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Key Takeaways

  • Using humor can make dense material more accessible and intimidating topics like conflict more approachable.
  • When dealing with conflict with higher-ups, it’s recommended to be clear, concise, and direct. Understanding and communicating both parties’ interests is crucial, even when power dynamics are in play.
  • Gender dynamics play a significant role in conflicts. Recognizing and appreciating these differences can lead to better conflict resolution.
  • The essence of effective conversation with those in power positions remains understanding and communicating both parties’ interests. However, it’s worth noting that power dynamics can complicate the process.
  • In mediation, participation and transparency in the resolution process are critical. If individuals believe the process is equitable, they’re more likely to accept outcomes, even if they aren’t ideal.
  • Relationships may not always be equitable, but approaching them with a mindset of contributing more than one’s “fair share” can lead to more harmonious interactions.
  • For effective mediation, connecting with individuals on an emotional and subconscious level is essential rather than relying solely on logic and facts.

Executive Summary:

Hey folks, welcome back to the NEGOTIATEx podcast. We are continuing our conversation with Dr. Clare Fowler, the Executive Vice President of mediate.com and an expert in dispute resolution.  

In Part A, she explored the complexities of workplace conflicts. With a rise in workplace burnout, particularly in the post-pandemic return to physical offices, Dr. Fowler highlighted the importance of genuine listening and understanding in mediation. 

Additionally, she introduced innovative concepts from her book, “Rising Above Office Conflict,” where she characterized common office personalities and their dynamics. Dr. Fowler’s insights advocate viewing conflicts as opportunities to deepen connections and promote effective communication. 

We strongly recommend you check out Part A before listening to this one. Now, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Clare’s Recipe For Understanding And Connection

Firstly, Aram inquires about Clare’s book, which seems to blend her passion for cooking with humor. He’s curious about how cooking might metaphorically relate to conflict resolution and how humor aids in managing conflicts.

In response, Clare mentions her ‘Resolve Any Conflict’ brownie recipe as a highlight at the start of her book. Drawing a parallel between baking and conflict resolution, she suggests that just as baking requires specific ingredients, everyone entering the workforce has fundamental needs like respect, validation, connection, and hope. Once people understand these shared yet differently manifested needs, they can find common ground.

She then addresses the humorous aspect of her book. She aimed for a lighthearted tone to engage readers like her husband, who might not be inclined to read dense academic material. Humor serves to lower defenses, making it easier for readers to absorb information. 

Furthermore, since conflict can be intimidating for many, comparing it to dreaded activities like visiting the dentist, Clare believes humor can make it more approachable. She advocates for acknowledging mistakes with levity, which can foster open communication and growth. 

Overall, her goal is to normalize conflict, emphasizing its everyday occurrence.

Clare’s Guide To Clear Conversations With Higher-Ups

Moving on, Nolan expresses interest in Clare’s earlier example regarding conflicts between an employee and their manager. He’s curious about how her advice might change when the conflict is with someone in a position of power, like a boss.

Clare highlights that the core principles of conversation remain the same: understanding and communicating both parties’ interests. However, she acknowledges the added complexity when there’s a power dynamic at play. It might take longer for those in power, like managers, to recognize or prioritize the conflict because it may seem trivial to them compared to an employee. 

Many people, when feeling unheard, tend to exaggerate the problem, loop in unrelated issues, or involve other parties to make their voices louder. Clare warns against this approach as it dilutes the main concern and can make it harder to address. 

Instead, when communicating with someone holding more power, Clare recommends a “straight no chaser” approach. This involves being clear, concise, and direct about the issue at hand and the desired resolution without adding extraneous details or issues. When people do that, there’s a better chance for productive conversation and resolution.

Gender Dynamics In Conflict: Puzzling Through Differences And Strengths

Subsequently, Aram highlights Clare’s “straight, no chaser” approach and asks if she has experience mediating when gender dynamics are the core of a workplace conflict. He seeks insights about the role gender plays in conflicts.

Clare responds by diving into the topic of gender dynamics in conflict by referencing a study from the National Institute of Health. In the study, children who identified as either male or female were given puzzles to solve. The study found that girls generally strategized before starting the puzzle, sorting pieces by edge and color. 

Boys, on the other hand, were more haphazard, diving straight in. When a puzzle piece was removed, girls typically internalized the problem, thinking they may have lost or misplaced it, whereas boys tended to externalize the problem, believing the researchers forgot to give them the piece.

Clare points out that neither approach is wrong, but relying solely on one can limit our perspectives. If someone always internalizes, they might miss external issues, and vice versa. Gender dynamics often influence our responses to conflicts, and it’s essential to recognize and appreciate these differences. 

While some have argued that gender shouldn’t be a focal point, Clare believes it’s crucial to understand the unique strengths and perspectives each gender brings.

Beyond 50-50: Pursuing Transparency And Generosity In Conflict Resolution And Relationships

In a similar vein, Nolan seeks an understanding of how Clare ensures that the conflict resolution process is perceived as fair by involved parties, especially when the eventual outcome might not seem just to both sides.

