Workplace conflict wears two faces: it can lead to solutions, innovation, increased motivation, better team performance, and enhanced interpersonal understanding. Or, conflict can devolve into personal attacks, dismissals, attrition, and absenteeism.
The difference between these two outcomes? You. Alison Love offers a comprehensive how-to in The Manager’s Guide to Mediating Conflict that can help you make that difference and resolve conflict effectively before it erodes the foundation of your team.
Conflict in the Workplace
Research indicates that managers spend 25% of their time managing conflict - or trying to. That’s 10 hours every week that could be better invested in meeting organizational goals and objectives. The reality is that conflict is inevitable - yet most managers are not trained to handle or resolve it.
This is where Love’s usable guide comes in. Right from the start, she seeks to “redefine conflict.” There are 8 major reasons why the modern workplace is so inundated with conflict:
- Increased workloads.
- Personality styles.
- Cultural differences.
- Economic insecurities.
- Pace of change.
- Remote working.
- Social Media.
While these present diverse challenges, the cause of conflict boils down to one overarching issue: Perception. Love writes, “Conflict is not about who is right and who is wrong.” It’s not even about the facts:
“[T]he specific facts and issues of a dispute often fall away very quickly and become irrelevant. What’s left are differing perspectives and hurt feelings fuelled by misunderstanding, miscommunication, distrust and speculation over the intentions of others.”
The key to resolving conflict isn’t putting people on “trial” or taking an adversarial stance; it’s helping parties understand and accept different perspectives.
Conflict is always rooted in differences of perception. Knowing this is like having access to the secret playbooks of the parties involved; it offers a useful Big Picture perspective that becomes the key to successful resolution.
Mediation and the Manager
The Manager’s Guide to Mediating Conflict can be more than a quick read: it can become a helpful instruction manual. In addition to practical tips and easily digested diagrams and charts, it provides managers with a chance to do some productive self-reflection. Do they unintentionally behave in ways that perpetuate or escalate conflict? The most dangerous weaknesses are the ones of which we’re not even aware.
Although every manager will benefit from the information and wisdom shared in this book, more could have been made of the inherent difficulty managers face when taking on the role of Mediator. Love is very clear on this point in Chapter 2, when she states: “…. do not mediate for parties that work directly for you or with who you work closely.”
In larger organizations, this may be practical. Often, though, managers cannot maintain the necessary neutrality. When they are dealing with direct reports in conflict, they can be best served by reaching out to a third-party mediator. After all, managers have their differences in perception too! It can be difficult to put them aside when they work with the parties day in and day out.
Every manager – in every organization – can benefit from a fuller understanding of what mediation is. When you’re well-informed about the process and its potential, you increase your ability to handle conflict, as well as the likelihood of achieving mutually beneficial results. Or you’ll know enough to recognize when you need to call in external help.
Either way, you can start to free up some of those 10 hours a week. Love’s guide is an approachable place to start managing conflict for the outcomes you want.