The Support Person; “The Eggdicator”

Posted on Nov 1, 2017 in Conflict Resolution,HR,Latest Articles,Mediation . 0 Comments.


I love the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a lot more than just a chocolate thing. You know the chocolate egg scene where Veruca Salt meets her end? Where the “eggdicator” discriminates the good and bag eggs and dumps the bad ones into the chute. I secretly (well not so secretly because now everyone will know) wish I had one of those for support people.

The Support Person role in any workplace tension scenario is crucial. It should not be underestimated both as a support but also as an integral part of conflict resolution.  It’s this later bit I want us to focus on.  Just as a note, a support person in an investigation can have a slightly different role as the process and purpose of investigation is different to conflict resolution.

I know technically they are only part of the process to “emotionally support”, but in effect they are often much more than that. Why? Because they have the ear and trust of the person who they are supporting.

They can hear messages the participant is too emotional to hear. They are often the one who recalls details the participant can’t. As a conflict resolution practitioner I have had many experiences where it’s the support person’s influence that allows a participant see things a little differently, take perspective, and ultimately, to problem solve. And they do it often with ease because they are on the participant’s “team” or in their “inner circle”.

Our practise encourages and engages with the support person. Not as an advocate or participant but as a source of resolution. Particularly in our intake sessions including a support person often allows us to understand the heart of the issues. Please embrace the support person. A good support person is the like the golden egg laying goose and they are potentially a key to resolving workplace conflict.

So, from our experience, if you need a support person for a mediation, facilitated conversation, restorative justice conference, conflict coaching, or the like, choose someone who fits the following criteria:

  • Someone who has the participant’s full trust and confidence. Someone who has no ulterior or alternate motivation or agenda, other than simply wanting things to get better for the participant.
  • Someone who can tell the participant, honestly, that they look fat in those jeans. You know, the person who can help the participant reflect and from a place of love, and tell them what they may possibly have done to contribute to the tension. This will allow for self-reflection which is crucial in conflict resolution.
  • Someone who is able to identify if there are process tweaks that can help. For example, I had a support person last week raise that the participant “thinks better if you let her smoke regularly” so we took regular breaks. Another said, “I think she just needs to get it off her chest before the boss can speak”. So I worked with the participant to allow her to be clear on what and how she would start and advised the other participant that this would occur.
  • Someone who will be appropriately vocal in the intake session and then appropriately non-vocal in the joint session.  That is someone who knows when to speak and when to let others speak.
  • Someone who is less emotional about the issues than the participant.
  • Someone who is optimistic and able to see the big picture. Helping the participant to see the full context and not just their narrow self-perceptions. They understand that even during difficult times things can get better and they will support the participant to see the positive.

Hey, based on this criteria, the last time you supported someone how well did you do? How have you allowed a support person to operate in this space?

Back to Willie Wonka… because all good things relate to chocolate. I can tell within minutes if a support person is a “good egg” or a “bad egg”, and I am grateful each time a good one presents (which is more often than not). I am thrilled for the participants involved and for me too because resolution will flow more freely. Just like that chocolate river…..

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