If you had a stomach ache, would you pop a pill with the expectation that it would make you feel better, every time? No? What if your car stopped, would you try to put more petrol in it, even if the gauge says it’s full? No? Well, why do some people think the only way to manage a workplace conflict is to use the same strategy of mediation?
Mediation is a great strategy to use if people aren’t communicating well and I love being a mediator as it’s a rewarding role. But it should not be immediately considered as the panacea for all staff ailments. And here’s why…
With the stomach pain and the car stopping, it’s imperative to find out what is causing the problem. Perhaps you may have an ulcer which is causing the stomach pain and popping a pill could do more harm than good. Trying to add more petrol to the car when it’s already full is obviously not the reason it has stopped. And adding more petrol, because that fixed the problem last time, isn’t going to get the car going this time.
There may be a number of reasons why two or more staff are in conflict so it is important to find out the cause before you prescribe a solution.
To find out the root cause of a workplace conflict, initiate a Discovery session with those who are directly involved. It is during these sessions that the foundation for the beginnings of the conflict will become apparent and this is usually well before a breakdown in communication occurs. This discovery of the root cause of the conflict is the real problem which needs to be addressed and it may come as a surprise!
Take this example
I met with a manager, her two shift supervisors and seven team members, all impacted by a workplace conflict. The manager had been promoted because she had been a great technical employee. By this I mean, she was great at the job she was originally hired to do. Promoting within can be a valuable staff retention strategy but… if you want to put someone into a different position, you must expect to have to train them.
All too often, I see workplaces where dedicated and motivated employees have been promoted but haven’t been trained, and they flounder. This loss of confidence and in some situations, loss of face has been a catalyst for workplace conflict escalating. It’s not fair, nor is it logical to say the employee is the sole cause of the conflict if they haven’t been developed by the business.
In this same workplace, the people working in the supervisor roles “drifted” into taking on extra duties. It became an expectation of them to be the shift supervisors, but no one had made it official: no role statement or review of duties had been completed and no announcement had been made to all staff about these two positions and their new level of authority. These factors alone were sufficient to cause concern among staff and this concern contributed to the conflict. Again, because there were some important organisational aspects missing, it’s not fair, nor is it logical to say the employees were the sole cause of the conflict.
Here’s a great opportunity
Remember that well-managed conflict in the workplace is necessary for innovation and improvement, otherwise things never change and your business gets left behind. If you become aware of unmanaged or poorly-managed conflict in your workplace, I strongly recommend you consider it a great opportunity to review work practices, organisational structure, processes and procedures as well as the conflict management skills of your employees.
When you begin exploring the factors contributing to a conflict, listen for clues which could identify there are problems with parts of your business other than people skills. These clues, when examined further, could lead you to identify areas to be addressed to minimise the chance of another conflict occurring. Remember the potential damage unmanaged or poorly-managed workplace conflict can do to your reputation is high as it could turn away customers as well as current and future employees.
Knowing there is conflict in your workplace is a red alert – it needs to be addressed and addressed well. Taking the opportunity and completing a root cause analysis of the situation and then identifying and implementing relevant strategies will ensure you, your employees and your business are making the best of this conflict and reducing the chance of it happening again.