Monday, September 24, 2012

How Do You Deal with Conflict? Use of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory in Mediation

Picture of TKI from

Mediators spend a lot of time thinking about conflict management styles. They want to be able to quickly assess how parties in a mediation deal with conflict.

One useful model for conflict management styles is the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory (TKI). The TKI describes five ways that people can deal with conflict: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating.

These methods of handling conflict differ in whether you look more to your own needs or to the needs of others. Competing and collaborating are more assertive methods of conflict management that focus on your needs and desired outcomes; avoiding and accommodating are less assertive.  Collaborating and accommodating are more cooperative methods of resolving the problem that focus on the needs of others; competing and avoiding are less cooperative. Compromising fits in the middle.

Ralph Kilmann and Kenneth Thomas developed the TKI in the 1970s. The TKI is based on dimensions similar to work by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in "The Managerial Grid" (1964). Blake and Mouton described management styles along the dimensions of "concern for people" and "concern for task."

The TKI instrument is available through CPP, Inc. For a short, free conflict management model you can take to assess yourself that is similar to the TKI, see the Peace & Justice Support Network of the Mennonite Church  USA.

Here are some points to keep in mind when thinking about which style describes best how you deal with conflict:
  • We all have biases in favor of one or two of the styles. That is, we prefer to handle conflict in certain ways.  The TKI instrument can help you identify your preferred styles.
  • Our preferred styles can vary based on the situation. Many people deal with conflict differently when they are at work and when they are with their families, or when they are interacting with bosses and subordinates. You might want to take the TKI a couple of times, thinking of yourself in different situations each time.
  • No one style of managing conflict is right in all situations, and all styles can be appropriate in some situations.  For example, if your spouse says something that annoys you, you might choose to ignore it (avoiding conflict). However, Penn State got into serious trouble when its leaders avoided conflict by confronting Jerry Sandusky.

As a mediator, it is important to know how you respond to conflict. Many mediators have taken the TKI, the Myers-Briggs Personality Type test, and similar personality assessments. These tools help mediators understand their preferences in dealing with others and how they can adapt their behavior comfortably to work with people who have other preferred styles.

It is also important for the mediator to quickly assess how each person in the mediation is dealing with the conflict. Is he or she competitive? Accommodating? Avoiding the issues? If you as the mediator want a lasting resolution, you will have to find ways to pull the avoiders into the negotiation and to tame the competitors.

For successful conflict resolution, you need all parties to buy into the solution. Where they have not all contributed to the resolution, they are less likely to buy in. It is the mediator’s responsibility to facilitate the parties in reaching a solution to their conflict.  You can best facilitate a good result by understanding yourself and others.

How do you prefer to deal with conflict? When has your preferred style worked well for you, and when has it not?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Three Tips for Crisis Communications

Every day we read in the newspaper about some crisis – a criminal indictment, a business failure, a natural disaster, or foreign unrest.  We react to these events in large part based on how the leaders of the organizations involved communicate with us.

I was part of a crisis communications team at one institution where I worked. We had many procedures and lists in place – how and where we would meet when disaster hit, whom we needed to bring into the loop within our company, and the external parties with whom we would need to communicate about the crisis. 

But we couldn’t develop the communications pieces until the problem occurred.  At that point, we typically muddled along, debating several drafts of talking points and press releases as quickly as we could. It would have helped to have a simple framework for what to include in our communications.

An article from the July 2012 issue of the American Bar Association newsletter, Your ABA, provides that framework.  The article describes three points that all emergency communications should contain. Although it was written for lawyers, this framework is generally applicable to anyone communicating in an emergency.

Here are the three points, along with some commentary on each (the points are from the YourABA article;  the commentary is based on my own experience):
  • Show concern.  Almost by definition, in an emergency, someone has been injured or otherwise harmed.  Show concern for their suffering. Remember Bill Clinton’s reputation for "feeling their pain." Worry less about making an admission against your own interest and more about showing empathy. In the early stages of your response, you don’t have to talk about past events that caused the emergency, but you must sympathize with how people are reacting and feeling at the present.
  • Show commitment.  People want to know you will stay with them through the crisis. Talk about your future involvement and commitment to see the situation through to resolution. Even if all you know is that you need to investigate further, make the commitment to investigate fully. State clearly that you will work with any governmental authorities that are involved. Go as far as you can, but no further. You don't want to make promises you can't keep.
  • Show you will take action. In addition to wanting to know you are with them, people want to know you will make it better. Make it clear that you will take action as a result of what occurred and what is discovered during future investigations. Even if you don’t know whether or what corrective action is necessary, talk about fully reviewing the results of any investigation. Don't agree to specific actions too readily, but agree to what you can. Then, keep communicating as you later do act, to show you followed through on what you said you would do.

