Ki Moments Blog

Support for life’s “key” moments.

August 5, 2014

The Manager as Mediator--Step 4: Build and Teach Conflict and Communication Skills (Part 2)

The Manager as Mediator--Step 4: Build and Teach Conflict and Communication Skills (Part 2)

In the last Ki Moments post, we left our Manager as Mediator 5-step model in the middle of Step 4: Build and Teach Conflict and Communication Skills. Step 4 has two parts:

  1. Quality of Being: With what attitudes and awareness do I approach the conversation?
  2. Communication Strategies: How do I communicate my point of view and willingly entertain and acknowledge another?

We covered Part 1 in the last post. Today the focus is Part 2: Communication Strategies.listen-to-each-other

We are preparing the parties to meet jointly. When that happens, you'd like them to be able to listen to each other, propose alternatives, and build solutions. You don't want them reacting emotionally, shutting down, or pretending things are all right when they aren't. This means they've learned and practiced some skills.

Part 2: Communication Strategies

How do I communicate my point of view and willingly entertain and acknowledge another?

Consider if you want to take on the role of instructor/coach or invite someone else to do it:

  • A neutral party in your organization who is skilled and willing.
  • Another team member with the time, the trust of the parties, and an investment in the relationship.
  • A professional mediator or conflict coach.

If you’re the facilitator/coach, your ability to remain non-judgmental, curious and aligned with each party is critical. Neutrality is expressed not by standing back but by stepping in. Can you see why each person did what they did? Rather than trying to be impartial, be multilaterally partial. When you can understand each person's motives and positive intent, you can model the behavior you want to see. Being on each person’s side helps you guide them as they re-learn how to communicate with each other.

Before the parties meet jointly, they must be ready to:

  • acknowledge their partner’s point of view, and
  • offer and receive feedback with an attitude of discovery.



The readiness to consider that my conflict partner has a different view and the desire to understand that view--and mirror it back to them--is called acknowledgment. And it takes practice. Because if we had that readiness and desire, the conflict probably wouldn't have happened in the first place. 

How do we teach someone to want to see someone else's point of view when that view seems diametrically opposed to ours, or when we don't like that person very much, or when we've decided they're out to get us. One way is to distinguish between:

Intent and Impact

difficult-conversations-stone-patron-heenThe ability to distinguish between the intent of an action and its impact has been a helpful practice in my own conflicts. I first discovered the distinction in a mastery course on the book Difficult Conversations, by Doug Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. 

Example: You're my team mate and you tell me that I missed a key element in creating a new spreadsheet for a project update.

  • Your intent: to help me learn the spreadsheet software and to create a positive outcome for the team.
  • The impact on me: I feel inadequate. I see you wanting to look good in front of the team.

Who knows why intent and impact are so different. Maybe my confidence is low or a past experience is influencing me; maybe it has to do with the way the message was delivered.

What's key is my belief that the impact might not be what was intended. This allows me to field the feedback differently. I can listen with an open mind, take what works and leave the rest. And, if the delivery is harsh, I can offer feedback of my own.

Offering and Receiving Feedback

Another concept from Difficult Conversations that's been useful for dissecting my own conflicts:

Contribution vs. Blame

In any conflict, it's easy to find fault and to blame someone else for the problem. However:

  1. It doesn't solve the problem.
  2. When I do this, I give my power over to the other person. It's like saying: you have the power to make me react emotionally; to make me lose my center. Why would I want to give up power in a conflict? Yet that's exactly what blaming does.

The concept of contribution vs. blame solves this dilemma. I may not want to see it, but I contributed to the evolution of this situation. I may have:

  • not said anything to you about what bothered me, then blamed you for not changing.
  • spoken to others about you.
  • judged your behavior negatively and behaved accordingly instead of asking about your intent.

inquiry-advocacyInquiry and Advocacy

These distinctions -- Contribution/Blame and Intent/Impact -- help set the stage for a learning and problem-solving conversation. Now I can use inquiry and advocacy skills to learn your story and tell mine.

  • Can we talk? When you gave me that feedback about the project spreadsheet, I felt awful. I'm sure it wasn't your intent, but the impact on me is that I felt called out in front of the team. Next time I'd appreciate it if you came to me privately.
  • In my experience, the content of the spreadsheet is more important than the way it's displayed. Tell me if you see it differently.
  • Do you have a minute? I've been holding on to something that's been bothering me, and I think I've made it worse by not mentioning it when it first happened. Last week, when you said ........., I took it badly. I thought I'd done a good job, and your remarks were uniformly critical. I'd like to know if you saw anything that was positive.
  • When you stand over my desk, I get nervous. I need time to collect my thoughts. Please let me finish the report and then we can talk about it. 

With these three key communication strategies -- Inquiry, Acknowledgment and Advocacy -- the parties learn to see each other and the conflict through new eyes. More importantly, it prepares them for the last step in our process: bringing the parties together, which we'll tackle in the next post!

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