Saturday, December 18, 2004

Transformative Mediation and the United States Coast Guard: Strengthening Equal Opportunity and the Complaint Discrimination Process

A paper written for “Mediation and Negotiation Strategies” (Leadership 9620).

For a number of years, federal government agencies have sought to diversify their workforces under the assumption that a diversified workforce makes “business sense.” Diverse organizations can harness that diversity and use differences as a strength, not a weakness. Organizations which embrace diversity and use diversity as a driver have better results than organizations which are homogeneous or organizations which see diversity among the workforce as a divider. However, even organizations seeking diversity sometimes find that all employees have not bought in to the idea of a diverse workforce. Sometimes managers and employees act in a discriminatory manner. In this paper, we will examine the Coast Guard’s equal opportunity program and ways for the Coast Guard to improve it’s discrimination complaint process.

The Coast Guard’s Equal Opportunity Program

The United States Coast Guard, one of the foundational agencies of the recently formed Department of Homeland Security, has more than 6000 full-time civilian employees (Sharn, 2003) who work alongside and support more than 40,000 uniformed Coast Guard military personnel (U.S. Coast Guard, 2004). These civilian employees play key roles in prosecuting Coast Guard missions around the United States and around the world. Civilians are a key component of “Team Coast Guard” – the human resources of the Coast Guard made up of active duty military personnel, reservists, civilian employees, and volunteer Auxiliarists. The Coast Guard, as an organization, is a strong advocate of diversity and equal opportunity in all it’s workforce components.
The Coast Guard mandates that all members of Team Coast Guard – regular and reserve military, civilian, non-appropriated fund, and Auxiliary – are to be treated fairly, with respect, dignity, and compassion. Each should be provided the opportunity to work, develop, and achieve his or her full potential, thereby enhancing unit cohesiveness, military readiness, and mission accomplishment. The Coast Guard prohibits any form of discrimination that violates law or policy in any action affecting Coast Guard personnel, those seeking employment with the Coast Guard, or those receiving benefits from any Coast Guard-sponsored programs. (U.S. Coast Guard, 1999, p. 1-2.)

The Equal Opportunity Program Manual goes on to specify the Coast Guard must prevent “discrimination in the workforce, so that the only roadblocks to success exist in a person’s mind.” (U.S. Coast Guard, p. 1-2) Allegations of discrimination are made, however, and some of those allegations are found to have merit. The Coast Guard is not immune to discrimination. The Agency does, however, have discrimination complaint programs which detail “policies and procedures for identifying, investigating, and resolving allegations of discrimination in the Coast Guard.” (U.S. Coast Guard, p. 5-3)

The discrimination complaint program is administered by a team composed of unit commanding officers or commanders – senior, organizational leaders who are required to “exercise personal leadership in promoting equal opportunity and equal treatment of Coast Guard personnel and their dependents within their commands and local communities.” (U.S. Coast Guard, 1999, p. 2-5) In addition, these leaders are directed to “take prompt, positive action to eliminate discrimination within their commands if it does occur. (U.S. Coast Guard, p. 2-5) Senior leaders ally themselves with full-time and collateral duty Equal Opportunity personnel including Civil Rights Officers (who manage the Equal Opportunity Program), Equal Opportunity Specialists (civilian employees dedicated full-time to the Equal Opportunity Program and Civil Rights operations and missions), and Collateral Duty Equal Employment Opportunity Counselors (civilian employees who spend some of their duty time working with aggrieved persons who allege discrimination. (U.S. Coast Guard, pp. 2-18 – 2-24) These four individuals form the basic Equal Opportunity Program team.

The Equal Opportunity Program Manual designates a fifth member of this team, Alternative Dispute Resolution Mediators. The Mediator is
a neutral party available to assist aggrieved personnel or applicants for employment and the Coast Guard in reaching a settlement of their difference in an allegation of discrimination. The Mediator takes an active role in defining the issues, encouraging communication, and offering options for an early resolution. (U.S. Coast Guard, 1999, p. 2-34)
Coast Guard employees certified, and designated, as Alternative Dispute Resolution Mediators become part of the federal government’s Sharing Neutrals Program. (U.S. Coast Guard, p. 2-35)

The alternative dispute resolution process is fairly new to the Coast Guard. The use of alternative dispute resolution in Equal Opportunity cases was implemented in 1999. (U.S. Coast Guard, 1999, p. 2) Even now, the use of alternative dispute resolution and mediators is fairly limited in scope, and the Equal Opportunity Program Managers continue to discuss ways to increase the use of alternative dispute resolution. According to J. Whack (personal communication, September 2004) discussions include changing the Equal Employment Opportunity process to mandate the use of a mediator in all cases before an aggrieved person is permitted to file a formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaint.

Under the current process, civilian employees, or applicants for Coast Guard civilian jobs, who believe they have been discriminated against have 45 days from the discriminatory event to speak with an Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor. The EEO Counselor – without evaluating the claim – counsels the aggrieved person on the Equal Employment Opportunity process, conducts a limited inquiry and fact finding into the matter, and attempts to bring about resolution. The Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor has 30 days to complete this process; if resolution has not been reached the Counselor provides the aggrieved person a letter providing them the right to file a formal complaint. (U.S. Coast Guard, 1999, p. 2-24) Without progressing through the informal process – the administrative remedy – the aggrieved person may not file a formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaint. The Counselor serves as the entry to the entire process.

Mediation and Discrimination Complaint Resolution

Mediation is a growing practice in discrimination complaint resolution. Goldstein (1995, p. 28) indicates the number of employment discrimination cases filed in the federal courts rose more than 2000 percent from 1975 to 1995. Alternative dispute resolution is seen as a viable alternative to the courtroom for discrimination cases. According to Camp (2004, p. 66), “Mediation enables disputing parties to jointly craft a sensible remedy…. A fundamental tenet of negotiating an agreement is that each party to that agreement must agree to its terms.” Camp notes, “Successful mediation requires the assent of all parties…. The parties may craft an agreement that provides a better solution than a verdict or award ever could.” (p. 66) One of the benefits of mediation is that money isn’t the be-all and end-all: “Parties to a dispute should not miss the opportunity afforded by mediation to craft non-monetary ways to resolve the dispute.” (Camp, p. 66) Epstein (2003, p. 40) notes “mediation is a facilitative process” juxtaposed with litigation which is “inherently adversarial, requiring the two parties to face off in court.”

The Power of Transformative Mediation

Bush and Folger (1994, p. 12) delineate two approaches to mediation. “The first approach, a problem-solving approach, emphasizes mediation’s capacity for finding solutions and generating mutually acceptable settlements.” This approach offers the focus sought by Camp, Epstein, and others. Bush and Folger, however, favor the second approach, a transformative approach to mediation, which emphasizes mediation’s capacity for fostering empowerment and recognition. (p. 12) They lay out a strong and comprehensive case for the transformative approach, even while acknowledging it is not the favored, or in vogue, mediation approach for many mediators. They suggest “the mediation process contains within it a unique potential for transforming people – engendering moral growth – by helping them wrestle with difficult circumstances and bridge human differences, in the very midst of conflict.” (Bush and Folger, p. 2) For Bush and Folger, the transformative approach creates two powerful states: empowerment and recognition. Empowerment is “the restoration to individuals a sense of their own value and strength and their own capacity to handle life’s problems.” (p. 2) Recognition is the ability for people to acknowledge and empathize “for the situations and problems of others. (Bush and Folger, p. 2) Rather than asking the mediator to face a “barrage of factual and emotional information” which needs to be “sorted and organized into negotiable issues”, a mediator practicing the transformative approach comes “ready to witness an intense interaction and exchange between the parties … filled with myriad opportunities for empowerment and recognition.” (Bush and Folger, p. 102-103)

What of the bottom line, however? We seek mediation to resolve disputes, not prompt personal growth. Bush and Folger (1994, p. 279) state
Since empowerment and recognition will probably produce desired settlements wherever they are really possible, mediation practice can attain both solutions and transformation – not by striving directly for both but by following the transformative approach alone. Practicing transformation mediation is the best way to meet both goals, because it will lead not only to transformation but to settlement as well, whenever a settlement is genuinely acceptable to both sides.
What Bush and Folger suggest is that through the use of the transformative model, problems will be solved; through the use of the problem-solving model, however, participants will not grow. By using the transformative model, with its mental roadmap of personal growth, participants are given the chance to grow through empowerment and recognition, and through this growth, resolution is possible. When the mediator starts with the transformative approach as a mindset, all things are possible; when the mediator starts with the problem solving mindset, the best that can happen is the particular problem will be solved; there’s been no movement on underlying issues.

