Overcoming Conflict

In the current economic climate many organisations are cutting their workforce, merging or restructuring. This raises challenging issues for employers and employees that can lead to workplace conflict.

The stress and anxiety involved creates heightened episodes of workplace conflict that can be protracted and difficult.

Here at Spark Coaching and Training, we are finding that we are increasingly being asked to help managers with their conflict management.

Common causes of conflict are:

  • General behaviour, attitude and conduct issues
  • Conflict about performance
  • Sickness absences
  • Clashing working relationships with colleagues

We see this last example frequently.

Conflict if left to fester can cause major problems for the individuals, the team and the organisation. If it has not been resolved in a timely fashion by the manager and has escalated to involve HR in either a disciplinary or grievance procedure, then mediation is often considered.

According to ACAS “Mediation may involve a third party challenging, prompting, suggesting but not judging or recommending solutions. Those in dispute retain the power to determine outcome.”.

However, the word “mediation” may be an emotionally loaded one for some.

If your image of mediation is summed up by TV pictures of striking transport workers (or striking miners if your memory goes that far back) then think again.

We prefer not to use the word ‘mediation’ at all because of its formality and connotations.

Recently, we were asked to assist with managing two members of staff in conflict. Our approach was to facilitate a better conversation between them both.

Our facilitated conversations follow a similar format to the one below although each assignment is unique – because the people are unique.

Facilitated Conversations

Stage 1: Scope the issue

This done by talking to the commissioning client about what problems this is causing the organisation. This is often an HR Manager or Senior Line Manager. This gives us some background from the organisation but we also keep an open mind about the ‘story’. What are the success outcomes for the organisation, which links into the cost of doing nothing about this situation? Some outcomes can be as little as getting them to talk civilly to each other.

Stage 2: Contact with both parties

We see each person in the dispute individually, off-site if possible on ‘neutral’ territory where they are relaxed and free to talk. By listening to each account we help them to identify options on ways forward and success measures. If there looks like a way forward and both parties agree in their sessions, then it’s possible to move to the next stage.

Sometimes the next stage does not always have to take place. A shift in perception by either party at the individual sessions may be enough for them to agree their own actions to take back into the workplace.

Stage 3: Three way ‘face to face’ meeting

  • Hearing the issues
  • Exploring the issues
  • Building agreements and action plans

Hearing the Issues

As highly experienced and trained coaches and mentors, we use these skills to help people; employing part coaching and part perception shifting around the truth of the story that each person has. Assumption testing is crucial as some stories are entrenched.

Both parties get equal and uninterrupted time against a background of a structured process and clear ground rules. They can use the time to explain their concerns, views and feelings while ensure ground rules are kept, areas are summarised and the two individuals have understood each other.

Exploring the issues

In these facilitated conversations, people are allowed plenty of time to vent their emotion and acknowledge differences while looking for common ground. Hopefully they may learn new skills within our sessions. After all, it is a coaching session and all coaching is development. These new skills are often the ability to listen more accurately and to be able to read the signals or the music behind the words.

To be able to separate impact from intent, acknowledge their contribution to the problem, abandon the blame game and reframing the story. We use a variety of tools and techniques to facilitate all this and it will be tailored to different clients and different situations.

Building agreements and action plans

We use our Resolve Model which provides an open and easy to follow structure to guide the conversation to action points that can be taken back to the workplace.

At an appropriate time, suggestions will be summarised and the individuals will be helped to crystallise the agreement and ‘sign up’ to them. Sometimes these will be written agreements and sometimes the ‘sign up will be with a ‘gentleman’s handshake’.

Using this type of process to manage conflict is one way of having an honest and ‘grown up’ conversation outside of the formal procedure.

Conflict if left untreated does not go away. It can be a major headache for employers. The CIPD estimated that 370 million working days are lost and costs are £24 billion per year in the UK alone. This sort of money is not to be sniffed at in difficult economic times.

If you would like to save money and lessen the headaches then Spark Coaching and Training can help.

If you have a number of individuals in dispute and it is causing problems with performance and team morale then contact me for a no obligation discussion about the situation and your needs.

in the long-term save money by training your managers in conflict management with us, so that they can nip problems in the bud before they escalate, then talk to us about out in house training workshops.



8 years ago : May 7, 2014

By Julia Menaul