Everyone deserves to be heard.

Welcome to Untangled Resolutions, a Mediation, Negotiation and Conflict Management Systems Design Consultancy.

Businesses and other organizations strive to maintain healthy work atmospheres. Still, tensions can build then boil over, sometimes resulting in law suits.  My conflict management services are just what you need to avoid lawsuits and, if the worst has happened, get your organization back on track.

I work with organizations to develop custom-tailored conflict management plans that address issues as they arise and offer workshops, mediation training, and other guidance in the aftermath of a crisis.

Being an effective negotiator is an essential skill in business.  Yet most people dread negotiating and often feel outmatched and dissatisfied with the results when they do negotiate.  I can help you change that.  Join one of my negotiation workshop series and you will learn about your conflict styles, why people get nervous about negotiating, how to prepare to negotiate, and how to handle someone who tries to intimidate you. More importantly, you’ll get to practice what you learn using live simulations.

Contact me at info@123untangled.com.  I can help you manage your conflicts and resolve your disputes.

Join me on the radio: www.blogtalkradio.com/bathabile.


Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.
Mediator, Founder and Principal

From Our Blog

What is Your Conflict Style?

In my blog post, The Conflict Doctor is In, I noted that avoidance is a common default approach for people in dispute.  I also noted that avoiding conflict often allows disputes to grow out of control so that something that begins as a simple misunderstanding becomes a raging war.  Avoidance may be a default approach to dealing with conflict but it is not the only approach.  (Click on the title for more) . . .

The Conflict Doctor is In

By the time most people who are fighting reach the point of filing a lawsuit, the underlying dispute has festered for some time.  During that time, the insult of the initial offense or harm is compounded by additional harm: passive aggression, overt snubs, sneaky sabotage, damaged reputations, lost productivity, even physical illness.

Despite the emotional and material harms that often arise from a dispute, most people would rather not even acknowledge the dispute at all!  Early on, it seems easier to just ignore the situation, to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist even when it involves harmful behavior and negative consequences for everyone involved.  Like a young child who believes that if he covers his eyes, everyone else disappears, most people turn a blind eye to the issues, hoping that the dispute will go away by itself.

(Click on the title for more)  . . .

How to Say No

Saying no when you feel pressured to say yes can become much easier if you remember the following simple words: Position, Interest, Need.

A position is what you feel you deserve.  An Interest is what getting what you feel you deserve will do for you.  A Need is the reason why that interest is important to you.

Usually people who say no simply articulate their position.  In my blog “The Inigo Montoya Effect” I wrote about Meredith, a woman who needed to say no.  She had decided not to baby-sit infant children anymore because she needed to pay more attention to her own children so that she could fulfill her role as the primary influence in their lives.  Position, Interest, Need.  The problem was the she had previously agreed to baby-sit an infant child for a long-time friend.  Now she needed to tell her friend that she would no longer baby-sit for her.   She needed to say no.

Her position was that she could no longer care for infant children.

Her need was to have more time to focus on her own children.

Her interest was being the primary influence in her children’s lives.

When it came to crafting her message to her friend, it was important that she focused on her stating her needs and her interests.  I encouraged her to avoid talking much, if at all, about her position because that was a matter that could be debated.  Couldn’t she, in fact, find some way to balance infant-care with caring for young children? Rather, I encouraged Meredith to focus on sharing her needs and interests with her friend.  You can argue with a person about what they think, but you can’t argue with them about what they feel.  Needs and interests are about feelings while positions tend to be about opinions. That is why I suggest focusing on needs and interests when you decide to say no.

The next time that you need to deliver a difficult message, try to determine the following: What is your position?  What do you need?  Why do you need it? Then focus on communicating what you need and why you need it.  Practice your message so that you can communicate with confidence.  If all else fails, contact me! :-D

The Inigo Montoya Effect

In the film “The Princess Bride”, Inigo Montoya, a despondent yet valiant swordsman sworn to avenge his father’s murder, joins an equally valiant adventurer named Westley in his quest to rescue Buttercup, Westley’s childhood sweetheart, from an evil king.  After many adventures, Inigo and Westley, joined by Fezzik, the Giant, successfully enter the king’s palace.  While Westley is busy rescuing Buttercup, Inigo encounters the six-fingered man who murdered his father.  In order to fortify himself so that he can recover from a terrible wound and enact his revenge, he repeats the following: “My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”  With each repetition, Inigo grows stronger, more confident, unwavering in his path.

