Ki Moments Blog

Support for life’s “key” moments.

July 22, 2014

The Manager as Mediator--Step 4: Build and Teach Conflict and Communication Skills (Part 1)

The Manager as Mediator--Step 4: Build and Teach Conflict and Communication Skills (Part 1)


I’ve seen in my work the difficulty leaders and managers have dealing with personality conflicts between employees. In workshops and coaching, leaders most often tell me they want to:

  • help employees get along better.
  • skillfully address disagreements between coworkers.
  • model the conflict skills they want for their team.

Recently, Ki Moments began a series, The Manager as Mediator, designed to help leaders address organizational and personality conflict involving coworkers, management, and leadership teams. As a coaching intervention, the 5-step model offers a step-by-step process for developing skills in yourself and the people you support.

We’ve offered an introduction and posts on:

This post focuses on Step #4: Build and Teach Conflict and Communication Skills. It has two parts:

  1. Quality of BeingWith what attitudes and awareness do I approach the conversation?
  2. Communication StrategiesHow do I communicate my point of view and willingly entertain and acknowledge another?

Here we'll cover Part 1: Quality of Being. Look for Part 2: Communication Strategies on Aug. 5.

Part 1: Quality of Being

With what attitudes and awareness do I approach the conversation?

build-conflict-and-communication-skillsIn Step #1: First Manage You, we said that in a conflict, quality of being is primary. In the context we're exploring -- helping employees resolve conflict and work together productively -- nothing good comes of a mindset that:

  • is emotionally reactive.
  • needs to win the war.
  • seeks constant approval.
  • is demeaning of self or others.
  • is pessimistic about the outcome.
  • has given up.

Instead, when the joint sessions begin, the individuals want a mindset that is:

  • emotionally stable and open.
  • more interested in peace than being right.
  • open to offering and receiving feedback.
  • appreciative of self and others.
  • open to seeing a positive outcome.
  • willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a balanced solution.

Managing Emotions

centering-managing-emotions Centering is the key to managing emotional energy. It is the ability to see yourself reacting, stop, and come back to a more purposeful quality of being.

If you can center yourself, you can teach it. One possible process:

  1. Notice the reaction.
  2. Be grateful for the awareness.
  3. Stop and gather yourself. Return to your overarching purpose. 
  4. Feel your feet on the floor. Focus on breathing in and out from your core.

What's key is to make sure the individual experiences the difference between center and off center. It's not enough to talk about centering. Most people know they want to be centered/grounded/balanced/in control, but our reactive patterns are strong. We can't access the state under pressure unless we've practiced--a lot.

Heart at Peace

Heart-at-PeaceAs the authors of The Anatomy of Peace say, "The choice between peace and war lies within us." Reinforce in your people that they’re looking for a way to work together vs. a way to prove their position. Help them move from seeing only the problem part of their coworker to looking for what they are not seeing: the parent, grandparent, sibling, spouse, the person with friends and family who love them.

Ask them to list qualities they appreciate in the other. You may have to prime the pump a bit. That's okay. Help them look through a different lens.

Open to Feedback

We'll explore giving and receiving feedback more deeply in Part 2: Communication Strategies, but begin to prepare the parties to be open to the gift of feedback.

  • How do they think they are perceived by others?

And for offering it as well.

  • In what ways have they been impacted by the other's work and communication style?

Two excellent style indicators to help them see themselves and their coworkers through new eyes are:

Willing to Do What It Takes

One of the most helpful mindsets in any conflict situation is optimism. If you enter the conversation thinking: This is a mistake, I'll be terrible at this, you're probably going to be right. On the other hand, if you go in thinking: Whatever happens, I will learn something about myself and what's possible, you'll also be right.

When everyone involved approaches the joint meetings as a learning conversation, things go well and people are more willing to do whatever it takes to find a sustainable solution. 

Practice Opportunities

practice-changes-livesIt took me seven years to become a black belt in Aikido, and three more to rise to second degree. We weren't born knowing conflict and communication skills, and practicing them changes lives.

A useful practice in the individual and joint sessions is role play. Pick some typically difficult interactions and play them out while practicing the mindset and processes outlined above. It's also helpful to give homework between sessions, such as:

  1. Watch your coworker with a different lens this week. Try to notice at least 5 things you appreciate about them.
  2. Keep a conflict journal with these categories: What happened; How you handled what happened; What you did well; What you will do differently next time.
  3. Come back with 5 stories on centering, noting: Times you remembered and how it helped; Times you forgot and how you will remember next time.

These activities will lead the parties to deeper understanding of their trigger points and ways they want to change.

In our Aug. 5 post, watch for Part 2: Communication Strategies, where we'll cover:

  • Acknowledging a different viewpoint,
  • The difference between intent and impact,
  • Contribution vs. blame, and
  • Three key skills for offering and receiving feedback.

In the meantime, feel free to email judy@judyringer.com with questions, feedback, and requests.

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