- Acceptability. You must be acceptable to both parties. They need to see you as someone who can help them resolve their dispute. You have to have credibility with them. They must see your skills as being essential to resolution of the issues in contention.
- Impartiality. You must be seen as having no vested interest in the outcome of the dispute. If you convey that you are more disposed to one point of view vs. the other, you are not a qualified mediator.
- Confidentiality. Insure that what is conveyed to you in private stays private. If one party tells you something that is in confidence and you reveal it to the other, you will have a hard time regaining trust and cannot be effective in a mediation role.
You can’t really resolve organizational conflict until you find the underlying root cause or driving force behind the conflict. Conflict can be much more than disagreement on the substance of an issue, and gaining expedient surface resolution may not allow conflicting parties to do the hard work to reach true resolution. So the conflict will come up again (and again) in new permutations.
To address the root cause of a conflict, those engaged almost need to have an out-of-body experience, e.g. imagine they are in a helicopter looking down on the parties in dispute. This will provide a new frame of reference and trigger a more receptive state of mind to ask and answer questions like:
- Where do we agree vs. disagree, and how can we build on areas of agreement?
- Regarding areas of disagreement, what has been the history that has led to this situation, and how can we objectively learn from the past without pointing fingers?
- If you were called in to facilitate a discussion between these parties, how would you try to understand each point of view, and what insight would that give you?
- What will it take for each party to begin to bury the past and focus on building a collaborative partnership?
- What would a collaborative relationship look like?
- What kind of thinking is needed to meet everyone’s needs and begin the process of establishing greater trust?
One of the most successful executives I know deals with difficult personalities by establishing a win/win mind set at the beginning of every interaction. He walks into meetings and declares that no matter what difficulties or barriers emerge, he will find a way to create a win/win outcome. With win/win as the destination, this leader gives context to objections, emotional outbursts, and aggressive behaviors. He keeps the focus on finding areas of agreement.
You, too, can use a win/win approach when dealing with difficult people:
- Listen to what the other person is really saying (and not saying)
- Ask questions to uncover conscious and sub-conscious needs
- Don’t allow anyone to “push your buttons”
- Focus on the win/win destination to preempt emotional responses
- Rephrase other peoples’ points of view, and seek clarification of their positions to show that you really understand where they are coming from
- Calmly articulate your own needs, and share how what you need will help all of you reach the win/win destination