Clare begins by emphasizing the importance of participation and transparency in the process. If participants are involved in designing the resolution procedure and believe it is equitable, they are more likely to accept outcomes, even if those outcomes aren’t exactly what they initially desired. 

She shares a scenario where someone enters a mediation insisting on a specific outcome (e.g., a one million dollar grant). However, after experiencing a transparent and inclusive discussion, they might accept a lesser outcome (e.g., three-quarters of a million dollars). The reason was that they felt heard, included, and confident that the procedure was not biased against them.

However, Clare contrasts the idea of fairness in processes with relationship dynamics. She posits that relationships, by their nature, are not always equitable. In her perspective, it’s healthier and more productive for individuals to approach relationships with the mindset of contributing slightly more than their “fair share” – for instance, giving 55% instead of an even 50%. This mindset sets a positive precedent and often leads to partners reciprocating the gesture, creating a more harmonious relationship.

Clare shares anecdotal evidence, recounting instances where she has coached individuals to adopt this 55% mindset. Often, these individuals later report that they feel they received more from their partner than expected, suggesting that when one person in a relationship consistently gives a bit more, it fosters generosity in the other.

Tapping Into Emotions For Effective Mediation

When asked how she handles situations where one of the parties in a mediation process is withdrawn or unresponsive, Clare shares some really insightful information. According to her, it’s highly crucial to connect with individuals on an emotional and subconscious level rather than just throwing facts and logic at them. 

She references a video by Will Schoder about Mr. Rogers, emphasizing how Mr. Rogers was able to persuade PBS to fund his show by connecting on an emotional level rather than just presenting data.

Furthermore, Clare notes that trying to persuade someone solely with logic and facts often fails, especially if they have a different point of view. Such an approach might even push people away and make them defensive.

She strongly believes that in situations where a party is withdrawn or hesitant, it is crucial to establish an emotional connection, demonstrating respect and transparency to make the conversation more effective.

Clare’s Adventures In Mediation Education For Corporate Clients And Freshmen

Clare is also asked to share her insights about the challenges she faces teaching mediation, especially considering her dual roles as a mediator and an educator.

She highlights that corporate clients generally recognize the importance of dispute resolution skills, as they have firsthand experience with conflicts in their workplace. This understanding drives their engagement and interest in the training. Conversely, younger students, especially freshmen, often don’t grasp the real-world significance of these skills yet.

She illustrates this with an assignment she gives where students are required to engage in face-to-face conversations, solely asking follow-up questions without judgment. The exercise emphasizes active listening. 

Clare reveals that many students resist the assignment due to its intimate nature and their discomfort with vulnerability. They express concerns about disagreements and a preference for digital, less personal communication formats.

She suggests that this hesitation might stem from a lack of experience. Younger individuals might feel invincible and undervalue interpersonal skills until they’re immersed in the workplace, where they recognize the challenges of communication and conflict resolution.

Clare’s Top Picks For Business Leaders And Conflict Resolution Enthusiasts

Next, Nolan asks about the resources Clare would recommend for business leaders aiming to enhance their organization’s dispute-resolution abilities or further develop their personal mediation skills. He also inquires about opportunities for professional growth in the field of mediation.

Clare starts by highlighting an upcoming intensive workplace training scheduled for November 17th, specifically designed for HR managers, union reps, and those dealing with high-conflict behaviors in offices. This event promises to offer numerous additional resources, such as the following:

#1 CPD (Company Profile Test) 

A dual personality test system where individuals take one assessment in their natural state and another when they’re at work. The goal is to identify disparities between a person’s genuine personality and the persona they might adopt in a work environment. 

The CPD is accompanied by a session with a coach to discuss potential areas of improvement. It’s a product of the Mediation Training Institute in Florida.

#2 ACR (Association For Conflict Resolution) 

This association provides extensive articles on workplace conflicts, with a dedicated section on the subject.

#3 NAFCM (National Association For Community Mediation) 

Their website is abundant in resources. They provide a library catalog where professionals, not limited to mediators, can access resources tailored to specific issues, such as dealing with micromanagers or toxic personalities. The resources also guide users on when to involve legal systems or document situations.

Tapping Into Agathokakological Nature: The Dual Desires In Conflict Resolution

As the discussion draws to a close, Aram inquires if there’s anything he and Nolan missed asking Clare or any parting thoughts she’d like to share with their listeners.

Clare responds by bringing up the Barbie movie, which has become a significant success, hinting at a deep societal resonance. She believes the movie taps into a universal desire: everyone wishes to feel empowered and accepted. 

Clare introduces the term “agathokakological,” which refers to the idea that people have both self-serving and altruistic tendencies. If only one aspect is catered to, it leaves individuals feeling unsatisfied. 

She suggests that in conflict resolution, it’s essential to recognize that clients not only want their needs addressed but also derive satisfaction from ensuring others’ needs are met. This results in a more holistic and satisfying resolution for all parties involved. 

