Revelling in the Pause: Creating Sustainable, Connected Working Relationships

Mediation is about revelling in the pauses, honouring them, leaning into them. It is about slowing down, about being purposeful in everything that is said and done. There is a deliberate process by which things occur, how participants speak to each other, and how information is conveyed.

This is why mediation works. This is why, in the best outcomes, everyone comes away from the table with an entirely new perspective. When you commit fully to the process, you allow yourself to be deliberate, listen actively, and reflect instead of react. When these things occur, everyone feels heard and valued. They feel respected. Hard conversations can be had without tripping through everyone’s defensive wires.
Why aren’t we doing this all of the time? Why aren’t we purposeful with the people whom we value? Why aren’t we deliberate about the way we speak? Why do we react instead of reflect? Here are our top five reasons for why:

1. Because we’re fallible, imperfect, ego-centric beings.
We need to be able to understand other people’s stuff. It is vital to maintaining good relationships. It’s also really hard. In mediation, the mediator assists with this. In everyday life, however, we don’t have a mediator there to help us interpret and decode what’s going on. It takes a lot of work to get out of our own heads, wade through our own stuff, and then begin to understand what someone else might need.
It requires us to slow down and understand the nuance of what is happening. It requires that we let go of our defences, or at least understand why we are being defensive. The practical way we do that is through building in empathy and collaboration into everyday interactions. The more we practice empathy and connection, the more able we are to understand other people’s stuff.

2. Because we move too quickly.
Most businesses will have a constant focus on continuous improvement. At any one time there will be initiatives about efficiency, time-reduction, and creation of seamless customer experiences. These are important and necessary goals, particularly in an age where Google will give us instantaneous access to information to any question we can ask. However, we need to separate out efficiency of process from efficiency of relationships. If anything, we need to be slower, more deliberate, and more ritualistic when we approach relationships—particularly as relationships transition.
It may be more efficient (and indeed appropriate) to make rapid, necessary changes in a business with only light staff engagement. However, what is the plan for those who are most directly affected? How are they prepared before the change and how are they cared for after? This is not about restructuring and material changes to conditions of employment—there are very specific legal processes that must be followed in these circumstances.

This is about taking the time to acknowledge the contributions of team members in a meaningful way. How do we thank people for the work they have done on an initiative that they are no longer involved in? How do we celebrate and reflect on achievement? How do we revel in the transitional pause, the passing of the torch, as it were? This can be as simple as a hand-written note of thanks. Whatever it is, a slow, deliberate response can make the difference between a strong relationship and a poor one.

3. Because as connected as we are, we are no longer connected.
It is a paradox that the more connected we are throughout the world via the internet, the less personally connected we actually are. How much of that creeps into the modern day workplace? How often do we point to a policy or a process instead of having difficult and hard conversations? Let’s be honest, no one likes having hard conversations. However, they are essential to good communication and strong connection. We often hear people say that a hard conversation handled well actually strengthens the relationship between the parties. Hard conversations handled well are ones where psychological safety is paramount, where the discussion is both empathetic and fact-based, and where there is more pause than action.

4. Because we have to balance sustainability and profitability against well-being and engagement.
Let’s be straight about this. It is a struggle to create a sustainable and profitable business that is also a paragon of employee well-being and engagement. Particularly if your business happens to fall within the mid-size trap of being too big for consistent one-on-one engagement and too small for the weight and cost of elaborate engagement methods. However, it is possible and is essential. There is no business that will fail by taking five minutes to write a note of sympathy to an employee who has lost their beloved family pet.

How do you create a culture of connection and empathy such that it only takes five minutes for this to happen? Ritualise your interactions. Be deliberate. Ask questions and pause. Listen. Consider, for example, having a rotating, weekly coffee offsite with three or four other staff members for 20-30 minutes. The only rules are that no one can talk about work, and should issues come up that may affect work, there will be a deliberate, separate conversation about whether and how to share and consider the information. This will be hard and feel clunky at first. But once people feel safe and comfortable, the connection you build will be exponential.

5. Because we believe that things are fine until they aren’t fine.
What do we pay attention to? The things that are blocking the swiftly moving currents our businesses are riding. There’s a reason that the “squeaky wheel always gets the grease” is a universally understood expression. However, it’s not the squeaky wheels you have to worry about. It’s those who suffer in silence. Things will be fine until they are really not fine. When it gets to the point of not being fine, the relationship may not be repairable and there can be a lot of collateral damage. And where is the damage done? In the small moments. When we leapt instead of pausing. When we were careless instead of careful.

How are you connecting with all of your employees? How are you beginning to understand everyone’s stuff? How are you ritualising and slowing down for the transitions? How are you mediating through your day?

                        author

Jennifer Mahony

Jennifer Mahony, Juris Doctor, Emory University School of Law, Associate member of AMINZ, Senior Resolution Practitioner of FairWay Resolution Limited Jennifer is a seasoned workplace investigator, employment litigation attorney, adjudicator, and dispute resolution specialist. She worked as a mediator with the Fulton County Landlord/Tenant Court in the United States for two years… MORE >

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