How can I best resolve workplace conflict?

Mediation and dispute resolution at work

Unfortunately, conflict is a part of life and something every workplace deals with at some point.

It is important to resolve workplace conflict well – as conflict often has a negative impact on the overall workplace culture and not just those involved in the conflict.

Sometimes this means involving a third party to assist – we’ve explored this below.

Do I need to consider external mediation or dispute resolution in my workplace?

Often disputes can be resolved by a manager – through simple meetings facilitating communication.

However, occasionally, such meetings are ineffective – and instead external help to carry out an ‘alternative dispute resolution method’ (ADR) is needed.

To determine whether you need external assistance, you should ask:

  • is a manager directly involved in the conflict?
  • have you held a meeting and the conflict is still ongoing?
  • has the conflict arisen out of sensitive/confidential information?
  • is there a significant power imbalance between the parties?

Avoiding litigation

Dispute resolution methods are also especially helpful in resolving matters that may otherwise result in court action.

Unlike bringing a court case, or litigating a matter, using alternative dispute resolution methods takes both parties’ goals into account and aims to find a “win-win” solution to the conflict.

The aim of alternative dispute resolution is to offer a less formal environment to resolve disputes. Rather than going to a court or tribunal, parties can work together with a neutral individual to come to a decision/solution together and resolve the conflict before it further escalates.

It nicely fills the gap between when the dispute or conflict is too serious for a manager to manage on their own, but you want to avoid litigation within a court setting.

Types of Dispute Resolution

Examples of types of alternative dispute resolution include:

  • Mediation – where a mediator works with both parties to come up with a resolution to the issues. Ordinarily, the mediator offers advice and solutions, but the ultimate decision to come to an agreement lies with the parties.
  • Arbitration – where an arbitrator listens to both parties and makes either a binding or non-binding decision. Both parties must sign the agreement to abide by the arbitrator’s decision.
  • Peer review- where the parties to a dispute take their grievance to a group of managers or employees, who then make a decision.
  • Adjudication – where both parties tell their side of the story by sending written evidence (i.e. letters, reports, or photos) to a neutral adjudicator who then makes a resolution decision for them.

Whilst most of the above have commonalities, not every type of alternative dispute resolution works for every case. Some processes naturally lend themselves to certain types of grievances, largely depending on the relationship. In most internal workplace disputes, we recommend meditation (further explored below).

Should I engage a workplace mediator?

Mediation is a process where an independent party facilitates discussion and formation of ideas to assist disputing parties to agree on a solution going forward.

You should consider mediation where the parties are willing to participate, however, need assistance in generating a solution.  The aim being that the parties come to an amicable solution together.

What would the mediation process look like?

  • Mediation is voluntary and confidential discussion
  • Mediator is independent and impartial and can also talk to both sides separately to:
    • hear their sides of the story;
    • help them suggest solutions; and
    • help explore issues.

Mediation should be considered the first step to resolve a workplace dispute. It can assist to resolve issues without the complication of an adversarial approach them that can threaten the working relationship.

Perceived neutrality from the mediator is essential when undergoing mediation in order for it to be effective. Therefore, appointing an external mediator can be of great benefit.

Can we help?

Our mediation service offers a quick, cost-effective and confidential process which allows the individuals to retain ownership of the situation in a safely facilitated environment.

As each situation is different, a tailored approach is required to find the best outcome possible. In our dedicated workplace mediation we provide:

  • a confidential process;
  • a situation where the relevant parties retain ownership of the process;
  • an opportunity to work through issues in a safe respectful space facilitated by an impartial expert; and
  • a quick and cost-effective service.

This will ultimately lead to:

  • increased staff morale and productivity;
  • improved staff retention;
  • more engaged workforces;
  • a happier working environment; and
  • improved employer reputation.

We also offer mediation masterclasses if you would like to learn how to mediate yourself.

Need Specialist Help?

Dealing with workplace conflict can be time consuming and difficult. We can assist you by providing specialist workplace relations assistance (i.e. mediation) and assist with resolving any workplace conflict.  

Mark Ritchie

Mark Ritchie

Mark is passionate about helping Australian businesses efficiently resolve their industrial relations issues. Mark has demonstrated proficiency advising managers, executives and boards of small to medium-sized enterprises, as well as some of Australia’s best-known companies, on both litigious and non-litigious matters.

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