Find Mediators Near You:

Break & Repair vs. Preventive Maintenance in Workplace Conflict

Conflict Remedy Blog by Lorraine Segal

Are you waiting until relationships are broken to deal with workplace conflict? Tip: this is not the most effective way to deal with disagreements and problems!

Recently I had a conversation about this with an old friend of mine who now has a handyman business. I was telling him about my work in conflict management, and how I much prefer to teach people conflict management skills, and give them a conflict “toolkit” before they are in a conflict, or coach them individually on how to manage and heal conflicts, rather than sit down “cold” in a mediation with two “hot” people who are very angry with each other.

My friend understood what I was talking about right away, because he said it is the same in his business. People ignore a problem and wait to call him until something is completely broken and won’t work at all. He will fix it, but he also tries to educate them about the value of regularly scheduled maintenance. He called it “break and repair” versus “preventive maintenance”. The way he expressed it, sounded exactly like two basic approaches to conflict!

In both our businesses, preventive maintenance is a lot more cost effective and less stressful. Why?

In his business, when something, like a cupboard door, for example, is completely broken, it takes more time to repair, and, as well as increased labor costs, you may need to buy replacement parts, such as a new latch or hinges or even a new door if it got splintered.

In workplaces, managers, HR staff, and “C” suite people often don’t know what to do about a conflict, since managing conflict isn’t usually part of their professional training. So, they ignore it, hoping it will just go away on its own. Generally, this is as (un) effective as ignoring a dripping faucet, hoping it will fix itself. When the relationship is “broken” and there are a lot of misunderstandings, grudges, and hurt feelings, it takes a lot more time and effort and money to “repair” the damage.

A number of times now, I’ve been called into organizations or corporations that are having a conflict crisis. Often, through individual and sometimes dialogue coaching, I am able to help fix the situation. But, I also often offer to do a conflict and bullying assessment, with the goal of addressing problem areas and the need for training, so they can be more proactive rather than waiting for another relationship or situation to “break”.  Sometimes they agree, and other times they wait and call me for help with another crisis.

It is human to look away and hope a problem, whether in a home repair situation or at work, will go away if you ignore it. But it is far more effective, and more conducive to a peaceful, productive work environment to address problems early before they become major. The “preventive maintenance” approach is also the purpose of the 12-week conflict management certificate program I created at Sonoma State University.

So, I ask you—is there a conflict at your workplace that you are ignoring, feeling helpless about, or hoping will go away? I encourage you to do “preventive maintenance” now, and avoid much bigger problems in the future.


Lorraine Segal

After surviving the 50's and 60's, as well as twenty years in toxic academia as a tenured professor, Lorraine Segal was inspired to started her own business, Conflict Remedy (, happily teaching, coaching, blogging and consulting around workplace conflict transformation. She is addicted to reading novels and enjoys walking and… MORE >

Featured Mediators

View all

Read these next


Sigurdson, Glenn: Court vs. Mediation – Video

Glenn Sigurdson expresses concern about the courts using ADR in their own image and not giving parties real choice. This is drawing power away from the field.

By S. Glenn Sigurdson

When You Can’t Get Through To Them: Cultural Diversity In Mediation

An experienced Houston mediator recently complained about a divorce mediation that ended in an impasse. At best the husband had been too stubborn. At worst the husband had purposely and...

By Josefina Rendon

Beer Summits And Presidential Mediations

From Colin Rule's blog. I've wanted to post something on Obama's Beer Summit for some time, but I thought it best to let the dust settle before weighing in. The...

By Colin Rule