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Third party conflict resolution: The Seatcor Manufacturing Company

In regards to the scenario below, what is the best strategy to use? Thanks!


Third-Party Conflict Resolution

In addition to being involved in their own conflicts, managers are often called upon to intervene and to settle conflicts between other people. The two activities in this section are designed to explore how third parties may enter conflicts for the purpose of resolving them, and to practice one very effective approach to intervention. In the first activity, you will read about a manager who has a problem deciding how to intervene in a dispute, and you will discuss this case in class. Part 2 of this exercise contains a mediation guide.

Part 1: The Seatcor Manufacturing Company
You are senior vice president of operations and chief operating officer of Seatcor, a major producer of office furniture. Joe Gibbons, your subordinate, is vice president and general manager of your largest desk assembly plant. Joe has been with Seatcor for 38 years and is two years away from retirement. He worked his way up through the ranks to his present position and has successfully operated his division for five years with a marginally competent staff. You are a long-standing personal friend of Joe's and respect him a great deal. However, you have always had an uneasy feeling that Joe has surrounded himself with minimally competent people by his own choice. In some ways, you think he feels threatened by talented assistants.

Last week you were having lunch with Charles Stewart, assistant vice president and Joe's second in command. Upon your questioning, it became clear that he and Joe were engaged in a debilitating feud. Charles was hired last year, largely at your insistence.

You had been concerned for some time about who was going to replace Joe when he retired, especially given the lack of really capable managerial talent on Joe's staff. Thus you prodded Joe to hire your preferred candidate-Charles Stewart. Charles is relatively young, 39, extremely tenacious and bright, and a well-trained business school graduate. From all reports he is doing a good job in his new position. Your concern centers on a topic that arose at the end of your lunch. Charles indicated that Joe Gibbons is in the process of completing a five-year plan for his plant. This plan is to serve as the basis for several major plant reinvestment and reorganization decisions that would be proposed to senior management. According to Charles, Joe Gibbons has not included Charles in the planning process at all. You had to leave lunch quickly and were unable to get much more information from Charles. However, he did admit that he was extremely disturbed by this exclusion and that his distress was influencing his work and probably his relationship with Joe.

You consider this a very serious problem. Charles will probably have to live with the results of any major decisions about the plant. More important, Joe's support is essential if Charles is to properly grow into his present and/or future job. Joe, on the other hand, runs a good ship and you do not want to upset him or undermine his authority. Moreover, you know Joe has good judgment; thus he may have a good reason for what he is doing. How would you proceed to handle this issue?

Part 2: The Mediation Guide
This section presents a series of steps for effectively conducting a mediation. You may use this checklist and the flowchart depicted in Exhibit 1.

Step 1: Stabilize the Setting
Parties often bring some strong feelings of anger and frustration into mediation. These feelings can prevent them from talking productively about their dispute. You, as mediator, will try to gain their trust for you and for the mediation process. Stabilize the setting by being polite; show that you are in control and that you are neutral. This step helps the parties feel comfortable, so they can speak freely about their complaints, and safe, so they can air their feelings.

1. _______ Greet the parties.
2. _______ Indicate where each of them is to sit.
3. _______ Identify yourself and each party, by name.
4. _______ Offer water, paper and pencil, and patience.
5. _______ State the purpose of mediation.
6. _______ Confirm your neutrality.
7. _______ Get their commitment to proceed.
8. _______ Get their commitment that only one party at a time will speak.
9. _______ Get their commitment to speak directly to you.
10. _______ Use calming techniques as needed.

Step 2: Help the Parties Communicate
Once the setting is stable and the parties seem to trust you and the mediation process, you can begin to carefully build trust between them. Both must make statements about what has happened. Each will use these statements to air negative feelings. They may express anger, make accusations, and show frustration in other ways. But with your help, this mutual ventilation lets them hear each other's side of the story, perhaps for the first time. It can help calm their emotions, and can build a basis for trust between them.

1. _______ Explain the rationale for who speaks first.
2. _______ Reassure them that both will speak without interruption, for as long as necessary.
3. _______ Ask the first speaker to tell what has happened.
a. _______ Take notes.
b. _______ Respond actively; restate and echo what is said.
c. _______ Calm the parties as needed.
d. _______ Clarify, with open or closed questions, or with restatements.
e. _______ Focus the narration on the issues in the dispute.
f. _______ Summarize, eliminating all disparaging references.
g. _______ Check to see that you understand the story.
h. _______ Thank this party for speaking, the other for listening quietly.
4. _______ Ask the second speaker to tell what has happened.
a. _______ Take notes.
b. _______ Respond actively; restate and echo what is said.
c. _______ Calm the parties as needed.
d. _______ Clarify, with open or closed questions, or with restatements.
e. _______ Focus the narration on the issues in the dispute.
f. _______ Summarize, eliminating all disparaging references.
g. _______ Check to see that you understand the story.
h. _______ Thank this party for speaking, the other for listening quietly.
5. _______ Ask each party, in turn, to help clarify the major issues to be resolved.
6. _______ Inquire into basic issues, probing to see if something instead may be at the root of the complaints.
7. _______ Define the problem by restating and summarizing.
8. _______ Conduct private meetings, if needed (explain what will happen during and after the private meetings).
9. _______ Summarize areas of agreement and disagreement.
10. _______ Help the parties set priorities on the issues and demands.

Step 3: Help the Parties Negotiate
Cooperativeness is needed for negotiations that lead to agreement. Cooperation requires a stable setting, to control disruptions, and exchanges of information, to develop mutual trust. With these conditions, the parties may be willing to cooperate, but still feel driven to compete. You can press for cooperative initiatives by patiently helping them to explore alternative solutions, and by directing attention to their progress.

1. _______ Ask each party to list alternative possibilities for a settlement.
2. _______ Restate and summarize each alternative.
3. _______ Check with each party on the workability of each alternative.
4. _______ Restate whether the alternative is workable.
5. _______ In an impasse, suggest the general form of other alternatives.
6. _______ Note the amount of progress already made, to show that success is likely.
7. _______ If the impasse continues, suggest a break or a second mediation session.
8. _______ Encourage them to select the alternative that appears to be workable.
9. _______ Increase their understanding by rephrasing the alternative.
10. _______ Help them plan a course of action to implement the alternative.

Step 4: Clarify Their Agreement
Mediation should change each party's attitude toward the other. When both have shown their commitment through a joint declaration of agreement, each will support the agreement more strongly. For a settlement that lasts, each component of the parties' attitudes toward each other-their thinking, feeling, and acting-will have changed. Not only will they now act differently toward each other, but they are likely to feel differently, more positively, about each other and to think of their relationship in new ways.

1. _______ Summarize the agreement terms.
2. _______ Recheck with each party his or her understanding of the agreement.
3. _______ Ask whether other issues need to be discussed.
4. _______ Help them specify the terms of their agreement.
5. _______ State each person's role in the agreement.
6. _______ Recheck with each party on when he or she is to do certain things, where, and how.
7. _______ Explain the process of follow-up.
8. _______ Establish a time for follow-up with each party.
9. _______ Emphasize that the agreement is theirs, not yours.
10. _______ Congratulate the parties on their reasonableness and on the workability of their resolution.

Solution Preview

The strategy that is best used in the scenario is one in which the problem is communicated both to Gibbons and Steward. The first step is to focus on the problem that Gibbons has prepared a five year plan for plan reinvestment and reorganization. You should focus on the interests of both Gibbons and Steward. The reason for this is that even though Gibbons is scheduled to retire in two years time, the plan spans five years and if Steward is required to succeed Gibbons, he should be made a part of the planning process. The next step in the strategy would be to ...