The Training of Conflict Resolution Skills in the Workplace


by John Ford

August 2001

John Ford 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:

  • when not to mediate,
  • when to call it a day and make a decision for the employees,
  • dealing with power imbalances,
  • reluctance to participate because of confidentiality concerns,
  • the perception that it is taking too long,
  • allowing an employee to escape disciplinary action through mediation,
  • when to seek outside help.

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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Biography




John Ford works to support individuals and organizations approach conflict with greater confidence and effect. In addition to serving as managing editor for Mediate.com since 2000, John is a past president of the Association for Dispute Resolution of Northern California. He continues to mediate workplace, health care and elder disputes, teach mediation in the graduate school of professional psychology at JFK University, and provide skill-based corporate training in communication, negotiation, conflict resolution emotional literacy and mediation.



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Website: www.johnford.com

Additional articles by John Ford



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 Al ,   Milton Fl    08/29/01 
 Don't Get Lost in Technicalities 
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As we in the ADR field continue to developo concepts and therories we should never forget the simple down-to-earth approaches to dealing with the difficulties people have. Let's get back to basics of human relations and get away from all the garbage of "the inner self" and "solving" the conflict by the means of applying all the pshchological approaches to getting to the bottom of a proglem. Let's get down to the "how are you" approach and deal with the individual without discussing the great theories of the Bush and Folger's. How do you feel? Tell me what you think of the situation? What would you like to see in this mediation? What brought you here today? Can I help you explore the problem or situation you are here to discuss? Keep it simple stupid. Go now do your job mediator!
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