Managing conflict in the workplace: solutions
Our first article on managing conflict concentrated on prevention. Prevention is always the preferred option for many reasons but primarily from a production, time and cost perspective. However, no matter how good we may be at managing there may be matters which slip through the net. Unfortunately, when certain personalities are placed in a fight or flight scenario they just have to fight. So what do we do in that scenario? What are our solutions?
Despite best attempts to prevent conflicts, some people are simply prone to stirring up trouble or clashing with others. You can tackle these situations through alternative dispute resolution (ADR). ADR simply refers to effective ways of addressing challenging behaviour and finding a positive compromise or resolution.
Types of dispute resolution
No doubt you already have your grievance procedures and disciplinary procedures in place. So naturally, your organisation may already cater for informal forms of dispute resolution. They can consist of the following:-
Informal discussions – these can be arranged by you or another superior, or even the people in conflict. Although, they generally need a push from management to face the problem. They involve sitting down and talking through issues, during which time the manager or supervisor should remain impartial. This gives people plenty of opportunities to voice concerns, agree on a solution, and clear the air.
Mediation – this involves a trained mediator having discussions with the people at conflict to address issues in a controlled environment. Mediators are skilled at encouraging people to calmly talk and listen to one another, and guide people to reach a conclusion that repairs relationships and gets work activities back on track. A mediator may be someone in the business suitably trained or an external party. Later on, we talk about the benefits of engaging with an independent external and impartial mediator.
Conciliation – this is very similar to mediation except that unlike a mediator, the conciliator is responsible for making the final decision on what people should do to settle their differences. The settlement isn’t legally-binding but it is encouraged that those who took part in the conciliation stick to it. Both parties have to sign up to this. It is advisable that legal advice is sought to follow up the outcome and draft a formal agreement in the form of a contract to bind all concerned to its terms.
More formal procedures which carry greater weight and enforceability:
Arbitration –Evidence for each side of the conflict is submitted to an arbitrator, and lawyers may represent people’s cases. The arbitrator considers the evidence and imposes a legally-binding settlement that all parties will have pre-agreed to.
Employment tribunal – this is a court process where adjudication will be made after a full and contested hearing often requiring legal representation. There are strict time frames to adhere to on both sides when dealing with applications to the tribunal. Again it is advisable to seek legal advice to ensure compliance with the same.
We will address these more formal routes in part 3 so keep your eyes peeled for our next post.
Being able to effectively diffuse a hostile situation and resolve contention between employees before it escalates means the business won’t be worn down by constant friction. Rather than let them crumble, you can strengthen existing relationships and enable people to work together better than ever before. It is, for this reason, we would positively promote engaging an independent mediator to help if the issue has reached this stage.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a dynamic, structured, interactive process. Essentially, a neutral third party assists disputing parties in resolving and managing conflict, through the use of specialized communication and negotiation techniques. All participants in mediation are encouraged to actively participate in the process. Bear in mind, mediation is a “party-centred” process in that it is focused primarily upon the needs, rights, and interests of those involved. Mediation acknowledges emotions, brings awareness, empowering and moves past positions to understand. Therefore, the mediator uses a wide variety of techniques to guide the process in a constructive direction and to help the parties find their optimal solution.
The job of a mediator
A mediator is facilitative in that she/he manages the interaction between parties and facilitates open communication. Mediation is also evaluative in that the mediator analyzes issues and relevant norms while refraining from providing prescriptive advice to the parties. Mediation normally takes place when informal discussions have failed to come up with a solution. When multi-departmental meetings have failed to reach a route forward, mediation can assist in looking at the problem from a fresh angle. It can also assist in allowing parties to move forward together rather than dwelling on the past, restoring employment relationships.
Mediation is tailored to your specific workplace conflict
Essentially, mediation is voluntarily giving all parties the freedom to terminate but also the choice to engage. It is a process completely tailored to your needs. Everyone retains control of the decision-making process but also takes responsibility and ownership of the outcome. Often, this creates more solid foundations for a future working relationship. Granted, it’s not an easy process but the mediator will empower all participants to confront the issues, providing the relevant information and tools to equip you with the ability to remain focused and steer communications in a more positive way. The mediator will ensure the session remains solution-driven at all times.
It really works!
Statistically, research will say outcomes reached in this form of dispute resolution are far more long-lasting and effective than any tribunal/court order. There are many reasons for this but primarily, it’s due to the participant reaching those outcomes themselves as opposed to having something imposed upon them. The benefits to mediation are many, but one of the most identifiable is to incorporate creativity in ways that traditional methods (i.e. litigation) cannot. So, the individuals involved can decide on an acceptable outcome based on what they hold important in the future, rather than what happened that led them into conflict in the first place.
Benefits of appointing an independent mediator
Although many mediators function independently and engage with clients only when contracted, many larger organisations have trained in-house mediators. Usually, this is to resolve differences at the earliest possible level. These in-house mediators may often come from cross functions of the business and will provide mediation services alongside their day jobs. An example of this may well be an HR representative who has trained to provide in-house mediation for their service. However unless that person’s role allows for the regular use of the mediation skills and managing conflict, their experience and knowledge may become stale and limited. It may even serve to aggravate the problem as opposed to alleviate it.
On the other hand, independent mediators perform such skills daily. There is also a need to continue the professional development of the mediators’ skills and techniques to maintain their status with approved bodies along with accreditation. Therefore, regular training is a necessity but also a natural part of a mediator progression.
Things to consider when managing conflict
Whatever your industry, we believe there must be a strong and pragmatic understanding of the unique complexities of mediating workplace disputes, which are different from typical commercial disputes. Workplace mediation often involves reconciling professional relationships between colleagues, rather than just reaffirming an entrenched position. Usually, the aim is to facilitate dialogue between employees to find a resolution that will restore a good working relationship. This is so that both they and their organisation can productively continue with their activities. An effective in-house mediator has to be impartial. They should be able to:
see things from both individuals’ points of view
understand the politics of the organisation
begin the process of reconciliation.
Why an independent mediator really is beneficial for managing conflict
External independent mediators do not suffer the same challenges as those who are mediating within their own organisation. Employees may be concerned about a lack of confidentiality, neutrality and interactions post-mediation. We appreciate that internal mediators are conducting cases on top of an already stretched workload. The opportunities for debriefing – reflecting on effectiveness, lessons learnt or how to continue to develop skills – may well be very difficult or rare.
We believe where internal conflict management strategies have failed, you should consider referral to an external independent mediator. This can ensure that mediators are not only trained in the skills but also have mandated supervision and advanced skills/experience.
What does it cost?
Each mediation is unique and bespoke to the organisation and dispute. Therefore, we tailor our costs to the individuality of the dispute. We will consult with you to understand your needs and will work with you to agree on costs before we commence any work. Mediation costs are typically a third of legal fees. However, the outcome of a court process cannot be guaranteed. Unfortunately, a court process comes with risks but legal costs are incurred regardless. There may also be cost consequences if you engage in a legal process without having considered mediation in the first instance. Spend less hard-earned income and stand to gain control of your outcome and solutions that move you and your team forward!
Get in touch today
For more information on our mediation services here at 174 Law, please don’t hesitate to contact Donna at Donna.firstname.lastname@example.org.