Friday, April 25, 2008

Email Contributes To Conflict – What to Do?

  1. Say it clearly – Just this week a colleague and I exchanged emails about an event that we were both to attend. After confirming my plan to attend she checked with me, “Do you have the address of where the meeting is tomorrow?” I replied “Yes”. Unfortunately I later learned that she did not have the address, and in fact missed the meeting. Saying it clearly, or in this case asking it clearly, would have easily resolved this issue.
  2. Don’t make assumptions – It’s easy to jump to the wrong conclusions when you don’t have the benefit of visual or auditory information. While email is convenient, it limits our ability to “read” a situation. Keep in mind that writing in all caps doesn’t necessarily indicate yelling, and that a delayed reply might be caused by a technological issue, not rudeness.
  3. Consider the situation – Was that curt reply you received sent via Blackberry? Was the sender of that muddled note out of town or responding at an odd hour? In our world of instant gratification we’ve become accustomed to giving and getting information almost immediately. The problem is that at times this leads to a hasty reply, an incomplete thought, or worse. Consider the situation before you react, and clarify any concerns or issues right away.
  4. Tell them how you feel – Forwards, chain letters, and other email nuisances are often sent by those we love most. I’ve found that those who are new to email or who use it strictly for social purposes are the biggest offenders. Simply let these persons know that while you appreciate the sentiment, you don’t have the time (or inclination) to read such emails, and that you’d like them to limit their correspondence in kind.
  5. Find another way – Email is quick, but it creates barriers to our communication. It removes information that we need (tone of voice, information on the other persons environment), and replaces it with flat dialogue that is both cryptic and permanent. It’s like taking a 3-dimensional object and changing it to a 2-dimensional one, and expecting the same product. Whenever possible, address issues, clarify misunderstandings, and handle pertinent or time-sensitive information by phone or in-person. While it may seem more time-consuming to exchange information in this manner, it saves time and energy by greatly reducing the likelihood of any issues or problems developing.

A new forum of Business Mediation

There are two types of business mediators, those who work to end the lawsuit, and those who work to prevent it.

Most businesses think of mediation as an adjunct to their legal services – and it certainly can be. Mediation can quickly and confidentially resolve pending litigation from claims of harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination, etc. In this capacity I myself have negotiated agreements that saved businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits and attorney’s fees. And while this area of mediation is valuable and important, it is just the tip of the mediation iceberg.

Mediation can also prevent the expensive lawsuit. When used as a routine part of a company’s strategy for handling issues between partners, executives, and general employees, problems are addressed in the early stages, when they can still be peaceably resolved. Likewise, this forum of mediation helps businesses retain their best workers, improve teamwork and morale, and increase productivity. And, if an issue is not resolved, evidence of attempting mediation all but eliminates the threat of a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Businesses are often surprised by the speed of the result. Why does it work so well when in-house remedies and efforts do not? In part, the answer is in the question. Mediation makes use of an outside and impartial person. Further, the process is confidential. Together these build a high degree of trust in both the process and the helper, and with trust comes honesty – the key to working out any issue. Likewise, a business that addresses issues in this manner demonstrates to those involved that their concerns have value. When people feel heard, they are more willing to resolve their issues. Putting it together, when people are honest and willing to resolve their issues, a lot gets done quickly.