I do not encourage revenge.  However, Inigo Montoya’s approach offers an important skill that you can add to your negotiation tool kit.  Find your message and stick to it.  (Click on the title for more)

The Wealth of Conflict

Conflict can make you rich. Really! A dispute is a treasure chest just waiting for you to dive in and gather its gems. Very simply put, the reason that you have a dispute with someone is that the other person sees and understands things differently than you do. There is so much to learn from that! What does the other person see? Why does the other person see things differently? Could it be that you both are missing something? Or could it be that you and the other person share different definitions of terms or ideas or understand the steps in a process differently?

What I suggest is called “adopting a curious stance”. When someone says something that throws you off guard try to remember to take a moment to be curious. Before making a decision about whether or not you agree with the other person, ask a few questions.  You can decide to say, “I’ve never thought of it that way. Tell me more”.  If you find that you don’t still don’t understand, ask the other person to clarify.  You could say, “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.  Do you mean to say . . .?”

Asking that question can also let the other person know what he or she sounds like.  How many times have you said something to someone who then repeated what he or she heard you say to someone else – only he or she got it all wrong?  The child’s game of telephone is a perfect example of how that happens.  Repeating back what you’ve heard allows the other person to clarify if they find that the message they intended to give you was not the message you heard.

You might find that after hearing the other person out, you still don’t agree with his or her position on an issue. But understanding why they hold that position is a very important part of creating a situation where you can collaborate even when you don’t agree.

Knowing your own perspective makes you rich. Knowing your own perspective and a perspective that is different from your own makes you wealthy. What is the difference between rich and wealthy? David Letterman is rich. Oprah Winfrey is wealthy. Who would you rather be?

How to ask your Supervisor for Help

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, when you ask a supervisor for help dealing with a co-worker, the conversation goes really badly?  Suddenly, instead of talking about the original problem, you’re having an argument about whether there is a problem in the first place.  Who has the problem?  Are you the problem?  One experience like this can keep you from ever approaching a supervisor again, which actually robs you of a great resource.

There are two main reasons why you might want to talk with the supervisor.  One is that you believe the supervisor is in a position of power to actually do something about the situation.  According to an organizational chart this might be true.  From the supervisor’s perspective, however, the view might be a quite different.  I’ll address that in a moment.  Another reason that you might want to approach your supervisor is because your supervisor usually has more knowledge or experience than you do.  So, if the conversation goes sour, you lose the potential to benefit from the supervisor’s relative power to change the situation and the opportunity to learn from the supervisor’s experience.

What happens?  Why does the conversation go wrong?  Let’s look at the conversation from the viewpoint of your supervisor.  First, your supervisor is a human being.  If you are in a very hierarchical organization, your supervisor’s humanity might not be obvious to you.  If supervisors and supervisees don’t really interact with each other, what you see is a status rather than a person who can feel as vulnerable and frustrated and clueless as you do, just in a different context.

Your supervisor might feel tremendous pressure when you approach him or her with a problem because the supervisor may feel that their power and status depends on their ability to solve every problem.  So, from your supervisor’s perspective, here you come with an annoying interpersonal issue and just dump it in his or her lap.  Whether you intend for your supervisor to feel pressured to solve the problem or not, he or she might feel that pressure.  Think how much of your supervisor’s self-image is riding on whether or not he or she can maintain that sense of all knowing power in front of you while, in truth, he or she has no idea how to resolve the issue.

Consider this as well: pointing out a negative issue can easily be perceived as a criticism of your supervisor’s ability to do his or her job!  When you approach the supervisor with a problem, it can sound to the supervisor as though you are criticizing his or her effectiveness as a manager.  Of course, this not what you intend.  But that is a major reason why a conversation that you intend to be about resolving the issue between you and a co-worker becomes and argument about whether there is a problem and who is the problem.

