Conflict between humans is as old as history itself. Schoolyard fights, workplace bullying, even war between nations have been the result of people not trying to understand another’s point of view. Mediation is a better way. It simply means that when two parties cannot agree, an impartial third party helps them determine how to move forward respectfully and peacefully.
When to mediate?
When should you call in a third party, a mediator, to help reach an agreement? Don’t be too quick to take this step. If the “conflict” is just a difference of opinion, it could be an opportunity to debate and learn from someone else’s perspectives. Mature people should be able to disagree respectfully, but still collaborate. Mediation will seem like an escalation and produce tension where there was none before.
If tension already exists, discern whether some complaints arise out of petty, immature behaviour. Maybe the antagonists just need to grow up and get on with work.
If the grievance is because of someone’s not following company policy or trying to evade standard work practices, that’s a disciplinary matter, not a call for mediation.
A mediator can be helpful when matters have no black and white, right or wrong. Rather, each party has a viewpoint that the other cannot or will not see. When long-standing disagreements at work are allowed to fester, a toxic workplace can result. The last thing you want is to have team members taking sides, no longer focused on the job at hand but on internal politics. Productivity and morale will take a hit.
Some types of personal conflict, such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, and gossiping are particularly damaging to the workplace. When such unacceptable behaviour is ignored, it can eventually lead to increased costs and legal issues for your organisation. Sooner or later it will affect your staff retention rate. All of this will badly affect your bottom line.
Why tackle the problem urgently?
The Australian Mediation Association provides this frightening list of reasons to act now:
- It is estimated that over 65% of performance problems result from strained relationships between employees as opposed to deficits in skill or motivation.
- A recent study of practising managers showed that 42% of their time is spent reaching agreements with others when conflicts occur.
- Up to 30% of a typical manager’s time is spent dealing with conflict.
- Exit interviews, which ascertain reasons for termination, reveal that chronic unresolved conflict is a decisive factor in at least 50% of all such departures.
- Studies have found that the cost of losing an employee is 70% to 200% of the employee’s annual salary.
- Studies reveal a direct correlation between the prevalence of employee conflict and the amount of damage and theft of inventory and equipment.
- Absenteeism has been shown to correlate with job stress, especially the stress associated with anger toward co-workers.
- 20 years of research and 60,000 exit interviews show that 80% of turnover is related to unsatisfactory relationships with the boss.
Early action through mediation can head off many of these unhappy results.
How can mediation help?
Worklogic lists these benefits to mediation in the workplace:
- Tackle the molehill before it becomes a mountain
- Reduce the likelihood that employees will make external or legal complaints
- Assist your employees to be responsible for their own behaviour and their working relationships
- Improve team effectiveness, morale and productivity, and encourage mutual respect
- Demonstrate to employees and stakeholders that concerns are taken seriously.
Canadian conflict management company Agree also points out that mediated agreements often give fast, creative, and mutually satisfactory resolutions. Acting quickly when a dispute arises will give a much greater chance of optimal resolution because:
- the parties' differences have not had a chance to fester
- the situation is generally more fluid
- the parties have more resolution options available to them.
Mediated agreements usually work better and last longer than resolutions imposed by a legal authority because everyone involved has a stake and buys into them. The mediation process fosters mutual respect through improved communication. Frayed working relationships can be restored, even when one or both parties start off hurt and angry.
Many disputes arise out of poor communication, where each party fails to understand or consider the needs of the other. The task of apportioning blame blinds everyone to the possibility that both may have a legitimate point of view.
The mediator’s task is to help both parties to understand their own and the other’s view of the situation. The mediator will encourage both to ask: What do they think will work as a practical matter? What do they think will be fair? What do they think will best honour and promote a good working relationship?
As the parties get to understand each other better, their ability to work together toward resolution —and after resolution—increases.
Did you know that Karstens provides comfortable and private mediation rooms at locations throughout Australia and New Zealand? Click here to learn more.