An ideal approach to conflict management in the workplace is an integrated one. Very few, if any, organizations can boast of this achievement. Rather, integration represents a vision for the future. That said, there are many options for organizations both small and large who are traveling in this direction.
A common intervention is training. It is used by organizations that are concerned about the way employees are actually dealing with conflict. For the most part training focuses on interpersonal skills (listening, effective communication, negotiation, and conflict resolution).
A popular approach to conflict resolution training is the use of a step approach: Dan Dana of the Mediation Training Institute uses a four step approach, Dudley Weeks uses eight in his book “The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution” and Stewart Levine a seven step approach in “Getting to Resolution”. Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith take a different approach, and rather than presenting a linear set of steps describe eight paths in their book “Resolving Conflict at Work”.
Regardless, interpersonal skills training is important for all employees. Supervisors and managers need something more as they are typically put in positions where they are responsible for the way conflict is being handled by their employees.
The most common approach used by managers and supervisors to resolve conflict that involves their subordinates, is through informal arbitration. They listen to both sides and then tell them what to do. This invariably creates tension and resentments unless the solution is able to incorporate the needs of both employees.
Another approach is to use informal mediation. The employees are empowered to solve their own problem under the guidance of the supervisor or manager. It is in their best interests to reach an amicable solution as when impasse is reached the manager reverts to the arbitration model and imposes a decision.
Some organizations train their managers and supervisors in managerial mediation. One day is hardly enough time to develop the skills of a professional mediator, and there are some that question the wisdom of this approach. However, given that effective managers do mediate–even if they are unaware that they are doing so–another view is that a lot can be learnt in a day.
In addition to learning a basic mediation model, managerial mediation training should address:
Having a well trained workforce will help move an organization towards an integrated conflict management system. Whether through interpersonal skills training or managerial mediation training, the hope is that an organization will be better equipped to deal with the inevitable conflict that will arise, and that this will translate into increased productivity.
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