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Key Takeaways

  • Mediation is described as creating a safe environment where parties can communicate their concerns, akin to emptying and sifting through the contents of a backpack. The essential skills for mediators include genuine, curious listening.
  • A pressing issue in workplaces is conflict, leading to significant burnout. A majority of workers in 2023 report extreme burnout, with a third impaired nearly half of the time due to unresolved issues or stress.
  • There’s a correlation between unresolved conflicts and deteriorating mental health. The lack of guidance and resources to navigate these challenges can lead to severe consequences.
  • In conflict scenarios, individuals tend to underreact or overreact. Neither approach is effective and amplifies burnout and frustration.
  • Conflict, when addressed appropriately, can foster deeper connections among colleagues. Genuine conflict arising from intersecting perspectives can be constructive if individuals possess the right communication tools.
  • Mediators must ensure resolutions aren’t imposed but developed with a sense of ownership by the involved parties. They also need to be aware of deeper contextual issues in disputes to avoid betrayals of trust.
  • Different personalities in the workplace can cause tension. Understanding these personalities and the power of genuine listening can transform office dynamics, leading to more productive environments.

Executive Summary:

Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for tuning in to a brand new episode of the NEGOTIATEx podcast. Today, we are joined by Dr. Clare Fowler, the Executive Vice President of mediate.com

Dr. Fowler has a strong background in dispute resolution, having received her Doctorate focused on dispute resolution systems for small businesses and a Master’s in Dispute Resolution. She also serves as the managing editor at mediate.com and is the director of Caseload Manager. 

Additionally, Dr. Fowler is a teacher at Pepperdine and the University of Oregon, specializing in workplace disputes. She recently wrote a book titled ‘Rising above Office Conflict: A Lighthearted Guide for the Heavyhearted Employee’ that offers practical tools for employees to resolve conflicts. 

With that said, let’s get straight to the meat of the matter. 

Dr. Fowler’s Perspective On Navigating Disputes And The Art Of Listening

Firstly, Nolan inquires about Clare’s definition of mediation and the skills that are vital for a mediator. 

The latter responds by explaining that mediation is akin to the process of creating a safe space where parties can freely express and lay out all their concerns and issues. She likens this to children emptying their backpacks on a table, sifting through its contents, keeping what’s valuable, and discarding what’s not. 

According to her, the mediator’s main role is to ensure participants are comfortable and empowered enough to devise a solution that’s uniquely suited to their situation. As for the indispensable skills a mediator should possess, Dr. Fowler emphasizes the importance of genuine, curious listening.

Workplace Burnout And The Urgent Need For Effective Conflict Resolution

Next, Aram asks Clare about her book “Rising Above Office Conflict.” He also wants to know the statistical significance of workplace conflicts and why such conflicts are common in professional settings.

Clare highlights the pressing issue of workplace conflict and the negative impacts it has on employees. According to current statistics, a significant portion of the workforce in 2023 feels burnt out. Specifically, about 89% of workers claim they’ve faced extreme burnout, and a third admit they’re impaired at least 40% of the time, which means they can’t effectively perform their jobs almost half of the time. 

This impaired state stems largely from stress, and diving deeper reveals that the stress often arises from unresolved problems or conflicts. A major factor contributing to this stress is the lack of proper methods and tools to address and resolve these issues.

Drawing parallels to mental health, Clare mentions a recent mental health and mediation conference. Many participants who had survived suicide attempts attributed their crisis to insurmountable obstacles they didn’t know how to handle. If they had the guidance and resources to address these problems, their outcomes could’ve been different.

In the workplace, employees tend to either underreact or overreact when faced with problems. The underreaction might involve ignoring the issue, hoping it’ll resolve itself, or wanting to maintain peace. Overreaction often leads to forceful resolutions, which can damage relationships and not truly solve the core problem. Both approaches are ineffective and only amplify burnout and frustration.

As far as Clare’s book, “Rising Above Office Conflict,” is concerned, she was inspired to write it to offer a practical solution. She realized that while there’s a plethora of knowledge available on conflict resolution, most people, like her husband, won’t dive deep into lengthy academic texts. 

