Savy Slips, Learning on the Run
By Philip S. Heller
Learnings from Practice 20: Meta-goals Facilitating Interpersonal Conflict
What are the goals of a reconciliation facilitator when mediating an interpersonal conflict?
The Request. A manager of the environmental restoration section of a State Department of Environmental Conservation, asked for help in reconciling a relationship between a supervisor in her section and the supervisor’s direct report, an environmental engineer. The deliverable agreed on was: A written joint report from the supervisor and the engineer detailing the issues, agreements, success measures and progress checks. The manager wanted both participants to give and receive feedback about how their behaviors were impacting each other and others in the section and the coping mechanisms each are using or will use. The manager agreed to act as a final decision maker if that was needed. The manager was unequivocally frank with the two participants that a failure to create a working relationship with the help of a professional coach would be taken as an unwillingness to engage.
Larger Context. The relationship between the two parties had deteriorated over several years. Others in the section have left, perhaps, in part, because of the supervisor’s style. The supervisor had applied for the manager’s job, but was not selected. The supervisor had not been able to problem solve staff’s dissenting views, had failed to ask for expertise and input on staff projects, and appeared disengaged at staff meetings. For example, the Supervisor and the Engineer had disagreed about the level of detail required for project specifications and objectives. The staff engineer had gone over the supervisor’s head to the manager to complain without going to the supervisor first. Thus, they began to avoid one another. In the past, the two parties had been through some formal mediation with an HR specialist in which feedback was exchanged.
Consulting Intervention. After joint meetings with the manager-sponsor, each of the parties was coached in private sessions. Finally, the parties participated in several facilitated dialogue sessions. Although the facilitation followed a typical process of collaborative problem solving (1), we also adopted a set of meta-goals for the facilitation that we believed would lead to a greater likelihood of reconciliation. These were:
1. Work towards an open and frank conversation. We attempted to model transparency of our feelings, thoughts, observations and wants, when it fit with the conversation (2). We helped the participants to focus on their here and now experience in the dialogue with each other rather than only discussing the past. We used questions to encourage concreteness and behavioral observations (e.g., “I’m noticing…”) to encourage immediate awareness.
2. Move trust of us, to trust of each other. We helped each party to see the perspective of the other party through our eyes as a neutral third-party. We translated what we were hearing in words that the other party could hear and understand (3)
3. Point out common ground. We paid particular attention to where that was already agreement. particularly where the parties aligned on superordinate goals or values. We made their alignment on superordinate goals, values and a desire for a better working relationship explicit and asked for validation from the participants.
4. Maintain optimal tension and power balance (4). We reinforced via paraphrasing and gestures the open expression of feelings to increase the interest and urgency in building a better relationship. To decrease tension, we would draw the attention, eye-contact and conversation to ourselves. Ensuring equal air time was one way we managed power balance.
Last Line. If reconciliation is the goal of an interpersonal dialogue, then facilitators might attend to the “meta-goals” of creating more openness, moving trust to the parties themselves, signaling common ground and maintaining optimal tension and power balance.
(1) To access the dialogue process used, go to: http://learningdesigna.com/resourcescategory/conflict-resolution/ and select Facilitation Dialogue Process.
(2) For our definition of transparent behaviors go to: http://learningdesigna.com/resourcescategory/conflict-resolution/ and select Openness.
(3) For more techniques for increasing trust among participants in an interpersonal conflict go to: http://learningdesigna.com/resourcescategory/conflict-resolution/ and select Rebuilding Trust Between Parties.
(4) For more techniques for balancing tension and power go to: http://learningdesigna.com/resourcescategory/conflict-resolution/ and select Balance Tension-Power.
Philip Heller is a senior associate of Learning Design Associates. For 36 years he has helped plan systems change and develop leaders in government, community agencies, and health care centers. Philip received his Ph.D. in Education focusing on learning and problem solving. As part of the originating group, he has been a PNODN member since 1982.
© 2016 Philip S. Heller, Savy Slips, Learning on the Run 20, Meta-Goals for Facilitating Interpersonal Conflict
October 17th meeting with Egils Milbergs
by Jeremy Meeds.
During our October meeting with Egils Milbergs entitled 'A Better Faster Innovation Model', Egils took us on an innovation journey. We started out looking at our history of economic growth from Industrial Recruiting to Cost Competition to Cluster Competition, and finally to our current Innovation Ecosystems. We looked at why we should focus on innovation, including the fact that 2/3 of our GDP growth is from innovation and that innovation helps solve critical energy, health, water, transportation and education challenges.
We took a look at which countries innovate the most and how to transform our ideas into value. We looked at the difference between slow and fast innovation approaches and how to accelerate innovation by "closing the gap" on the "valley of death", where the availability of capital during the entrepreneurial stage and venture capitalist stage could be better funded. We took a look at some pathways to prosperity by looking at the trajectory of innovation from nascent clusters to growth nodes to virtual clusters and finally to innovation ecosystems. We reviewed Washington State's current innovation groups including all of the companies that have been spawned from the University of Washington itself!
We took a look at what level of innovation our particular work groups are at, and how the nature of our work has been changing. We looked at changing household incomes and the greater gap between the rich and poor with the middle class disappearing.
We talked about how our education system is changing with the old way of learning in school becoming obsolete. We looked at what these changes mean for job holders and retraining, and we looked at the possibility of self driving cars and how they would reduce pollution, congestion and deaths.
And finally, last but not least, we looked at the current water pollution situation and how a certain company named Pure Blue has taken on the challenge from the White House called the Clean Water Initiative to support water tech startups, provide $2 million in seed funding and collaborate with 30 other water partners through the United States to clean up our water. Overall, the discussion was lively and animated, and we all walked away feeling much more informed about the importance of innovation!