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<xTITLE>Workplace Conflict: An Inevitable Fact of Life</xTITLE>

Workplace Conflict: An Inevitable Fact of Life

by John Ford
January 2001 John Ford
Conflict is an inevitable fact of any organizations life. Organizations that accept this truism, do so for many different reasons, and those that do, are able to access the beneficial potential of conflict.

The impetus to accept organizational conflict and work with it rather than against it, has, for the most part, been driven by the desire to avoid pain. The direct and indirect costs of conflict (not resolved or poorly resolved) has been a big motivator.

According to Cornell's Professor Lipsky "across the board, the primary motivators are cost and time (Both are terms used to discuss cost)." The full text of his interview is available online.

But there are also organizations who are driven by hope rather than fear, and in coming to terms with the fact that they will always have conflict, seek to deal with it as creatively as possible.

Again, according to Professor Lipsky "in the vanguard companies . . .the HR professionals will say this (conflict management) is a top priority for us and we need to design a system that will enable us to meet this need."

The report of the Association for Conflict Resolution, (formerly Spidr, AFM and Crnet) on guidelines for the design of integrated conflict management systems will go a long way to provide direction to organizations, however motivated. The report has been finalized and is available on their web site.

According to the report, organizations that are managing conflict effectively share these characteristics:
1. They provide options for all types of problems and all people in the workplace, including employees, supervisors,professionals, and managers.
2. They create a culture that welcomes dissent and encourages resolution of conflict at the lowest level through direct negotiation.
3. They provide multiple access points. Employees can readily identify and access a knowledgeable person whom they trust for advice about the conflict management system.
4. They provide multiple options -- both rights-based and interest-based -- for addressing conflict.
5. They provide systemic support and structures that coordinate and support the multiple access points and multiple options and that integrate effective conflict management into the organization's daily operations.

The reality remains, that wherever an organization is located, it operates in a legal environment that will influence how it views and responds to conflict. In the U.S. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has continued to advance with its own mediation program, while the fate of the National Employment Dispute Resolution Act remains uncertain.

Writing in the Journal of ADR in Employment, Scott Nelson suggested that, if passed, the act would "radically change the way employers, employees,attorneys, and the EEOC handle employment discrimination claims." (Vol. 2 No. 4 Winter 2000)

It would require employers to implement internal dispute resolution programs that provide voluntary access to external mediators, regardless of whether the employee filed a charge of discrimination.

Although the generally accepted goal is to deal with conflict as early as possible within an organization, some conflict will leave the organization for resolution as an employment dispute.

For those with that challenge, I can recommend two articles that were recently posted on our web site. Sara Adler has written a useful article on strategies for a successful employment mediation, while Stephen Cabot provides a blueprint for the quick and satisfactory resolution of employment claims. (Settling Employment Disputes)

In closing, I want to encourage everyone interested in workplace conflict to communicate with one another through our discussion forum, or if you would like to add your thoughts to this or any other article on our site, by using our "Add Brief Comment" tool.

Workplace Editorial-September 2000


 John Ford is the author of Peace at Work and founder of the HR Mediation Academy. He mediates; trains; and consults to organizations that have accepted the inevitability of conflict and are seeking to approach it with greater clarity and confidence. He was the managing editor of from 2000 to 2011, and is a past president of the Association for Dispute Resolution of Northern California. 

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