The idea was to create an accessible guidebook that provides tangible steps for resolving workplace conflicts. Her book emerged from the need for a concise, actionable resource for individuals facing workplace issues.

How Modern Workplace Dynamics And The Pandemic Have Revolutionized Conflict Resolution

Clare also mentions the significant shifts in workplace disputes and conflict resolution in recent times, particularly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the return to physical offices. Here are the main takeaways:

#1 Exacerbation Due To The Pandemic 

The pandemic and subsequent remote work provided a break from the daily stressors and minor irritations that employees had become accustomed to. However, upon returning to the office, the realization of the poor working conditions they had endured became evident, leading to an upsurge in disputes.

#2 Reliance On HR 

A persistent trend involves employees approaching HR for personal conflicts, seeking validation and an emotional outlet rather than actionable solutions. This cycle leaves HR departments overwhelmed and conflicts unresolved.

#3 Emergence Of A New Workforce 

The new generation entering the workforce is emotionally aware and expects their feelings to be recognized and validated. They are proactive about their emotional well-being and seek environments where their feelings are acknowledged and not dismissed.

#4 Shift In HR Role 

A few progressive HR departments are evolving their roles from being the primary problem solvers to facilitators. They empower employees to resolve issues on their own while offering support and resources. For instance, HR might provide a setting (like a Starbucks gift card) for two disputing employees to sit down and hash out their differences.

#5 Rise Of External Ombuds Offices 

A new trend in conflict resolution is the growth of external Ombuds offices. These professionals aren’t directly affiliated with any particular organization. Instead, they are on retainer, stepping in to mediate and resolve disputes as needed. Their external status ensures a level of confidentiality and impartiality that might not be present with an internal Ombuds.

Overall, the landscape of workplace disputes and their resolutions is rapidly changing. Factors such as the aftermath of the pandemic, the entrance of a new emotionally aware generation into the workforce, and innovative approaches to conflict resolution are reshaping how businesses handle internal tensions.

Embracing Conflict As A Pathway To Deeper Workplace Connections

On a similar note, Clare delves deep into the intricacies of workplace conflict, presenting it not as an impediment but as an inherent part of any organizational setup. She highlights that when handled with insight and tact, conflicts can actually serve as a catalyst for fostering deeper, more genuine relationships between colleagues. 

Drawing an analogy, she likens conflict-free relationships to two flat pieces of paper — superficial and easily separated. In contrast, relationships that have weathered and resolved conflict resemble interlocking puzzle pieces, having discovered where strengths and weaknesses merge and support one another.

She further elaborates that the absence of conflict often indicates a lack of depth in relationships. This absence prevents team members from truly understanding each other’s boundaries and limits. Genuine conflict, which arises from intersecting interests and perspectives, signifies growth and mutual engagement within a team. It provides opportunities for team members to understand each other’s boundaries and respect them.

However, Clare quickly points out that the real challenge isn’t the conflict itself but the escalation that often accompanies it. She believes many workplace disputes become problematic simply because individuals lack the right communication tools. 

Clare’s Revelations On Setbacks, Oversights, And The Delicate Balance Of Trust

The speakers also discuss the complexities of mediation and the inevitability of encountering failure in the process. As Aram prompts Clare with the question of mediation failures, Clare reflects candidly on her experiences.

She recounts one specific mediation where her eagerness to arrive at a resolution prematurely led to a lack of buy-in from the involved parties. She inadvertently stifled the organic problem-solving process by imposing her solution to the Tuesday meeting. This anecdote underscores the importance of ensuring that the involved parties feel a sense of ownership over the resolution rather than as though it has been imposed upon them.

Yet, a more challenging incident is brought to light when Clare delves into a case where she felt blindsided by an unexpected accusation of betraying trust. This situation was more complex due to the intersection of personal concerns with the mediation process. Without having the full background and unaware of a harassment suit being filed, Clare navigated this mediation without understanding the underlying fears and concerns of one of the parties. 

Thus, it underlines the critical importance of due diligence and understanding the deeper context of conflicts.

