Program Manager at CDR Associates, Boulder, Colorado
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
A: I was mediating, they called it mediation, could've called it facilitation, really principally between one individual on one side and a department on the other side. The one individual was a woman who sort of served them in an internal organizational capacity and they were engineers who were more externally oriented. And this woman was in a soft-skills kind of role and she placed a strong value on work-place relationships. She also had complaints about being excluded and being not kept in the loop on various kinds of information. There were 3 men, a director and two managers below him. They were very much more fact oriented, task oriented, and relationships were definitely a secondary thing for them. The woman was the one who had much more invested in the whole process. The men were kind of going along with this because they wanted to be helpful. They were pretty happy with the status quo and they were like, "Well, she's unhappy and we don't really know why. But if we can help, we'll try, but we don't really think we've been doing anything wrong".
So I worked a lot with her. I worked with all of them on how to frame their concerns in a way that the other side would be able to hear, but I worked more with her to try to reframe how she framed her needs. She wanted connectedness and she wanted a recognition of their inter-dependence into phrasing that they could hear and understand, such as I want to be kept in the loop, I need info from you in order to do my job well, which was true and she wasn't getting some of that information. So anyway, we worked through a lot of this and a lot of it went really well. However, there was a moment where there was one of these, sometimes in a meeting you kind of cut through all the garbage and somebody comes out with a very emotional and a very heart-felt and genuine statement for what is really going on with them. I wish I could remember what it was exactly, but she came out with one of those kinds of statements. I was concerned with keeping this meeting that the guys, the engineers would still feel comfortable participating in.
So whereas if I were in a group where they were all a similar culture as her, I would have dwelled on that moment. I would have mined that moment for its further riches, I would have stayed there, I would have empathized, I would have maybe been silent and just let it hang in the air while maybe people contemplated what she said. And I didn't do that because I was concerned it had gotten maybe too heavy duty for the three engineers to deal with, to be comfortable with. So I quickly shifted away from it. And there was another woman who was sort of a Human Resources type person. She wasn't Human Resources actually, but she had an internal role where she helped out with these situations, kind of informally mediating and she was kind of pissed off. And before the break, she said, "You know I think we just let a moment go there that we really needed to go with for a minute".
So what was the obstacle there? I think part of the obstacle was when you have two different sides and groups involved with two such different communication styles and such different value systems, that you're trying to find a mode of communication that works for both of them and that is comfortable for both of them in which both sides can really express what's going on for them. But maybe the obstacle was my failure due to the maybe possibility that I was uncomfortable with that emotional moment? I've been comfortable with other emotional moments. So maybe that wasn't just my discomfort. Maybe it was my inability to find, at that moment, a way to bridge where she was coming from and where they were coming from, that would have allowed us to use that moment for the good. To create understandings instead of create more discomfort and distance.
Q: So the lesson learned there, if you were to do that again, was that you might dwell on it a little more, might let it sit in the air even though you had those two different cultures sitting at the table?
A: I guess I don't know what I would've done, because it was a hard one. I wish I could remember what it was exactly . There were some things she said that actually offended them that had to do with bringing up old incidences, five and six years old, that she was using as an illustration of why she was upset. And they were feeling like, "Holy smokes, this was five ago and we're just hearing about this now, how do we know what else you're harboring". I'm trying to remember if it was that, but I don't think so, I think it was something else. But I guess I wish I could've found a way to honor that moment in some way that worked for her that acknowledged and validated her. Then maybe just give it a minute and then maybe I could've reframed it so that the men could understand