Office disputes can be about absolutely anything. From the most straightforward issue, such as an open window in the office which others find drafty, to a long-running, complex grievance that has lasted for years and incorporated many elements. Every conflict is different, as are the parties involved.
As a mediator, I know that it is not my job not to understand every minute detail of a problem. My job is to create an environment in which those involved can reach a resolution - I create the conditions for dialogue. The parties do all of the hard work with a little support and guidance from me. I'm a professional mediator and an experienced diplomat. But every manager, HR professional or business leader has an inner diplomat just waiting to get out and build a few bridges.
Here are my 5 simple steps that will help you to release your inner diplomat.
1. Listen actively
Everyone wants to be heard, especially when they have a problem. So when talking to people make sure you are really actively listening to what they say. Use open questions such as “how did you feel?” or “what happened next?” and pay close attention to the answer. As the listener, summarise (play back) what you’re understanding frequently to ensure you are accurately understanding the information and so that the parties feel heard and valued. The aim here is not to establish facts to prove one thing or another but to make sure emotions and needs are identified, expressed and understood.
2. Be empathetic
If you do not seem to be genuinely able to see a person’s point of view, they may not feel able to open up to you. Try to put yourself in the person’s shoes and consider the impact that the situation has had on them. Those involved in a conflict will often feel very defensive and will need to trust that you can see their point of view before opening up to you. During a facilitated conversation, encourage the parties to put themselves into each others shoes. It can be enlightening!
3. Don’t judge
It is not your role to judge those involved or even evaluate, make assumptions or blame anyone. If people feel blamed or judged they may become guarded or defensive. Use non-blaming language and help the person to explore and describe all of their concerns. Judging others will alienate them and cause them to act defensively. This isn't going to help your inner diplomat to do their job.
4. Depersonalise the problem
The more you can encourage the parties in a dispute to depersonalise the problem, the better the outcome will be. During a facilitated conversation, encourage parties to talk about their observations, feelings and needs without attacking the other person. “I felt humiliated” is more constructive than “You humiliated me” and will allow more understanding on the part of those hearing the information from the other party.
5. Focus on interests and needs
When you are speaking with the parties in dispute or running a facilitated conversation, ask them to explain what they need, what their goals are and what they think is a realistic and fair outcome.
Remember it is not the diplomats role to devise a solution. The parties involved are the ones who really know what they need and want from the situation. The diplomat is there to build trust between the parties and facilitate an agreement reached by those taking part. Build on the positives and resist keeping the focus only on the negatives.
I hope that this has given you enough insight and guidance to let your inner diplomat free. Pleaase contact me if you would like training in office diplomacy or guidance on how to manage facilitated conversations - firstname.lastname@example.org
About David Liddle
David's greatest passion is mediation and his greatest strength is people. He has over 20 years experience of mediating in some of the most complex disputes imaginable. He set up and runs The TCM Group. With over 15 full time employees and with 20 expert consultants, TCM are the UKs leading provider of mediation and conflict management services, training and consultancy.
David has worked with over 4000 organisations to help them to embed a culture of resolution. He trains mediators and works with HR professionals and business leaders to create a culture and an environment which embraces mediation and promotes dialogue.