This notion of transformation has taken root in a number of venues. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Zadek (2004) outlines an organizational model of corporate responsibility. He provides a continuum of “five discernable stages in how (organizations) handle corporate responsibility. (Zadek, p. 125) In short, for Zadek, organizational growth comes from a transformation of organizational beliefs, practices, and actions. At its highest form, not only does the organization integrate responsibility in “core business strategies” but promotes broad industry and community participation in organizational responsibility. (Zadek, p. 127)

Transformative mediation falls in direct alignment with Zadek’s organizational approach. Creating an institutionally mature, civil organization, by “shifting the relationships between disputants so that their experience of each other changes before they return to the workplace … is a primary goal in each (transformative) mediation, as that supports the overall organizational goal, which is to actually change the workplace environment and culture.” (Begler, 2001, p. 67)

Transformative Mediation in a Large Bureaucracy

The U.S. Postal Service’s mediation program for equal employment opportunity disputes, known as REDRESS, utilizes Bush and Folger’s transformative model and sets a goal to “afford the maximum participant self-determination at the case level.” (Bingham and Pitts, 2002, p. 137) Empirical studies by the Indiana Conflict Resolution Institute at Indiana University show the transformative model of mediation as implemented by the Postal Service resulted in “a statistically significant drop in formal EEO complaints of more than 17 percent annually” for a 3-year period. (Bingham and Pitts, p. 143) The authors of the study go on to assert a bottom-line organizational win: “Organizations can reduce transaction costs by resolving conflict at an earlier stage in the administrative process using appropriately designed mediation programs.” (Bingham and Pitts, p. 144)

In constructing the Postal Service mediation program, two variables were examined to determine the impact on the satisfaction levels of participants and settlement rates for the cases. The variables were “comparing inside and outside neutral mediators” and “examining the role that different kinds of representatives play in mediation.” (Bingham and Pitts, 2002, p. 136) Inside or in-house neutrals are mediators employed by the organization; in this case, they were U.S. Postal Service employees. Outside neutrals are mediators who are not employees of the organization; in the Postal Service’s case, they were professional, contracted mediators. Results showed higher satisfaction for all participants using the outside mediators. (Bingham and Pitts, p. 138) One possible reason for this is participants might have an easier time believing the non-employee mediator “to be truly neutral.” (Bingham and Pitts, p. 138) Based on the data, “the Postal Service abandoned the use of internal neutrals in favor of independent, external neutrals.” (Anonymous, 2002, p. 6)

The second variable which Bingham and Pitts examined was the impact different types of representation that participants brought to the mediation sessions. In the Postal Service’s program, participants – both the aggrieved person and the person representing the agency – could bring representation into the mediation sessions. Representatives could have been an attorney, union official, coworker, or some other person such as a friend or family member. (Bingham and Pitts, 2002, p. 140) Having representation present – no matter what sort of representation – increased the settlement rate and the duration of the mediation sessions. Union or professional association representatives had the greatest positive impact on settlement rates; attorney representatives had the least. (Bingham and Pitts, p. 140-141) Bingham and Pitts (p. 141) suggest this discrepancy may be in large measure because many attorneys are protective of their clients and are, by nature, adversarial. Simon (2004, p. 113) supports this assumption, suggesting, “lawyers’ typical efforts to mediate between clients … rely less on advocacy and more on information control.” He goes on to suggest “dependence on lawyers often impedes responsible or human behavior.” (p. 113) However, Bingham and Pitts note representation of any sort in mediation efforts was better in terms of settlement rates than the participants flying solo; they state, “these results are important because they indicate that various kinds of representatives are associated with differences in the dynamics of the mediation process…. Mediation outcome, party participation, and participant satisfaction with fairness are all related to the presence and type of representative the parties use.” (p. 142)

An apparent key element in the success of the Postal Service’s program is the fact the agency has a unified plan and program that they piloted in one area and then rolled across the country involving the entire service. Their deployment of the discrimination complaint mediation process was not a hodgepodge approach, but a proactive approach embracing a specific model of mediation – the transformative approach. Nothing in the literature reviewed indicated the Postal Service considered using mediation from the problem solving perspective

Underlying Costs Addressed by Transformative Mediation

A fundamental cornerstone for this rationale is likely a set of beliefs held by the designers of the Postal Service’s program. The Coast Guard has identified six “costs” for an ineffective equal opportunity program. These costs speak to the fundamental concerns serving as foundational for the transformative approach to mediation:
1. Processing formal discrimination and harassment complaints significantly drains resources from the Coast Guard budget.
2. Distrust, fear, anger, and other negative feelings pervade an environment that condones discrimination, harassment, and a lack of respect for diversity. Accomplishments and productivity inevitably decline along with morale.
3. Discrimination, harassment, and a lack of respect for diversity fracture the organization. With teamwork impaired, safety is compromised along with effectiveness and ability to accomplish Coast Guard operational missions.
4. If the Coast Guard loses its ability to perform Congressionally mandated tasks, service to the American public is hampered.
5. Internal discrimination and harassment undermine trust in the organization, among Coast Guard members and the public it serves.
6. Failing to comply with Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights mandates in its dealings with external entities damages the Coast Guard’s reputation. (U. S. Coast Guard, 1999, p. 1-4)
Interestingly, the transformative approach, with its emphasis on empowerment and recognition, addresses a number of these costs. The transformative approach deals directly with distrust, fear, anger, and other negative feelings. The transformative approach asks both parties – the aggrieved person and the alleged discriminator – to put aside distrust and fear and anger, to learn about themselves and the other person, and to see both participants as a part of some greater community. Discrimination and harassment and a lack of respect fracture the organization; the transformative approach works to cement the organization with “good mud” which bonds and holds tightly. The problem solving approach to mediation merely looks for a solution to the current situation; it does not deal with the fundamental costs. Transformative mediation can, as Begler (2001, p. 60) notes, “help to stabilize the workplace.”

Recommendations for the Coast Guard

While the Coast Guard has officially implemented a mediation component for discrimination complaint processing, in practice it is nothing more than words on paper. Mediation is seldom used. In the Postal Service’s program, the aggrieved person decides whether or not to use the mediation program; “mediation is voluntary for the EEO complainant, but required for the supervisor respondent, who represents the USPS as an organization entity.” (Bingham and Pitts, 2002, p. 136) In the Coast Guard, senior leaders have been known to refuse to proceed with mediation, even when requested by the aggrieved person. Mediation, voluntary for the aggrieved person but mandatory for the agency representative, helps provide the aggrieved person some sense of control. Begler (2001, p. 75) notes conflict is often “embedded with many assumptions, feelings of isolation, lack of understanding about others’ experiences, insufficient transmission of information, and limited organizational support and investigation.” Providing the option of mediation begins to address these for the aggrieved person. The Coast Guard should move to mediation voluntary for the aggrieved person, but mandatory for the person acting in the agency’s stead.

While some people have suggested, and continue to suggest, mediation should be mandatory, the research does not support this method. Mandatory mediation disempowers the aggrieved person by forcing them to take a certain path for the discriminatory complaint process. Mandatory mediation locks the participants into a format they may not be comfortable with and encourages a lack of trust.

The Coast Guard’s current mediation program does not specify the approach or model for mediation. All the documentation, including a “Sample Format for Mediation and Settlement Agreement” and a “Mediation Completion Form” focus on problem solving. (U.S. Coast Guard, 1999, 5-71 thru 5-72) It does not appear as if, at the present time, the Coast Guard’s mediation focus is on transformation, even though the costs outlined would clearly lead to the transformative approach. While the duties and responsibilities for mediators working within the Coast Guard are spelled out, and the desired knowledge, skills, and abilities are specified, and the specific training and certification standards are listed, there is no statement of model, approach, or process to use in mediation. (U.S. Coast Guard, 2-34 thru 2-35) Using the programs goals and stated costs (U.S. Coast Guard, 1-2 thru 1-5) as a starting point, the transformative approach appears to be a better mesh than the problem-solving model. Begler (2001, p. 59) notes, “When left unrecognized and unresolved, conflicts inside organizations frequently develop into major disputes that range from ongoing personal backbiting to multilevel turmoil.” Using the transformative approach “supports the overall organizational goal, which is to actually change the workplace environment and culture.” (Begler, p. 67) To meet the stated goals and overcome the identified costs, the Coast Guard ought to adopt the transformative approach and ensure all mediators are using the transformative roadmap as they work with participants in conflict.

Whether to use internal mediators, outside mediators, or a combination of both is a critical decision. As noted earlier, the Postal Service has moved to using only external mediators. A key to using external mediators for the Postal Service is that all of them use the transformative approach to mediation and all mediators working in the Postal Service program have “gone through a special mediation training sponsored by the USPS.” (Begler, 2001, p. 61) This, coupled with the agency’s relationship with the University of Indiana and the continuous gathering of empirical data, leave little to chance. The Postal Service has taken a systematic approach to their mediation program. This is not to say that external mediators are the best approach; Bingham and Pitts (2002, p. 138-139) write,
These results indicate that the outside model may provide a more effective mediation program overall than the inside model in circumstances where the program does not give participants a choice between models…. They were never offered a choice between inside and outside neutral mediation, as they might be in an ombudsperson program or integrated conflict management system. In these latter cases results might differ.
Since the Coast Guard participates in the Sharing Neutrals program managed by the Department of Health and Human Services (2004), the Coast Guard could establish a mediation program which provides the aggrieved person the choice between a inside, or Coast Guard employee, mediator and an outside mediator, an employee from another federal agency. Using the Sharing Neutrals program will help keep costs down; the use of outside, contracted mediators would raise the required costs for the program. All mediators practicing in the Coast Guard should be trained in, and use, the transformative approach.

One of the strengths with the Postal Service’s program is the collection and use of evaluative, empirical data. It is the use of data which supports assertions by Begler (2001, p. 61) and others that the Postal Service’s mediation program is a “success.” Success for the Postal Service is not anecdotal, but rather based on measurable data. The Coast Guard has asserted certain costs for ineffective equal opportunity programs including drains on budget, loss of productivity, reduction of operational effectiveness, and employee morale. (U.S. Coast Guard, 1999, p. 1-4) The Postal Service used measures of effectiveness which included participant satisfaction with the mediation process, the mediator, and the outcome (Bingham and Pitts, 2002, p. 138); additional measures of effectiveness included settlement rates (Bingham and Pitts, p. 138). Additional measures include time spend in mediation sessions and the number of formal Equal Employment Opportunity discrimination complaint filings following the administrative remedy of informal counseling and mediation. A combination of measures, based on desired outcomes and identified critical success factors, will provide information for review as the Coast Guard works to create a more effective discrimination complaint process.

Vision for the Future

The Coast Guard’s outcomes for Civil Rights are clear and include a “workforce that values diversity” and a “workforce free of discrimination and harassment.” (U.S. Coast Guard, 1999, p. 1-5) The use of transformative mediation following allegations of discrimination will begin to provide positive change; transformative mediation “creates the possibility for disputants to integrate strength of self and compassion toward others – a goal that neither problem solving mediation … nor other institutionalized forms of dispute resolution even seeks.” (Bush and Folger, 1994, p. 284) For the Coast Guard change its culture, transformative mediation provides an avenue which, while not quick is thorough, impacting employees, supervisors, managers, and leaders.


Anonymous. (2001, November). Conference rewards outstanding federal ADR programs. Dispute Resolution Journal, 56(4), 6.