Clare, Aram, and Nolan discuss more on this episode of the NEGOTIATEx podcast. Write to us at team@negotiatex.com and share your thoughts on this informational podcast episode.

Thank you for your time!


Nolan Martin : Hey everyone, thanks for joining us on the NEGOTIATEx podcast. We are continuing our conversation with Clare Fowler, Executive Vice President of mediate.com. If you haven't already checked out part A of the show, be sure to do that first.

Let's jump in the conversation with Clare.

Aram Donigian : Now your book also incorporates your love of cooking with a touch of humor and if people haven't picked up, but I can tell you have a great sense of humor, could you share a little bit about both of these and how they either relate metaphorically as in cooking to conflict resolution or in the case of humor actually help us manage conflict more effectively?

Clare Fowler : Absolutely. So, let me begin with the most important. I begin the book with my ‘Resolve Any Conflict’ brownie recipe. So if nothing else, it is worth buying the book for that

AD : Sold.

Baking And Resolving: A Lighthearted Guide To Workplace Conflict (01:30)

CF : Right? So great questions and I want to spend time on both of those. So first, how does baking relate to conflict resolution? So the way that I see us is when we all enter the workforce, we all have a lot of those same basic principles, right? The same way we throw the same ingredients out on a kitchen table. You've got your eggs, you've got your flour, your sugar, your oil, all of those things. The same way people walk into an office with a need for respect, validation to feel like their work matters, to feel a sense of connection, to feel a sense of progress and hope, right?

We're all coming in with those same basic things, but we all have them in slightly different amounts and we all have had different pressure, different life experiences, different heat getting us to a different result, and the more we can understand that about each other, right? That you have the same need for validation that I do maybe just in a different amount or it's come out in a slightly different way because different experiences, then I think it helps us to jump down to that common ground instead of agonizing each other like, “oh, I can't believe he has such a strong drive to pursue his career.” He is just rolling over everyone. And be like, well actually I kind of have that same need for validation and that same need for my work to matter. It's just coming out in a slightly different way.

So I spend a lot of time talking about baking and really distilling all the different ingredients that we are made up with and the different shapes those can take, whether it's a brownie or a cookie or a cake, right? How we come out in different ways. But let's talk about humor. So first, like I said, I wanted to create a book that my husband would actually read and he's not going to read the 10,000 books that I had to buy for all of these degrees. He wants to read something funny that will actually capture his attention and I wanted to enjoy writing it. So I think the jokes and the humor just naturally came out and I realized it's not for everyone and that's okay. I didn't write it for everyone. I wrote it for the worker that actually needs to have these skills in his or her hands while they are going through the workforce. The third reason that I needed a lighthearted guide, I call it the ‘Light-Hearted Guide For The Heavy-Hearted Employee’.

So the third reason I made it funny was the second we feel like we are preached at, our brains start to disagree. We start to look for ways that we can tear down that argument or we can criticize it. But if you're just telling a story, then my subconscious is engaged, right? My walls are down. So it's just easier for our brains to absorb information if it's a funny story, if it's something where we're just following along and we're listening to the story and then without realizing it, that little bit of knowledge or data has slipped in there.

And the fourth reason why I wanted to make it funny was because conflict is already scary enough. For most people, they say it's like going to the dentist. I know at some point I should, I know it would probably make things better, but I know it's going to hurt and I know it's going to be hard, so I'm just going to ignore it until I can't anymore.

So we don't need conflict to be scarier. Instead, I think we need conflict to be something that we can all joke about. I misspeak all the time, we all do. We make assumptions, we get frustrated, we get tired, we misunderstand where someone is coming from and we start spinning off into our own filters, our own assumptions. Let's just laugh about it, right? Let's just acknowledge, “oh, did it again, sorry, really screwed a pooch on that one. Whoops.”

And we can laugh about it. I can own up for it, you can own up for it, and then we can actually talk about it and grow and build on it. The more it's scary, I feel like the more it's going to be avoided. So I just really try to normalize conflict to say, “Hey, we do this every single day. Let's stop pretending we don't.”

NM : I'd love to build on that a little bit. And kind of earlier you mentioned example of conflict between employer and their manager. How's your advice change, if at all, when the person you're trying to resolve a disagreement with is your boss or your superior?

Mastering Communication: Navigating Conflict With Clarity And Confidence (05:27)

CF : Yeah, good question. So, the conversation principles I think are exactly the same. We need to be able to hear their interests and we need to be able to communicate our interests. The odd dynamic there is, it might take them a while to care. Let's say I bought this blue pen on Amazon, but I ordered a red pen. I can complain to good old Jeff from Amazon all I want. He's probably not going to care.

So, it's a little bit tougher where there is that power element because for me, the conflict has escalated, but for a manager, it might not have escalated yet. So when we're in that weird situation, what most people do is they threaten, they go negative, they escalate, they try to grow the conflict by bringing in all these other issues or all these other people.

