03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to be Your Own Mediator: A Relationship Goal is Necessary for Aim

I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been. Wayne Gretzky

When you do know what you want in a relationship, you risk falling into a downward spiral of blame and defensiveness.

Aimlessness means you can shoot yourself in the foot. Ask yourself, "What is a good relationship here?" People often seem to answer that question with default responses, relying on semi-conscious thought rather than conscious thought: "I want to be well-liked," "I want to be viewed as credible," "I will wait and see what the other person is like." Those are all answers that are all too common. Though they are legitimate, these default answers are applied too often and too generally.

Not having a specific relationship goal gives you an excuse to blame the other person for a bad relationship. You can then fall into a negative dynamic and focus on what the other person did as the cause. On the other hand, constructing your relationship goals gives you responsibility over what happens. Managing the relationship properly then takes precedence over being right.

As a mediator, I often ask the parties individually and collectively about their relationship goals. Their answers guide my involvement with them and make the invisible visible. In one situation, I remember how a group conversation on relationship goals created a consensus for a much better relationship. What made it particularly memorable was how bad their relationship was at the time. It helped me stay focused on this relationship target while I was moving them to their substantive target i.e. a collective bargaining contract. Having the parties discuss and agree on the relationship goal, made them take ownership and the explicit target provided a check on their behavior during the negotiation.

So come back to the question "What is a good relationship here?" Do you want a trusting relationship? Do you want collegiality? Do you want deeper understanding? Do you want professionalism? Clarify your relationship goal to stabilize your approach to achieving it.

My next post will focus on how important it is to be cognizant that relationships are either growing or decaying.

To learn more about the importance of communication skills particularly in negotiation and conflict resolution, read about the solutions, results and publications Grande Lum has created at Accordence, Inc.
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