Why negotiate?

This is Conflict Resolution week in BC and I will be posting several blogs over the week highlighting some conflict resolution themes from my work as a mediator.  Here is my first entry.

In any dispute, there are alternatives to negotiating.  According to Fisher an d Ury (1991) there are best (BATNA) and worst (WATNA) alternatives to negotiating an agreement.  Before deciding to negotiate, it is helpful to be clear on one’s BATNA and WATNA.

In divorce mediation, going to court is often identified by people as the worst alternative due to high costs, time delays, and stress.  Other WATNAs could be not having a close relationship with the children, or emotional harm to the children due to the parental conflict.  A best alternative may be family law arbitration due to less time delays, and potentially lower costs.  In this case, neither the BATNA or WATNAs are ideal, which may mean that negotiating an agreement has a lot of benefit for the parents and children.  Additional benefits to negotiating are increased compliance with negotiated agreements and developing an ongoing productive co-parenting relationship.

So when you have a dispute, consider what you have to gain from negotiating.  For more information on negotiation and mediation, see The Benefits of Mediation for Separating Couples.  and Collaborative Communication Tips.


Five Collaborative Communication Tips You Can Use Everyday at Work.

Five collaborative communication tips you can use every day at work.

1.  Listen for what’s important to others.  Look for interests.

Interests are needs, hopes, motivators and fears.  Think about yours and listen for theirs.

2.  Reflect back to someone the emotions and content of what they’ve told you.

“What I heard you say is….”

“It sounds like you’re feeling really frustrated (confused, overwhelmed,                     angry…) about this situation.”

3.  State your own views using “I” statements.

“I’m concerned because I don’t know how to solve this problem in a way that works for both of us.”

“When you send an email to the boss about your concerns about me without speaking with me first, I feel frustrated.  I’d prefer if we could talk about it first to see if we can work the problem out before we involve the boss.”

4. Ask open questions.

“What are you most concerned about?”

“What do you think would happen if [insert one proposed solution or situation here]?

“What is important to you about that?”

5. Focus on the problem not the person.

Think about the problem as something both of you are trying to solve together rather than thinking about the problem as the other person.

My siblings and I are in conflict about planning for our father who is ill. What can we do to reduce the conflict?

Conflict is a normal part of family life and in the case of sibling conflicts, it often continues throughout our lives.  Some people discover that their conflict as adults looks very similar to the conflicts between them as children.  This is because we learn our responses to conflict within our families and at a very young age.  If you are experiencing conflicts with your adult siblings, consider the following.  How much of this conflict is linked to past family situations?  You’ll know the answer if you hear yourself saying, “He ALWAYS does that” or “She NEVER seems to get my point.”.  Try focusing on the present and the concern at hand.  Start with identifying your own needs, interests and motivators in the situation and focus on the present not the past.  Some common needs are: 1) to know your parent is comfortable and cared for; 2) to have positive relationships with siblings; AND 3) to ensure that siblings don’t get burned out caring for a parent.  Rather than having the typical unproductive discussion which might be characterized by someone refusing to talk, stomping off, or raised voices, try asking open questions.  Here are some examples to get you started.  What would be your ideal scenario for dad’s situation?  What role do you want to play in his care?  How does being involved in his care and/or decision-making impact you? What do you think would happen if we…..?

In some situations, the tension is too high or there is too much water under the bridge to make the conversation productive on your own.  In these situations, consider hiring a mediator to help everyone feel heard and to create a plan that benefits all family members.

How to resolve conflicts between business owners and employees regarding social media use

Are you a small business owner?  Have you ever been frustrated by your employees using social media during the work day?  This is a common challenge that many small and large employers are facing in workplaces.  In this blog, I will provide you with some communication strategies to discuss this concern and negotiate a solution that works for both owner(s) and employees.  Firstly, think about what bothers you most about the problem.  Are you concerned about the employee not getting their work done?  Or maybe you’re worried about being fair to all employees?   Figure out what your interests are.  Here are some common interests that you might relate to: a desire to treat employees well, to meet business targets, a desire not to be paying employees for personal communication time, and to have happy, productive employees.  Secondly, you’ll need to introduce the discussion in a direct and neutral way.  Ask to meet with the person privately, and schedule a mutually agreed upon time and place.  Then try something like…”I’ve noticed that you’ve been typing in your phone a number of times during the morning.  I’d like to talk about how social media is used in the workplace.”  Avoid blaming language. Rather, pick a topic that describes the concern without labelling anything as right or wrong, good or bad.  At the beginning of the conversation, it is important for you to be honest about your concern.  Here is a script using assertive language.  “When I see you looking at facebook three or more times before noon and at the same time you haven’t completed the work assignment I requested [description of behaviour], I get concerned [emotion] that you aren’t able to complete your work on time.  I also wonder if your personal use of facebook is one of the reasons you can’t meet your work targets.  I’d prefer if you kept your personal use of social media to before and after work, and your breaks.”

