In MTI’s Manager-as-Mediator course, managers have three tasks to accomplish in the three-way meeting with their employees:
- Keep disputants engaged in the Essential Process (by preventing violations of the Cardinal Rules)
- Support Conciliatory Gestures, and
- Wait! (remember the abbreviation W.A.I.T. = “Why Am I Talking”)
While each of these steps is conceptually straightforward, they can each be challenging to perform. In many cases, the most difficult one for managers is the last one. It is simple – as long as the parties are engaged in face to face talking about the problem and there are no conciliatory gestures that are unacknowledged, the manager stays quiet. Although it is simple to understand, it is particularly difficult for managers to do.
Managers are usually very effective problem solvers. They may be better at it than the employees who are in conflict. The managers may see solutions to the problem that seem obvious. They will want to wrap things up quickly so everyone can go back to work. As time goes it becomes more difficult for them to stay uninvolved.
Yet, this is exactly what is needed. If they have chosen to use managerial mediation as a method for solving the business problem caused by the employees’ conflict, the managers need to let the employees solve the problem. The employees, in turn, will have to make the trek up Conflict Mountain in order to reach the Breakthrough that will lead to a resolution of the problem. The trek up the mountain takes time and can seem frustrating to both the employees and especially the manager.
At the same time, allowing the employees to work through the process provides two helpful outcomes in addition to resolving the business problem. On the one hand it allows the employees to work through their frustrations and lessen the negative emotions they have been harboring. It also allows them to get used to using a process that can help them work through future conflicts by themselves, so they don’t have to involve the manager in every future issue. In the long run both of these outcomes will save the manager time and grief.
So how to help the manager remember the value of being patient and refraining from getting involved when they don’t need to be?
The first step is to remind the manager that they don’t have to choose managerial mediation in the first place. If they feel like making the decision and telling the employees what to do to resolve the business problem, they can do so. If they think the issue requires them to discipline someone, they can do that as well. If, however, they believe the situation is the place to use managerial mediation, and they decide to use it, then they need to wait in order for the process to work. In addition, it is helpful to remind the manager about the positive collateral outcomes (reducing tensions and improving employees’ ability to manage future conflicts) that result from using managerial mediation properly. And using it properly means being willing to WAIT!