September is a time of transitions so our article on bridging is particularly appropriate. The bedrock of the bridge is built on fundamental mediator skills which all leaders can tap into.
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Bridging is the seventh tool of the mediator identified by Mark Gerzon in Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, Boston, MA. Harvard Business School Press, 2006. Bridging follows naturally from our last newsletter article about dialogue. True dialogue means identifying creative options where none previously existed and deeply examining the assumptions we have about “the other” in conflict.
“Bridging is building actual partnerships and alliances that cross the borders that divide an organization or community.” Id at 189. If dialogue is effective then bridging can begin to take place. The common challenge for both dialogue and bridging is the need to transcend professional, social and political identities to connect with each other. Id at 193. All the talk needs to produce some action or results. In bridging many creative possibilities exist, such as reframing the conflict in a more constructive way, reducing friction by building relationships where distrust reigned previously or finding a way to collaborate through joint work. All of these bridges require stronger relationships between the participants. Id at 190. The leader with mediator skills can characterize the conflict so that participants can engage in developing creative solutions.
Organizations that thrive and collaborate have a problem solving mindset. Instead of thinking about “us” and “them” they think “us” and “we”. When the stakes are high, as they are with most serious conflicts one party needs to take leadership and characterize the issues as a “we” problem.
Bridging produces social or emotional capital, which is like the cabling on a suspension bridge that holds up the supports and the roadway. Id at 192. Emotional capital is the intangible product that will begin to transform a conflict. This is a side benefit of charitable work done by many corporations. In addition to the worthwhile project it brings people from diverse teams in a company together.
When bridging occurs and social capital increases, relationships become strong enough to produce synergy” Id at 195. With synergy, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Synergos Institute, an organization that is dedicated to solving global economic and social problems through collaboration teaches bridging leadership skills, as a fundamental aspect of its work and its mission. What lies at the heart of these skills is listening, empathy and problem solving, the skills of a mediator.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.