Managing Conflict in the Workplace

HOW CAN YOU BEST RESOLVE WORKPLACE CONFLICT

You know the stories all too well. Teams breaking down due to poor communication, tension from clashing personalities, even accusations of harassment in the workplace. Are these things even possible to avoid?

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 workplace conflicts often have a negative impact on the overall workplace culture and not just those involved in the conflict.

While it is possible to resolve workplace conflicts by yourself, having a third party available to provide an unbiased and fresh view of the situation can be invaluable.

DO I NEED TO CONSIDER EXTERNAL MEDIATION OR DISPUTE RESOLUTION IN MY WORKPLACE?

Often disputes can be resolved by a manager through simple facilitated meetings.

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 workplace 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 workplace conflicts 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 or conflict 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 conflict on their own, but you want to avoid litigation within a court setting.

Types of Workplace Conflicts

Most types of workplace conflicts arise due to a breakdown in communication and simply need a productive conversation to get things back on track. However, even when you know this is the case, no two disputes are the same. Being able to identify the source of the conflict will help a lot when it comes to creating a strategy for conflict resolution, as it will put you one step further to finding common ground and address conflict properly.

Here are some of the types of conflict you will encounter in the workplace:

  • Task-Based Conflicts

These result from poor communication, wherein one party feels an assigned task wasn’t completed correctly or shortcomings cause a project to be late. One party may have arrived with information or work late, causing the whole task to be delayed and upsetting others that are working on the task.

  • Leadership Conflicts

Everyone has different leadership styles, whether they’re relaxed about instructions or bold and authoritative. However, this does mean that clashes in styles are bound to arise, either between leaders or between leaders and those they are leading.

  • Differences in Work Style

Conflict in the workplace can arise when people have different ideas about how things should be done. Mutual respect is an important part of working with others, but it doesn’t always happen and these differences in work style can cause complications.

  • Conflict of Personalities

A big cause of conflict in the workplace is personality clashes. If two people just don’t get along, it’s important for them to find ways to work through their differences and focus on their duties as team members.

  • Discrimination or Harassment

Discrimination and harassment, whether with malicious intent or not, is a huge issue in the workplace. It can happen for a wide variety of reasons, but regardless of the cause, it’s essential that conflicts such as these are resolved as soon as possible.

  • Creative Idea Conflict

Conflict can also be a good thing when handled correctly, prompting discussion and the creation of new ideas. However, when people are passionate about their ideas things can get heated. Having someone there to mediate discussion can help a lot.

  • Performance Review Conflicts

A performance review can be an uncomfortable time for everyone involved. Conflict may arise when management is evaluating their staff, or there may be conflict between team members under review. Conflict during this time can make it hard to come away with any sort of resolution.

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.

There are various conflict resolution steps you can take. Mediation should be considered the first step to resolve conflict or a workplace dispute. It can assist to resolve conflicts without the complication of an adversarial approach them that can threaten the working relationship.

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

Workplace Wizards Can 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. We can also assist human resources in resolving conflict or provide training to develop conflict resolution skills.

Contact us

Get in contact with us for a FREE no-obligation 20-minute discussion about your workplace requirements.

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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