Dr. Fowler’s Innovative Approach To Understanding And Mediating Office Dynamics

Towards the end, Clare discusses her book Rising Above Office Conflict, which illuminates the diverse personality types one might encounter in the workplace. By anthropomorphizing certain behaviors with memorable names like “Hulk” and “People Pleaser,” she’s made it easier for readers to identify and relate to these personalities. While sometimes exaggerated, The stories and anecdotes highlight the real challenges these personalities can pose.

Clare’s description of the “thunder turtle syndrome” involving a “Hulk” and a “People Pleaser” vividly illustrates the dynamics of conflicting personalities in a workplace. The scenario reveals the escalating tension that can arise when a more aggressive, dominant personality type clashes with a more withdrawn, conflict-avoidant one. 

This dynamic, if not addressed, can exacerbate conflicts, as illustrated by the example where the “People Pleaser” feels compelled to take out a restraining order against the “Hulk.”

However, what’s truly enlightening about Clare’s approach is her emphasis on listening as a remedy for these conflicts. Once the “Hulk” is genuinely heard, it can provide them with a sense of understanding, their need to assert dominance diminishes. Similarly, creating a safe environment for the “People Pleaser” to voice their concerns can coax them out of their shell and foster open communication.

The overarching message from this segment is the significance of understanding the underlying motivations of different personalities and the importance of effective communication and listening. 

Clare, Aram, and Nolan discuss a lot 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 listening!


Nolan Martin : Hello and welcome to the NEGOTIATEx podcast. I'm your cohost and co-founder Nolan Martin. And with me is my good friend, co-host, co-founder, Aram Donigian. Aram, do you want to kick it off for today?

Aram Donigian : I will. Folks, today we're joined by Dr. Clare Fowler, Executive Vice President of mediate.com. She received her Doctorate on designing dispute resolution systems for small businesses from Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Organizational Leadership, and her Master's of Dispute resolution from the Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law. Dr. Fowler serves as managing editor at mediate.com, and as director of Caseload Manager, she teaches at Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Department in University of Oregon.

Clare mediates and trains focusing on workplace disputes. Dr. Fowler's dissertation was a pharmacological study of workplace disputes. Her recent book, ‘Rising above Office Conflict: A Lighthearted Guide for the Heavyhearted Employee’, builds upon her 20 years of experience by bringing practical tools for resolving conflict into the hands of employees in an enjoyable and employed and implied manner.

She lives with her family, her needy dog, and her coffee maker on an old Christmas Tree Farm. Clare, thank you for joining us today.

Clare Fowler : Thank you so much. Such a pleasure to be here. I'm looking forward to this.

AD : So, Clare, wonderful bio, amazing background. Tell us a little bit about your journey that brought you into the world to dispute resolution.

CF : Sure. So, most of the time growing up, it was just me and my mom. And my mom and I had grown up in the very standard 1950s housewife culture where you didn't discuss problems, you just kind of swept them gently under the rug and that was the polite thing to do. And so I didn't really have any kind of an example for how to talk through difficult things. And then in third grade, somebody came and taught us a peer mediation class and I was hooked.

I was like, this is incredible. There are tools and we can resolve stuff. We don't just have to ignore them and pretend like they don't exist. So it was fascinating for me. I was hooked instantly. So yeah, ever since third grade, this has been what I do.

AD : That's amazing. I often tell folks in third grade I read a book about West Point and that's when I knew I wanted to go into the Army. So it's amazing the magic of third grade. Nolan, what did you read in third grade that has driven you?

NM : Nothing that I can remember. So I'm sorry for breaking it. Two or three is not bad though.

AD : Archie comics maybe.

NM : Maybe, Yeah.

CF : You'll think of it in the middle of the night.

NM : Yeah.

AD : He will.

NM : Perhaps an over simple question, but how do you define mediation and what tools does an effective mediator need to have in their toolbox?

Mediation Skills: The Art Of Curious And Genuine Listening (03:31)

CF : So, let's start with how do I define mediation? So for me, the stereotypical mediation is when you have a mediator and at least two parties sitting at a round table trying to work through things. And the mediator's job is to create a safe space to help, to elicit feedback so that people feel comfortable enough. I kind of picture, so I have three kids and at the end of the day they come home from school and I say, Hey, do you have any homework? And they're like, I don't know.