So, now it's not just I got a blue pen, it's nationwide. The entire mediation community is upset because we are all receiving faulty packages. And I think it's a conspiracy theory. Then I think, okay, Jeff is going to pay attention now. And we do the same thing. When we feel like people aren't paying attention, we start to loop in other issues and we do a lot of absolutes. It's always like this or you never listen and we loop in other people. The whole department feels this way or the entire company is frustrated with you. The problem is, as soon as we do that, we have overinflated it so much that people have forgotten what the actual message was.

So if we are trying to have a conversation with someone who has more power than we do, if we're trying to get their attention, I call it the straight no chaser approach, just explain as clearly as you can. This is what I'm frustrated about, this is the outcome I would like. I would appreciate five minutes of your time to talk through it, right? Say it as clearly succinctly as possible without diluting it with all of this other stuff.

I feel like that's the most effective way to have an effective conversation because if I've grown it so big and I looped the entire company into it, there's no way we're ever going to be able to make any progress on my little concern.

AD : Straight, no chaser approach that is noteworthy. Clare, have you ever had to mediate when gender dynamics were at the center of the workplace conflict, either as the cause of the conflict itself or maybe as a source of the attempt to manage it? What do business leaders need to know about the role gender plays in conflict?

CF : Sure, good question. We've gone three hours, we have lots of time to answer that.

AD : All the time in the world.

A Nuanced Perspective On The Impact of Gender in Conflict (07:57)

CF : Ok, so gender dynamics. In the book, I talk about this study that I found fascinating, and it was put on by the National Institute of Health, and they had a bunch of kids sit down and do a puzzle, and some of the kids identified as female, some identified as male. They had them do this puzzle. First, they noticed that the girls, those identified as girls that they came up with a strategy first. First, they sorted all the edge pieces, then they sorted them by color, and then they started to put the puzzle together, whereas the majority of the masculine responses, the boys, they just jumped at it, right? Oh, let's put a piece here, let's put a piece here. And it was more of a trial and error approach. And if this doesn't work, well, who cares? Let's try another approach. And it was much more like haphazard and fun and just jumping into the adventure.

And then what was interesting was that researchers had pulled away a piece and just, oh, just the idea of that infuriated them. So they had about finished the puzzle when they realized they don't have enough pieces. So the girls, they immediately said, “oh gosh, so I must have, maybe I dropped it or maybe it's hidden under here, maybe it's on the floor. Maybe I put the puzzle together wrong. Maybe I lost it somehow.” They said they were very internal focused. There was a problem, and their instinctual response or their culturized response was to look internally.

Whereas the boys said, “oh, you forgot to give me this final puzzle piece. You must have dropped it somewhere along the way. Can you please go find it?” So the boys were looking outward to figure out where the solution for the problem was. Note that there is nothing wrong with either of these responses, whether you choose a masculinized or a feminized response, but it is very important to know that your brain is probably only getting half of the solution.

If I always look at myself and I'm always working on myself, that's lovely. I could end up being Gandhi someday, but I'm not actually fixing anything around me. Or if you're always looking externally for the problem, you might be missing what's right in front of you and realize, oh, I am the common denominator of all of these issues.

So yes, so gender dynamics are obviously very important thing that come into play in all of our conflict. And when I was writing a book, somebody said, “I don't think you should discuss gender at all. I think we should just say that we have one common response.” And that really bugged me for a while and I couldn't quite figure it out. And then I work with the kids at Sunday school at church, and one of the kids took all of the different kinds of Play-Doh and mushed them together and it just ended up with this mess that looked like refried beans. It was like that funny, is it brown? Is it pink? I don't know. And it just was this big mess and it wasn't fun anymore because there wasn't anything special. There wasn't anything that stood out now about the different colors.

So that play-Doh moment was what really solidified it for me that I think it's so important to figure out whatever gender role you choose, what are you bringing into the conflict? Do I want to walk out of this conflict feeling tough and brave and knowing that it was hard, but that I tackled it? Or do I want to walk into this conversation knowing that I paused and I was patient and I was very delicate with my words and that I was focusing on relationship more than outcome? And these are all beautiful choices, but it's important to know what empowers you, what is it that you want to bring into this conversation?

So absolutely, I think gender has to be a key part of these conversations because we all bring in different things. We all bring in different masculinized and feminized and who knows what our response is just from our life experiences. So I think instead of pretending like they don't exist, I think it's really important to say, here's what I love about myself. Here's what I'm really proud of about myself. And, I want to resolve this conflict in a way where I'm happy and where I feel like I didn't gaslight myself, but I was true to, this is what's important to me. And interestingly, I have seen post COVID, I have seen so many microaggression disputes come to surface.

