Have you ever witnessed – or even experienced – a workplace dispute that seemed to get worse any time somebody tried to intervene? Even good intentions are not effective in resolving work conflicts sometimes. Trained managers who have the focus to mediate have demonstrated time and time again that they can succeed in supporting the aggrieved parties to reach an amicable agreement.
If your managers know how to handle problems between employees, they will find it much easier to motivate their teams and protect against hits to productivity. However, according to a 2008 survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), 66% of respondents reported that their managers needed to improve interaction levels with their staff and 27% stated that their managers had received no training whatsoever in dealing with workplace conflict. This suggests that there is definitely room for improvement within UK businesses on the use of mediation and skilled practitioners in managing difficult situations. A study in the U.S. found that an overwhelming majority ( 85% ) of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree. Furthermore, it was found that U.S. employees spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, so these issues are proven, not surprisingly, to be affecting workplaces all around the world.
The result of training managers in mediation and workplace conflict is that the management team is more capable of dealing effectively with a wide range of issues including:
• Exercising judgement around situations that have potential to escalate into more serious problems
• Relationship breakdowns or personality clashes
• Identifying when more formal procedures need to be implemented – for example, in times concerning bullying, harassment or victimization
• Disjointed working within teams or between departments
• Communication difficulties including too many messages, lack of communication, or inappropriate methods of communication.
Thanks to technology, mediation training is far more accessible to companies these days. It can be delivered through a combination of e-learning, videos, online tests, forums and traditional courses so that managers are not away from their workplaces for days at a time. Given that the aforementioned CIPD survey indicated that conflict occurs in workplaces every week, investing in workplace conflict resolutions skills could quickly offer positive benefits including higher employee engagement levels, reduced absence rates, better staff retention and improved productivity.
However, there are wider benefits that managers can bring in a short period of time after they have received their training.
1) Healthier working relationships – employees will value positive relationships within the workforce and recognize how important they are to the company and to their job satisfaction
2) Improved problem solving – managers will lead the way in offering practical and focused solutions, which employees can use to increase their own ability to find ways to improve difficulties they are facing
3) A better work atmosphere – good conflict resolution improves company culture and reduces the general level of tension in the workplace
4) Greater capacity to empathize – empathy is a valuable feature in any workplace as it enables employees to appreciate and understand the viewpoints and values of others.
Training managers in conflict resolution has to be the easiest way of obtaining those long-term benefits and reducing the problems associated with disputes. By reviewing your company’s record on conflict, you can assess the returns you can expect to receive from deploying skilled managers to solve problems before they worsen.
Katherine Graham has worked in the field of dispute resolution for over 15 years’ as a mediator and trainer. She has mediated on the BBC Learning Zone and has given keynote speeches on conflict management and mediation for The MOD’s Equal Opportunities Conference, Women in Business Annual conference and “Getting Beyond Conflict”, a national conference on workplace dispute resolution. Katherine joined CMP Resolutions (formerly Conflict Management Plus) in 1992. She was made a director of the company in 1998 and became Managing Director in May 2009. Prior to this she managed teams in publishing and communications departments for major national charities including The Work Foundation, the RNID and the King’s Fund. She was the inaugural Chair of the Institute of Conflict Management.