Begler, A. L. (2001, Autumn). Partnering with mediators: A collaboration that works. Employment Relations Today, 28(3), 59-77.

Bingham, L. B, & Pitts, D. W. (2002, April). Highlights of mediation at work: Studies of the national REDRESS evaluation project. Negotiation Journal, 18(2), 135-146.

Bush, R. A. B. and Folger, J. P. (1994). Promise of Mediation: Responding to conflict through empowerment and recognition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Camp, A. (2004, September). Mediation’s advantage: Money isn’t everything. The CPA Journal, 74(9), 66-67.

Epstein, D. G. (2003, October) Mediation, not litigation: Alternative dispute resolution methods offer cost-effective, nonadversarial strategies for resolving workplace conflict. Nursing Management, 34(10), 40-42.

Goldstein, J. I. (1995, February). Alternatives to high-cost litigation. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 36(1), 28-33.

Sharn, L. (2003, August 1). Senate panel boosts Coast Guard acquisition effort. Government Executive online. Retrieved December 15, 2004, from

Simon, W. H. (2004, December). The confidentiality fetish: The problem with attorney-client privilege. The Atlantic, 294(5), 113-116.

U. S. Coast Guard. (1999). Coast Guard Equal Opportunity Program Manual (COMDTINST M5350.4). Washington, DC: Author.

U.S. Coast Guard (2004, June 24). Civilian career opportunities. Retrieved December 15, 2004, from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2004, July 16). Sharing Neutrals: An Interagency Collaborative Effort in Support of ADR. Retrieved December 18, 2004 from

Zadek, S. (2004, December). The path to corporate responsibility. Harvard Business Review, 82(12), 125-132.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Diagnostic Intervention of a Group Facilitation: A Facilitated, Collaborative, Self-Assessment Using the Criteria for Performance Excellence

A paper written for “Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Alternate Dispute Resolution” (Leadership 9610).

Note: To protect client confidentiality, while the specifics discussed in this paper are true and accurate, the name of the team leader, team recorder, and the name of the unit have been changed.

Meeting Purpose, Issue, and Parties

In the late autumn of 2004, ten members of the Coast Guard Group Northeast command, an operational unit responsible for Coast Guard small boat operations in a large coastal and river environment stretching several hundred miles, met to participate in a two-and-a-half day facilitated, collaborative workshop to assess their command against the Commandant’s Performance Excellence Criteria (2003). During the workshop, two facilitators led the meeting participants through a series of questions designed to help the unit personnel assess their approach and deployment of organizational leadership and management practices based on the Criteria. The Criteria, the Commandant’s Performance Excellence Criteria, is the Coast Guard’s version of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence (2003) published by the National Institute of Standards and is composed of seven categories. The workshop has a set agenda and includes an introductory piece, a process to review each category, and a concluding piece. The facilitation team leader was Juliet; I served as the co-facilitator; a third person, Dwayne, served as the recorder, typing session notes on a computer.

The meeting was held at a local maritime museum’s meeting space, a cathedral-ceilinged room of nearly 2000 square feet with windows on three sides opening onto a river vista. The ten participants sat an a U-shaped table with a white board and flip charts at the open end of the “U.” A small table for the facilitation team was at the other end of the room; this table served as a place for process review and was where Dwayne sat to type the notes during the meeting. In addition, six other round tables were spread around the room providing space for small group and break-out work. The meeting participants were a fairly mature group, composed of long-time Coast Guard military members. Nine of the participants were men; all participants were roughly 35 to 45 years of age. Two participants were enlisted members of the Coast Guard; the other participants were all commissioned officers. The facilitation team prepared the room the morning of the first session. As a part of the preparation, we hung posters – including meeting ground rules and a place for a “parking lot” – on the walls around the meeting space.

Agenda and Meeting Process

The meeting was kicked off by the junior commissioned officer who had served as the project officer setting up the meeting. She opened the meeting, reviewed a few administrative details, and then introduced Juliet. Juliet began the introductory portion of the collaborative assessment with a broad overview of the process. She then had the participants and the facilitation team members introduce themselves; each person was to provide their name, role at the unit, and their experience with the Criteria. Following this round-robin introduction, Juliet launched into a 15-slide PowerPoint presentation which provided an overview of the Criteria and the collaborative assessment process. She did not refer to the ground rules, parking lot, or other posters on the wall.

Once the overview was completed, the group took a short break. Juliet then began to facilitate through the first category, “Customer and Mission Focus.” The collaborative assessment was developed by a number of Coast Guard consultants; I was on the initial development team.

The collaborative assessment calls for each category facilitation to include three parts: pre-work, processing the category questions and determining strengths and opportunities for improvement, and post-work. The category pre-work is composed of five parts. The facilitator reviews the content of the category, including reviewing the questions. Participants are asked to identify which Criteria core principles relate to the specific category; they are asked which of the other six categories link directly to the current category; they are asked to review their unit’s “performance factors,” a document required to be completed before the start of the assessment, and identify which parts of the performance factors relates to the current category. For each of these identifications, the participants must articulate their rationale for choosing whatever they chose. The final bit of pre-work is for the participants to develop a list of characteristics, initiatives, process, and/or systems the “ideal unit” or “ideal organization” would do within the realm of the particular category. In the second major part of the assessment for each category, the facilitator has the participants answer the questions in the category. Participants are then to identify unit strengths and opportunities for improvement within the category criteria. The process calls for the participants to consent to three strengths and three opportunities for improvement. After processing the category questions, the post-work includes the participants identifying “results” which might come from the category content, identifying negative “systemic issues” which are beyond the unit’s circle of influence to correct, and identifying any “proven practices” the unit has within the content of the category. Finally, the facilitator is to review, and clear if possible, any items which the participants have placed in the “parking lot.”

Each of the seven categories is completed using the same basic agenda outline. Following the seventh category, the facilitation team helps the participants choose several initiatives and then develop action plans to implement those initiatives. Finally, the facilitation team provides an outbrief to the participants, and the collaborative assessment is thus completed.

Participants were in formal session for 50 to 90 minutes at a clip with ten to 15 minute breaks between formal meeting time. In addition, participants had an hour lunch break; on the second day, the participants had a working lunch and spent the hour together talking about some upcoming personnel changes and an impending reorganization.

Facilitation Process

As the facilitation team leader, Juliet conducted the initial introductions and facilitated the first category. In my experience, the first morning – which is the introductions and the first category – is usually a bit slow. This assessment was no different. The participants are not used to thinking systematically; they are not used to spending time together thinking and discussing important, but not urgent, issues. The Coast Guard culture puts a priority on urgency, and the assessment process and the assessment content is anything but urgent. In this particular assessment, this cultural priority was evident in the types of questions posed to the facilitator and the conversations around the questions. Juliet did not, however, provide what I thought was a satisfactory “business case” for the assessment or the Criteria to the participants. Another credibility issue came to light when Juliet cited the “performance factors” document, and the participants determined that the copy she had provided as a handout was incomplete. In addition, during this category Juliet mentioned a reference pocket guide by Mark Graham Brown (2003) which the participants did not have. While Juliet allowed silence to hang, using it as a tool for encouraging participation, all the work for the category was done with the ten participants engaged together around the table. At the conclusion of the first category, Juliet had captured 19 strengths and seven opportunities for improvement. These 26 items had been written on the easel paper at the front of the room; to narrow the field, Juliet attempted to have the group reach consensus on the most important issues. She did not use facilitative tools as provided in the Coast Guard’s Process Improvement Guide (1977), such as the affinity diagram or multi-voting, however, and allowed the participants to wander conversationally until the top five were identified.

At the end of the entire assessment process, each participant completed a two page survey indicating their satisfaction with the process and the facilitation team. One participant noted on the form:
A better explanation of the CPC process at the unit level at the beginning of the session would have been helpful. The info glossed over the program at a macro/CG-wide level, but we need a better understanding at the unit level of what we would do, why it was important, what it would do for us, etc. Peter helped explain this better when he introduced a later category after lunch the first day. (Coast Guard Quality Performance Consultants, 2004)
Having noticed the process problem in terms of engagement, I sought to take a structured approach to the process and to use various tools and techniques to increase participation and buy-in by the participants. In addition, I felt that by teaching an overarching model, I might be able to put into perspective the purpose of the meeting.

In starting the category work, I did a couple of things different from Juliet. The first thing I did was post a sheet with the category agenda on it; my first task was to review the category agenda and to explain the use of the parking lot. With the first four items in the pre-work, I had the participants work in pairs and then report out to the entire group. For the last pre-work item, identifying characteristics of the ideal unit, I used silent brainstorming; I had each participant right as many things as they could come up with, one each on a single “yellow sticky.” I then posted these and read them aloud. For the question review, I assigned each pair two questions and provided them ten minutes to discuss the questions and come up with answers. I then had one volunteer from each pair report to the larger group. After completing all the questions, I asked the participants to each identify no more than one strength and one opportunity for improvement in the context of the category and, during the break between categories, to write their responses on the flip charts at the front of the room.

Following the second category, Juliet began the third category. She took from my example and used pairs during the pre-work portion. The day ended before getting to processing the category questions.

Facilitator Interventions

During the ride from the meeting facility to the hotel, the facilitation team discussed the day and the facilitation process. Juliet was concerned with the pace and content of the introductory piece. Dwayne, having never participated in a facilitated, Baldrige-based, collaborative assessment asked questions concerning both content and process. The facilitation team also met for dinner and continued to discuss methods for involving the participants. I noted I thought the large group discussion wasn’t particularly effective in getting participation; Juliet noted that in one prior group she’d worked with, pairing participants had not worked as the participants spent the time talking off-point and not dealing with the issues or questions provided for the pair work.

As the co-facilitator and not the team lead, I was willing to offer suggestions and facilitate by example. I did not feel comfortable directing facilitation method. Indeed, even when I am in the lead facilitator role, I will usually coach and lead by example rather than direct.

