Workplace Conflict – Tips from a Mediator

When conflict erupts in the workplace, why do we still get shocked and upset when it’s clear that conflict is normal, natural and an unavoidable part of life – whether at home, in our relationships or at work?

There’s no doubt that most people view conflict as a negative. Think about your past experience whether with your boss, spouse or friend. We normally get anxious, stressed or angry when a dispute breaks out with someone and want to lash out at them, blame them and at worst silently vow never talk to them again.

Most of us feel that we need to make sure that the other person knows we were right and they were wrong – the win/lose mentality. While everything is going along happily with someone, there’s no reason not to be thoughtful and respectful but a dispute or conflict can change all of that, the colleague we enjoyed working with may now seem like a foe that is making our everyday work life difficult and affecting our state of mind even outside of work hours.

What does this mean for business? Can businesses survive and operate with an eruption of conflict in their workplace? I believe the answer to this question very much depends on how the business deals with the emerging conflict. Unfortunately many aren’t always adept at this. Often you will find that managers completely shy away from situations with even a whiff of conflict, hoping that the conflict will somehow go away or resolve itself, they put pressure on employees to “play nice??? which in turn leads to more resentment.

There are those that try step in too soon and over manage the situation, which can also be detrimental. It’s much more important for managers to take the time and put real thought into developing a company culture that provides a framework for employees to work through disagreements in a positive way if and when they arise.

Lastly, there are those businesses that understand that not all conflict is negative and they are committed to opening the lines of communication, keen for an interaction that will hopefully resolve the issues at hand, because they recognise that its only when conflicts are brought out into the open that they have a chance of being dealt with successfully and that in fact difference in opinion can be healthy and breed new ideas and innovation.

As a mediator dealing with workplace disputes, I see firsthand how dialogue is the key factor in positive conflict resolution. For dialogue to occur, acknowledging the existence of the conflict is of course paramount. It is important that the needs of all parties are clearly defined and understood. Nothing that I have seen works more miracles than listening with empathy to the other person’s needs, thoughts and beliefs, some times it takes a formal mediation for each party to have the time and space to do this and to be and feel truly heard.
Part of this process means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes at that moment and then paraphrasing what they say to ensure that you have understood correctly. This is not an easy thing to do especially when you have strong divergent viewpoints, but it’s worth the effort because when people feel understood, their need to hold onto their strong position in the conflict can dissipate and a path toward understanding and agreement can be paved.

There clearly is an alternative to the win-lose mentality. It’s often been called “win-win??? or “no-lose??? because the goal is to find a solution to the conflict that meets the needs of both people. If the manager can understand that the conflict brings a prospect of positive change and is prepared to engage in the process of mutually searching for a solution that meets the needs of both people, it is really possible to resolve the conflict.

As a workplace mediator, it is common to be brought into the dispute when it has blown up and it is at the stage where the employee is threatening to walk or litigate. Very often we see that a manager has tried to mediate multiple points of view, wearing the mediator’s cap with no solvable outcome. Sometimes despite a manager’s good intentions, it is necessary to bring in professional mediators because it certainly is not easy trying to navigate across multiple types of personalities where each person is coming from a different place, especially if this is outside the manager’s specific area of expertise.

Hawke Segal Mediation provides a complimentary 15 minute consultation over the phone regarding how mediation may help resolve a dispute in your workplace – Call Saranne Segal or Gloria Hawke on 0413 520 603 or 0413 532 353.