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Meditation Enhances Mediation: A Six Sigma Perspective (excerpt)

This article is an excerpt. Please view a PDF of the entire article attached below.

Core values that promote trust, diversity, personal and professional growth, mutual respect, and productive communication are absolute necessities in modern, innovative, and successful businesses and organizations. Unfortunately, even the most well-intentioned corporate policies are undermined by unmanaged conflict within the organization. Unresolved conflict is a distraction from the otherwise productive use of time, energy, and resources as it diminishes internal and external relationships and eventually impacts the bottom line.
Conflict in the workplace is commonplace and the cost of workplace conflict can be staggering:

  • Research indicates that up to 40% of manager’s time is spent engaging in or attempting to resolve conflict;
  • Managers sometimes restructure the design and flow of tasks just to reduce interaction between conflicting employees, which can reduce the effectiveness and productivity of the original design;
  • Exit interviews, which explore the underlying reasons for an employee leaving a company, reveal that chronic, unresolved conflict is a decisive factor in at least 50% of all voluntary departures;
  • Absenteeism is often associated with stress of chronic conflict within the workplace. Physical illness or injury too often have a psychogenic component, caused by psychological or emotional conditions;
  • Presenteeism defined as not being engaged in work functions account for about 73% of employees not engaged with work;
  • Medical-care costs aside from lost work-time due to illness and injury increase. The rate of claims affects the premiums paid by employers to their health insurance providers and more claims result in higher premiums.
  • There is a direct correlation between the prevalence of employee conflict and the amount of damage and theft to inventory and equipment.

Most conflicts within and involving people revolve around unfulfilled needs and issues, including the psychological need for control, recognition, affection, and respect. These needs are natural and quite human in that we all crave them, but when unacceptable or problematic behavior is rewarded in the fulfillment of these needs, difficult behavior is encouraged. There is a prescription to change the behavior but it requires time and patience to tackle the negative characteristics of difficult people. It does not help to ignore or criticize problem behavior or just to brand someone as a problem and be an analyst to their personality disorder. Working to prevent unproductive and negative behavior that had led to the conflict in the first place is the preferred approach. In the following paragraphs we provide an overview of mediation and show why and how meditation can enhance the efficacy of mediation programs and how the efficacy of combining these activities can be quantitatively assessed with six sigma principles.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a process in which an impartial and neutral third party facilitates the resolution of a dispute or conflict by promoting voluntary agreement by the parties…the process is usually consensual and confidential…the mediator facilitates communications, promotes better understanding and listening, assists in the identification of interests, and seeks creative problem solving to enable the parties to reach a mutually satisfying agreement.

 Mediation is the logical extension of negotiations when parties are at an impasse or cannot move in a mutually satisfying direction with their dispute. Parties employ a trained, neutral, and impartial person(s) to assist them in identifying issues and interests. This interest-based negotiation with the mediator identifies options and choices, which the parties may elect in the satisfaction of their needs. This is different from positional bargaining in that parties are asked to listen actively, not argue, focus on the problem, and satisfy each other’s needs. The parties retain control of the process, although attorneys or others are invited to participate. Mediation is not compromise or mitigation of the interests in the conflict, but it is collaboration with others to satisfy as many needs as possible. An honest exchange of interests and needs encourages problem-solving and contributes to resolution.

Through design, promotion, implementation, developmental training and learning programs, organizations with a commitment to excellence can diminish friction, increase productivity, and reduce escalation of disputes within the workplace. The purpose of any internal mediation-skills learning program is to promote voluntary, informal, and consensual dispute resolution, promote creative, efficient, and sensible outcomes in conflict management, and reduce the tangible and intangible costs in time and resources associated with workplace disputes.

When parties are given the opportunity to engage with each other directly and focus on the conflict between them, they are provided with an opportunity to (1) increase the authenticity of the relationship which allows the principals to experience a sense of increased personal integrity, (2) increase their mutual commitment to improving their relationship, (3) diagnose the conflict, (4) increase their sense of control over the quality of the relationship, and (5) discover and experiment with ways to de-escalate the conflict. This is especially important for ongoing relationships. It works when the parties want to resolve their differences in a mutually satisfying way (Nichols, 1995).