And always remember that you must be truthful, and you must communicate in ways that your audience will understand. Also, be as transparent as you can be.

Every crisis is an opportunity to improve your relationship with your stakeholders or detract from it. Often, in an emergency, you find yourself at a low point in the relationship. How you respond will make all the difference for the future.

What would you add to this framework for crisis communications?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Diversity and Development: Cohesion & Comfort v. Stuffing the Pipeline

My law school class more than thirty years ago was only about 20% women; today, most law schools have 50% or more female students. I recall attending a meeting of the Women Law Students Association, and realizing how nice it felt not to worry about gender issues, not to feel like I was “out of place.” I was probably less circumspect in my comments during that discussion than I would have been had I been in the minority as a female.

As a white professional and manager in a corporate setting, I was typically in the majority by race, but I recall two instances when I was the only white in the meeting.

One time was in a meeting to discuss a particular employee’s performance – all but one of the managers in this employee’s chain of command happened to be African American, and that white manager was not at the meeting. I was a white attorney outside the chain of command there to provide legal advice. On that occasion, I recall feeling that my company had “arrived” on the diversity front with this random occurrence of a mostly African American chain of command. But of course, it had taken many senior managers in that division many years of recruiting and development work before this happened.

The other occasion where I was the only white in a meeting was at a session during a Black MBA Convention where I was recruiting. On that occasion, I recall being very conscious of my race, and realizing that that is how most minorities feel most of the time.

Unlike my reticence in my male-dominated law school classes, I felt very free at that Black MBA meeting to voice my opinions.  I wondered, however, whether my outspokenness was due to (1) the maturity I had gained in the twenty or so years since law school, or (2) my “status” as a member of the majority race, whereas in law school I had been of the minority gender. I will probably never know the answer to that, but at least I was self-aware enough to recognize my behavior and to ask myself the question.

I wonder how many white males would have had that same awareness. When I told my husband this story, he had no idea what I was talking about. Although diversity sensitivity and self-reflection are not among his strengths.

The Wharton School of Business published an article on their Knowledge @ Wharton online newsletter on August 29, 2012, entitled “Race, Gender and Careers: Why 'Stuffing the Pipeline' Is Not Enough”. The article describes research by Wharton professor Katherine L. Milkman and Harvard Business School professor Kathleen L. McGinn, which found that placing professionals of one race or gender all in the same work unit led to lower retention of those professionals.

Although there was greater social cohesion in these work groups – like I had found with the Women Law Student Association – the members of the groups perceived they were competing against each other for limited opportunities for advancement. They perceived there were “quotas,”  whether there were or not. In addition, they perceived structural marginalization – the saw their work unit as a “ghetto.

The conclusion of this research:
"Attempts to design employment practices that are blind to the demographics of candidates are likely to succeed only if all candidates perceive and receive equal mentoring, sponsorship, and peer support regardless of their race and gender."
Milkman is quoted in the article as follows:
"Having mentors and role models who look like you is important. But, more interestingly, we see these negative effects associated with being in a work group with lots of competitors for promotion who resemble you demographically."
In other words, it may be helpful to have opportunities in cohesive groups for interaction, but the workplace with its competition and race for advancement needs to be open.

What has your experience been with race and gender in homogenous work groups?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day from the NLRB to Nonunion Workplaces

The percentage of private sector employees who are union members is down to about 7%. Many nonunion employers think that the National Labor Relations Act, and the National Labor Relations Board that administers the NLRA, don't apply to them. But under the Obama administration, the NLRB is aggressively pursuing non-union employers and seeking to intrude on workplace policies.

The NLRB’s justification for its intrusion into nonunion workplaces is found in the broad language of Sections 7 and 8(a)(1) of the NLRA. Section 7 provides that employees have the right to "form, join, or assist" unions, to bargain collectively with their employers, and to "engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA states that it is unlawful for employers to "interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees" regarding their Section 7 rights.