The second day’s session began with a brief hello from Juliet and then straight to work. She divided the participants into three groups, choosing the groups to allow for distribution of personalities and of organizational roles. She then assigned each group a single question from the category and told them to identify two strengths and two opportunities for improvement for each question. She gave them a 20-minute limit, provided each group with a large sheet of paper and a marker, and directed them to go spread out in the room to work. After 20 minutes, Juliet brought them back and asked each group to brief-out. She allowed each group’s presenter to make the presentation as they saw fit. One group’s presenter sat at the table, another stood at the top of the “U” after taping the flip-chart paper to the white board, and the third group’s presenter stood at the top of the “U” and wrote on the white board. Juliet then repeated the process, covering all the questions.

This process engaged the participants and allowed for a variety of styles. The small groups remained focused as Juliet occasionally circulated around the room observing the groups at work and answering content questions. The process did take a bit longer than usual.

Following my facilitation of a category, Juliet returned for the fifth category, “Human Resource Focus,” a fairly long category with 10 category questions. She processed the pre-work as she had her last time before the group until she got to the “ideal unit” portion. For this segment, she had each participant draw out a piece of paper from a cup. The papers were numbered from 1 to 10, and each participant pulled one piece of paper. Juliet then asked the participants to silently brainstorm what the ideal unit would look like or do in regard to the category question which matched the number on the piece of paper. She asked them to think of as many items as they could; how would the ideal unit answer that specific category question? After several minutes, Juliet called time; she then told them that when the group had answered each question during the process the category portion, the person with the corresponding number would provide their additional suggestions as to what the ideal unit would do. I thought this was a novel way to engage the participants.

Juliet then began to process the questions with the entire group, capturing the strengths and opportunities for improvement on the two flip charts at the top of the “U,” one flip chart for strengths and the other flip chart for opportunities for improvement. After each question had been answered, she had the “ideal unit person” offer their thoughts.

During the processing of one of the questions, the commanding officer of the unit began to dominate the conversation. The domination was so intense Dwayne passed me a note asking me what I would do when the commanding officer takes over the conversation. I wrote back that I’d either shut him down right away, talk to him off-line, or do nothing. Juliet allowed the conversation to run on; after the two senior enlisted members made a comment, Juliet stopped the conversation by saying it was time for lunch (and it was).

There is a tension between allowing people to talk in meetings and staying on track. What I had not seen from the back of the room, but what Juliet told me over lunch, is that the senior enlisted were chomping at the bit to speak, and she did not want to end the conversation until they had had a chance to say their peace. Juliet understood the need for the senior enlisted personnel to be heard and understood the cultural significance of their input as the voice of the enlisted members.

Interestingly, Juliet had facilitated the first seven questions in the standard form with the larger group. I had noticed a lack of energy, as there had been during the first category question period. Over lunch she asked for feedback; I noted that when we broke up the groups there was more energy and things moved quicker, or at least it seemed they moved quicker. Certainly, in pairs and groups the participants were more engaged. Juliet noted that this fifth category was one she did not usually facilitate and she was less familiar with the content. She noted that she had never thought of breaking into groups, even though she had with her last block of facilitation. She had reverted to the basic process because she wasn’t familiar with the content. In a sense, she’d frozen on process and reverted to the very basics.

For the last three questions, Juliet broke the participants into randomly assigned groups and had each group discuss one of the remaining questions. Energy and conversation increased.

Participant Feedback to Facilitators

At the conclusion of the two-and-a-half day workshop, each participant was given a two page survey to determine satisfaction in terms of the purpose of the workshop – to educate participants about the Criteria and to assess the unit against the Criteria – and to determine satisfaction with the facilitation team. Eight of the ten respondents indicated the time spent on the process was “just right.” The other two respondents said the time on process was “too long.” In terms of “return on investment” (“Based on the time and resources invested, what do you believe your return on investment will be”), three respondents said 1x, two respondents indicated 2x, three respondents said 3x, and two respondents indicated the return on investment would be more than 3x.

The participants also had an opportunity to evaluate the competence of the lead facilitator and the co-facilitator. The responses from the participants are indicated in Table 1.

As shown in Table 1, both facilitators received a preponderance of “master” ratings and no ratings below “practiced.” Juliet received 14 “practiced” ratings and 46 “master” ratings, while I received 12 and 48, respectively. While novice, practiced, and master were not defined, all participants had experience attending facilitated meetings and working with facilitators. Of interest to me were the responses to the characteristic of being “courteous and respectful.” While Juliet received ten “master” responses, I received only 8. This, I believe, is an accurate assessment. As I noted to Dwayne when he asked about handling an overbearing commanding officer, I actually consider shutting the individual down as a possible intervention. I’m direct and sometimes abrupt and can see not being assessed as a master at being respectful; while I always use “sir” and “ma’am,” I’ve been known to have an “edge” and a sense of sarcasm less than courteous. Juliet is another matter, however. She is always courteous and respectful no matter what the situation.

Another question on the survey, a referral business indicator, asked if the participant would refer this facilitator to another unit or leader. All ten respondents answered “yes.”

Intervention Success

Overall, this workshop was a success, in large measure because of the facilitation by both Juliet and me. As Schwarz (1994) notes, working with another facilitator can be challenging. While Juliet and I have different styles and personality types, we are complementary when it comes to facilitation. As Schwarz notes, “cofacilitation can be effective to the extent that the facilitators’ orientations are either congruent or complementary.” (p. 211) We are not competitive, but seek to learn from each other. And, when we work together, we have a clear definition of roles and responsibilities.

Schwarz (1994) also defines nine types of interventions. (p. 123) While neither Juliet nor I did much “reframing,” Schwarz’s ninth intervention, we did use the other eight fairly often and generally without even ascribing the type of intervention we were using. Both of us were able to focus on process while keeping an ear toward content, as we were also the technical content experts with regard to the Criteria.

Certainly, the facilitation was not perfect, but as co-facilitators, we did a good job of adjusting on the fly and keeping the participants on-task and on-message, providing them with an opportunity to both learn about the Criteria and to assess their unit against the Criteria. And, all three people on the facilitation team learned new techniques for facilitation and were able to grow as facilitators.

Data for Table 1: On Site Facilitation Competence
The numbers indicate the number of responses in that block by the meeting participants. n = 10

Knowledge elements

Exhibits subject matter expertise

Juliet - Novice: 0
Juliet - Practiced: 1
Juliet - Master: 9

Peter - Novice: 0
Peter - Practiced: 0
Peter - Master: 10

Ability to apply theory to practice in client’s world of work
Juliet - Novice: 0
Juliet - Practiced: 5
Juliet - Master: 5

Peter - Novice: 0
Peter - Practiced: 3
Peter - Master: 7

Oral Communication elements

Ability to keep group interested and engaged

Juliet - Novice: 0
Juliet - Practiced: 3
Juliet - Master: 7

Peter - Novice: 0
Peter - Practiced: 2
Peter - Master: 8

Is courteous and respectful
Juliet - Novice: 0
Juliet - Practiced: 0
Juliet - Master: 10

Peter - Novice: 0
Peter - Practiced: 2
Peter - Master: 8

Facilitation elements

Ability to keep the group focused on desired outcome
Juliet - Novice: 0
Juliet - Practiced: 2
Juliet - Master: 8

Peter - Novice: 0
Peter - Practiced: 2
Peter - Master: 8

Ability to effectively manage the group’s time
Juliet - Novice: 0
Juliet - Practiced: 3
Juliet - Master: 7

Peter - Novice: 0
Peter - Practiced: 1
Peter - Master: 9


Brown, M.G. (2003). The Pocket Guide to the Baldrige Award Criteria (9th ed.). New York: Productivity, Inc.

Coast Guard Quality Performance Consultants. (2004). [Unit survey responses for Commandant’s Performance Challenge collaborative assessments]. Unpublished raw data.

National Institute of Standards and Technology. (2003). Criteria for Performance Excellence. Gaithersburg, MD: Author. {See this website.}

Schwarz, R. M. (1994). The Skilled Facilitator: Practical wisdom for developing effective groups. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

U.S. Coast Guard. (2003). Commandant’s Performance Excellence Criteria Guidebook. Washington, DC: Author.

U.S. Coast Guard Quality Center. (1997). Process Improvement Guide (3rd ed.). Petaluma, CA: Author.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Leadership as Impact: A review of two presentations from the Educational Impact Learning Library

A paper written for “Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Alternate Dispute Resolution” (Leadership 9610).

The Educational Impact Learning Library provides a host of information on a variety of topics of interest to individuals studying and focusing on education. The content – in the form of streaming video of presentations, slides and outlines, transcripts of content sessions, and papers – provides overviews and in-depth commentary on issues of contemporary interest to professional educators. In reviewing this material, I have sought out presentations which provide relevance to leaders outside educational settings. I have looked for content which provides universal themes.

In the “Web of Support: The national perspective on leadership,” Alan November provides a presentation about “The Power of Leadership.” November’s focus is on technology and leadership, a focus of value to all leaders. While November’s talk is directed at educational institutions, particularly K through 12 schools. November suggests, “All books, all video, all radio, all television, essentially every media we now know in a separate box is going to merge onto the internet…. It’s going to be as big a revolution as the printing press.” (p. 1) He suggests that the major question coming out of this is “What’s the role of a school leader trying to make sense out of all this?” (p. 1) I believe the question is even larger than this. The question is “What is the role of an organizational leader who is trying to determine how to harness technology within the organization, whatever the organization?”

November suggests there are two basic ways for leaders to think about technology. The first way is what November terms “automating.” With automating, we merely take what we are currently doing and “bolt technology on top of it.” (p. 1) A school example of this is using computers for writing; when students are sent to a computer lab to write an essay using a word processor, they are doing the same thing they’d be doing using pen and paper, only they are using technology. (p. 2) A non-school example might be voice-over-internet, which is merely using the computer and the internet as a telephone. We’re merely using technology to do the same thing, in basically the same way, as we were doing it before. The second way to think about technology is what November calls “informating.” (p. 2) Three questions frame informating: “Are you giving people access to information they’ve never had before?” (p. 2) “Are you giving people access to people? (p. 2) “Are we empowering people to take more responsibility for managing their own work?” (p. 3)

November spends the remainder of his presentation building a case for embracing technology in an appropriate, informating manner so that students, teachers, and parents can best function in, and contribute to, our rapidly changing world. We are moving to a knowledge economy where being “self-directed, self-motivated, and a team player” (p 4) are of vital importance. He builds a case for “information literacy” and “communication literacy,” two literacies which impact not only schools but all organizations.

