Your job should have been mine!

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Bob got the supervisor job that June applied for and she resents it.  She has way more years of experience and has even been working in the department longer than he.  But he’s the one they picked because of his fancy college degree and she figures she’ll just have to live with it.  That is, until he started criticizing her work and asking what she’s doing all day.  That is more than she can take.  He should know that she knows what she’s doing and that she doesn’t need someone to hold her hand.  When she made that clear to him, what did he do, but tell her—by email—that he expected written reports once a week on the status of her projects!  That’s when she decided to go to the Human Resources Department, there is still time to file that age and sex discrimination complaint she’d been thinking about.

He was excited to get the supervisor job.  He’d worked hard and knew he deserved it.  He fit all the qualifications to the letter, including the college degree requirement that they’d recently appended to these supervisor positions.  However, the workgroup is an unruly one to manage.  Especially one employee who he knows resents the fact that he was chosen over her.   She fights him at every turn.  She won’t give him a bit of information about what she’s doing and when he tries to ask, she’s rude and disrespectful.  His own boss thinks that this employee needs to be disciplined, especially since some of this behavior was there even before he obtained the supervisor position, and that giving her a performance improvement plan would be the first place to start.  He was hoping that just getting daily reports from her in writing would solve the problem.

Is there any hope for these two fictional characters?  Are they headed only for internal complaint processes, long drawn out administrative processes,  grievances and/or litigation?  Fortunately, this is exactly the kind of case that is perfect for mediation and is representative of one kind of mediation I do on a regular basis.  Similar cases to this one have resulted in each side gaining an appreciation of the other’s perspective.  Through mediation, parties such as these are able to clear up misunderstandings, understand different communication styles, identify what their real needs are and work out a plan so each can get their needs met.  In cases such as this one, it isn’t unusual to see one side eventually apologizing to the other.  Sometimes both find that they have something to apologize about.  Usually each side finds that once they’ve been able to tell a neutral third party who listens with empathy and acknowledges where they are coming from, that it’s easier to think more rationally about the situation, that they can be braver about talking to the other person and that their own wisdom about how to handle the situation begins to emerge where it had previously been blocked by strong emotions.

This is why mediation is catching on as an alternative way to handle situations that otherwise resulted in adversarial complaints and processes.  Mediation works to preserve relationships where other processes often destroy them.  Mediation allows for creative resolutions.  In the case above, the supervisor and employee might end up deciding on a time to meet face to face to talk about work assignments and progress, one side might take some steps towards trusting the other to do the right thing without so much supervision and the other might be more forthcoming with information on a voluntary basis.  Once the two sides are no longer facing each other in confrontation they might begin to sit side by side and collaborate on best working practices.  If you or someone you know is stuck in a dispute that seems intractable and headed for disaster, give mediation a try and join those who successfully found not only accord amongst them, but smoothed the way for true collaboration.

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