

When two people cannot resolve a disagreement for themselves, they need a third person to get involved. And in the escalation from a friendly nudge up to the judicial system, mediation is the first formal step.

And, since conflict is common in organisations, it’s as well to understand what mediation can and cannot offer, when to use it, and how to make it effective.

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Kenneth Thomas & Ralph Kilmann: Conflict Modes

 

Kenneth Thomas & Ralph Kilmann - Conflict Modes
Kenneth Thomas & Ralph Kilmann – Conflict Modes

Kenneth Thomas

Kenneth Thomas gained his BA from Pomona College in 1968, quickly becoming a research Fellow at Harvard for a year. He then started a PhD in Administrative Sciences at Purdue University, whilst holding a junior teaching position at University of California, Los Angeles. It was at UCLA, that Thomas met Ralph Kilmann, who joined the doctoral program.

Ken Thomas stayed at UCLA until 1977. He then went on to hold a series of academic appointments; Temple University (1977-81), University of Pittsburg (where Kilmann was then teaching) from 1981-6, and then the US Naval Postgraduate School. He retired from academic work in 2004.

Ralph Kilmann

Ralph Kilmann studied for his BS in Graphic Arts Management (graduated 1968) and his MS in Industrial Administration (1970) at Carnegie Mellon University. He then went to UCLA to study for a PhD in Behavioural Science. There, Kenneth Thomas was part of the faculty whilst himself working on a PhD.

Kilmann rapidly became interested in Thomas’ research into conflict and conflict modes. They shared a dissatisfaction with the methodology of Blake and Mouton’s version, though they liked the underlying styles and structure. Kilmann focused his studies on the methodologies for creating a robust assessment.

Publishing the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory

Together, they published their work in 1974. Partly by luck and partly good judgement, they chose not to include their 30-question assessment inventory in the academic paper they published. Instead, they took it to a publisher, who made it a widely-used tool. It is still published by the successor (by acquisition) of that original publisher.

Over the years, they have worked with their publisher to use the vast data sets now available to increase the reliability of the instrument, and extend its use to multiple cultures.

The questionnaire has 30 pairs of statements, of equal social desirability, from which you would select one that best represents what you would do. It takes around 15 minutes to complete. It is not a psychometric and requires no qualification to administer and interpret. So, it can be readily used to support training and coaching interventions around conflict with groups and individuals.

The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory

Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann are neither the first nor last to categorise your possible responses but, measured by popularity, they are by far the most successful. Like Jay Hall before them and Ron Kraybill later, their model looks at our responses on two axes.

The first axis is ‘Assertiveness’, or the extent to which we focus on our own agenda. The second is ‘Cooperation’, or our focus on our relationship with the other person.

 

Thomas Kilmann Conflict Modes
Thomas Kilmann Conflict Modes

The Five Conflict Modes

As with other models, there are five Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes.

Competing

A high degree of assertive behaviour, with little focus on the relationship, is referred to as Competing. In this mode, we seek to win above all else. It is a suitable style when success is vital, you know you are right, and there is a time pressure.

Accommodating

The opposite extreme is Accommodating. Highly cooperative and non-assertive behaviour is useful when you realise the other person is right, or when preserving the relationship or building emotional credit is foremost in your strategy.

Avoiding

When we want to invest little effort in the conflict, we use the Avoiding mode. With no effort deployed in either getting what we want or building a relationship, this is appropriate for trivial conflicts, or when we judge it is the wrong time to deal with the conflict. This may be due to hot tempers or a lack of sufficient preparation.

Compromising

The good old 50-50 solution is Compromising. When you and I give up equal portions of our objectives, neither gets what we want, but it seems fair. Likewise, whilst our relationship is not optimised, neither is it much harmed. Compromise suits a wide range of scenarios.

Collaborating

What can be better than compromise? When the matter is sufficiently important, it is worth putting in the time and effort to really get what you want … and build your relationship at the same time. This is the Collaborating mode, sometimes called “win-win”. Reserve it for when the outcomes justify the investment it takes.

