Leaders can resolve workplace conflict through mediation and restore positive peace to the workplace.
Conflict is a natural part of the human experience, yet, at times, it can seem to be too much to bear. Even though we learn to adapt and move forward, it is never without unwarranted stress and strain on us. Read today’s news (or yesterdays for that matter). Access your favorite social media channels where conflict seems to insert itself into our personal and professional lives.
While the focus of this article discusses conflict in the workplace, you may discover the same skills for navigating work conflict is transferable to our personal lives as well. We can learn to manage conflict with the utmost thoughtfulness and respect. After all, we are keenly aware that our personal and work lives intersect, even with our best efforts to keep them separate. If a major disagreement among employees influences your department’s ability to deliver service on time or results in losing a major client, somehow the issue finds its way into conversations with family and friends.
All leaders and managers must prioritize conflict management as a core leadership skill and consider hiring a workplace mediator to support teams in navigating conflict.
Here are the most common ways conflict inserts itself into the workplace thereby creating an unhealthy work culture:
Communications breakdowns across teams and departments
Competitive environments causing tension between departments and peers
Power struggles among employees and leaders
All forms of bullying and harassment
Organizational changes from eliminating positions or shuffling teams
Customer or client disputes
Ambiguities in staff and leadership roles and assignments
Familiar Examples of Workplace Conflict
Miscommunication: Jack emails Suzanne (a co-worker) with a suggestion to improve her project, but she misinterprets the tone of the email which leads to tension and strain on their working relationship. Jack may genuinely feel as though he is helping, but something has been lost in the communication process resulting in mistrust.
Heavy Workload: While Alisha and Derek have been working together on a new and exciting project, Derek feels the workload is imbalanced leading to frustration and resentment. Alisha leaves the office at 5pm, and he works into the evening trying to complete assigned tasks.
Social Cliques and Exclusionary Practices: A few sales employees working on business development socialize outside of work but exclude two team members. You notice there is tension within the team. Information sharing and overall collaboration ends.
Communication Styles: Marion comes from a culture that values hierarchical communication, while Denise values open and direct communication. Their differing communication styles result in misunderstandings and conflicts about how information and resources should be shared on the team.
Lack of Psychological Safety: Aiden constantly belittles and criticizes Jared and Shonda who feel insecure, exhausted, intimidated, and isolated. Several of Aiden’s’ disrespectful comments toward them occur during meetings and seem to be ignored by their manager and overlooked by other team members. Jared and Shonda begin to disengage from the team, then the organization.
Conflict Management as Critical Leadership Competency
Conflict management must be a core leadership skill because conflicts often begin small and slowly build-up to take up residence in mind, hearts, and hands. This slow burn constructs walls around teams and departments, disengages employees, and fuels departures.
As managers, you may recognize conflict, but feel ill-equipped to handle it, or you may genuinely believe the problem will take care of itself. Perhaps you are unable to recognize conflict happening within your team, and unintentionally send the message to your employees that you do not care if they are struggling. Too often, managers believe employees should just focus on the job, and they fail to recognize how persistent conflict can impact employee engagement. According to Gallup research, 80% of American employees are actively disengaged at work. That represents a staggering loss of human potential and organizational productivity.
Consider for a moment the loss — to employees, customers and clients, company, and community. Consider the loss when you are unable to lead from an affirming position. There is so much time, effort, and energy expended when conflict goes unaddressed in the workplace.
Yes. As a leader, you have an awesome responsibility. Critical to your success are the people who work for you, for the company. Everyone working for the organization matters.
Resolve Workplace Conflict Through Mediation
The cost is too high to ignore conflict in the workplace. Conflict can be resolved peacefully. If we care about our employees and organization, leaders must prioritize the development and practice of conflict de-escalation and restorative practices, Afterall, as leaders, we want a workplace culture where everyone thrives and succeeds.
Workplace conflict can be very disruptive to the individuals involved as well as the individuals who are indirectly affected. Coworkers are often in a position to work with someone for years, perhaps even decades. Because the process of mediation addresses all parties' interests, it can be a powerful resource for preserving working relationships in ways that would not be possible in zero-sum (win/lose) decision-making procedures.
You need not navigate this space alone. Hiring a workplace mediator to support teams in navigating conflict invites all parties to participate toward a mutually satisfactory outcome. When relationships are preserved, a lasting resolution leads to avoiding expensive litigation.
Workplace Peace Institute’s Dr. Robyn Short reminds us: “Workplace conflict can be very disruptive to the individuals involved as well as the individuals who are indirectly affected. Coworkers are often in a position to work with someone for years, perhaps even decades. Because the process of mediation addresses all parties' interests, it can be a powerful resource for preserving working relationships in ways that would not be possible in zero-sum (win/lose) decision-making procedures.”
At Workplace Peace Institute, conflict interventions include restorative practices, various dialogue interventions, mediation, and facilitation. Specifically, restorative practices transcend workplace conflict since it applies principles of restorative justice.
Dr. Short explains that “Restorative justice differs from more punitive approaches to dispute resolution where the main objective is to punish the offending party, seeking instead to involve the offending party in repairing the harm their actions caused and restoring as much normalcy as possible to the harmed party.” Here are three methods to create a work culture grounded in care and compassion:
Conflict coaching allows individuals to develop skills and strategies to address conflicts in a constructive manner.
Conflict prevention programs to avoid conflicts, build communication skills, and foster an affirming workplace.
Restorative circles are facilitated conversations with individuals in conflict where shared perspectives, feelings, and needs helps to promote understanding, empathy, and resolution.
With workplace mediation, a neutral third-party serves as mediator employing a conflict intervention process to discover a mutually agreed upon resolution (win-win) for all parties. With mediation, parties have equal input into the process. During mediation all parties are able to exchange information, express desired expectations, and propose solutions for reaching resolution. The mediator facilitates this process by helping the parties communicate effectively. All parties must agree to participate in good faith in the mediation process.
When leaders and their team members learn to intervene in conflict situations, you honor the dignity of each person and that is reciprocated resulting in a more productive and engaged organization in the mission of the organization.
Become a more conflict competent leader by engaging in conflict resolution training. Leaders benefit from understanding the dynamics of conflict, as well as the neuroscience of conflict. At times, it may be necessary to resolve workplace conflict through mediation. Engaging a third-party neutral can help your team transform conflict into collaboration.
Workplace Peace Institute is an organization systems design and research firm that is singularly focused on creating workplace cultures where people thrive. Workplace Peace Institute supports small to mid-sized businesses in optimizing employee engagement, maximizing organizational productivity, and improving profitability by infusing human security and dignity as foundational attributes of their business model. Our Leadership Academy supports leaders in honoring basic human needs and dignity needs in the workplace, so they can actualize human potential in the workplace. The online Leadership Academy optimizes competencies in human behavior, communication skills, conflict resolution, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging to create highly engaged workplaces where basic human needs and dignity are consistently honored. All our courses are offered online and can be customized for in-person workshops and seminars.