Aug 01 2013

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5 Ways Mediation can Resolve Workplace Conflict

By Katherine Graham, CMP Resolutions

Workplace conflict acts like a mold; the longer it’s allowed to fester, the faster it takes over the remaining healthy parts. Mediation is an effective way of stopping disputes in their tracks, opening up discussions and rebuilding working relationships that have become difficult or even damaging.

The effects of workplace conflict are well known. Motivation drops, sickness absence increases and productivity is reduced. However, a skilled and independent mediator can help to counter these issues in the following ways:

One of the key ways that mediation is so potent lies in the perception that it is a fair process. When it is facilitated by someone who is objective and has no agenda, the participants are more likely to buy in to it – even if they don’t get everything they want.

When people are given the chance to speak freely and without fear in an environment that is confidential and even-handed, they believe that they are getting a fair hearing. This reduces the emotion, and sometimes even anger, that has been created by situations viewed as unfair by the people involved.

A mediator with empathy will encourage open dialogue and a supportive environment – both essential factors in resolving workplace conflict. Empathy involves acknowledging the opinions and comments of individuals without giving feedback that suggests that the mediator is aligning their own opinions with any side in the dispute.

A crucial aspect of demonstrating empathy involves listening. People caught up in workplace disputes often become frustrated because they feel that nobody is listening to them and, by extension, that they are not important. Mediation can restore their faith in their employer’s ability to hear what they have to say.

Restoring the balance of power
Unfortunately, workplace bullying is a common phenomenon. While some bullies undoubtedly have to be dealt with via the disciplinary procedure, others sometimes don’t realize the effect that their behavior has on colleagues. Mediation can provide a vehicle where those who have been bullied feel empowered to provide honest feedback on the situation and to describe scenarios that represent the existing working environment.

It’s difficult for those who have bullied colleagues to accept what is being said about them. However, they are more likely to absorb this kind of information if it is delivered by an independent mediator who can ask the person what their motivations and emotions were around particular events. From there, a plan of interaction and better understanding between the affected parties can be built.

What’s really important?
When working relationships are in danger of breaking down, even the smallest of issues suddenly becomes a huge problem or another reason to dislike a certain person. At this point, it’s possible that emotions have overtaken reason and the people involved in the conflict have probably lost sight of what’s actually important and what isn’t.

Mediation brings calm to the workplace by requiring participants to think about what they want to achieve from the process and what’s getting in their way. A skilled mediator will be able to steer away from discussions on who never replaces milk in the fridge to the fundamental reasons why the dispute occurred in the first place.

Removal of office politics
Office politics can be a minefield, full of power brokers and circles that protect or reject individual employees. Mediation acts to break down those office politics in an environment that isn’t interested in who’s associated with whom. The mediator will be focused on the viewpoints of each person in the workplace and how they think that the office can become a more equitable place.

The power brokers in the workplace won’t want to make changes that endanger their position. However, developing an understanding of the benefits of an equitable workplace – such as increased co-operation and a more pleasant atmosphere – should help to break down these power circles and for teams to build better working relationships.

Katherine Graham has 22 years’ experience in the field of workplace dispute resolution. She was made Managing Director of CMP Resolutions in 2009; prior to this she was CMP’s Director of Dispute Resolution. She has delivered more then 400 mediations, often working at the most senior level mediating complex disputes between directors, partners, and CEOs.

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