It’s that easy...

Yes, but what do you actually do?

Not an uncommon question for me as an Alternative Dispute Resolution practitioner – a mediator or a conflict coach.

And there’s an easy answer: I help people talk. About the big things or the little things that threaten to spoil an afternoon or overturn a life.

When they talk, I listen. And then I let them know that I’ve been listening.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Real-world motivation

I find that many motivational texts are not always fully rooted in the real world. This one is different...

I don’t like that man...


I’m never sure whether inspirational quotes allegedly from famous people are real.

Certainly, I couldn’t find any viable provenance for this statement, said to be by US President Abraham Lincoln.

But it doesn’t matter. Most of of could take his lead. On most days.

Who’s to blame?

One little example of conflict which might have passed you by this week does a good job of illustrating how easy – and ineffectual – it is to play the blame game.

It concerns a flare-up at a Tesco Express store, where a grandfather was ordered by a new security guard to take off his flat cap while doing his weekly shop.

The guard quoted a company ban on hoodies and crash helmets.

Graham Cattermole refused to remove his beige cotton cap and eventually left without buying anything. He said: “If I had a crash helmet on or I was wearing a hoody and looked like a hooligan, I could understand. But I'm nearly 65 and I've got a walking stick - it's not like I'm going to hold the place up!"

He added that he would not go back to the shop in in Dudley, West Midlands.

Tesco apologised and said the manager would be happy to talk things over with Mr Cattermole.

To me the interesting point is that a spokesman said the security guard was new, and had since been re-trained.

A more productive attitude would perhaps have been to acknowledge that the induction and training programme - which allowed a confused new member of staff onto the shop floor to upset customers – should be carefully reviewed.

As it is, there seems to be nothing to stop this happening again.

How can I help you?

There are several different varieties of mediation – all suited for different purposes.

I provide facilitative mediation for conflicts in the workplace and anywhere else where relationships have broken down.

In a conflict, obvious or “common sense” solutions are unhelpful.

They can divert effort to getting an answer rather than looking deep enough to uncover the real problem.

Sometimes people think workplace mediation is about the mediator coming up with a good idea for settling the issues.

But when an outsider, with limited understanding of what is happening, suggests an answer it is often no more than a temporary solution which ultimately satisfies nobody.

My model of facilitative mediation offers a deeper and broader approach to problem solving and relationship building.

Workplace mediation is cheaper and faster than the alternatives – and is generally accepted to have a 90% success rate.

What’s the forecast?

“My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.” *

It’s easy to dwell on the past, but we are all actually going to live in the future. Starting now.

A main principle of facilitative workplace mediators like me is that we focus on the future. Nobody can change their past, but we all can decide what’s going to happen from now.

Mediation gives everyone involved in a dispute a chance to repair the past and build a better tomorrow.

For some parties that might mean feeling recognised and valued. For others it might mean feeling respected and understood.

Everyone stands to gain something different.

The key idea there is that everyone stands to gain.

Mediators call it win-win.

* US engineer Charles Kettering (1876-1958) inventor of the electric starter motor

Whose turn is it to shout?

The Party Leaders’ Debate on BBC TV last night (Wednesday May 31) was as much about entertainment as about informing the voting public.

It might have been fun to watch, but the sight of up to seven people shouting over each other didn’t help our understanding of the issues or, in some cases, where individuals stood on them.

A proper debate is - like conflict resolution - an opportunity to engage the other side, find your  common ground and work from there towards an agreement.

A good strategy is for each participant to

  • listen to what the others said
  • check their understanding
  • put their own case
  • ensure the other parties understand what they said
  • think about what was said
  • suggest possible ways forward.

It takes time and a commitment to make the process work.

But it’s not good television!

Who’s your new partner?

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

That quote from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk To Freedom is always relevant.

One of the reasons that workplace disputes can drag on, sometimes for years, is the sometimes understandable reluctance to work with the other party.

The problem is that reluctance can become entrenched animosity – and the other party can become the enemy.

When people get to that stage it can seem the easier option to shut off all contact.

But reaching a solution requires that all parties eventually work together, even if they don’t always enjoy doing that.

Note that Mandela talked about your “enemy” becoming your “partner”. That’s not the same as becoming your friend – although it’s a marvellous bonus if that happens, too!

Can you hear me?

One the things I learned as an amateur actor is that a good performance requires more than just waiting for your cue and saying your lines.

It’s essential to listen actively (and respond appropriately) to what the rest of the cast are saying – otherwise you might come across as wooden.

It’s the same when dealing with disputes.

If you are really listening, you can pick up all sorts of information that is not actually being said. And sometimes that information is invaluable when you are seeking a way forward.

Problems can arise in a discussion when people just sit there, waiting for their turn to talk, not listening and not hearing unspoken agreements and concessions which  - if recognised and acted upon - can lead to a realistic and mutually satisfying solution to the problem.


How much does conflict cost you?

When I asked one business owner about workplace mediation he said his company wouldn’t need it – it had systems to prevent conflict causing problems.

Good news!

He went on to tell me how a disgruntled employee had cost his business several hundreds of thousands of pounds and had possibly damaged its reputation.

Companies often take for granted the debilitating effects of unresolved conflict.

See if you recognise any of these:

  • lower morale resulting in lower productivity
  • valuable resources spent on managing conflict
  • damaged working relationships
  • problems with health and wellbeing
  • high rates of sick leave
  • high rates of staff turnover, which means resources diverted to retraining, recruitment and building relationships
  • formal procedures which consume much time and money but might not produce lasting solutions.

Workplace mediation offers the chance for businesses, small and large, to address conflict quickly, cheaply and, above all, effectively.

© Osborne Mediation 2019