Next, it is important for you to find out what the employee’s interests are.  You can do this by using two specific listening skills: asking open questions AND reflecting back the emotions and content that you hear them say.  Open questions start with “What” or “How” and cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no”.  Here are some questions to try:

1)      What’s important to you about checking your facebook during the day?

2)      What do you think would happen if you didn’t check it?

3)      What do you like about your job?

4)      What is the most challenging part of your job for you?

5)      How does checking your facebook benefit you at work?

It is important to reflect back what you’ve heard in your own words after each question.  Start with “So you’re feeling ____________ about _______________.” or “What I hear you saying is______________”.  This will prevent the person you are talking to from feeling interrogated.

This is enough discussion of skills for now.  Stay tuned for how to move towards an agreement that meets both owner and employee interests.

More reasons to choose mediation

I just found out that October 18 is Mediation Day:)  I’ll be sure to celebrate it next year.  This article is a great description of reasons to choose mediation.  www.huffingtonpost.com/sherri-donovan-esq/celebrate-mediation-day-t_b_1968763.html

How can I talk to my elderly mother about my concerns for her safety?

This is a difficult conversation for most families.  The elder likely wants to maintain her independence as long as she can and adult children or relatives are concerned about the person falling, having a stroke, leaving the stove on, etc..  Has the conversation ended badly when you’ve tried to talk about safety concerns?  No one looks forward to having someone tell us we can no longer be independent. Here’s a few suggestions about how to make the conversation productive.  Firstly, choose a time when both of you are rested, have eaten, and when you’re not rushed for time.  Be gentle and firm when you start the conversation.  It often helps to say something like “I don’t want to regret not talking with you about this.”  or “I’m concerned that you might fall and not be able to reach the phone.”  Share your concerns honestly and ask for your elder’s perspective about what she is scared about.  Remember that people need time to think about changes, so the conversation may need to occur over months until the elder is ready.  If you and other family members have tried having the conversation and it only ends badly, consider using a mediator to help focus on the key concerns of each person and ways to separate the problem from the personalities.  Stay tuned for more tips soon.

Transitioning through Divorce-Important Financial Information

Check out this article by Erika Penner  for financial information you MUST consider when separating.  http://www.erikapenner.ca/pdf/EP_TransDiv.pdf

We’re getting a divorce. What do we do about the family home?

When getting a divorce, couples struggle with where each of them will live and whether one spouse will remain in the family home.  This can be a very stressful decision because you are considering what will be best for your children as well as for each of you.  You have to consider financial, emotional, and geographical criteria.  A skilled mediator can assist you to discover options that you had not considered and to make a plan that allows all family members to move forward positively.

 When you begin working with an Olive Branch Mediator, he or she will begin by meeting with each of the people involved individually to understand the situation from each person’s perspective.  After the individual meetings, the mediator will then make a plan for a joint session.  During the joint session, the mediator will assist the parties to focus on common interests going forward.

We will assist you to focus on common interests such as: stable, affordable living arrangements for both of you; workable timelines for selling the home;  maintaining memories for your children; and minimizing the financial costs.  The Mediator will help both of you to talk about what is important to you regarding the home and any future residences.  It is important to remember that however different your views about the family home might be, choosing mediation can help you to find a solution that both of you can accept.  There are many creative options which families can use.  Some families will choose to sell the home and divide the money from the sale.  Others decide to divide the residence and have each person live in a different part of the house.  Still others may decide that the one spouse will maintain ownership of the home.  These are only a few of the options that families come up with in mediation.  In addition, by discussing suitable timelines and financial needs, the parties can often make a plan that is better than each of them anticipated.  The family home is typically considered a “family asset” under the Family Relations Act.  For legal information, see www.bcfamilylawresource.com.  Olive Branch Consulting recommends that all couples seeking a divorce get legal and financial advice as part of the mediation process to ensure informed and effective decision-making.