And again, I think it's things that people didn't realize when they were face-to-face with each other all the time. But then when they left and they came back around each other, they realized there were a ton of gender-based microaggressions in my office that I'm not okay with anymore. So, I think Covid kind of drew the line for a lot of people who are now coming back to the office and saying, you don't interrupt Bob, but you interrupt Sally every time she tries to speak, and I'm not okay with that anymore. Just little microaggressions like that we probably didn't notice originally, but now people are starting to say this feels like there's a deeper sense of disrespect there that I wasn't aware of.

NM : Well, I know that you have also mediated faith-based disagreements. I imagine these are often highly explosive. So how do you step into that and manage conflict when identities such as one's faith or values are involved?

Integrating Faith-Based Approach To Conflict Resolution And Integrating Values (13:04)

CF : I love all these questions. Thank you. This is really fun to talk about. So again, just like gender, I feel like if we try to hide the parts of ourselves that we really care about in a conflict, then we're not going to be happy with the resolution. And I'm not saying that your faith or your spirituality always needs to be a part of it, but I feel like people need to choose a response that feels in line with their values. So let me give you a better example. There is this lovely Jewish saying, which I'm not even going to try to say, but it roughly means that ‘when we are arguing that in conflict, that's how we can find heaven’.

So I love this image where it says, I'm holding a little piece of the truth and you are holding a little piece of the truth, and it's only through that push and pull on each other where you push me about what do I really believe? And then I realized I can let go of some of this, but I'm going to hold fast to this and I do the same for you. That's how we can join our forces and arrive at a deeper truth. And we couldn't do that on our own. But it really is a blessed thing that this is a divine moment where we can bring two disparate ideas and arrive at a deeper truth, right?

Now, imagine if we can apply that principle to a political debate. Wouldn't that be beautiful? Or if you have two different departments coming together and they both think that they should have their budget and we go into it with a mindset of it is only in arguing that we will find the deeper truth. It is only through that difficult conversation that we will arrive at heaven or we will arrive at a deeper understanding. That I won't have the full picture on my own and you don't have the full picture on your own. We have to be willing to go through that and stand firm for what I believe in and listen to what you believe in so that we can find the right truth for this moment.

So, I guess I kind of got distracted, but one is to answer your question. I strongly feel that whatever values a person has, they shouldn't just be checked at the door when they walk into their workplace, right? That we need to be making decisions that feel in line with those. I need to make a decision that feels like I am empowering my chosen gender, my chosen faith, my chosen politics.

And so the book spends a lot of time surfacing those and essentially laying them out like a skirmish board. So you can walk down the buffet and saying, “yep, that feels right, that feels right. I don't just have to sit in the pink bucket what somebody put me in. Instead, I see this whole array of buckets and I can say, yep, I want some of that, and some of that and some of that. So people can arrive at their chosen conflict resolution path.

AD : In addition to helping businesses resolve internal disputes, you also assist them in reviewing systems that they may have in place that continually cause problems. What is this connection between an inanimate system and conflict between humans, and why is this an important part of your process?

Workplace Conflict: The Importance Of Navigating And Supporting Employee’s Mental Health (16:06)

CF : So you remember before Covid how Southwest used to be really funny, and then they got in trouble and they had to dial it down, but Southwest Airline was always known for having these jokes. So I was on this flight once and it was so bumpy, it was just so turbulent the whole time to the point where I called my husband, I know you're not supposed to, but I called him and I was like, just tell the kids I love them. It was bumpy the whole time. And then finally we touched down on the runway and the wind picks up one of these wings and pulls us this way.

We come around again, the wind picks us up this way, and then we finally skid to a stop. Parity sizes, deep breaths, and we all clap. And the pilot comes over the intercom and he says, “well, folks, you know what they say? Sometimes it's the plane's fault. Sometimes it's the pilot's fault, and sometimes it's the asphalt.” I know it's cheesy, I like it. So in other words, I worked with quite a few companies where they noticed this polka dotting of conflicts, and they were continuing to blame the person and make the person feel bad. Let's say you have two employees, but you only have one parking space for them.

You can't make both of those employees feel bad because they are in a system that has set them up to be at odds with each other. And it's great if you can bring in an outside observer who can stand back and say, oh, this is a systemic issue. It's not that you just have a whole bunch of awful employees, but let's help to change the system.

I worked with a company a little while ago. I talk about this a little bit deeper in my book, but let me just give you cliff notes. They were noticing that there were all these types of disputes, employee and harassment and toxic and mental health disputes. And by the way, did you know that mental health disputes are the number one most expensive healthcare concern in workplaces? 3% more than smoking or obesity? Isn't that crazy? That mental health concerns cost a company 3% more than anything else. Anyway, this company was noticing all of these disputes, so I got to come in and observe for a while, and they were right. There wasn't a common trend to any of these disputes. It wasn't in a single department or a single issue, but what we started to realize was it was the first of the month, and so we dug into it a little bit deeper and we found out that all the employees were getting paid on the seventh. Okay, now I don't know about you, but my mortgage, my student loans, all of my stuff comes out in those first few days of the month.

