Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Gemma Collins Doyle

GEMMA COLLINS DOYLE

Health and Safety Consultant at EazySAFE

Before we get stuck into the nitty gritty of this thorny subject, let’s be clear on what conflict resolution is and why it is needed.

Conflict resolution is the process by which two or more parties engaged in a disagreement, dispute, or debate reach an agreement resolving it. A number of skills are needed for you to resolve conflicts in the workplace effectively.

In every company, there are disagreements, and differences of opinions which, if not managed, can escalate into interpersonal conflict. Therefore, it is imperative as a company, that you intervene immediately. It is not an option not to get involved and hope that your employees sort it out themselves. If you value your company and your positive culture, then you must take steps to help resolve the situation as soon as you can.

A situation which is causing conflict between two employees, does not just affect them. It affects everyone around them and can change the atmosphere very quickly for everyone involved. Other employees may feel like they are walking on egg shells in the presence of both parties.

A female manager acting as a mediator
Conflict affects everyone in the workplace

“Conflict resolution is a challenging area, but as a manager or supervisor, it comes with the job.”

Mistakes to avoid in a conflict situation

Don’t hope for the best and expect the issue to resolve itself. It won’t. Even if the conflict seems to be put to rest, more than likely it hasn’t been if it has not been dealt with correctly. Emotions and opinions will still be bubbling up under the surface. The best thing you can do is take action quickly to ensure the situation is managed before the situation blows out of proportion and causes damage to moral and to your business.

Don’t meet the individuals involved in the conflict separately. If you listen to their side of the story separately, you risk believing one over the other.

Be aware that everyone in the department/area is being affected in a negative way because of this conflict. Don’t underestimate the impact this has on them.

Using a mediator for workplace conflict resolution

Using a mediator does not mean that you have to employ someone external. An internal employee who is not involved in the conflict can work just as well. Mediation involves finding a third party, trusted by the people involved in the conflict, and then trusting that person to help find a solution. The mediator can be a manager, HR employee, a business coach, a co-worker, etc.

Workplace conflict resolution via mediation

Mediation looks to arrive at a solution through the agreement between both parties, rather than through investigation or hearing or formal decision. The mediator helps empower the employees to come up with their own agreement on a clear and informed basis. Mediation should be a voluntary process and either party can terminate it any time.

Steps involved in mediating workplace conflict

Mediation can take the form of telephone conferences with the parties, face-to-face mediation conferences/meetings or such other means as the mediator considers appropriate.

A mediator must meet the employees who are in conflict, together! Not individually. Give each person the time to summarise their point of view, without any interruption from the other person. This discussion should be kept brief so that both parties are crystal clear about each other’s conflicting views. Step in if either party attacks the other, that’s why you are there!

Give each person the opportunity to describe specific actions that they would like to see the other person take to resolve the differences. The requests should be practical and doable for the other person.

Make it clear to both people that you will not be taking sides. You are there to listen to both sides and to help them to come up with a solution themselves. It is impossible for an external person to understand or know the real truth of the conflict.

The key to mediation is to give both parties the freedom to come up with the resolution themselves. Give them time to agree on it and then get them to sign off on it. It is much more powerful when employees are given the freedom to figure out the problem, rather than being told what to do.

To finish, confirm to both parties that you are confident that they have the ability to resolve their differences now that a solution has been found. Agree on a date to review the progress.

Conclusion

Conflict resolution is a challenging area, but as a manager or supervisor, it comes with the job. Your willingness to appropriately intervene sets the stage for your own success. Although it is challenging, it can be extremely rewarding also. The great thing is, the more you do it, the better you get at it. It’s another attribute that you can add to your skill set and an excellent addition to your personal development.

There is no guarantee that mediation will resolve all conflicts, it may or it may not. Even if it does not work, at least you know you have tried and trying is better than leaving a festering situation to get worse. Tackling conflict head on is the only way and by using mediation, you will have the satisfaction in knowing that you have tried to address it positively and constructively.

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