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Posted: July 31, 2013
(originally published by Booz & Company)
Ted Kinni

Theodore Kinni is senior editor for books at strategy+business. He also blogs at Reading, Writing re: Management



What Managers Can Learn from Mediators

When it comes to challenging careers, mediation can make management look like a cakewalk. Take the contentious and long-running disputes over water rights, grazing land, nuclear waste dumps, and Native American treaties that arise on environmental mediator Lucy Moore’s home turf in the Southwestern United States. These are the kinds of conflicts that can lead to real-life shoot-’em-ups.

Moore has written an engaging and thoughtful new book, Common Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories from an Environmental Mediator (Island Press, 2013), in which she describes her work and, better yet, teases out some of the lessons she has learned about getting people with sometimes radically different backgrounds and perspectives to come together and undertake change.

Moore reluctantly sums up these hard-won insights in the final chapter—she rightly explains that rules always have exceptions and reducing nuanced ideas to lists often transforms them into pablum. But on the off-chance that it may entice business readers to dig a little deeper to see what else they can learn from mediation, here they are with a change management spin:

1. “Trust is the foundation of a good working relationship.” People won’t work with you to create change until they know who you are—not just your professional credentials, but also your personal history, values, and interests in the change at hand. Revealing yourself in this way may make you vulnerable, but it engenders trust.

2. “Understanding the landscape means more than looking at a map.” You can’t just drop in and create successful change. You have to get to know a business, its culture, and its people.

3. “Look at the parts, but see the whole.” Every part of a business is connected, so be aware of the effects that change in one part creates across the business and be prepared to address them. 

4. “Power comes in many guises.” There are many sources of power within an organization and sometimes they aren’t obvious. You need to know where power resides and respectfully manage it to achieve change.

5. “[Ask yourself,] what is success?” Managers often measure success by the numbers, but there are many other aspects of change, such as the well being of stakeholders, the long-term health of the business, and environmental impacts, that determine the success of an initiative. All of them require evaluation.


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