Mediation – Conflict in the Workplace

The role of the mediator is to help parties reach a solution to their problem and to arrive at an outcome that both parties are happy to accept. Mediators avoid taking sides, making judgements or giving guidance. They are simply responsible for developing effective communications and building consensus between the parties. The focus of a mediation meeting is to reach a common sense settlement agreeable to both parties in a case.

For a mediator to be successful he or she must possess a wide range of skills. One of the most important, but perhaps least appreciated, is the ability to actively listen to what a party is saying and to note what the party is not saying. All too often we hear what we expect someone to say rather than what is actually said. It is a fundamental principle that mediators must not prejudge the case nor impose their own prejudices on the parties. Furthermore, a mediator has to be able to tune into “where the speaker is coming from” and read the “sub text” or hidden messages given out by the parties.

The impact of conflict in the workplace

‘I think mediation is a good first port of call for the business. For the Ministry of Justice to have mediation is very valuable because we are investing in the staff. Conflict causes all manner of problems including health problems resulting in. It can have a detrimental impact in teams within the workplace who are directly or indirectly involved.’ Quote from the Ministry of Justice

Conflict between individuals in the workplace can cost an organisation in terms of loss productivity, sickness absence and stress or anxiety. In 2007–08, the number of individual employment tribunal claims in the UK rose to over 190,000.

Over the past decade there has been a significant increase in employment rights legislation, providing additional avenues for employees to seek recourse through formal channels. People are also now more aware of their rights at work. This expanded legal framework means that, if employers do not manage conflict effectively, the consequences can be serious.

Why does conflict happen?

Conflict is an inherent part of the employment relationship. Modern organisations are dynamic and complex, made up of people with increasingly diverse backgrounds, opinions, values and expectations about work. For their part, organisations are under ever-increasing pressure to be productive or deliver quality services to clients. The continuous change experienced by many organisations can also lead to conflict.

The CIPD 2007 Managing Conflict at Work Survey found that general behaviour and conduct issues were rated as the most common causes of disputes at work, followed by conflicts over performance, sickness absence and attendance, and relationships between colleagues.

A certain degree of healthy conflict – for example, fair competition between individuals to excel in their roles can be a good thing, and can even help to create innovation within teams. But often the tension can lead to discord and start to create negative conflict. It is when the initial disagreement is pushed under the carpet and not managed properly that the situation can fester and the conflict spiral.

Line managers typically have to play multiple roles in today’s workplace. It is not surprising that many shy away from having those difficult conversations with staff, particularly if they lack the skills or training to handle complex situations that have become personalised. But if conflict is not managed directly, at an early stage, their job in helping the parties to resolve their differences will be much harder.

The nature of conflict

There seems to be no doubt that conflict is almost always present in work situations. Defining it, however, is not easy because it occurs in a variety of forms in a variety of different situations. Basically, however, it would seem to be the presence of disagreement, contradiction, incompatibility and self interest. Given these elements then a working definition might be:

‘Any disagreement between two parties resulting from an incompatibility of goals, interests, perceptions or values.’

The key elements of conflict are:

  • Different Objectives
  • Different Ideas
  • Different Emotions

You will experience these types of conflict on a regular basis. To gauge how regular, think back to last week at work and ask yourself if you have observed or been directly involved in conflict with:

(a)  One or more members of your team

(b)  Your boss

(c)  Another manager

(d)  One or more members of someone else’s team

(e)  The ‘Organisation’ (over rules, practices, procedures etc)

And has one or more members of your team been in conflict with:

(a)  Other members of the team

(b)  Another manager

(c)  You

(d)  One or more members of someone else’s team

(e)  The ‘Organisation’

If you have, then you may be in agreement with Charles Handy when he said “Management like politics consists to a large degree of the management of differences. The resolution of differences (or potential differences) take up the largest single chunk of time and energy.

Who will benefit from the course?

This course is of value to professionals and managers in organisations, wishing to introduce mediation to handle workplace conflict swiftly and cost effectively and who handle the following:

Delegates will learn how to:

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