So we have all these poor employees that are just biting their nails, praying that all of their mortgage checks don't bounce. So all of that stress was leaking into the workplace and causing all of these little conflicts to popcorn like whack-a-mole, right? They were just showing up all over the company and they were trying to fix them, but it was a system that was broken. It was a systemic issue.

And when you bring in an outside observer who can see that, then it removes all that blame. It removes the shame from employees who are constantly thinking that they're doing something wrong. Instead, they realize, well, actually the system isn't supporting us. And as soon as we can bring in some changes there, it reduces the stress. It allows us to talk through things, and now we can actually make some changes. Now we can actually enjoy coming to the office.

NM : Thank you for sharing that. The concept of fairness is important in ADR work. How do you manage the perception of a fair process, even when the outcome doesn't feel fair to both parties?

Balancing Fairness And Relationships In Conflict Resolution (19:28)

CF : A couple of comments on that one. The more employees can design their own process and feel like it was a fair process, then the more they are going to accept the outcome. I can't tell you how many times we've had a round table discussion where people walk in saying, I'm not going to leave with less than a million dollar grant for my department. That is my position. I'm sticking to it. I won't change my mind. And then we go through this fair process where everyone has a chance to speak and everyone reflects on the other, and then we start expanding the pie and brainstorming and coming up with other ways to meet those particular needs. And that person might walk out, and now they're only getting us three quarter of a million dollar grant, but they feel so empowered because it was a fair process that they designed and they felt included. They know that their voice was heard, the entire proceedings were very transparent, and so they know that they weren't getting scammed or that their interests weren't getting pushed to the side.

So absolutely fairness as a core part of it. That being said, I feel like we can design a process that's fair. Relationships though are really rarely fair. And so I try to normalize that for a lot of employees. If I don't know, let's say you're working with Tom and you are trying to design a very fair partner relationship with Tom. You just have to realize right from the beginning that that's not true. And what I tell most people is feel like you are giving 55% in the relationship. I'm just telling you right off the bat, it's not going to be fair.

Every day you're going to have to give a little bit more, but some days they're going to have to give a little bit more. So just go into every day saying, alright, I'm going to give 55%. And they say, well clear why that's not fair. I say, because you have been through my training and you are blessed with superior knowledge than they have.

So just realize that you also set the example that you are willing to give 55%. And I ask them to just try this for a couple of weeks. Then I check back in and they say, I really went into conversation saying, okay, I'm going to give just a little bit more, or I'm going to listen just a little bit longer instead of making sure that it's a hundred percent fair, I say great. And now what do you feel like you've got in return? They say, what's interesting?

I know that the numbers don't add up, but I feel like I got 55%. I feel like I got a little bit more from my partner than I had expected. I feel like he gave a little bit more, or he was a little bit more lenient with me. And I said, I know the numbers don't work, but I feel like if I give more than my share, I end up getting more than my share. So absolutely processes, let's make them fair. But if we try to make relationships 50-50, it just doesn't work, right? Because I'm always going to be holding on. I'm going to be counting everything, and we don't need that kind of a relationship that's not healthy.

AD : I imagine that conversation you just described is much easier to mediate or to lead, facilitate when both parties are talking. What do you do when one party withdraws or is hesitant to contribute much, if at all, to the conversation?

Connecting Emotionally And Subconsciously For Effective Communication (22:30)

CF : Oh yeah, good question. Okay, so I hate to tell you this because this guy is so much wiser than I am, and he explained this so much better than I did. So you really should go watch this video afterwards. This guy Will Schoder, he did this video on Mr. Rogers and the power of persuasion, and it's fascinating. It's a 28 minute video. I make every one of my students watch it at the beginning of the semester. And you talked about Mr. Rogers and that great speech where Mr. Rogers was asking PBS for funding for the Mr. Rogers neighborhood.

So, he explains how when most people are trying to communicate that they communicate to the writer, to the conscious part of our mind, and we throw out all these logic and data and all of these facts, and didn't we see that with COVID, right? I don't know about you, but when I tried to talk with family members that had a different point of view than I did, I would try to convince them, let me show you these facts, and if I just show you enough logic, you will be convinced of my brilliance and my rightness and you'll agree with me and it never worked.

And the more that we do that, it actually would push people away and it would push them into the situation you were just describing where they would become very escalated, they would become very positional, and they might even withdraw from the conversation altogether, okay? Because they didn't feel heard, they felt preached at.

So, in this video, what he says is, instead, what we need to do when we're having a conversation with someone who is against us, somebody who disagrees with us, someone who doesn't want to engage in the conversation, ignore the writer for a moment, and instead speak to the elephant that the writer is sitting on. And that's our subconscious mind, that's our heart. Those are our instincts. And how you connect with that is through stories, through emotion. He calls it through pathos and ethos, right?