Critique of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory

The Thomas Kilmann Instrument has its critics. Many users find the forced choice questionnaire frustrating – sometimes wanting to select both options; sometimes neither. There are also concerns about applying the examples to users’ real-world contexts. Unlike the Kraybill tool it lacks distinction between normal and stress conditions.

Accepting these weaknesses, the model finds a range of useful applications, even beyond conflict; in team development, change management and negotiation, to name three. Above all, consider it because most users value the insights it gives them.

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Handling Conflict

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


At some point in every manager’s daily life, you will be faced with the need to resolve conflict, either:

  • Conflict between two of your colleagues
  • Conflict between a colleague and someone else (a supplier, customer or distant colleague)
  • Conflict between a colleague and yourself

Two of the most valuable conflict management models have already been covered in the Management Pocketblog.

Exercise 1: Review Ellen Raider’s AEIOU Model

As a major figure in researching conflict, Morton Deutsch should be your first port of call. Read through the Pocketblog: Conflict: as simple as AEIOU. What are the direct lessons for you, from this blog?

Exercise 2: Review the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes

The most widely used model for understanding your choices when you approach conflict is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes model, which you can read about in the Pocketblog: Is this Relationship going to Work? Look at the five modes and ask yourself which ones you tend to over-use and which you tend to under-use.

Exercise 3: Review the basics of Mediation

If you ever need to mediate between conflicts, then the Pocketblog: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right will help you grasp the basics of the role, setting out six basic steps. Which steps do you do well, naturally, and which do you tend to skimp on?

All of this reading back should allow you to start to form your own ideas about what makes for productive handling of conflict. For me, there are six elements. I will offer three tips under each.

Element 1: Attitudes

  1. Respectful of differences: conflict arises out of differences – as soon as you respect those differences, conflict softens.
  2. Open Mind: try to see the other person’s point of view and what matters most to them: Respect that.
  3. People are not the problem – while behaviours may be unwelcome, distinguish the person from their attitudes, needs and behaviours.

Element 2: Discovery

  1. What do you know already: inventory.
  2. What do you not know: shopping list.
  3. What are the causes: a step towards solutions.

Element 3: Core Skills

  1. Listening: until you really hear, you cannot respect or discover the truth.
  2. Language: clear, straightforward and respectful use of pronouns (‘I’ takes responsibility: ‘you’ sounds accusatory).
  3. Calm: find ways to calm yourself so you can control your responses and remain objective.

Element 4: Strategies

  1. Spot the signs of rising tension early: move in to defuse the conflict before it gets properly started.
  2. Keep working: if you break contact, conflict will escalate in the gaps.
  3. Welcome contributions: make all contributions welcome by inviting, acknowledging and valuing every effort the other person makes.

Element 5: Support

  1. Ask for it: whenever you need it.
  2. Offer it: whenever you can.
  3. Match it: to the needs of the situation – is facilitation or mediation or arbitration the right approach?

Element 6: Cautions

  1. Avoid the mindset of trying to ‘win’. Look instead for a resolution that both parties will value.
  2. Right and wrong: are rarely appropriate categories – if they were, the conflict would be far easier to resolve.
  3. Blame, punishment and retribution: have no role. In the film Papillon, Leon Darga says ‘blame is for god and small children.’

Further Reading 

  1. The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook
  2. Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook
  3. The Mediation Pocketbook
  4. The free ACAS Advisory booklet – Managing conflict at work
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How to Manage a Challenging Conversation

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


As a manager, you will sometimes have to set up and have conversations you would really rather leave to someone else.  These challenging conversations can be about:

  • performance issues
  • personal issues
  • employment issues
  • terms and conditions
  • giving bad news
  • complaints
  • conduct issues

This is one of the least pleasant parts of your job, so it pays to prepare well and follow a process.