So they pull their backpack off of their back and they just shake it and they dump it down on the table and everything comes out. The love notes and the pop tarts and maybe one actual textbook and they just dump it all out there.

And that is my visual for mediation. I want it to be a safe enough space where everybody's like, let me just dump it all out. And then we can sort through it, say, this was not healthy for me, let's get rid of that, but this is something that I want to build on and keep in my life and this is something I didn't know about you that I'm glad that you've shared. That's how I picture it, and I just want people to feel safe enough that they can do that, and also empowered enough that they can come up with a solution themselves that works for their situation. That was the first part of your question about what is mediation

As far as what are the skills that people need? That's a tough one, but if we're going to distill it to the very basics, obviously you have to listen and I think it's one of those skills that you can't really fake. I can kind of force myself to close my mouth, but if I'm bored or if I'm distracted, I'm just not going to listen. So it takes a little bit of mental preparedness before you come into the mediation session. I need to write everything that I'm thinking of, any kind of a grocery list, I write it on a list, so it's out of my brain.

And then as people start talking, it's like you just have to have this innate sense of curiosity. I'm so fascinated by the person sitting across the table from me that I really want to hear their story. And I think people resonate with that. Somebody who's genuinely curious in what they have to say as opposed to someone who's just faking it and pretending like they're active listening. So I would say listening, but listening that's coming from a place of curiosity.

AD : If I can build on the example, used the kids dumping everything out of their backpack, has to be what you described some level of comfort with mess and chaos.

CF : Yes, yes. And that's true. When everybody dumps all this stuff on the table, there's always this moment where I feel like I should have popcorn. I'm sitting and watching this fascinating show. I'm like, I have no idea how this is going to end. This is great. And you sort of have to live with that, right? This deer in the headlights moment of I don't think this is going to work out, but let's give it a try. We just keep going through the process.

I'll be honest here, every single time I'm blown away by, gosh, this stuff actually works. If people feel safe and they feel heard and they feel comfortable enough to come up with solutions, they do. It is just incredible. So you're right, you have to be comfortable with a mess. You have to be comfortable with that uncertainty and not try to generate a solution too quickly. I get in trouble every time I do that. I'm like, “guys, it's obvious you just have to meet on Tuesdays.” This makes so much sense.

And then they'll fight with me and then it doesn't work. Instead, at some point someone will say, “yeah, this great idea, we should meet on Tuesdays.” And then they're both like, “yeah, thank goodness we came up with that.” Right? So you're right, living with that chaos, not trying to jump in and fix it, that's definitely a skill, but it just takes a constant reminder, doesn't it?

NM : As a follow up, could you tell us a bit more about both mediate.com and Caseload Manager as well as the work you do with both?

Mediation And Career Building: From LA To Eugene (07:19)

CF : Absolutely. So mediate.com is an umbrella company, and then we have a lot of satellite companies underneath that. So I'm the executive VP of mediate.com. I've been there about 13, almost 14 years at this point. And I had received my master's and my doctorate in dispute resolution, and I was living down in Los Angeles with my husband. We had our first child. I mean, Strauss Institute was great. I loved going to Pepperdine. Los Angeles just was not a good fit for us.

We'd both grown up in the country and that's the kind of life we'd envisioned for our kids. And we were pretty desperate to get out of LA. My husband was from Pittsburgh, and so it was this race. Whoever could find a grownup job first, we would move there. And so he's submitting resumes everywhere. And I knew that mediate.com was based in Eugene, which is where I grew up, which is where I wanted to work.

So, I started stalking Jim Malamed relentlessly. I wasn't even emailing his wife. It was getting probably borderline not okay. And I would show up at conferences I knew he was going to be at, and he finally emailed me and he said, “if I just hire you, will you stop? enough already.” So he was wonderful. So, we moved up to Eugene and I started working at mediate.com, and my main job there was Caseload Manager.

So, it was really fun because I'd started at Pepperdine in the master's program in around 2002-2003. So I was training with all of these mediators, and then I began working there, and my job was to help people get a career and get started and find contacts. So I got to work with the same group of people that I had been students with. And so we went through class together and then I got to stick with this group and help them find jobs. And then my role at mediate.com was once they were so successful that I could help them come up with more effective workflows, work on their marketing, help them to manage their cases.