Through that feeling of empathy or ethos. I'm showing you that I'm an ethical, trustworthy person, but you have to connect with a writer or with the elephant first. And I can just picture this. You've got this big old, dusty, lumbering elephant walking away from you, and then somehow you tell a story. You explain like, well, this is how the situation has affected me personally. If you continue to show up late for work, what's happening is then I have to stay late, and then I'm late picking up my kid and they feel like their mom has forgotten about them. And so every day when I've been picking up my daughter, she's bawling, and I can't do that to her anymore. That's just breaking my heart.

So, we need to come up with a different plan here where you can show up on time so that I can get my daughter on time. And now I've connected with you emotionally. And I feel like what that is doing is it's getting this big old lumbering elephant to slowly turn his ears and trunk in your direction and paying attention. And now the writer is open, right? Now, the writer's mind is willing to hear you, and now you can come up with a plan, something like, okay, well you're right. I will commit to being here at 8:00 AM every morning so you can leave on time.

But if I just start with those facts and logic and try to throw a bunch of data at them, it's just pushing that person farther away. So instead, we just need to take a different approach, connect emotionally, connect with a story, connect on a heart level, because what you're essentially doing is saying, I respect you enough to be transparent, and I know that you are a good enough person to honor that, right? I'm giving you a little gift of myself, and I trust that you are going to take care of that little gift.

NM : What has changed with how one's practices, effective mediation skills in a virtual environment? What's more challenging and what skills are even more necessary to master?

The Art Of Recognizing Nonverbal Signals In Virtual Meetings And Its Implications (26:01)

CF : Another good question. Alright, so when we think about all of the nonverbal skills that we were taught in our basic mediation training, we were probably taught things like if a person is feeling upset or anxious, their foot is tapping. They might be clicking a pen or drumming their nails against the table, their stomach might clench, their shoulders might pull together. And there are all these physical things, and I want you to know I'm doing every one of those things right now, but you can't see them, right? Because they are not within that one inch little square, right? So I think it's really important to realize that as soon as those physical signs have fret up here to the point where you can see them, something like my cheeks flush or my eyebrows pulled together, or my voice starts getting eye pitched and I'm sucking in on my breath, we need to realize that we've probably missed the first 10 signals.

So, I have started to realize that once I see a single one of those signals, I instantly call it, I instantly say, “oh gosh, I would really love a break. Could we take a 10-minute break?” Or, “oh, there's a few things I'd like to clarify with you. Would it be okay if we went in a breakout room for a few minutes just so I can review that, right?” But instead of thinking before like, oh, they're just starting to get upset. I can push on it a little bit. I can keep them comfortable. I've had to really dial that back and just honor all of those signals that I'm starting to see from a person online.

Okay. Second thing that I'm seeing is when a person is first hired, when they first started a company that onboarding, forming relationships, understanding context, that's almost impossible to do online. I think when a person first starts at a company, even if they're going to be working online, there has to be some moment where they meet in person. We just hired this fantastic India team to design a new version of Caseload Manager, and the first thing that we did was we all got to fly out there and it was so much fun, and I got to meet all of the developers and play with their kids and met their wives, and they cooked the most amazing meals. I'm pretty sure I gained 50 pounds in a week, but it was completely worth it. It was so delicious.

So, now every time when we talk, we're friends and I would love to meet them again in person someday. I don't know if they will, but now we have enough of a context where we can push and pull on each other and be more honest than we could if we had only met in that online environment.

So, that's what I'm hearing from a lot of companies. They're saying, I'm fine with working online, but I just can't get to know people online. I need that first face-to-face connection. So even my mediations, I still ask that we have that initial meeting where, and then we can understand each other, get to know some of that physical body language, and then if we want to meet the rest of the time on Zoom or whatever, that's fine. It's easy to hammer out details or have those breakout rooms on Zoom. I understand there's a lot of great functionality there, but I think we miss something when we don't have that initial physical face-to-face connection.

AD : Clare, not only are you a practicing mediator, you're a professor and trainer as well. What do you find challenging about teaching this material? And is it any different whether it's a corporate client versus a university student?

Mediation And Communication Training Between Corporate Clients And Academic Students (29:15)

CF : Well, the difference with corporate clients is that I think they understand the value. They are in the trenches. They know that they need to learn how to resolve disputes, and so they're paying attention. Whereas a lot of my younger students, so I do freshmen as well as masters, and a lot of my frosh, they don't understand the importance of this yet. So for instance, I have this one assignment where people have to go out and have a conversation and it has to be face-to-face, and they can only ask follow-up questions. They can't judge. They can't say, oh, you should do this, or something like that happened to me this weekend.

They have to just say, oh, that's interesting. Tell me more. Why do you think that is? So it's a vulnerable conversation, and I have so many students say, “you know what, professor Fowler, I'd rather take the F. It feels too intimate. I don't want to learn how to listen that effectively. If we could do it over text or with emojis maybe, but I don't want to be that vulnerable face-to-face with another person.” What if they disagree with me and then I am physically left exposed? I would only do a conversation like that through some kind of an online format. Isn't that interesting?

Yeah. But I think just experience, right? I think when we're young, we feel like we can handle everything, and then we get into the workplace and we're like, gosh, dang it, this stuff is hard. I wish I'd been paying attention when somebody was talking to me about all of this.