Exercise 1: Before You Go any Further

Take a moment to review the last module, Transactional Analysis for Managers. How does this apply to challenging conversations?  You know that an Adult state is ideal, but….

How would your being in Child state affect the way you manage a challenging conversation?

How would your being in Parent state affect the way you manage a challenging conversation?

What body language betrays Parent and Child state? How can you adjust your posture to support an Adult ego state?

Seven Steps

Let’s look at the Seven Steps for handling a challenging conversation.

Challenging Conversation

Preparation

Think through in advance how you want to conduct the conversation. Review the things you want to raise and identify those that are most important. Your conversation will be easier and more effective if you can focus it on the most substantive matters. Continually saying ‘and another thing’ can only make it harder.

Create Safety

Look for the right time and place to conduct the conversation and give the other person notice of what you want to talk about, so they can prepare, rather than react against you if they feel hijacked. Acknowledge that you and they may find the conversation difficult but express your desire to work through it openly and constructively. Demonstrate a relentless commitment to being respectful and maintain that even if the other person does not. If the emotional temperature rises to a level where you not feel emotionally or physically safe, call for a recess.

Setting-up the Conversation

If the relationship renders it appropriate to start with a short rapport building chat do so – otherwise stick to the courtesies that are standard in your culture. Too much pleasantry can come across as evasive – even manipulative.

So be honest without being blunt. Start by stating the nature of the conversation and what you want to achieve as a result.

Saying your Piece

Now say your prepared piece. Be clear, explicit and follow the facts concerned. Check understanding frequently and respond openly to questions and challenges.

If you are interrupted, listen to the interruption respectfully, deal with it and then resume where you left off – clarifying where you had got to if there was a long gap.

Listening to the Response

Listen carefully to the response, without interrupting. Note any misunderstandings and make the assumption that they are all inadvertent. Take responsibility for not explaining clearly enough and explain again, differently if possible.

Dialogue

Take responsibility for the structure and process of the dialogue, but do not try to control the other person’s responses. Listen hard when they are speaking and pause to consider your responses even if you think you know the answer immediately.

Ending the Conversation

Close the conversation by emphasising the next steps that either you have both agreed or that you can reasonably require of the other person.

Further Reading 

Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

The Problem Behaviour Pocketbook

The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

Blog: Conflict: As simple as AEIOU

Blog: Resistance to Negotiation

Blog: Is This Relationship Going To Work?

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Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

Okay, so that’s no way to talk about your colleagues – although it does sometimes feel that way.  But the next line and the title of the 1974 Stealers Wheel song is ’stuck in the middle with you.’

Go on – click on the link – you know you want to waste four minutes and hear the song – just for old times’ sake!

Clowns&Jokers

Stuck in the Middle

The Latin word, mediare – to be in the middle – gives us our word mediate, which is a process of intervening between two parties to resolve a dispute.  More and more organisations are turning to mediators to help resolve internal disputes before moving to disciplinary or legal sanctions.

How does Mediation work?

There is a very thorough description of the mediation process on the website of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (the catchily named OxCHEPS).  However, for most purposes, the process can be split into six steps, which form the basics of the process.  Different mediators and different contexts mean that there are a range of variations on this theme.

Step 1: Mediator meets person A (usually the person who has declared the grievance) and listens carefully to their point of view.  Mediator confirms with A that they are prepared to meet B.

Step 2: Mediator meets person B (in some cases the meeting starts with an agreement to pursue mediation – in others, that agreement will already have been given) and listens carefully to their point of view.  Mediator confirms with B that they are prepared to meet A.

Assuming both people have agreed to meet…

Photo: Steps in the Woods by Time Green Step 3: Mediator meets person A to share information and plan the meeting.

Step 4: Mediator meets person B to share information and plan the meeting.

Step 5: The mediator facilitates a meeting between A and B, at which they each listen to the other as they express their point of view.  The mediator ensures that all issues are shared and that each is listened to with care.  The mediator then helps A and B to explore their issues, and start to create an agreement.  When A and B reach an agreement, the mediator will document it and ask A and B to each sign the agreement and the mediator will witness it.