Phil Schlechty, president of the Center for Leadership in School Reform, provides an “Expert Analysis” for a chapter from “Breaking Ranks: Revisited.” The chapter is “Leadership: Attributes that need nourishing,” and Schlechty provides a sometimes rambling review and commentary on the seven recommendations “Breaking Ranks” makes for creating leaders in high schools. The recommendations are specific to educational settings; the first recommendation is “The principal will provide leadership in the high school community by building and maintaining a vision, direction, and focus for student learning.” We could re-rack this recommendation to be more universal in applicability: “The senior leader will provide leadership in the organization by building and maintaining a vision, direction, and focus for creating customer and stakeholder-desired outcomes.”

As I see it, Schlechty’s major contribution to expanding on the seven recommendations comes near the conclusion of his talk. He states two steps which are mandatory for good leadership. The first is to “get your own head right.” (p. 24) He suggests, “Unless you have a clear conception of – and a clear vision yourself – where you think things ought to go, there’s no way to get a group to develop a vision…. Groups respond to visions that are developed, and they modify them.” (p. 24) He goes on to say “the first step in leading real change is for the leader to sit down alone and figure out what they believe about a number of important things.” (p. 24) What is the organizations purpose? How can we create the desired outcomes? What are our critical success factors? The second mandatory step for good leaders is “to gather around you a group of people who … function as a guiding coalition.” (p. 25) The people of this guiding coalition must have the “ability to get other people to do things without authority” (p. 25) and they must have the understanding and skills to do the work required of them, and they must have “some degree of credibility with those other people who are going to have to support the change.” Schlechty suggests, “And then once I got those folks around me, we would take my beliefs and their beliefs; and we’d have dialog until we came to a consensus about what we believe. And then we’d begin to take that same dialog to wider and wider circles.” Schlechty’s counsel is appropriate for all organizational leaders, not just school leaders.

Both November and Schlechty provide insight into organizational leadership. Schlechty’s counsel focuses on what I might term the “soft side” of leadership. He is about building relationships and consensus; he is about leaders exercising our four human endowments – self awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent well (Covey, 1989, p. 71) – in creating an environment for change. November’s work focuses on the impact technology will continue to have on organizations. He is about using technology to not just automate processes, but to “informate” – to create a community based on information and communication and relationships. Leaders, of schools and of other organizations, need the joint focus of Schlechty’s and November’s counsel.


Covey, S. R. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York: The Free Press/Simon & Schuster.

November, A. (n.d.). “The Power of Leadership.” Retrieved November 20, 2004, from Nova Southeastern University, Educational Impact, Web of Support/The National Perspective on Leadership Web site.

Schlechty, P. (n.d.). “Breaking Ranks – Revisited: Chapter 12 Expert Analysis.” Retrieved November 20, 2004, from Nova Southeastern University, Educational Impact, Breaking Ranks Revisited Web site.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Role of the Facilitative Leader: A Literature Review

A paper written for “Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Alternate Dispute Resolution” (Leadership 9610).

Both a review of the literature and working in organizations over the last twenty years show a shift in leadership from dictatorial and hierarchical in nature to a style more attuned to consensus, collaboration, and synergy. This second style is facilitative leadership, a style which calls for a different set of skills, tools, and knowledge. For many of us who grew up in hierarchical organizations which emphasized decision making solely by leaders and delegation of task from the top down, facilitative leadership requires us to learn and implement these new skills and tools. A host of resources exists to help with this transition; in the following discussion, I’ll discuss five sources which can provide assistance for anyone seeking information on facilitative leadership.

Bens (1999) states “Facilitation is a way of providing leadership without taking the reins. A facilitator’s job is to get others to assume responsibility and to take the lead.” (p. 3) Her handy, pocket-sized, spiral-bound volume is an excellent primer on facilitation and provides insight into conflict resolution in the work place, suggestions on group decision-making and meeting management, and process tools for facilitators. Bens focuses on leadership and facilitation in the “meeting” environment. Her work does an excellent job of differentiating between content and process during a meeting; she then provides the tools for the process, the “how” of the group’s work. Her focus is on the methods and procedures, how relations are maintained, the tools being used, the rules or norms set, the group dynamics, and the climate. (p. 5)

While Bens covers common process tools (such as brainstorming, force field analysis, and multi-voting) for facilitators – like other pocket guides’ authors including Martin & Tate (1997), Brassard & Ritter (1994), and Goal/QPC & Oriel (1995) – Bens tackles new ground in her chapter on facilitating conflict. While Bens’ approach is somewhat simplistic in that she often presents topics as two sided or either/or (such as debates vs. arguments) or two stepped (such as managing conflict by venting emotions and then resolving issues) her ying/yang approach works: it provides the basic information necessary for a person to successfully facilitate a meeting or lead a team.

Bens’ guide is a good primer for novice facilitators; it is also a good review for more experienced facilitators and leaders. A facilitator or leader can use the book in preparing for a meeting; the guide offers checklists for meeting planning. Team members, the team leader, or the facilitator can also use the book during a meeting when answering questions on process and meeting management.

Scholtes’ (1998) handbook is not a pocket guide, but rather a desk manual designed for use by leaders at all levels of an organization. Scholtes’ work is a balance between “instruction” and tools. While Scholtes’ handbook is certainly of value to new or inexperienced leaders, its real value is likely to seasoned and more experienced leaders. Scholtes’ concepts and tools will support and challenge seasoned leaders, demanding they re-think their own leadership philosophy and paradigms.

Scholtes proposes six leadership competencies which fit with the concepts of facilitative leadership. These competencies – and the discussion, models, and checksheets which expound on the competencies – challenge leaders to think about their own current competencies and what steps they need to do to develop skills in the six “new” leadership competencies.

While Scholtes provides a host of useful tools and models, the tools and models are interspersed throughout the text and discussed in proximity to topics which use the tool. For instance, flow charting is discussed in depth with six different types of flow charts presented along with the process for using and building these flow charts. The tools, however, are buried in a discussion of “getting work done.” They are not easily found.

Of particular note for facilitative leaders is Scholtes’ discussion about performance without appraisal. Scholtes shares a philosophical worldview with W. E. Deming, the father of the total quality movement in Japan and here in the United States. Scholtes outlines the “case against appraisal” with what he defines as the faults common to all types of performance appraisal systems. (p. 307-308) The facilitative leader will ask, then, “What am I to do?” Scholtes suggests “debundling” the various aspects or benefits of the performance appraisal process and experience. Through debundling, the facilitative leader can still gain the benefits of a traditional performance appraisal system without the faults Scholtes identifies as catastrophic to creating a healthy, high performing organization.

Rees (2001) presents a full text on using facilitative leadership with teams in organizations. This book is not a pocket guide, or even a desk guide, but rather a text providing a more academic presentation of facilitation and facilitative leadership. Rees first discusses teamwork in evolving organizations, noting a shift in organizational leadership from traditional, or hierarchical, organizations to team-based organizations. The second section of the book provides an in-depth discussion of facilitative leadership with an emphasis on the leadership aspects. Rees presents a model which delineates four goals a facilitative leader must keep in mind at all times: (a) lead with a clear purpose, (b) empower to participate, (c) aim for consensus, and (d) direct the process. (p. 31) She then presents information on communication in team settings and the skills necessary to facilitate productive communication in one-on-one settings, in small groups, and with distance teams. The fourth section, a how-to for facilitating team meetings, consumes the bulk of the text.

Rees’ text is an excellent resource for anyone interested in facilitative leadership. Her discussion about facilitating meetings is full and complete. While she does not provide specific tools, her discussions provide the background and philosophical under-girding important in understanding the process beyond just the doing of it. Her chapter on “recording people’s ideas” provides an excellent overview which would help any leader interested in harnessing group member’s ideas beyond the moment of the meeting.

Putz (2002) provides a simplistic overview of the facilitative process in his book. Putz’s work focuses on pure facilitation and identifies the roles and responsibilities of all participants, including the leader, the facilitator, and team members. He provides a step-by-step overview for a successful facilitation experience, and he outlines nuts and bolts issues such as room setup, logistics, and meeting management issues. Putz also provides information and models for handling conflict. He provides and overview of conflict, using the assertiveness & cooperation 2x2 matrix, and he provides helpful hints for dealing with problem behaviors. Two sections, of the most benefit for someone facilitating, are a set of frequently asked questions and examples of flip charts for use during meetings. These two sections of Putz’s work address issues not seen in the other resources.

Sadly, Putz’s book is not all that user friendly. The book is replete with line drawings which many learners may find distracting. The material is presented in a way which may appeal to novices, but will turn off a seasoned professional. Aside from the FAQ and the flip chart examples, most of the volume will be of little use to most facilitators. The volume will likely be of even less use for the facilitative leader as Putz’s paradigm is one of “pure facilitation.” By pure facilitation, I mean his focus is on traditional team-based meetings with a facilitator – most likely not a member of the group and thus a “hired gun” – and a team or meeting owner (the boss) and team members.

Kaner’s (1996) work is also mostly a pure facilitation text, although Kaner approaches the topic from a broader perspective. People in a variety of roles can use the tools, models, and skills Kaner presents in a host of group settings. The common denominator for users of Kaner’s work is that they see facilitation – which Kaner notes comes from the Latin root meaning “to enable, to make easy” (p. xi) – as key to group work. Kaner’s work revolves around a model of dynamics of group decision making involving “divergent thinking” leading to “convergent thinking” through what he calls the “groan zone” and the “struggle in the service of integration.” (p. 19-20) Kaner presents a series of facilitator fundamentals which provide tools, models, and skills for facilitation. His presentation is comprehensive, yet easy to understand and would aid beginners and experienced facilitators alike. In addition, he writes from a paradigm which allows a leader to latch onto the tools and models and see applicability in a variety of leadership situations.

