Dealing with Conflict Resolution at Work

Everyone deals with conflict.  We learn that not everyone agrees about everything.  But when workplace disagreements occur, situations can get out of hand, causing bitterness, resentment, loss of reputation, poor morale, costly litigation, and even job termination.  Smart companies have good conflict resolution procedures in place from the start, allowing management to address problems before they escalate and become out of control.

No one likes to experience problems with others while on the job, but such occurrences seem to be a natural part of life.  As a matter of fact, there are those that thrive on making trouble in the workplace.  Most companies recognize that conflict costs both dollars and human capital and recognize the need to address problems as soon as possible.

In-House or Independent Mediator?

Different companies solve conflict in different ways.  Some businesses have a facilitator among their management staff that assumes the role of conflict mediator.  There are good and bad issues involved with using an in-house facilitator.  While it may be to the company’s advantage that this person is familiar with all parties involved, that fact may also put one or more of the persons involved at a disadvantage.

While everyone involved in solving the conflict tries to be unbiased, in-house mediators often have pre-conceived notions about one or more of the parties.  Often, hiring an independent mediator is the answer.  This mediator is armed with the tools to bring about a quick and final settlement and addresses the problem from a non-partisan viewpoint.

The Conflict Mediation Process

Time is of the essence when solving a workplace conflict.  As soon as possible, a meeting should be scheduled with all parties. The mediator should introduce everyone involved and begin by stating his understanding of the problem.

Each party should then be asked to state their individual understanding of the problem, rather like an opening statement in a court case.  This not only allows the mediator to view each party’s take on the conflict but also lets him/her to assess the emotional state of the participants.

The process usually continues with the mediator asking questions of each party, either in the group setting or in a personal interview. This helps the mediator build rapport and eventually allows him to begin to gain the confidence of those involved in the conflict.

When everyone has a clear understanding of the problem at hand, all parties will begin to look at equitable solutions.  The mediator may suggest proposals from which to begin working, and those involved can take turns modifying them until a universal agreement is achieved.  This may not be a quick process but it’s more important that the solution be reached after much thought to the best interests of all parties rather than in haste.

The Importance of Quick Resolution

There’s nothing worse for employee morale than a tense situation at work.  Even those not directly involved in the conflict may be sucked into the distress of the situation.  That can be a dangerous scenario, resulting in employee turnover, terminations, poor production, or work stoppage.  In the long run, all of this affects a company’s bottom line.

Companies should have a conflict resolution plan in place as part of their workplace policies and be sure not to wait until the first conflict arises to decide how it will be handled and who will handle it.

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