Do you ever feel like the office is just one stolen lunch away from a full-blown war? Are workers volleying passive aggressive emails at an alarming rate? Is the proverbial unstoppable force meeting its unmovable equivalent?
As much as you try to hire for good culture fit, it’s hard to predict how workers will get along. Workplace conflicts are inevitable, and can range from minor disputes to intense conflicts that disrupt entire departments. Sometimes things will sort themselves out, but when tempers flare and resentment festers, you need to step in before things get worse.
Mediation differs from other forms of conflict resolution in several ways. For one, it’s less formal and more flexible. The basic structure is that an impartial third party, the mediator, helps two or more people in dispute to attempt to reach an agreement. Any agreement comes from those in dispute, not from the mediator – the mediator is not there to judge, to say one person is right and the other wrong, or to tell those involved what they should do. It’s completely voluntary, making it an appealing alternative to formal disciplinary proceedings for some conflicts.
It’s also very effective. A 2008 CIPD survey found that 75 per cent of respondents said that mediation is the most effective method of conflict resolution. Another survey conducted by GFK NOP of managers in 500 SMEs found that of those who had used mediation, 99 per cent agreed that it was a good tool for resolving workplace disputes.
Not sure where to start? Here are some quick tips to help you mediate a workplace conflict.
1. Get an early start.
If things are heating up in the office, the earlier you get involved, the better. Take too long, and you might miss the window where Make it clear to the employees involved that you’re neutral and not taking sides.
2. Fully flesh-out what happened.
Open-ended and descriptive questions are the best way to get each side talking. Ask each employee to give their version of events and take notes. Listen carefully to their answers and focus on common ground or inconsistencies in their stories. The adage of three versions to every story – side one, side two and the truth – applies here. Reconstructing the full context helps you and those involved create a 360 degree view of what really happened, not simply what puts them in a favourable light.
3. Encourage each employee to see the other’s point of view.
Agreement is essential to any deal made in mediation. If one side feels disrespected, they tend to be distracted by that feeling to the exclusion of all else, which is extremely counterproductive. Don’t underestimate the value of curiosity and inquiry.
4. Outlaw criticism in mediation.
Being critical of bosses, employees, colleagues or even perfect strangers comes as naturally as breathing. It’s a tough habit to break, but keep in mind that when we think we are dealing with difficult people, it’s really just that we are dealing with our emotional reactions to events. Leaving those feelings outside and focusing on the issue at hand leads to better resolutions.
5. Move past the conflict and make plans for the future.
Reconciliation requires problem solving, and problem solving requires creativity and an open mind. When each side has said their piece, brainstorm some ideas about what both sides would like to see happen from there. You should not only focus on immediate outcomes, but think about ways to prevent a similar conflict from arising in the future. It could be something as simple as providing a forum for honest communication in staff meetings, a promise from the two of them to come to you immediately if something similar is brewing or even a written agreement that they both sign.
AHRI members can access a sample grievance and appeal policy on the AHRI:ASSIST website.