The goal of mediation is a lasting agreement created through constructive and positive communication and sharing. Before people can listen to each other, they must often listen to their inner-self, their conscience, soul, mind, heart, or other repository of values. These internal messages may not correlate with an apparent or prudent action to address or resolve the conflict at issue.  Often, the primary conflict may be the struggle the parties are experiencing within their independent value systems. The mediation process should help the parties see each other through new eyes, but their values may filter and obstruct a vision of resolution and satisfaction. The dynamics of the internal struggle may not be as expressive as the public dispute. Consequently, the mediator should be comfortable interacting with the parties at an honest and personal level of feeling. The spoken and non-verbal language of emotion and values is an important vocabulary for the mediator to master. Values are the standards and principles we employ to measure right and wrong, fair and unjust, and good and evil. When people express strong feelings, values are almost always close by. Identifying the presence or importance of values in a party can often be the key to unlocking the impasse between internal monitors and behavioral change.

Behavior can change, but only voluntarily, when attitudes and feelings are exposed and explored. Values rarely change, but behavior can be modified to accommodate attitudes and feelings of other parties to the conflict. It is possible to help parties confront their feelings and explore why feelings are either assisting or blocking the progress in the mediation process. Feelings are neither good nor bad…they are just feelings and should be given due accord for their place in the mediation process. The role of the mediator is to manage the ventilation of emotion, and most mediators believe that the opportunity to honestly express strong feelings relative to the conflict is an essential part of mediation. Suppressing or failing to foster the opportunity may increase the likelihood of impasse and frustration. Mediators must be careful to allow the therapeutic release of emotion through feeling affirmation, while not crossing over into exploration of why a party has those feelings as would a therapist.

The identification of parties’ values and emotions opens to an understanding of their decision-making processes. Unfortunately, we typically suppress open expression, opting for subliminal or underlying communication of true feelings. Mediators must be attuned to language and expression that implies the presence of values. When a mediator senses values being communicated, those explicit or implicit statements should be explored. Values are often associated with harsh language or words that blame the other side and deride their behavior and solutions, or words that threaten dire consequences, or reference to a venerable citation found in the Bible, Constitution, or other such authority.

Mediators should be aware of the importance of emotion in mediation and identify and affirm the feeling to better manage the process of expressing needs and understanding interests. Parties in dispute will participate voluntarily so long as they perceive it to be safe and the mediator competent. If the parties stay in the mediation long enough their opportunities for satisfying resolution are increased, but no resolution will be satisfying or behavior voluntarily and fruitfully changed until emotions and feelings are recognized as being important to the conflicted interaction, relationship, or legal interests of the parties. Even when the appropriate resolution may be a matter of legal interpretation or question of law, justice is not so blind that she will not peek out from under her blindfold to recognize that human beings with emotions and feelings want recognition and need fulfillment too. When the mediator utilizes emotional expression as a basis and source of information and data to better identify needs and interests, the enrichment of the process will reward the outcome.

Workplace policies, undermined by unmanaged conflict within the organization, do not fulfil the purpose of guiding and directing. Managing conflicts effectively can lead to low-cost solutions that save time, resources, and relationships. Managers and employees alike can benefit from participating in informal mediation or other forms of internal conflict management. Listed below are some of the benefits:

  • Fosters equal opportunity in the workplace;
  • Reduces the incidence of workplace bullying;
  • Maximizes cost effectiveness;
  • Is a very good tool to address discrimination and harassment complaints;
  • Helps to diffuse hostile feelings and emotions that could lead to inappropriate resolution such as violence;
  • Facilitates a direct contact and collaboration between managers and employees, something conducive to a more harmonious workplace;
  • Allows managers and employees to have an active role in the resolution process;
  • Mediation is confidential, fair, not precedent setting, and binding;
  • Parties can move from debate to dialogue.