Kaner presents six brief case studies which help put a “real world” spin on his tools, models, and skills. These case studies would be of benefit to a facilitative leader in helping to understand the material and see how it applies. A facilitative leader who is willing to improve their own leadership behaviors could learn much. In addition, Kaner’s reframing activities are a unique vision for facilitative leadership. Kaner provides seven specific tools to help the facilitative leader “invite group members to break out of their normal categories of analysis and re-examine their beliefs and assumptions. These activities require participants to make deliberate mental shifts in order to look at a problem from a completely different angle.” (p. 195)

Indeed this is what each of these resources is asking of us. Each of these resources is asking us to look at leadership and group work in a new light; each of these resources is asking us to use new tools, and to approach the work with new worldviews, in order to harness the collective power and intelligence of a group of people. These resources provide assistance for the leader just starting the transition away from hierarchical decision making or the accomplished and experienced facilitative leader.


Bens, I. (1999). Facilitation at a Glance: A pocket guide of tools and techniques for effective meeting facilitation. Salem, NH: Association of Quality and Participation & Goal/QPC.

Brassard, M. & Ritter, D. (1994). The Memory Jogger II: A pocket guide of tools for continuous improvement & effective planning. Salem, NH: Goal/QPC.

Goal/QPC & Oriel Incorporated. (1995). The Team Memory Jogger: A pocket guide for team members. Salem, NH: Author.

Kaner, S. (1996). Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making. Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society Publishers.

Martin, P. & Tate, K. (1997). Project Management Memory Jogger: A pocket guide for project teams. Salem, NH: Goal/QPC.

Putz, G. B. (2002). Facilitation Skills: Helping groups make decisions (2nd ed.). Bountiful, UT: Deep Space Technology Company.

Rees, F. (2001). How to Lead Work Teams: Facilitation skills (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Scholtes, P. R. (1998). The Leader’s Handbook: Making things happen, getting things done. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Case Study Analysis and Synthesis: A marriage ends in assault and disagreement

A paper written for “Mediation and Negotiation Strategies” (Leadership 9620).

Please note: the following analysis and synthesis is based on the case study provided by Michelle Bailey-Cole.

Case Synopsis

This conflict case involves a married couple, Susan and Duane, and the wife’s son, Johnny, from a previous marriage. Susan and Duane have been married for two years; they are now separated and headed for a divorce, although they continue to live in the same house. Recently, Susan and Duane had an argument which ended in Duane assaulting Susan. Duane was arrested; he was then served with a restraining order initiated by Susan. Concurrent with that restraining order, Duane initiated an order against Johnny. Due to the dueling injunctions, all three people find themselves before the circuit court judge. We are asked, “What should be considered in order to allow Susan, Johnny, and Duane to mend the family relationship?”

Causes of Conflict

The causes of conflict within these relationships are many. We learn Susan and Duane are both superficial, share limited trust and respect, and are reactive in nature. They find themselves in a conflict spiral with every action sending them further into conflict. From the description of the case, it appears they have little in common and, at the moment at least, little reason to salvage the marriage. It appears their marriage is built on a foundation of sand, such as looks; we don’t learn what drew them to each other early in the relationship beyond physical attractiveness.

Conflict Prevention

The conflict could have been prevented by action on the part of Duane and Susan more than two years ago: they could have chosen to not marry. Considering they did, however, conflict prevention could occur through healthy communication styles. Both Susan and Duane have much emotion and baggage which gets in the way of their interpersonal communication. They don’t know how to talk with each other without entering the conflict spiral. Putting distance between them would also help with preventing conflict.

I note here that since Duane owns the home – and it appears he owned the home before the marriage with Susan and she has no interest or piece of the home – Susan is going to find new lodging for herself and her son. Since she’s paying rent to Duane, money does not appear to be a constraining factor. With the conflict having escalated to a violence situation, a situation which drew all three of them into the conflict spiral, putting physical distance between Duane and Susan is paramount.


At this point, Susan and Duane have limited options. The violent assault in front of Johnny, and the dueling court orders, have raised this conflict to levels they had not previously experienced. As noted earlier, they need distance between them, if possible. Or, if they remain living in the same house, Susan and Duane should build a living-under-the-same-roof agreement, delineating roles, responsibilities, and behaviors.

Individual and Shared Needs

Susan, Duane, and Johnny all have individual needs. Susan has a need for a home for herself and her teenaged son. She has also expressed a desire to no longer be married to Duane. Finally, Susan has a need to be able to live without fear of being assaulted. Johnny’s needs are related to Susan’s: he has a need for a home and a need for he and his mother to be safe. Duane’s needs are more worldly; his primary need is to exert power within his own house. While he sometimes claims to love Susan, his behavior does not demonstrate love. The shared needs between Susan, Duane, and Johnny are few; they all share a desire for a home and safety.

Recommended Intervention Strategy

I propose a four-part intervention strategy. The first component of the intervention strategy is to separate Duane from Susan and Johnny in terms of living arrangements. Recent history has demonstrated that the relationship between Duane and Susan has become increasingly violent in nature. If Susan is not able to immediately find a place for Johnny and her to live, Susan and Duane must create a situation whereby Duane and Susan are not in the house at the same time. The second component of the intervention is to have Duane and Susan determine what would be necessary to move toward divorce and dissolving the marriage. The case study notes “Duane has attempted to delay the process of the divorce due to feelings of failure, jealously (sic), anger, and vindictiveness.” Working with a third party, Duane can explore those feelings and work to put them aside as he moves forward with his life. The third component of the intervention is to develop a formal separation agreement detailing a property settlement and support agreement which can later be incorporated in the divorce decree. This would need to be a mediated process with both Susan and Duane. The fourth component of the intervention is for Susan and Duane to come to some understanding that while their marriage is over, some good was created in the marriage. The mediator would have them focus on good from the marriage not to help them salvage the marriage, but to salvage the memory of the relationship, ending it on a more positive note.

Expected Outcomes

The expected outcomes for this case are deceptively simple: to create a safe living situation for all involved. We have other outcomes, of course. We expect the marriage between Susan and Duane to end in divorce; we expect Susan and her son Johnny to live in a safe and comfortable home; we expect – indeed, we hope – Susan and Duane will remember some good from their time together.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Effective Communication in Dispute Resolution: A Balance of Emotion and Desire for Common Understanding

A paper written for “Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Alternate Dispute Resolution” (Leadership 9610).

Please note: The three figures cited in this paper are not included in this posting.

Communication is a key element in disputes and effective dispute resolution. The transmission of message – or the non or incomplete transmission of message – is involved in every stage of dispute. All human interaction – including disputes – is based on communication. Communication is fundamental in interpersonal relationships, corporate relationships, and community relationships. To successfully communicate, barriers which block effective message transmission must be torn down. Effective communication is also predicated on all parties seeking common understanding and limiting action based on emotion as much as possible. Communication plays a role in both the escalation of conflict and the resolution of conflict. Effective practitioners of conflict resolution understand communication and seek to increase the desire for common understanding and reduce the emotional action of the communication cycle.

Definition of Communication

As Schwarz (1994) puts it, “Essentially communication involves exchanging information in a way that conveys meaning.” (p. 25) Communication requires four components: the sender, the receiver, the medium, and the message. Undergirding this quartet is the need to encode and decode the message. The sender is the person who is sending the message. They create the message, encode the message – perhaps into words – and then convey the message. The receiver is on the receiving end. They must receive the message and decode the message to ascertain the meaning of the message. The medium is what is used to transmit the message. For instance, I am using words, written English, to transmit a message to you, the reader. The medium is the written word. Tonight, when my soon-to-be wife returns from babysitting the neighbor’s child we will use the spoken word as the medium. We’ll also trade messages through non-verbals or body language: a look, a touch, a posture. Spoken words are a medium as are various non-verbals. Other mediums could be art, such as paintings or statues. The message is the fourth component of the quartet. The message is the information which the sender is attempting to transmit.

Covey (1989) suggests there are four forms of communication: writing, reading, speaking, and listening. (p. 237) For him, the action by the sender or the receiver is the form of communication; it takes both appropriate forms to have successful communication.

Figure 1. The Communication Quartet

In order for the sender to successfully communicate with the receiver, the message must be appropriately encoded, sent using the chosen medium, and decoded by the receiver. If, at any point, there’s a breakdown, the communication will not occur. Perhaps a different message will be seemingly received by the receiver (mis-communication) or no message will be received (non-communication). As Carkhuff (1983) notes, decoding the message uses observation that goes beyond the words the sender uses. “We must focus not only upon the words but also upon the tone of voice and the manner of presentation.” (p. 47)

Communication occurs at various levels of human interaction. My focus here is on interpersonal communication – communication (generally face-to-face) between two people or a small group of people. There are, of course, other types of communication including mass communication – communication using messages distributed to many people at one time, such as television and newspapers, in generally a one-way communication mode – and intrapersonal communication, our own self-talk and reflective communication. Bolton (1979) tells us, “Although interpersonal communication is humanity’s greatest accomplishment, the average person does not communicate well.” (p. 4) He goes on to say, “One of the ironies of modern civilization is that, though mechanical means of communication have been developed beyond the wildest flight of imagination, people often find it difficult to communicate face-to-face… we find it difficult to relate to those we love.” (p. 4) For a multitude of reasons, true communication – sending out a real and true message which speaks to our inner self – is most difficult with those who we care about. And, often, even if we send out such a message, it is not received. Barriers to communication seem to abound.

