Applying mediation techniques to management situations

Yesterday I had my first day of mediation training with the Conflict Resolution Center. I’m not sure if I will apply to become a mediator or not, but I am enjoying brushing up on my listening and conflict resolution skills. There are a number of things I can take out of the mediation training and apply to management, without conducting a full fledged mediation process.

For one, I (like many managers) have a tendency to problem-solve when people come to me with problems or concerns, and I think in some cases it would serve both me and the person coming to me better if I practiced more active listening techniques instead. I know that this is best practice since if you can help an employee to find their own solution, the solution will work better and they will learn and grow. Plus the people I work with are all really smart and come up with better solutions than I could come up with myself in many cases. Sometimes its hard to remind myself not to problem solve though when I think I have the best answer.

In particular, here are some techniques for asking open ended questions that I could use at work with my employees: (If any of you are reading, I hope this doesn’t ruin the surprise.)

*Asking Open Ended Questions: What brings you to my office today? What is your major concern about the project?
*Asking Clarifying Questions: I’m not sure I understand. Could you say more about that?
*Reflecting Content: So the project is on track, and until recently all of the stakeholders were on board…
*Reflecting Feelings: You sound really frustrated/upset/pleased.
*Reflecting Values: External colleagues seeing that you are good for your word is important to you, is that right?
*Reflecting Body Language: I notice that your arms were crossed and you were pulled away from the table during our group meeting today. Can you say what you were feeling or thinking?
*Periodically Summarizing: So things have been getting worse between you and George.

Speaking of problems, here’s one I would not want to solve myself: a fire hydrant that burst in my neighborhood last year.

I have three more days of training in mediation over the next two weeks, so I’ll post more of my lessons in applying this mediation training for managers as I go.

Management by Consciousness

Thanks to a very generous benefits policy at my current employer, I have been fortunate to have the experience of a six-week sabbatical. During this time I traveled to India with my husband for one month. While he learned how to read and write in Hindi, I browsed the local bookstores and discovered a new (to me) management and leadership theory that incorporates spirituality into modern management. The next few posts will focus on readings that have influenced me.

There can be, one might say, two attitudes in general to life and life’s work. There is the attitude of separate acquisition and possession, of competition, anxiety and strain…There is another one of relative freedom, of detachment, of relaxation and of self-consecration. –Dr. Indra Sen quoted in “The Yogic Approach to Management” by Dr. K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar; Management by Consciousness.

“First, the materialist (or the individualist) view that thinks of the world as being made up of distinctive and independent building-blocks, and conveniently divides men into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ in various degrees of opposition or confrontation. The commissar-managers (‘Us’) feel free to offer to the managed (‘Them’) financial and other incentives, hierarchical positions, status symbols (a car, a phone) and promotional possibilities; or to impose a stern discipline instilling fear as under a dictatorial dispensation (Emergency for ever!)…a crisis usually builds slowly, and often it is managerial complacency or labour intransigency that allows the crisis to get inflated to ominous proportions. (p 20-21)”

The latter attitude to management and to one’s work in general is born of a spiritual or unified world-view.

”[Earth] is a little spaceship, and its inhabitants must float or crash together; there is not separate perdition or salvation for the blacks and the whites, for the commissars and the workers, for the teachers and the students. It is not as though the interests of one individual or group are really antagonistic to those of another or of another group. All can swim together, or all will sink together! The other man is not my enemy or opposite number; he is not even just my brother: he is, in fact, myself. This is the spiritual approach…interdependence, harmony, unity, creativity, and evolutionary possibility…an evolutionary universe that wills and accomplishes self-change and continuous self-transformation. (pg 26)

A few key takeaways from this article:

1) When we work collectively, it is always better to insist, in our thoughts, feelings, and actions, on the points of agreement rather than on the points of difference. We must give importance to the things that unite, and ignore as much as possible those that separate. (pg 29-30)

2) “Sports, music and entertainment, congregational worship and prayer, cooperative work as service or as offering untainted by personal reward or egoistic pride – can promote the harmonious state.” (pg. 20) I think that team building activities could be reasonably added to this list. Drawing attention to this relationship component of management echoes the thought that sustainable success is balanced across three dimensions – results, process, and relationship as advocated by the definition of yoga>Interactive Institute for Social Change in San Francisco (IISC).

3) It is important for leaders and managers to practice “the yoga of management” to free ourselves from Us/Them thinking and promote self-change and world-change through the process and power of Yoga. It is important to note here that this definition of yoga is more expansive than the limited Western notion of yoga as a form of physical exercise. Yogas are traditional physical and mental disciplines of which there are many. This could be most closely interpreted as “mindfulness” or “contact with the divine or a higher power”.