Facilitating Difficult Conversations

Can’t agree? Does it matter?

Posted on May 16, 2019 in Case Studies,Conflict Resolution,Mediation . 0 Comments.

I’m starting with the assumption that we all agree it’s actually OK not to agree all the time.  (Yes I see I’ve asked you to agree and we said we don’t actually have to! But just go with it. OK?).

So, what do you do if you are the facilitator in a conversation and people aren’t agreeing? Or, if you are a manager and two key colleagues just aren’t able to find an outcome?

A few weeks ago, I was mediating between two financial planners who were basically going back and forward – yeap it was your classic tennis match more like the clay courts of Roland Garros where the rallies went on and on and on! It gave me plenty of time to think about the tools I use.

Here are just a few suggestions for you to use when people aren’t agreeing and maybe they don’t have to.

1. Does it matter if you don’t agree on this point? Actually, ask the question.  I used this in the financial planner situation above. They both said, “yes because it is about trust”. I said “so what you are actually saying is that the other person’s response events leading up to the launch of the product makes you not trust them. Can we agree that currently you don’t trust each other? Now let’s work on that”. And so we moved on….

2. Who’s got the authority to make a call on this one. Asking that can break a disagreement. Depending on the point in question this may be hierarchical but also may be relational or call into play one of them as an expert authority.  In my financial planner example, when I asked that they both acknowledged it was actually their Director, and it became obvious that their disagreement was less relevant. One of their agreements was to seek their Director’s decision and go with that decision.

3. Ask each participant what their number one solution would be. Then get them to pretend that can’t occur. Ask them for their second preferred solution. Then again put that to the side. Keep going until there solutions are the same or similar and then ask them to spend some time discussing that solution. My advice is only set aside their preferred solution up to 3 times. If they aren’t close together they may well be too far apart on this point.  This can work really well in larger group mediations.

4. Work backwards. Do the flip. Ask: what do we agree on? Often this will lead to a list of things (even if they are small). When attention is on what is being agreed on it can be easier to priorities or see things differently.

5. Discuss what the practical consequences are of them agreeing to disagree. Sometimes participants have found this question an easy way of holding on to their position and letting the other person do that too. With the financial planners when I asked this about another issue in contention they said: “we can’t do that because then our team will look unprofessional”. I asked so “what needs to occur to make you appear professional together?” That opened quite an interesting conversation and away we went again.

P.S. This is one of my favourite clips ever. I love this little girl and her “teaching” her Dad a lesson:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtUPKekDY7M I love this as an example of how a question, or asking something differently, can change someone’s thinking or end something you didn’t think you would ever be able to agree on.

Want to know some more tricks and tools for facilitating workplace conversations?

Join me at my next workshop on 28 & 29 May in Melbourne CBD.  The focus is on building the credibility, confidence and capability of HR (and related) practitioners to facilitate difficult conversations in the workplace. MORE INFO.
Change the way you view and manage conflict for good!

Leaders listen up, leaders step up!