CMP Resolution Blog by Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.
I started getting interested in conflict resolution back in the late 90s. At the time I was a business analyst working on retail supply chain issues.
But I was much more interested in international affairs and the conflicts that were raging internationally than writing my functional specifications and forging a career in IT project development!
My lofty ambition at the time was to be Kofi Anan’s bag carrier as he brought his own brand of diplomacy to the world’s troubles!
Since then my career in mediation and conflict resolution has taken several turns and exposed me to many types of conflict. I’ve worked on organizational conflict issues with Amnesty International, workplace disputes as a freelance mediator, and community disputes involving police, schools, local authorities and neighbours.
I have to confess that even after all my training, I find it much easier to help other people manage their disputes than manage my own. I’m a natural avoider of difficult conversations and have huge empathy for managers in the workplace, for whom managing conflict or just having those awkward conversations is literally the stuff of nightmares.
Forget early resolution of conflict, many managers will avoid any resolution of conflict. The problem with this of course, is that a situation that may be easily dealt with at the initial stages of a conflict will cost exponentially more, both emotionally and financially, if ignored and left to escalate. As a mediator, I was once involved in a particular case between two mid-level managers that had been ongoing for six years before the company had decided to bring external help. Nobody calculated the financial amount that had been lost to sickness, stress absences, poor productivity… but it was certainly many many times more than my fee.
In my experience, the emotional cost of conflict for employees is often the most overlooked aspect of any dispute. Anxiety, tension, stress, sleeplessness, all manifest physically in the body; as the situation continues the symptoms only get worse. Where conflict is linked to an individual’s sense of identity, values or beliefs, the emotions, and the resulting symptoms are usually exacerbated. Telling a business analyst that their functional specification is rubbish will cause a much bigger reaction than telling them they are not a team player!
For anything else that normally caused such symptoms we might take a tablet, have a bit of extra rest or even a day off work but unfortunately there is no magic pill for dealing with workplace conflict!
I have seen organisations try and deal with this in different ways. Some look for structural remedies to preventing conflict by ensuring that their policies, procedures, job descriptions and general governance documents are water tight. Others have established in-house mediation schemes, recognising that interest-based processes are a quicker and less expensive way of resolving conflict and maintaining working relationships. Many enlightened HR departments today are recognising that up-skilling managers in the ability to have what is commonly known as ‘difficult conversations’, is a way of building leadership skills and of reducing conflicts which arise from poor communication.
Whatever an organisation’s practice, recognising that conflict will happen, it’s not necessarily bad and that dealing with it at the earliest opportunity is essential, is the first step to avoiding the emotional damage that unmanaged conflict at work results in.
Now working at CMP Resolutions, who provide a range of solutions to managing difficulties in the workplace, I’m very much looking forward to adding my experience to the existing expertise.
…And if I feel the need, our managing director tells me that I am always welcome to carry her bags!