So, I feel like I'm kind of continuing my same stalker tendencies. I'm just following the same group of people through different points in your career.

AD : Clare, your book, Rising Above Office Conflict provides readers with a guidebook for handling Workplace frustration. Statistically, how big of a problem is this and why is it that conflict is prevalent in our professional environment?

From Frustration To Fulfillment: Creating A Roadmap To Workplace Well-Being (09:36)

CF : Yeah, it's a really good question. So if we are looking at the state of our workplace today, unfortunately, most workplaces that you enter are pretty toxic. And just some numbers to back that up, about 89% workers in 2023 have said that they've experienced a state of extreme burnout. One-third of workers say that they are impaired at least 40% of the time, meaning that they feel so dragged down, so burnt out, so frustrated with a conflict that they're not able to do their job.

So, when you think about our workforce and you take a third of that and realize that almost half the time, they're not able to do their job, to me, that's letting us know that it's not a healthy environment right now, some of the main causes for that are workplace stress, and when we drill down even deeper, one of the main causes of that stress is people have a problem and they don't know how to deal with it.

So, I looked into this quite a bit and found out that one of the big causes of mental health trauma, mental health concern is not having a plan or a process or hope for working through something difficult in their life. We were able to put on a mental health and mediation conference last year where we brought in a bunch of people who had survived suicide attempts, and the majority of them said that there was an obstacle, there was a problem in their life that they just didn't know how to deal with.

And if somebody had come alongside and helped them to deal with that problem, then they felt like it still would've been hard, but they could have arrived at a different solution. So I feel like we're seeing a lot of symptoms of that in the workplace today. There are problems, there's always going to be problems. The difference is a lot of our workforce right now is not trained in how to actually take effective steps at resolving that problem.

What we do instead is we underreact or we overreact, right? We underreact by saying, it'll be fine. I don't want to rock the boat. It'll go away if we don't deal with it. It's more important to me that we have a nice relationship. I don't need to fuss about this little thing. Or we overreact, well, I'm just going to say this is how we have to resolve it and I'm going to throw down my power and I'm just going to jump in and create a solution. And then that causes burnout, that destroys relationships as well. And neither of those actually change the problem. So I feel like our poor workforce is just spinning their wheels, but they don't have the tools to actually make any change.

So they keep trying the same thing over and over and it's not helping. And we know that takes a big hit on you mentally, right? It's frustrating when you feel like you're working towards something and you're not seeing any progress.

So yeah, so that's why I wanted to write the book because I feel like all of us, we have access to this amazing knowledge. But the book came about from my husband. He was overseeing a construction site and he was frustrated with all the workers. And as he's describing it, I was like, oh, you need to read Mediating Dangerously by Ken Cloak. You need to read the Mediation Process by Christopher Moore. And I'm thinking of all of these great books, and as I'm describing it, my teenager goes “Ugh, TLDR”. And of course, as you do with teenagers, you pretend like you know what they're talking about. And I just nodded and smiled, and then I googled it later and it meant ‘too long, didn't read’. So she said, mom, you're giving dad all of these books.

He's never going to sit down and read a book on conflict theory or the hierarchical culture of the workplace. You need to distill it into a guidebook, something that if he's frustrated on his lunch break, he can flip to chapter 23, come up with three steps for dealing with it, and then that afternoon he's off and running and actually resolving a problem. So that's where the book came from.

AD : So the lack of skills is part of the problem. Have you seen any exasperation of the problem from 2020, the pandemic, and as we come out of it, anything there kind of popping in your work?

Employee-Centric Conflict Resolution: Adapting To Emerging Trends (13:39)

CF : Absolutely. So what was interesting was during COVID, I definitely saw some workplace disputes. It was when people went back to the office that there was just this skyrocketing of disputes. And a lot of people said that when they had been working, it was like a frog sitting in a pot of water, and somebody had just been solely turning up the heat and it was, oh, here's one more thing that I'll accept. And once again, I'm overworked, and once again, I'm underappreciated, right? And it's just like little thing, little thing, little thing. And then they stepped away from that during COVID, and then when they jumped back into the pot of boiling water, they were like, whoa, this is too hot. This is not okay. I can't believe that I had let myself put up with this for so long.

