Conflict Resolution: Summarizing and Rephrasing Complaints between Coworkers
Summarizing and rephrasing complaints during conflict mediation not only allows the speaker to know that you’ve heard and understood what he had to say, but it also gives the other employee the opportunity to hear the concerns from a new source (you) and with new ears.
There’s probably not much chance your employees are going to hear anything new if the same old script keeps running. But when you skillfully craft your response to the speaker in the form of reflecting and reframing the information, you create the opportunity for the other person to hear something in a new way.
Reflecting isn’t just repeating what you hear. It goes way beyond that by putting a voice to the emotions that you see or hear, and it creates an openness and curiosity about the emotions you may not observe.
To reflect effectively, start by identifying what you think the speaker’s emotion may be. For example, imagine that you’re mediating a conflict between Carol and Peter. In the midst of her opening statement, Carol says, “Peter never finishes any of the projects he starts, but he’s always there to get the accolades when we finish.”
What are Carol’s emotions? How is she feeling? She certainly sounds pretty frustrated, annoyed, and maybe even a little disappointed. When you relay your understanding of her emotions back in a way that allows her to know she’s been heard, you’re halfway to understanding why this conflict has had such an impact on her. Here’s an example:
Statement: “I can’t believe she botched another presentation!”
Reflected: “You’re concerned that the presentations haven’t gone well.”
Your goal is to soften the language used to help reduce the emotion so the participants can create the kind of conversation that moves them forward. Reflecting just below where you think the emotion may be goes a long way in softening the participant who’s experiencing the emotion. You’ll be pleased at how different (and positive) the reaction is from the parties when you reflect back emotions rather than regurgitating exactly what was said.
Parties involved in mediations have a tendency to talk about the things they don’t like or disapprove of in each other rather than what’s personally important to them. Reframing is a way to capture what’s important to the speaker while leaving out what’s supposedly wrong with the other person.
Reframing is also a way of highlighting and drawing out interests or values, which is a tremendous asset to you as a facilitator. Highlighting the values shifts the conversation away from negative descriptions and toward describing what’s important to each party.
For example, Jacob says, “Katherine is the real problem here. She has to create a timeline for everything! I have to juggle multiple projects, and I don’t need her trying to make my work process fit into her little plan.”
Here’s an example of a statement and its reframed summary:
Statement: “He never shares any information. I don’t understand why he can’t just provide me with the numbers.”
Reframed: “It’s important for you to work cooperatively.”
By reframing language to include the values you hear, you create the opportunity to discuss what each value means to the parties. Then they can begin to think about how they may be able to ask for the important things they’ve described rather than only asking for resolution to a surface issue.