AD : I hope you don't mind. I'm probably going to steal that exercise.

CF : It's fun. It's a good one.

NM : You just want to give out more F's, Aram? For a business leader who either wants to improve their organization's ability to handle disputes or build their own personal mediation skills, what resources, books, other than yours or programs would you recommend? And are there other opportunities for professional growth in this field?

Strategies And Resources for Handling Workplace Conflict (31:07)

CF : Oh, another good question. So first, we are having an intensive workplace just on this, looking at the dates, November 17th, so this November 17th, it's open to all HR managers, union reps, anyone that is dealing with some high conflict behaviors in their office. And at that we are going to be sharing a ton of additional resources. So I'll float a couple by you now, but obviously they're way more than we can cover in a short amount of time.

So some of the resources that I've been really impressed with are the CPD. It's essentially a company profile test where you take one personality test and then you take another one when you're sitting at work, so you can understand what is my natural state and what is my altered state, right? Because again, we want people to feel as authentic and true to their values as possible when they're at work, but a lot of people kind of shift and they move into a role that they don't feel good about when they're at work.

So that's a fantastic test. It's called a CPD, and then you get this great briefing with a coach afterwards and they talk about some of the areas that you might want to work on, and here are some steps to working with it. It's put out by Dan Dana's group, the Mediation Training Institute down in Florida, fantastic resource.

ACR of course, Association for Conflict Resolution. They have a lot of really deep articles on this as well as a workplace section. There's also NAFCM, the National Association for Community Mediation and their website. I was just looking at it because gathering resources for this upcoming training, their website is rich with resources. They have a library catalog where you don't have to be a mediator, but any trainer, any HR, any manager can go to it and say, “Hey, I have a micromanager, or I have a toxic personality or an abusive personality. What do I do?” And then again, they show you if it's abusive, here's when it makes sense to get the court involved, or here's how to document those situations. So I think those are my favorite, but again, there's so many out there. So that's why we're having a whole training on this just to present some of those resources.

AD : Yeah, please make sure we get that information. We'll make sure we push it out on our channels. So folks know that's going on. Thank you. I have to say, I am a little disappointed in your answer that you didn't suggest that people watch Fairly Legal, because I wasn't even aware of the show. I was in Afghanistan during the two back-to-back years that that show was on the air, and I read about it in your blog for prepping for this call. So I've actually only three episodes in, but I'm really enjoying.

CF : It’s fun, right?

AD : Yeah, it's fun. I mean, the way she handles some, especially the, I like the coffee shop, like little mediation and stuff. Those little ones are really fun. Good learning points there. Alright, Clare, as we get ready to wrap up, what's been a wonderful conversation. I really feel like I've been through a masterclass over the last hour plus on mediation, but as we get ready to wrap up, what haven't we asked you that we should have and that you'd like to leave maybe as a final thought with our listeners?

Insights From The Barbie Movie (34:12)

CF : Thank you. So, you didn't ask if I've seen the Barbie movie yet, which I'm a little surprised. So the Barbie movie has just passed a billion dollars. Obviously this movie is striking a nerve or it's hitting on something that the world wants to talk about. And I don't think it's just that it's like bubble gummy or that there's pre people in it. We have a lot of movies that do that, but I think it's hitting on something else. And I think that this is key for us to understand as conflict resolution professionals, I won't do any spoilers, so I'll very gently gloss over some of the key points that I see in this movie are just a realization that everybody wants to feel empowered, everybody wants to feel accepted.

And there's a beautiful word for this, which I'm going to completely butcher agathokakological. I think it's an ancient Catholic word, which essentially means that people are comprised of both the need to take care of themselves and to take care of others, and that if we only satisfy one part of ourselves, we feel like something's twisted. It leaves us feeling depressed. And that was my big takeaway from this movie was we need to realize as we're helping our clients, it's not just about pushing their interests, but our clients also take pleasure when they are helping their coworkers. They really, our clients want to achieve some kind of a resolution where their interests are met, but they're also meeting the interests of their coworkers, right?

There really is that part in people that says, yeah, I need to make sure I'm taken care of. But you know what? I'm actually happier if I feel like you're taken care of in the process. So go see the Barbie movie. Remember that. It's an agathokakological concept ending there.

AD : Clare, thank you. This has been a wonderful discussion. Thank you for the energy, the insights. Folks, please go pick up Clare's book, take it. I know we all have different conflicts occurring, not just in the workplace, but probably at home too. This is a guide that can help us lean into conflict. And as Clare was saying earlier, see the good, see the value that exists there when we manage it well.

CF : Oh, thank you! I have a great summary. Thank you. This has been so much fun getting to speak with both of you. Thank you. I really appreciate it.

NM : Absolutely. Well, thank you, Clare, for joining us. So that wraps it up for us on today's podcast. If you haven't already, please rate review and subscribe and we'll see you in the next episode.

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