Barriers to communication

Gordon (as cited in Bolton, 1979) developed a “comprehensive list that he calls the ‘dirty dozen’ of communication spoilers.” (p. 15) These barriers to communication can be divided into three major categories: judging, sending solutions, and avoiding the other’s concerns. Rogers (as cited in Bolton, 1979) claimed the major barrier to interpersonal communication is judging – approving or disapproving what the other person says. (p. 17) Carkhuff (1983) places “suspending judgment” as a key in listening. Rees (2001) defines an important characteristic of a facilitative leader as someone who “reserves judgment and keeps and open mind.” (p. 60) Covey (1977), who purports a key habit of effective people is to “seek first to understand, then to be understood), notes “When you understand, you don’t judge. Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler (2002) suggest that effective communication has mutual purpose. They define mutual purpose as “working toward a common outcome in the conversation” and that all participants care about the other’s “goals, interests, and values.” (p. 69) Mutual purpose, as they define it, cannot occur with judgment impeding the communication.

Another prominent barrier to communication doesn’t fit neatly into Gordon’s pantheon. This barrier has to do with a person’s attitude while listening. Bolton (1979) says, “If you are at all typical, listening takes up more of your waking hours than any other activity.” (p. 30) Nichols and Stevens (as cited in Bolton, 1979, p. 30) claim listening occupies 45 percent of our waking time. And yet, as Bolton notes, “few people are good listeners.” (p. 30) Covey (1989) says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.” (p. 239) Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler (2002) suggest “At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information.” (p. 20) They call this “filling the pool of shared meaning.” I call it a desire for common understanding. And common understanding cannot happen when the listeners are filtering the message through their own world-view

Conversation – two people talking and listening back and forth – is not necessarily built on a desire for common understanding. Tannen (1995) says, “Conversation is fundamentally ritual in the sense that we speak in ways our culture has conventionalized and expect certain types of responses.” (p. 321) Covey (1989) says, “We’re usually ‘listening’ at one of four levels.” (p. 240) He identifies those four levels as ignoring the other person, pretending to listen to the other person, only selectively listening to the other person, and attending to the other person by focusing on the words and feelings. He claims few of us practice the fifth level – empathic listening, which he defines as “listening with the intent to understand” – not to respond or run the message against our own life script. “Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside the other person’s frame of reference.” (p. 240) In wearing the other’s shoes – or glasses, perhaps – a listener can begin to come to a common understanding.

Another barrier to communication is strong emotion. Often emotion enters into a communication cycle and neither the sender nor the listener is able to focus on message. Paterson et al. (2002) identify six behaviors stemming from emotion. These six behaviors form a continuum from “silence” to “violence.” Withdrawing, avoiding, and masking form silence, while attacking, labeling, and controlling form violence. Olsen and Braithwaite (2004) note clear research shoes violent communication behaviors – such as verbal aggression, anger, patronizing behavior, and destructive forms of relational control – often lead to violent relationships. (p. 271)

Figure 2. Silence/Violence Continuum

Violence can be tamed, however. Utne (2004) suggests, “If you blunder into a delicate communication, request a re-do lest you dig yourself in any deeper… let your hackles down and listen as if for the first time.” (p. 56, emphasis added. True listening can help conquer violence.

These barriers – judging, sending solutions, avoiding other’s concerns, not pursuing common understanding, and strong emotion – all play a part in communication styles.

Communication Styles

A number of researchers and communications experts have identified a number of communication styles. Covey (1989) provides the five levels of listening, a set of communication styles. Tannen (1995)outlines communication styles of men and women. Lulofs and Cahn (2000) list a number of communication options. Davis (2002) outlines communication styles and behaviors that help build bridges between diverse peoples. Kroeger (2002) purports that communication style is linked with personality type and outlines styles and their implications in the work setting.

Another way of looking at communication styles is to first look to the barriers to communication. Judging has to do with putting our own spin on someone else’s message or words. It is an autobiographical response that runs counter to the goal of attaining common understanding. Sending solutions falls into the same trap; when we send solutions, we are providing solutions developed from our own perspective. Again, it runs counter to a establishing a common understanding. When we avoid the other’s concerns, we are also running counter to common understanding, but we usually do it in a way of intolerable emotion, such as provided on the silence/violence continuum.

We can look to communication style as falling along two continuums. The first continuum has to do with the level of emotion in the communication, as exhibited by either the sender or the receiver. On one end of the spectrum is no emotion; on the other end is emotion generally present in the form of violence or silence. The second continuum is the desire for common understanding within the sender or the receiver. This continuum measures “intent” or the inner desire of the person. We can match these two continuums in a 2x2 matrix, and then plot a person’s style on the axis.

Figure 3: Communication Matrix

The ideal communication style lies in the lower right quadrant: low emotion and a high desire for common understanding. The least helpful communication style lies in the upper left quadrant with a low desire for common understanding and high emotion. Interestingly, in this model, both ends of the silence/violence continuum lie together in the same quadrant. Both the extremes of silence and violence are highly emotional behaviors.

The communication matrix can be a useful tool in reviewing communication styles. The emotional continuum determines external behavior, what we see. The other continuum measures something inside the person: it measures intent, desire, and hope. Using the matrix, we can look at behavior and intent; and, by using the matrix we can, perhaps, change behavior and intent – or at least educate communication partners.

Role of communication in conflict escalation

Communication plays a fundamental role in conflict escalation. Wilmot & Hocker (2001) detail destructive conflict spirals, patterns of behaviors in relationships which spiral out-of-control. In each of these destructive spirals, communication between the parties sparks further development. In these spirals, the communication is negative in nature or highly emotional or stems from a misunderstanding. Davis (2002) provides examples of Israeli and Palestinian youth attending camp together in the United States. Through destructive cycles, which are fed by communication between these youth, occasional outbursts create untenable situations. It is communication, not action, which propels the motion of the cycle. Certainly, in their homeland it is action that provides a spiral of destruction; in the woods of Colorado, however, it is not so much action as it is talking about action which sometimes creates these cycles. Emotion, misunderstanding, negativity propel the participants to conflict.

When we apply the communication matrix, we can see that generally, for a destructive spiral to occur, one or both of the participants must be living to the left of the centerline. Whether emotion is high or low, the desire for common understanding is low. Lulofs & Cahn (2000), Wilmot & Hocker (2001), Davis (2002), and Ury (1999), all suggest that strong emotion, in and of itself, does not escalate conflict. Looking at the communication model, the upper right quadrant has high levels of emotion, but also high levels of desire for common understanding. It is possible to have both. In the upper right quadrant of the communication matrix, the participant has strong emotion, but because it is tempered with the desire for common understanding, the emotion is not acted on. In the upper left quadrant, the emotion is acted on in such a way as to withdraw, avoid, or mask, or in such a way to control, label, attack. The emotion is not tempered by a desire for common understanding; as a matter of fact, when we are behaving in the upper left quadrant, our emotion can be fanned out of control like a wild fire on a dry, southern California hillside with the winds kicking off the Pacific.

Role of communication in conflict resolution

Lulofs & Cahn (2000) describe a process model of communication that suggests five distinct phases. These phases are: (a) prelude to conflict, (b) a triggering event, (c) the initiation phase, (d) the differentiation phase, and (e) the resolution phase. (p. 87) The prelude to conflict is just that: the prelude. In this phase, conflict can potentially exist because of the participants and their relationships or some environmental factor. The triggering event is generally some sort of communication; I would suggest that actions serve here as communication. If I slap you, I am using my hand and the action of the slap as the medium in delivering a message; in order for you to receive the message, you would need to decode to translate. In this sense, the action is a mode of communication. The initiation phase starts when at least one of the participants realizes there’s a conflict as initiated by a triggering event: no triggering event, no conflict. Likewise, when the parties have no realization of a triggering event, there’s no conflict. It is possible for the conflict to proceed to no further stage if the participants move to avoidance. In the differentiation phase, the participants begin to share their differences, positions, and needs. The final stage is resolution. Lulofs & Cahn suggest “Resolution is a probable outcome when the conflict can be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned; management is more likely when only one or neither party can be satisfied.” (p. 96)

What is the role of communication in these phases? Clearly, we can see that communication can trigger the conflict. Likewise, communication in the differentiation stage can help de-escalate conflict and begin to bring the conflict to resolution. Davis (2002) tells a number of stories from the camp in the mountains outside Denver with the Israeli and Palestinian youth. In each story, it is positive communication – sometimes laced with emotion – coupled with a strong desire to really understand the other person that creates situations where the conflict is resolved. As Davis notes, “When two people come to the table with authenticity and kindness – and a deep willingness to listen to each other – neither comes out of the interaction unchanged.” (p. 201) She goes on to say, “But when adversaries enter into a dialogue with a basic respect for differing points of view and ground rules that make conversation possible, alliances can be built even across the most intransigent lines.” (p. 201) Covey (1989) suggests one of those ground rules that makes conversation possible. Covey would have us present the other person’s ideas and position as well as they can, or better. He suggests we do not need to agree with it; we merely need to understand it. This is at the root of his fifth habit, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Covey’s ground rule is truly only effective when the participants both desire a common understanding. Certainly, if one participant desires common understanding, and the other does not, it is possible that the first’s actions will bring about a change in the second person. In this case there is still some effectiveness.

Role of communication in interpersonal relationships

Communication is a fundamental building block in interpersonal relationships. As Davis (2002) notes, “Estrangements often start because we lack the communication skills to prevent them: we don’t know how to apologize, listen, or cool off and talk again tomorrow.” (p. 14) For her, communication skills are paramount in developing, and holding on to, deep relationships between people. Beyond the skills, however, is the attitude. The communication matrix places the horizontal axis with “desire.” It is the individual’s desire to find common understanding. Covey (1989) says, “But you can always seek first to understand. That’s something that’s within your control.” (p. 257) He goes on to suggest, “To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground. . . . The next time you communicate with anyone, you can put aside your own autobiography and genuinely seek to understand.” (p. 258)

Using the communication matrix, we see the goal is certainly to stay to the right of the matrix. When we do not intend to seek common understanding, we do not increase the pool of knowledge, nor do we seek first to understand. Living to the left of the matrix only increases the likelihood of destructive conflict cycles and a life in conflict. And, when we act in the upper left quadrant, our actions are highlighted by the extremes of silence and violence. We find ourselves withdrawing or attacking; both have no place in conflict resolution. By withdrawing, we only create stronger emotion within ourselves that festers and spirals out of control. By attacking, even if it is only a verbal attack, we increase the likelihood of physical violence. (Olsen & Braithwaite, 2004).