Step 6: In many cases, the mediator will agree a follow-up role, to monitor how the agreement is working.

The Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook

9781906610197[1]

The Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook has pragmatic information about this trickiest of workplace topics, from a seasoned HR professional, Ruth Sangale.  With mini case studies, checklists and standard letters, plus a handy set of step by step processes at the end, this is a must have for all managers and a handy reference for HR practitioners.

Whilst Ruth does not describe mediation in detail, she refers you to a free booklet from ACAS and the CIPD;‘Mediation – an Employer’s Guide’, which you can download by clicking on the link.

Other Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Absence Management Pocketbook

The Induction Pocketbook

The Flexible Workplace Pocketbook

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

The Mediation Pocketbook

The Performance Management Pocketbook

The Employment Law Pocketbook

The Competencies Pocketbook

The Problem Behaviour Pocketbook

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Social Networks – a Short Early History

Émile Durkheim

Emile_Durkheim[2] Émile Durkheim has to rank among the great names of social science and is, perhaps, the founding thinker in our modern ideas about social networks.  He first distinguished between ‘traditional’ societies where individuals bow to pressures to subsume their individuality into a homogeneous whole; and more ‘modern’ societies where we seek to harness the diversity of people, by co-operation.  Social phenomena, he argued, are the result of these interactions.

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Ferdinand Tönnies

525px-Ferdinand_Toennies_Bueste_Husum-Ausschnitt[1]His contemporary, Ferdinand Tönnies, distinguished between ‘community’ and ‘society’. Communities share values and beliefs, whilst a society is tied together by formal links such as obligations, management and trade.

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Georg Simmel

Simmel_01[1] A third contemporary, Georg Simmel, first looked at the social distance between people and how this can affect our sense of individuality if we get too close to another person, or our sense of connection if we are too far.

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Jacob Moreno

Jacob_Moreno[1] It was Romanian-born American psychiatrist Jacob Moreno who gave us the tool that I want to focus on: the sociogram.  He looked at how interactions occur in small groups, such as classrooms and workplaces.  Sociograms are still widely used as a way of charting and understanding the relationships among groups of young people.  Some of the earliest graphical depictions of social networks appear in his 1934 book Who Shall Survive?

Jump Sixty Years

Network Nowadays, we are all very familiar with the way the internet is widely connected and the concept of ‘small world’ networks is widely bandied about.

However, these diagrams derive from Moreno’s sociograms, which remain a powerful tool for charting workplace networks.

Stakeholder Analysis

Sociogram As a project manager, I have used sociograms to chart the relationships between stakeholders within and outside organisations, to better understand how I can anticipate and handle resistance to change, and how to harness and reinforce the support that I have.

Anticipating Conflict

9781903776063Max Eggert and Wendy Falzon recommend using sociograms to anticipate conflict between co-workers.

In their Resolving Conflict Pocketbook, they give the example of a workgroup of five colleagues.  They show how, by drawing a simple sociogram, you could anticipate which potential sub-teams could lead to conflict.

Other Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

The Working Relationships Pocketbook

The Discipline and Grievance Pocketbook

The Influencing Pocketbook

The Networking Pocketbook

The Handling Complaints Pocketbook

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Mending a Relationship Breakdown

Man Getting Pie in the FaceConflict at work, whether between colleagues or with customers or suppliers, can sometimes end in a breakdown of the relationship.  You have two options:

1.  You can walk away
It’s safe, it’s easy, it’s a waste

2.  You can try to fix it
It’s hard, it has the possibility of failure, it can turn disaster into triumph

Your Choice

Which course you take towards managing the end stage of conflict is up to you.  Few would blame you if you were to walk away, but if you choose to try again, consider this: if the relationship has truly broken down, then you have little to lose, so everything to gain.

If you choose to try again, the Management Pocketblog offers you  process that you can follow.  The stronger the prior relationship, the better it can work.