It is likely that the NLRB will aggressively prosecute any employer policies that the agency believes will restrict concerted activity in nonunion workplaces. “Concerted activity” under the NRLA is extremely broad – it applies to any activity where two or more employees act together in furtherance of matters of mutual interest.  These matters of mutual interest can include compensation, benefits or a variety of workplace conditions.

“Concerted activity” comes into play any time an employee alleges he or she is working with another employee or on behalf of another employee. No union or employee representative needs to be involved; two disgruntled employees working together can be engaged in “concerted activity.”

Here are some specific policies and situations in nonunion workplaces that the NLRB is fighting:

  • Retaliatory discharge.  See Family Healthcare, Inc., 354 NLRB No. 29 (2009), where a physician-employee claimed she was discharged in retaliation of her rights under the NLRA after she questioned the changes in contracts that she and her fellow employees were asked to sign, because she acted not only for herself but for other employees.  See also In Re Trompler v. NLRB, 338 F.3d 747 (7th Cir. 2003), where production employees walked off the job at a nonunion machine shop.  They had complained about their supervisor, which was found to be “concerted activity.” 
  • Dispute resolution programs that condition employment on arbitration and prohibit employee class actions.  See D.R. Horton, 357 N.L.R.B. No. 184 (Jan. 3, 2012). Although this case is now on appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the NLRB continues to pursue the theory in other cases.  See 24 Hour Fitness, Case No. 20-CA-35419, where the employer provided employees with an opt-out provision, but the NLRB still argues that the arbitration agreement is unlawful. In fact, in Advanced Services Inc., Case No. 26-CA-63184 (July 2, 2012), the NLRB even argues that the confidentiality of arbitration proceedings unlawfully chills employees' rights to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.
  • At will employment policies that suggest they can’t be changed through collective bargaining by a union. See American Red Cross Arizona, Case No. 28-CA-23443 (Feb. 1, 2012), where the employer’s policy provided that an employee's "at-will employment relationship cannot be amended, modified or altered in any way," and the NLRB found that such a policy interfered with employees' rights to form a union.
  • Requirements that employees keep workplace investigations confidential. See Banner Health System, 358 N.L.R.B. No. 93 (July 30, 2012), where the NLRB said an employers' "generalized concern with protecting the integrity of [workplace] investigations is insufficient to outweigh employees' Section 7 rights." Basically, the NLRB ruled that "blanket" confidentiality rules are illegal, and an employer must justify confidentiality on a case-by-case basis.
  • Restrictive social media policies. See Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Case No. 28-CA-61114, where the employer required employees to report "any known or suspected violations of [its code of conduct], including any violations of the laws, rules, regulations, or policies that apply to Hyatt." The NLRB said employers must permit employees to report employer violations via social media channels, rather than only to the employer.
  • Notices in nonunion workplaces stating that employees have the right to unionize.  See Notification of Employee Rights Under the National Labor Relations Act, NLRB, Final Rule, published in the Federal Register on August 30, 2011, 76 Fed. Reg.  54,007. The effective date of this Final Rule was delayed until April 30, 2012, but in U.S. Chamber of Commerce v. NLRB, the U.S. District Court in South Carolina stayed these regulations.
  • Requiring nonunion employers to permit employees to have a representative present during investigative meetings.  These so-called “Weingarten” rights have been pushed and retracted several times, depending on whether Republicans or Democrats control the NLRB.  Currently, there is no right for nonunion employees to have a representative present during inquiries, but under the current Democratic Administration, I suspect this right would be reinstated if a case were brought before the Board.

The only way a nonunion employer can avoid investigation and prosecution by the NLRB is to make sure before terminating an employee that that employee has not engaged in any activity of mutual benefit with other employees – i.e., that there has not been any “concerted activity” that could give rise to an unfair labor practice charge.

Moreover, employers must review their policies to be sure they don’t run afoul of policies that the NLRB disapproves of.  And they should be sure to follow all NLRB requirements regarding posters, employee representation, and what supervisors can and cannot tell employees.

Additional resources on this topic include NLRB Extends Reach To Nonunion Workplaces, by Jonathan C. Fritts, Ross H. Friedman and Doreen S. Davis (Morgan Lewis), and Avoid Violations of Nonunion Employees Under NLRA, by Gigi O'Hara (Kutak Rock), and a new book entitled NLRA Rights in the Nonunion Workplace,by Kenneth Lopatka (BNA).

Readers might also check the NLRB's webpage on protected concerted activity.