As human beings we each have different levels of capability on how to change our mindset and feelings from an experience that we have been through. Some would say that they have a growth mindset with the capacity to learn and develop from a negative experience, whilst others that they have a fixed mindset where their ideas about an experience are somewhat entrenched; or maybe most of us are somewhere in between.
One thing I will often say to clients, friends and family when discussing issues (usually negative) is that you can’t just press a button and expect a change in feelings and behaviour about someone or a situation. Feelings and behaviours that have developed in response to an experience can become engrained and therefore can become established as a habit; especially if the experience you have had has been over a long period of time or continually repeated.
As a qualified mediator, I have been involved in a lot of cases aiming to resolve disputes between people in the workplace. There are some cases where it is quite straightforward, and you are dealing with a misunderstanding or a disagreement and the opportunity of resolution has been welcomed and the outcome has been positive for both parties. They can happily sign on the dotted line of the mediation agreement and embrace the principles which will ensure that their work interactions will from now on be more positive and effective with one another.
On the other hand, there are some conflicts that I have had to deal with that involve a serious break down in trust and respect, and the ability to think positively about the other person is near to impossible. These gigs have really tested me as a professional mediator and it often requires pulling out every tool and technique from my skill set to get the parties to engage more positively with the problems and understand the other party’s perspective.
That’s not to say that I haven’t been able to achieve this but supporting someone for 1-2 days in a mediation is not going to be enough to change some of the entrenched behaviours and negative mindsets that have been formed over a period of time. The famous saying of ‘once bitten twice shy’ comes to mind as our experience changes us; but not always for the best.
Conflict can very often knock your confidence, bring your resilience down, affect your self-esteem and in worst case scenarios affect your mental health through suffering stress, anxiety and depression. This is some of the stuff that I get to hear about in mediation sessions amongst a whole load of other emotional damage.
As a mediator it is very important to build a connection, trust and rapport with the client very quickly; even though the mediation is a workplace intervention the level of care that you build up for the participants is immense over such a short period. As a mediator I put my heart and soul into trying to help clients benefit from the process and get to a point where they can move on in a more positive direction. This stuff runs really deep…
But as the meeting ends and the door closes, I often sit and think (worry) whether they are going to be ok. Will they adopt the new principles that were captured on the mediation agreement and build a more positive way of working? Will they feel better in time and heal from the ordeal they have been through? The noise in my head often makes me think of the additional support the participants would benefit from to really help them turn that corner. As an ambassador for personal growth & development I have a good understanding of the long-term effects that negative work experiences can have on individuals. Furthermore, it is those intangible effects that are sometimes ignored by the employer e.g. productivity, presenteeism, low morale, ripple effect, negative culture, poor wellbeing… should I go on?
I voiced this to my colleagues and managers at WME who supported my view that a possible way to support staff after experiencing conflict in the workplace could be through coaching.
WME have supported me to carry out the ILM Coaching qualification which has led me to learn further techniques and tools on how to support clients in the workplace and help them develop their resilience, confidence and look at key behaviours that were limiting them. Before starting the coaching course, I had a good idea that the skill set that is required to be a mediator is very similar to those required to be a coach:
- To have the ability to really listen;
- to ask the client questions to unpack their thinking, experiences and ideas;
- to help them come to their own conclusions and solutions on the way forward;
- to ensure they are held to account to follow through on these solutions.
I am excited in becoming a fully-fledged coach and to be able to offer coaching sessions to clients who have been through conflict at work. This extended support will help participants to rebuild their confidence, resilience and manage their own behaviours and interactions with one another and for them to be their best selves again.
Monica Puri, Bsc MCIPD, Principal Consultant, West Midlands Employers
ILM Mediator, ILM Coaching (soon to be)