Three Phases to Mending a Breakdown

Phase 1: Reality

If you decide to try to mend the relationship, the first phase is to understand what has happened.  To do this, there are three steps:

  1. Listen to each other
    When you decide to mend the breakdown, take it upon yourself to listen to the other person.
  2. Clarify the facts
    How do each of you perceive the situation, and what would each of you most like to achieve?
  3. Declare a breakdown
    You must end this phase by recognising that a breakdown has occurred and that, whether there is fault or not, both parties have participated and, therefore, both of you must engage if you want to mend it.

Phase 2: Commitment

Building commitment needs an openness to the situation, and a positive statement of intent from both parties.  Respect each other’s perceptions, and try to establish how the objective facts compare to these.  Then offer your commitment to whatever you are prepared to do, to mend the relationship.  When you have done that, ask what commitment the other person is prepared to make.

If your respective commitments complement each other, you have the basis for mending the relationship.

Phase 3: Progress

Now you are ready to make some progress.  Typically, there are three things to put in place:

  1. What’s missing?
    Work together to identify what information, processes, data, options, or solutions are missing, which you will need to mend the relationship fully.
  2. Plans
    Now make your plans for who will do what and when.  Re-iterate promises to honour your respective allocated roles.
  3. Review
    Follow-up with open and honest reviews of progress.  Be generous in recognising what positive steps the other person has taken towards your goal.

So here’s the deal

Mending a broken relationship is not always possible.  There must be a pre-existing strength to the relationship, and both parties must be eager to re-build.  But if these foundations are in place, then it can be done.  It may not be easy, but the results can be well worth the effort.

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook has a range of valuable resources to help you understand and resolve conflict.  It also has interesting sections on bullying and harassment, and team conflict.

And if this is not enough for you, there is more than a pocketful of extra help from other Management Pocketbooks:.

For managers,

and, for trainers,

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Is This Relationship Going To Work?

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, working with people who aren’t our natural soul-mates. Whether the relationship is Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, or two colleagues sharing an office, conflict is probably going to arise at some point in the relationship.

Messrs Clegg and Cameron are both assertive and persuasive individuals who are used to winning the argument. But if they are going to work successfully together they will need to use a range of styles to manage potential conflict between themselves and their party members.

Five Approaches to Managing Conflict

Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann describe five approaches we can take to handling any particular conflict:

Compete – we aim to win.

Accommodate – our priority is to keep the other person happy.

Compromise – we do a deal. It’s not perfect but we can both live with it. At least in the short term.

Avoid – we take the view that it’s better not to open the can of worms, so we don’t address the issue.

Collaborate – we look for a solution that fully meets our needs, and also satisfies other person. A true ‘win/win’.

Which One To Use?

Looking at these five styles, you would think that the ‘right’ approach to conflict would always be to collaborate. However, there are a couple of problems with collaboration:

  1. It can take a long time – you have to sit down, explore the other person’s position, analyse the underlying needs and concerns then try to thrash out a resolution. It’s great when you have the time (and the energy) to do this. But sometimes there’s a deadline. Sometimes the markets are showing signs of impatience.
  2. It isn’t always possible. For example, when you and your colleague have fundamentally opposing views or values.

The trick is actually knowing which type of approach is most appropriate in any situation, and consciously adapting your natural preference for one of the five styles.

T-KStyles

So here’s the deal

One of the secrets of handling conflict successfully, whether it’s in a shared office or the House of Commons, is choosing the right strategy.

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

TacklingDiffConvsFor more on handling conflict, and coping with difficult conversations generally, take a look at Peter English’s new Pocketbook, The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook.

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Other Pocketbooks you might like include:

You may also be interested to know …

The Thomas-Kilmann model is also available as a self-scoring psychometric instrument. For global sales, check out the CPP website, or for UK sales, check out OPP’s website.

Author: Peter English

This article was written by Peter English, author of:

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook and

The Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook.

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