When colleagues are in conflict, their focus is almost exclusively on what the other has done wrong and how their behaviour has negatively impacted them. Conflicted people focus on past events and often provide a problem centric narrative. If early intervention strategies are not implemented, this conflicted cycle perpetuates and often escalates, leading to burnout, Workcover claims and investigations.
Mediation is one early intervention strategy that when performed well, pays long lasting dividends not only for participants but also for their workplaces. The purpose of workplace mediation is to provide those involved in conflict with a solution-focused discussion, which is facilitated by an impartial mediator. The goal of this activity is to establish a shared understanding of how each party can move forward collegially, and to form a shared agreement about what is required for each party to moving forward positively. One strategy for creating meaningful dialogue about how participants can move through feelings of conflict is the miracle question.
Case Study – The Miricle Question in Practice
Mary and Peter are colleagues and have been in conflict for several months, it has escalated to a point where they refuse to be in the same meetings and will only communicate via email. Their team have noticed the tension between them and feel they are walking on eggshells. Both Peter and Mary meet with the mediator separately and go through the same assessment process.
Mary discusses at great length her issues and concerns regarding Peter. She provides examples of times where Peter has disrespected, ignored and dismissed her. Towards the end of the session the mediator asks Mary to imagine that tonight while she is asleep a miracle occurs, it’s a magical occurrence that completely resolves her conflict with Peter.
The mediator asks Mary to imagine she is walking into her workplace the following day after this miracle has occurred and asks her to describe what is different, how she knows the miracle has occurred. Mary explains she would walk in, and Peter would greet her with a smile, they would communicate face to face more often, she wouldn’t feel anxious but calm. Mary also says she knows the miracle has occurred because she feels valued and respected by Peter. The mediator enquires as to how she knows she is now respected and valued. Mary says that Peter takes on board her ideas and actively listens to what she says. The mediator also asks Mary what she is doing to indicate the miracle has occurred to which Mary responds she is calm and more approachable.
The application of the Miracle question, derived from solution focused therapy, is an effective way to shift parties away from their past conflict. In Mary’s case, the mediator was able to identify what was driving the conflict for her. It is important that mediators establish the key drivers for conflict because this creates a space in which practical solutions can ensue. The miracle question supported Mary and Peter move away from past problems and through fantastical expression, inadvertently consider practical solutions that could then be explored and adopted in the mediation session.
What is crucial and often underrated in the mediation process is this assessment stage, where the mediator meets the parties individually to hear their experiences before meeting with participants as a group. A good mediator listens to the party with empathy and understanding and does not align. An experienced mediator will also intertwine conflict coaching strategies to shift the individual’s mindset to one that is solution focussed. This approach sets the foundation for an effective and purposeful mediation session – something which is essential in order to restore relationships and create opportunities for harmony and respect moving forward.
At WISE Workplace we have accredited and highly experienced Workplace Mediators that work with clients to develop effective and practical workplace agreements wherever conflict, disagreement, or tension exists. In addition to our mediation services, Wise Workplace offers coaching services and professional development opportunities to assist human resource practitioners and managers in building their skills and capabilities to manage conflict in the workplace.
For more information about how Wise Workplace can support your organisation, reach out to our friendly team on 1300 850 685 or [email protected].