Mediation Requires Trust
When trust exists in personal and professional relationships, almost everything else is easier and more comfortable to achieve, including problem-solving and conflict resolution. The need for trust arises from our interdependence with others to achieve the outcomes we value. When our actions are consistent with our words, trust is easier to achieve. Because cooperation cannot be compelled, social interactions are a valuable foundation for confidence one feels toward another or toward others to overcome doubt or fear.  Trust is the mortar that holds together the stones of the arch we walk through in fulfilling relationships. When trust weakens, the ruble of broken expectations and implied promises impair communication and recognition of the other person as valuable to co-existence or cooperation.

Trust in the workplace is essential for durable, satisfying, and rewarding relationships and is achieved through productive communication, understanding, and respect. It is an assessment that one will not deliberately, accidentally, consciously, or subconsciously take unfair advantage of another and a person’s self-esteem, status, relationship, career, and even life are placed in the hands of another with full and total confidence for safety and protection.  Parties must behave consistently over time to build trust and follow through on the promises made. In order to achieve this level of trust, all parties must explain their expectations of one another; agree to necessary steps to fulfill the expectations; sanctions for not meeting expectations; and procedures to measure outcomes. Trust contains a strong emotional component, and parties should be able to share their expectations for one another, bargain for expected behaviors, and openly acknowledge mutual distrust. Expectations are created with or without collaboration, and unilateral expectations, when broken, always hurt the most.
The link between rebuilt trust and conflict resolution involves de-escalation; for any conciliatory action to be effective it must involve sufficient trust. The paradox is that in order to trust another one must risk personal loss again. We often demand proof of trustworthiness before a willingness to trust again is considered. Regrettably, one side must take the risk in a leap of faith to launch the process over with more accurate perceptions and clearer communication.  Unwillingness to do so will irreparably damage the relationship and exacerbate the conflict situation. Reciprocity requires someone to go first with the hope that the risk of trauma to the person or psyche will be rewarded with a response worth the value of what can be. Hope is the winged angel of the double edged sword…one blade is trust and the other despair.

There is a link between trust and honesty. We may not be consciously aware that we are being dishonest. Sharing and exchange of demands and wants as opposed to needs is positional arguing of bargaining as opposed to interest based. Like an iceberg, the tip of the iceberg which is what we see is above water but what we know about the iceberg is that what is below the water is far bigger, has a much bigger mass, and that sometimes may be more important. That is where the motivation for people is, that is where the need fulfillment is. We have to tell the other person this is what I need, not what I want. There is a difference between what I want and what I need. We might want a lot of things but we might need just a few. These can be things like recognition, acknowledgement, trust, etc. Unresolved, these issues can become obstacles to progress.

The art of mediation outlined in the Excerpt is a conscious approach to problem solving. Conscious approaches as good as six sigma are necessary but not sufficient conditions for best possible performance. What completes the quest for exemplary performance is a rise in internal excellence. In the absence of adequate levels of internal excellence, conscious approaches lead to suboptimal performance. The full-length paper at the link referenced above explains the science of meditation and how adding meditation to mediation programs will lead to reduced conflicts and better outcomes.”. Readers may search the web for the soon-to-be published article, Criticality of Internal Excellence in six sigma for National Transformation by Pradeep B. Deshpande and Mikel Harry, Co-creator of Six Sigma, for additional insights.

Attachments to this Article


Pradeep Deshpande

Pradeep Deshpande is an author for correspondence on meditation; Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering, University of Louisville, Visiting Professor of Management, University of Kentucky, and President and CEO, Six Sigma and Advanced Controls, Inc., Louisville, KY 40222. MORE >


Tony Belak

Tony Belak is the Ombuds at the University of Louisville, Associate Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution at La Sierra University, Riverside, California, associate director of the International Center for Compassionate Organizations and the former Executive Director of the International Center for Collaborative Solutions at Sullivan University, Louisville,… MORE >

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