So, I think it was really the perspective of being away from the office and then jumping back into it that made a lot of workers say, we really have to deal with this.

AD : One last follow up here. Do you see any growing trends in who, how, and when disputes are handled? Are they more often by HR and ombuds office, third party mediators, frontline manager, supervisor, employee led? Do we get to them in the moment more after the fact and not meant to be leading or just ignore it altogether?

CF : Right. Yeah, great question. Lots of trends going in a lot of different places. So let me try to show you a few of the different themes that I'm seeing. First off, this isn't a new trend. This is a very common trend that we've seen for a long time. When most people have an issue, what they do, let's say I have a concern with a coworker and Nolan is my HR person, and I walk into Nolan's room and I slam the door shut and I say, “oh, you are not going to believe what they did this time.” And I just vent and vent and vent and vent, and Nolan might give me some great advice.

And I have now deescalated and calmed down. I feel validated, but I haven't actually addressed the issue with my coworker, so nothing has changed. So the next day when the same thing happens, I know that to feel better, I need to go back to my HR person and have them listen and make me feel better.

The problem is that this is a really vicious cycle where HR is saying, we are so overworked. We are trying to solve these problems, but we are inundated by stuff that's not getting better. And I think the problem is because we have set up this cycle that says, you're right, people are coming to you to solve things and they don't know how to solve things on their own. That's not a new trend. It's just something that I see in just about every office that I work with. HR is incredibly well intentioned, they're there to try to help people, but sometimes by helping people, we're actually enabling and we're not doing anything that actually changes the conflict.

So, that's one trend that I'm seeing. As far as where disputes are getting resolved. What's interesting is with the influx of the new workforce that are incredibly emotionally aware and also kind of emotionally entitled, and what I mean by that is they're saying, these are my feelings. I don't want you to gaslight me about them. These feelings are valid and we need to hold space for them in this conversation and in this workplace.

And so they are very well informed, they're protective of their feelings, and I think this is causing a new problem for a lot of HR offices who are saying, this is a whole new breed of workforce. How are we supposed to work with them? How are we supposed to help them? And I think the right answer there, and the HR offices that are most successful are the ones that say, “I am giving you space and freedom to resolve this.

I'm letting you design the process and you design the outcome. What I can do is create that safe space for you.” Something like, here's a $10 Starbucks gift card. Why don't the two of you go out for half an hour and talk through this? Or why don't you take lunch tomorrow? Or I'll reserve the conference room in the morning and I'll let you design the process and you design the outcome. So HR is empowering the employees, but still saying, we see you, we see that it's a problem. We want to help, but we want you to feel that investment and ownership over it.

So, I'm seeing a lot more of that where HR is realizing that they're overworked, they can't solve everything, and so as soon as they hear about something, they're trying to do a little pushback and helping employees to resolve it themselves. Another trend that I'm seeing that I think is so cool is I'm seeing a lot of external Ombuds offices. So these are Ombuds that aren't necessarily connected with a university or an organization. They're an Ombuddy and they're just a friend of a business that comes in and they get to know them and they establish some good relationships, and then they're just on retainer.

So, whenever there is an issue, they come and they check in and they can resolve that specific dispute and then back out. So this makes it a very confidential process where it doesn't feel like they're under the umbrella of that organization, but the Ombuds is removed. So, I love this. I'm really excited to see where this goes, but I have met a lot of Ombuds just this year that quit their job, connected with an organization, and instead they're starting their own external Ombuds consulting company, which is cool.

NM : Is workplace conflict simply an inevitable, or are there things leaders can do to prevent conflict from occurring or reoccurring? What have you seen effective organizations do as preventative measures?

From Discord To Harmony: Harnessing Conflict For Team Development (19:10)

CF : So workplace conflict, a hundred percent is inevitable, and I really feel like that's a good thing. I picture it. Have you ever been around those people where it felt like there was no conflict, but they also didn't bring things up? Things never deepened, and it sort of felt to me like those were two flat pieces of paper, but if something happened, there was nothing holding them together as opposed to an office that has gone through it together. We have been through the trenches. It has gotten nasty.