For the supervisor, there is an interest in making the problem go away.  So it is in the supervisor’s interest to have an argument about whether there is a problem.  If the supervisor wins that argument (and supervisors usually win) then there is no problem and the supervisor is off the hook.  In a similar way, if the argument is about whether, maybe, you are the problem, then it is a simpler issue for the supervisor to deal with.  Rather than having to listen to and understand what you are saying and then bringing in the complication of the co-worker you are concerned about, the supervisor can dispose of the issue simply by dealing with one person and one issue: you.

So, how can you approach your supervisor so that your supervisor actually hears you and embraces your need for help?

The first thing you can do let your supervisor know that you own the problem.  Try presenting the issue as a concern rather than a problem.  The word “problem” is already so negatively loaded that what most people hear when you say “I have a problem” is “you have a problem”.  Why do they hear this?  Because the logical next step from the statement, “I have a problem” is “and I want you to fix it”.  In that case your problem becomes your supervisor’s problem.  So, immediately, your supervisor is put on the spot.

To say that you have a concern might mean that you have a problem but it could also just mean that you have a question or that you have an idea.  You are not trying to dump a problem in your supervisor’s lap, you are asking your supervisor to brainstorm with you about a concern that you have.  You are presenting an invitation to collaborate.  You could call this collaborative self-advocacy.  You are advocating for your own needs by bringing them to your supervisor’s attention.  However, you are not dumping the problem and stepping back, expecting your supervisor to solve the problem.  You are asking your supervisor to join you in exploring ideas for approaching the situation together.

The second thing you can do is to help the supervisor to understand that the supervisor has an interest in joining you in brainstorming ways to navigate the situation.  Does your dispute with your co-worker cut into work time?  Does it affect your productivity?  Does the lack of cooperation between you lead to inefficiencies in how the work is done?

Now, you do want to tread carefully here because the way you present the issue is critical.  Put one way, you are presenting a concern about workflow.  Put another way, you are a tattle-tale whiner.  Also, unless it is your purpose to sink you co-worker, making your co-worker out to be the bad guy could seriously damage any opportunity to nurture a collaborative relationship between you both.  If you make your co-worker out to be the bad guy, your supervisor might approach your co-worker as the bad guy, and the adversarial situation you were trying to change will actually be reinforced.  So, your intent is not to vilify your co-worker but to present an issue.

You can avoid making your co-worker look like a villain by focusing your conversation on yourself, on your perspective.  You might have heard couples’ therapists talking about using “I” statements.  Well, that works in this context, too!  Your supervisor should understand that you are presenting your understanding of things based on your perspective.  It is to your benefit to freely acknowledge that there are other perspectives, to acknowledge that your co-worker most probably has a totally different understanding of what is going on.  That you are interested in understanding your co-worker’s perspective and that it would be helpful to you if your supervisor could help you to figure out how to approach your co-worker to get a better understanding on your co-worker’s perspective.

It takes a lot of courage and generosity to do this, especially if you feel hurt and attacked by what your co-worker’s behavior.  It is an instinctive, human, reaction to behavior that you don’t understand, that also has a negative impact on you, to assume that the other person intended to hurt you.  Sometimes it is true that the person intended to hurt you.  Then it is useful to find out why.  Is that a reaction to something that the other person perceived as a harmful act on your part?  Is the other person a sociopath who just enjoys hurting people?  Is the other person actually feeling really insecure and disempowered and truly frightened that other people will figure that out and take advantage of that and so is acting preemptively to cover his or her true feelings?

It isn’t your job to fix any of that.  But understanding it is a critical part of knowing how to form an understanding that allows you to work together. A useful step in achieving that understanding is drawing upon the wisdom and experience of your supervisor.  Expressing your concern in this way is only helpful to you because it helps you gain access to the resource that helps to address your own needs.  So, rather than complaining, try collaborating.

Talk and make it happen.