Communication as a tool for personal growth and conflict resolution

Understanding the role of communication in conflict escalation, conflict resolution, and interpersonal relationships can provide a person with an opportunity for personal growth: “I can do better.” Using the communications matrix as a tool for understanding, we see the relationship between emotion – in the communication content, message, or medium – and desire for common understanding. When a person has a desire for common understanding – as demonstrated by the stories told by Davis (2002), Covey (1989, 1997), and Bolton (1977) – tremendous things can happen in the relationship between the participants. Minimizing action based on emotion – the silence and violence behaviors – and increasing the desire for common understanding, can allow growth in each participant and in the relationship as a whole.


Bolton, R. (1979). People Skills: How to assert yourself, listen to others, and resolve conflicts. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Carkhuff, R. R. (1983). The Art of Helping. Amherst, MA: Human Resource Development Press Inc.

Covey, S. R. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Free Press/Simon & Schuster.

Covey, S. R. (1997). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. New York: Golden Books.

Davis, L. (2002). I Thought We’d Never Speak Again: The road from estrangement to reconciliation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Kroeger, O., Thuesen, J. M., and Rutledge, H. (2002). Type Talk at Work: How the 16 personality types determine your success on the job. New York: Dell Publishing/Random House, Inc.

Lulofs, R. S. and Cahn, D. D. (2000). Conflict: From theory to action. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Olson, L. N. and Braithwaite, D. O. (2004). If You Hit Me Again, I’ll Hit You Back: Conflict management strategies of individuals experiencing aggression during conflicts. Communication Studies, 55(2), 271-285.

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., and Swtizler, A. (2002). Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rees, F. (2001). How to Lead Work Teams: Facilitation skills (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Schwarz, R. M. (1994). The Skilled Facilitator: Practical wisdom for developing effective groups. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Tannen, D. (1995). The Power of Talk: Who gets heard and why. In Lewicki, R.J., Saunders, D. M., Minton, J.W., & Barry, B. (2003). Negotiation: Readings, exercises, and cases (4th ed). Boston: McGraw Hill Irwin.

Ury, W. L. (1999). Getting to Peace: Transforming conflict at home, at work, and in the world. New York: Viking/Penguin Putnam Inc.

Utne, N. (2004). The ABCs of Intimacy: A toolkit for getting closer. Utne, November-December 2004, 56.

Wilmot, W. W. & Joyce, J. L. (2001). Interpersonal Conflict (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

A Case Study for Mediation and Negotiation Strategies: The Case of the Fired Network Administrator

A paper written for “Mediation and Negotiation Strategies” (Leadership 9620).

Please note: the following case study is based on actual, current, informal EEO complaint. All identifying details have been changed.

Imagine, for an instant, you are a civil servant working for the Coast Guard. As a program analyst, you’re responsible for helping your command determine where to put resources in order to accomplish priority missions. You’re also an Equal Employment Opportunity and Civil Rights counselor. You haven’t had any EEO cases in a while; things have been fairly quiet on that front. The fact that things have been quiet is, on the one hand, good, since no cases means no allegations of discrimination. On the other hand, it’s a bummer since you enjoy the EEO work more than the program analyst. Today is a Monday morning in late September; sunlight streams through the slats of the blinds covering your window at work; the blinds hide the view of the parking garage across the street. The phone rings; you answer. The caller is Mr. Jimmy Farns from Coast Guard Headquarters. He wants you to help out with a complaint of discrimination. You accept, and over the next several weeks you meet one-on-one with the complainant to conduct the initial counseling session and you conduct an informal fact-finding.

The Players within the Conflict

The complainant is Bobby Merrill, a 40-something man who suffers from clinical depression. Thunder Under Group LLC (TUG) employed Mr. Merrill as a network administrator on a contract for the Coast Guard’s Aviation Repair and Supply Center (ARSC) in Elizabeth City, NC. In October 2003, the Coast Guard terminated the contract with TUG; TUG fired Mr. Merrill when the contract ended. Mr. Merrill had worked for TUG for 10 months and had received one evaluation during that period which indicated his performance was satisfactory. Mr. Merrill asserts TUG terminated his employment because of his disability. He further asserts that members of the Coast Guard told TUG to fire him, and he says that in return for following that request, TUG received an additional contract in a quid quo pro relationship.

The Coast Guard, of course, follows the federal government guidelines and has a policy of non-discrimination. According to the Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity Rule (1999), protected persons under this policy may not be discriminated against due to “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, age (forty years or older), disability, or reprisal for past EEO activity.”

During the course of the initial fact finding, you discover there are three key players aside from Mr. Merrill. Belinda Gloom is the regional manager for TUG. She is responsible for a number of contracts TUG has with the federal government and is the person who actually fired Mr. Merrill. Steve Wynwood is the Coast Guard employee responsible for the performance of the contract which TUG held. Ed Tate works for the Government Services Administration (GSA) and serves as the Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (COTR). The GSA was the actual contracting organization; TUG had a contract with GSA to provide certain services, and the Coast Guard exercised a task order to have TUG perform work at the Elizabeth City facility, the Aviation Repair and Supply Center.

As Mr. Wynwood described the relationship, the Coast Guard was merely concerned with the performance of the contractor with regard to the specifications spelled out in the task order and contract. How that work was completed was up to the contractor; whom the contractor employed didn’t matter, so long as the work was completed as specified in the contract. Coast Guard representatives forwarded perceived problems in the performance of the contract to the GSA; GSA then forwarded that information to GSA. Mr. Tate of GSA and Ms. Gloom of TUG supported this description of the relationship between the Coast Guard, GSA, and TUG.

The Current State of Affairs

Mr. Merrill has been unemployed since late October 2003. On the day the contract between the Coast Guard and TUG was terminated, Mr. Merrill was escorted from the facility; he has not returned since. He later heard that his picture had been posted at the security office with a notation he was not allowed access to the facility. Mr. Merrill is still depressed and exhibits characteristics of someone who is clinically depressed. When you meet with him in early October 2004 for the initial counseling session at his house, he is late. You arrive at 1100 sharp and are met at the door by his elderly mother. He has just gotten into the shower. As you wait at the kitchen table for him, you can hear the shower running. He arrives in the kitchen nearly twenty minutes after you arrive.

Thunder Under Group LLC no longer holds the network contract for the Coast Guard’s ARSC. They do, however, hold two contracts: one is for data entry and the other is for work in the warehouse. One of these contracts was let shortly after Mr. Merrill was fired, but you have yet to get any additional information. Belinda Gloom has indicated TUG has no plans to hire Mr. Merrill back.

Needs and Wants

In the initial counseling interview, Mr. Merrill shares with you what it would take to “be made whole.” He does not want his job back, rather he wants to be remunerated for lost wages and benefits from the date of his firing until he is able to secure a position providing the same level of income he had with TUG. He also would like some punitive damages levied on TUG and the Coast Guard, but he’s less certain as to what form that would actually take. Both of these desires are clearly content goals. During this initial counseling interview, you also determine other, unstated, goals and desires. Mr. Merrill has a goal of being respected as a network administrator; he sees himself as a “techie” and placed great value on his one, and only, performance evaluation from TUG. He wants to be treated with respect by TUG and the Coast Guard during the course of the resolution of this process. Finally, he’s willing to move away from the informal venues provided by the EEO process. His original complaint was lodged with the State of North Carolina’s EEO Department; they passed the buck to the Federal EEO Office who then forwarded his complaint to the Coast Guard. Mr. Merrill has reached a “boiling point” and has begun looking for legal representation. The underlying interests, you suspect are two-fold: Mr. Merrill wants to be able to cover his debts incurred during his period of unemployment, he wants to beat his depression, and he wants to be seen by others as a professional.

Thunder Under Group wants to put this behind them. Ms. Gloom believes she and the company acted in good faith; they lost the contract and when contracts are lost, employees lose their jobs. As disappointing as this is, it is, in her view, the real world. The Coast Guard and GSA are about in the same place. Both the Coast Guard and GSA were focused on the performance of the contract; they claim that TUG was unable to perform the contract to the levels required by the contract.

What is the best alternative to a negotiated agreement? On the one hand, it appears that a resolution is not possible at the informal stage. The Coast Guard asserts Mr. Merrill was not a Coast Guard employee and is, actually, not able to assert discrimination by the Coast Guard. TUG asserts his employment was terminated with the loss of the contract with the Coast Guard; the work dried up, in essence. At this point, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) is to allow Mr. Merrill to file a formal EEO complaint. A second component to this BATNA would be to provide Mr. Merrill with all documents relating to the contract, the termination of the contract, additional contracts awarded to TUG, and the posting of his picture at the security post at the entrance to the ARSC facility.
Commitments and Communication of the Parties

Mr. Merrill is committed to see this issue through. He was fired nearly a year ago and has been working through state and federal bureaucracies in order to have his complaint heard. He is nearly unwilling to continue down the informal route, and he is currently looking for legal representation. The Coast Guard is willing, at this point, to engage Mr. Merrill, although they may not actually accept the formal complaint. Some members of the Coast Guard are unwilling to provide Mr. Merrill with information or documentation, following a cultural imperative that transparency is not always what is best for the agency. They are, however, willing to speak to you and provide you with various documents.

Mr. Merrill is unwilling to speak directly to any member of the Coast Guard, TUG, or the GSA. All communications, except for meeting for the informal counseling session, have been by mail or e-mail.

Next Steps

You have the basic facts. The question is now, “Now what?” How did this conflict occur? How could it have been prevented? What can all the players do in the future to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again? What options exist within this conflict? What would you recommend as an intervention strategy at this point? How do you think this will get resolved? What will be the outcome? These, and other questions, ought to be the focus in an analysis and synthesis of this case study.


Federal Sector Equal Employment Opportunity, 29 C.F.R. 1614 (1999). Retrieved October 23, 2004, from