We have pushed and pulled on each other, but because of that, when I pushed, you respected me and you listened, and I felt accepted, and when you pushed, I listened, and we figured out how our strengths and our weaknesses interlock. So now you have two people that are like two puzzle pieces, and that is a very, very strong relationship. If there's no conflict, I think it's hard to deepen a relationship. I think you really need those misunderstandings so that I know, oh, that's your boundary. Now I know if I go farther than this, I'm stepping on your toes and I need you to come right up to my boundaries as well so you can understand where my lanes are.

So absolutely, conflict is inevitable, and I think it's such a healthy part of an office. It says that we're growing and we're pushing and we're intersecting with each other, but it doesn't have to escalate, right? That's really the problem is that people just don't know how to talk through it. So this is where the book comes in. This is where some basic principles of just teaching people how to articulate in a little healthier way. So most of my trainings just involve, “Hey, you've been talking up here at a position level, kind of a Willy Wonka, Veruca to solve this, like but daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa now.” Right? That's how most of our conversations are, right? Where it's just, this is my position and you better give it to me. You better give me that raise. Or you better have that project done by Monday at 9, which is so unhealthy, right?

So instead, I just train people, pause, take a breath, drop down a level, and let's communicate from interests. Let's say, “Hey, we have that huge client meeting next Monday at nine. I think it would really be fantastic if you could have that project to me by eight so I could have time to review it. So I look like I know what I'm talking about.” Right? That's an interest level, and absolutely now I'm on board and I'm invested in your interests. Conflicts are inevitable, but this prevents the escalation of conflicts.

AD : Beautiful advice and coaching, and we're going to get in your book and just one more question, which is full of some great counsel. Have you ever been part of a mediation that failed? What did you learn from that experience? That translates into some of the stuff we're going to get into in just a moment. Now, I'm going to give you a second just to think about that because typically we don't ask that question around failure until later on in the episode. So we've warmed you up and now I've made it very easy to answer that, but I knew you could take this one early on, Clare. So have you ever had a mediation failure?

Resilience In Mediation And Overcoming Unforeseen Obstacles (22:08)

CF : Absolutely. There are a couple times that didn't really fail. So let me start with the easy ones. As an example, this Tuesday meeting was a very realistic mediation where I was getting frustrated. I was meeting with a whole department and it had just been going on all day long. I was getting tired, and the answer was so obvious, we all just needed to meet on Tuesdays. That's when the departments were together, easy sharing information.

So I was like, look, it just seems like you all should meet on Tuesdays. Does that work? How about I'll just write that into the agreement and then we're done. It fizzled within a week because there was no buy-in. They were frustrated with me. They were still mad at everybody else.

There had been no ownership of it. So then I had to come back for another whole day so that we could arrive at them saying, let's meet on Tuesdays. It was a big reminder for me about how important it is for the mediator to just leave herself on the shelf.

As much as I want to put my advice and my ideas in, it's not my outcome. Just as a reminder, you've got to be quiet. Farthest one that's actually failed though. I think the first time that's happened so far, the only time was this year, and it was a fascinating eye opening experience. I'd sort of gotten into this rhythm. People call me. Great, I jump in, I start mediating, and I had let go of some of those basic skills that we all learn when we take our initial training. So I hadn't done my due diligence. I hadn't met with people beforehand. I hadn't asked leadership what had happened before I had gotten there.

So I meet with all of these people. We spend a half an hour with each one of them. So there were about 10 people at this point that I had met with and had a really great understanding of the conflict. We developed this three-day agenda that we were going to go through together, and we all knew who had been involved in this, what the main issue was. We were talking through it, and then out of nowhere I get this email blast that says, “we feel like by including our names on the agenda, you have betrayed our trust and our confidentiality, and we are recommending to the organization that they never work with you again.” I was like, I don't understand. This was a meeting with all of us in person.

