Why can’t we all just get along? A common and regular question among people leaders in many workplaces.
In a workplace people spend a lot of time together with differing work styles, backgrounds, communication styles and points of view, therefore workplace conflict is bound to arise. In the workplace there can be miscommunications, lack of team support, personality clashes, a high reliance and unspoken expectations on each other, all of which can lead to conflict or disputes.
Workplace conflict can be damaging and come in many forms such as lack of mutual respect, personal attacks, gossips and rumours, work cliques and employees becoming not confident to speak up. Unresolved conflict can lead to absenteeism and turnover, work disruption, low morale, increased emotional stress and health risks, poor workplace culture and reputational damage to a company.
However, workplace conflict is not always a bad thing, some conflict can have positive results. If employees can work in a supportive environment where they can challenge each other’s ideas in a constructive way, this can open the door to innovation and collaboration. Workplace conflict also has the potential to increase a company’s awareness of growing workplace problems and allow them to intervene early and take appropriate action.
But how do you manage conflict that is not positive?
As a people leader, it is important to learn how to manage workplace conflict so that a company can continue to operate effectively and meet objectives, and all employees can experience a positive working environment.
When conflict or a dispute arises, it is important to intervene early and speak with the employees involved. Mediation can be an effective tool to resolve workplace conflict and involves a mediator facilitating a voluntary and confidential conversation between those involved to lead discussions in finding a solution to a conflict or dispute.
Starting the Mediation Process
Depending on the complexity of the situation, you will first need to decide whether it is best for you to mediate a conflict or dispute or whether you should call in a third-party to help, such as a HR professional or a professional external mediator.
When mediation is deemed as an appropriate approach to use, set up a mediation session with those involved by organising an appropriate time for them to attend and ensure you have obtained their agreement to participate. Participation in mediation should be voluntary and never forced.
Ensure that you are communicating the objective of the conversation to those involved which is to provide them with an opportunity to openly discuss a conflict or dispute that they may be facing with the other participant. Let them know that they will each be able to explain their perspective and get an understanding of the other’s perspective. Communicate that the aim of mediation is not to identify who is right or wrong but to find solutions that can be agreed to, to resolve the conflict or to understand how to move forward in the future.
It is recommended that you ask the participants to prepare for the mediation session to increase the likelihood of a productive conversation taking place. This can be achieved by sending each participant a list of questions to think about and work through individually before they attend the session. This will help in assisting participants to gather their thoughts, identify the key information they wish to communicate and to think about possible solutions for the conflict or dispute.
Preparing for a Mediation Conversation
To prepare for a mediation conversation, ask the participants to:
- Think about the future – how important is it for them to get along and work together? What do they believe their future working relationship looks like?
- Explain what has occurred – what is the conflict or dispute about for them? What are the key things that have happened that they want to talk about? How has the conflict or dispute impacted them? How do they think the conflict or dispute has impacted others in the team or their clients etc.?
- Think about what they are hoping to achieve – if the conversation goes well, what would they like to see happen? What is most important to them and why?
- Consider the other participant’s perspective – what do they think the other participant’s key concerns are and what might they see as important? What do they think the other participant might be looking for as an outcome? What was their relationship like before the conflict or dispute occurred? What did they do that might have been part of the problem or contributed to making things worse? Ask participants to be honest with their answers.
Encourage the participants to prepare a brief statement that summarises their perspective considering the above points and what they want to discuss during the conversation. This will ensure they have the information to refer to if the conversation gets side-tracked or the conversation becomes quite emotional for them.
As the aim of the conversation is to help the participants find solutions to a conflict or dispute, ask the participants to consider possible solutions prior to the session. Invite the participants to think about what the real cause of the conflict or dispute is and what a realistic and reasonable solution could be. Ask them to consider what could stop the possible solution from working and what could help make it work. Encourage participants to consider a few different solutions.
Another great way to assist participants in preparing for a productive conversation, is encouraging them to use the Stop, Start, Continue Approach. This approach is a feedback tool that can be useful for giving and receiving feedback to improve working relationships.
Ask participants to also think about their current working relationship and ask themselves:
- What are we doing currently that is not working? STOP doing this
- What should we put in place to improve? START doing this
- What is working well? CONTINUE doing this
Once each participant has prepared for the conversation, speak with each participant individually in a private setting and ask them to share what they have brainstormed and prepared to date. This will allow you to have an idea of each participant’s perspective and as the mediator ensure that they are able to communicate this effectively during the mediation conversation.
Facilitating a Mediation Conversation
Your role as the mediator is to facilitate the mediation conversation as an impartial party. The participants involved should be resolving the conflict or dispute themselves by discussing solutions. Your role is not to decide the solution to a matter. Be mindful that mediation conversations may end with no resolution, however the conversation may still allow participants to gain a better understanding of the other participant’s perspective.
To facilitate the mediation conversation:
- Start the conversation by thanking the participants for being open to resolving the conflict or dispute. Outline your role and the expectations for the session such as one person speaking at a time, confidentiality being maintained etc. Ensure that participants are still willing to participate.
- Use the structure of the preparation questions as a guide for the structure of the conversation.
- Invite each participant to present their statement or perspective to express how they are feeling to one another.
- Ensure that you facilitate the conversation by giving each participant the same amount of time to speak, ensuring no one is interrupted and that if emotions become heightened, you find ways to bring the conversation back to the conflict or dispute.
- Encourage participants to ask questions of the other participant to further understand their perspective. The goal is to get participants to agree on what the conflict or dispute actually is. Continue to ask questions as needed until you are certain that you and each participant understand what the conflict or dispute actually is.
- Once each participant has been provided the opportunity to present their perspective, lead the conversation to focusing on the future and discussing possible solutions to the conflict or dispute.
- Establish a shared desired outcome for participants by asking them to each talk through what they are hoping to achieve and find a common outcome in both sides as a starting point e.g. both sides want the conflict or dispute to end.
- Ask participants to discuss how they can meet the shared outcome. Discuss any barriers that may stop a solution from working and encourage participants to discuss what can and cannot be changed about a matter and how to get around what cannot be changed.
- Ask participants to decide on and agree to the best way to resolve the conflict or dispute, and ensure it is a solution that all participants can accept. Ask participants to also consider how they can ensure the conflict or dispute does not arise again.
- To conclude the conversation, confirm what has been agreed to be all participants and what each participants’ responsibilities are. Remind participants of their confidentiality obligations and what they have agreed to do if a conflict or dispute starts to occur again. You can confirm the agreement in writing to each participant.
Tips for Mediating Workplace Conflict
- Act quickly – address conflict as soon as it occurs to ensure it does not cause negativity and spread throughout the workplace to others that are not involved
- Remain calm – ensure you remain impartial and demonstrate a reassuring attitude towards the matter
- Resist judgement – focus on resolving the problem, not the participants. Ensure you are unbiased and remain cautious about taking sides as this can impact the trust and involvement of the participants
- Engage in active listening – this is essential in resolving conflict as you need to attempt to understand both sides of a conflict or dispute. This will also encourage participants to be open, honest and more receptive to the process.
- Ask for help – if the conflict is too complex or there is a conflict of interest, call in a third-party to help
About Employment Innovations
Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.
The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.