Workplace Mediation

Workplace Mediation

Workplace Mediation

Conflicts in the workplace are common. What is less common are effective ways for resolving conflicts and corporate cultures that encourage employees to want to resolve those conflicts. Successful companies have clearly defined conflict management systems to address small issues before they become big problems. These systems can include assistance from a neutral party from outside the organization. A neutral outsider, like a mediator, can help foster a collaborative culture in the workplace, which can improve productivity and increase profits.

By Ehsan Ali and Alnoor Maherali

Anyone who has worked in an office environment knows that conflicts are common. After all, when people spend a great deal of time together, sometimes in high-pressure situations, there is going to be friction and disagreements. These matters can be as simple as a colleague wearing a powerfully scented product, or more challenging as when an employee feels they have been passed over unfairly for a promotion. 

As isolated incidents, these may seem to have little impact. But compounded over time, matters like these can fester; manifesting themselves in ways that hurt productivity and harm morale. Some issues can even turn into legal problems that can damage a company’s reputation and bottom line. As such, many companies are learning the value of mitigating and managing disputes before they can escalate.

Recognizing this, smart CEOs are implementing in-house dispute resolution mechanisms, including mediation, to address concerns early. But the availability of these resources is often not, by itself, enough to encourage their use among employees. In fact, many employees worry that if they voice their concerns they won’t be viewed as ‘team players’ and that they will face repercussions. Companies are finding that employees only feel comfortable bringing matters to the attention of senior management when the organization fosters a culture of better communication and an openness to resolving differences. In situations where this kind of culture exists, companies are likely to see higher morale, better collaboration, less turnover, and improved productivity - all of which improve profitability

There are many types of conflicts that can occur in an office setting. These include, but are not limited to: (1) Leadership style (e.g. how a manager chooses to motivate team members or make decisions); (2) Issues of interdependence (where one worker must rely on another for their own outputs); (3) Allocation of resources amongst team members; (4) Lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities, which can lead to duplication of efforts or deadlines being missed; (5) Personal differences (including values, practices, traditions or beliefs which inevitably come up in professional settings); and (6) Personality clashes (because sometimes people just don’t get along). This is not to mention COVID-19 and the conflicts related to the shift to working from home. 

So what might an in-house dispute resolution framework look like? At Venn Mediation, we believe that conflicts are best resolved by a neutral third party who has no vested interest in the outcome. This is achieved in mediation, where an impartial mediator aims to provide an informal but safe space for respectful and open communication. The mediator does not take sides, nor do they impose an outcome on the parties. Instead, people are empowered to find their own solutions that are doable and mutually beneficial. These types of agreements tend to be more sustainable because they already have buy-in from the parties. And regardless of the outcome, people tend to leave with better understanding of each other’s concerns and perspectives. This can defuse tensions and get people back to work.

In the workplace, mediation is often useful to resolve conflicts between two colleagues at similar levels. But it can also be highly effective in dealing with issues between a manager and an employee. In fact, the open and transparent nature of mediation can make these kinds of conversations, where there would normally be a power imbalance, much more equitable. Each person is given the same platform to express their concerns and they both have an equal say in the outcome. Indeed, the collaborative nature of mediation is optimal for environments like the workplace - where after the discussion is over, people still have to interact on a regular basis. There tend to be less hard feelings when people understand each other and work differences out amongst themselves. Relationship preservation is another key reason smart offices use mediation.

At Venn Mediation, we believe that every business should have a clearly defined conflict management system. And we encourage business owners to consider having an outside organization, such as ourselves, on retainer as part of that system. A mediation firm can help to resolve any issues that may come up as well as educate employees on the values of dispute resolution and how it works. An added bonus is that employees learn better problem solving and communication skills and are more likely to deal with issues than just tolerate them. The end result is better productivity and a better bottom line. 

If your organization is looking to restructure its conflict management system, or if you are struggling to resolve a specific dispute that is inhibiting your success, contact Venn Mediation. We are based in New York but do online mediations as well. We can provide professional and neutral mediators to help you identify effective and sustainable outcomes. We would love to help.

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