We all knew who was going to be there. We knew who was involved in a conflict, and so I was really racking my brain. I was thinking, well, I could just apologize, but I don't really know what I'm apologizing for. So that feels kind of hollow. So I asked a few times to meet, and then the person who had sent the email ended up blocking me so that I couldn't even email her again, and I reached out to the manager. I said, look, clearly I have done something wrong. I would love to understand, apologize if I have to, but I just want to understand what happened here. And he said, yes, she is really mad at you. He said, I think we'd better just let that die down.

Okay, so six months go by and it's frustrating, and it's just kind of sitting in my stomach. Finally, the manager reaches back out to me and he said, okay, I think I figured this out. In the background, somebody was filing a harassment suit against her. She was so afraid that we were going to have a mediation where there was going to be this open flow of communication, and that information would have come out in the mediation. So she was doing everything she could to cancel it. And so I don't know. I don't know if there's any way that I could have progressed differently. I think she would've found something that I did wrong no matter what I had tried. I think she would've found some way to sabotage the mediation. So that was difficult, but it was a really good eye opening experience to remind myself, Hey, Clare, no matter how good you think you are or how strong of a connection you think you have with the employees, you still have to ask them those background questions. Like, What's going on? Do you still actually want to mediate? What is your end result here? Yeah, so great constant learning.

AD : Yeah, thanks for sharing that. I want to get into your book now. Give listeners just a taste. I'm using that word intentionally, I got a follow up question after. You describe different personalities and you give them names like Inappropriate Ivan and Chatty Kathy, probably people we can relate to. And in total you describe 20 possible coworkers. That'll certainly resonate with listeners. I'm wondering if you could share a little bit from the book about some common personalities and both the unique strategies that you take for dealing with different individuals. Some universal general approaches too.

Lessons From Clare’s Book ‘Rising Above Conflicts’: Dealing With Office Personalities and Conflict (26:45)

CF : Sure, sure. So actually writing a book was fascinating because I would leave these high conflict, very toxic workplace mediations, and you don't have an office to go back to. So it was great for me just to be able to journal about this, what I had seen and what were some common trends, some common behaviors that I was seeing. So you're right, there's the Honey Badger, the Hulk busier than now, micromanager, busier than now. That was really describing myself. It was hard writing these. There were so many things. I was like, I really, I relate to that one. I do that one, don't I?

And it was actually a great experience being able to write this. Editing was hard, I'll be honest, I hated having to go back and edit everything that I wrote. But whatever, it was good.

So the majority of the book is just describing these behaviors and then giving people just a quick set of tips so that they can turn to that section and say, Hey, here's why they're behaving this way, like a passive aggressive, they're having a flight response. They're considered a soft negotiator. Here's what that means. Here's three characteristics so you can identify if it's passive aggressive behavior, and here's how we can deal with that behavior. So let me give you an example. Let's say that you have a Hulk in the office and you have a People Pleaser. So you have someone who's a very, probably overreacting type of a personality and a people pleaser that says, well, I don't need to bring it up, right? Don't let rock the boat.

So from then on, they could only communicate via email because she would not be in the same space with her. It was that heated. So what that usually looks like is, and I call this the thunder turtle syndrome. So you have the Hulk who's like, I just need to get this message across. I just need to connect with you. I just need you to understand. And the louder that they get, what does the turtle do? Turtle's like ‘Danger, Will Robinson’, and they just continue to withdraw and hide within their shell. And as they withdraw, what does this person do? They're like, oh, I need to be louder to get through. And so the louder they get, the more this one withdraws and it creates that thunder turtle syndrome.

But what I love about both of these personalities is that the trick for working with them, the trick for breaking the cycle is just listening. Because the second a thunderer feels heard, they don't have to yell anymore. Then they can notch it down a little bit and just have a peaceful conversation. And the second the turtle feels safe and feels heard and feels validated, then they can come out of their shell and they can have a conversation. So it's such basic stuff that I feel like we have forgotten that it's just how to listen to each other and how to talk in a way where people can hear you

AD : Love it. And we're going to leave it there because we're going to encourage folks to pick up the book and study some of the other personality types and strategies for managing those.

NM : Hey everyone, Nolan here. I have to jump in today's podcast for part A of the show. Be sure to rate, review and subscribe to the NEGOTIATEx podcast if you haven't already. And also join us next week for part B of this awesome interview.

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