Want to resolve workplace conflict? Fourth, be vigilant

I’ve been posting a series looking at some very cost-effective ways organisations can set up an efficient conflict management system so they can manage issues when they arise.

My first three pillars have been having a conflict resolution policy, training staff and training managers.

This post will look at the last pillar: being vigilant about your response to conflict in the same way that you are vigilant about your response to fire.

Even if your organisation has never had a fire, you have smoke detectors, fire blankets, fire extinguishers, and you take part in the drills. Some businesses pay for fire wardens to be trained and for fire-fighting equipment because we all know fire can be very, very dangerous.

If you adopt the same approach to conflict resolution, having a policy and training staff and managers are the equivalent of having smoke detectors, fire blankets and extinguishers in that they are your first line of defence.

These tools need to be regularly checked and maintained so they function when you need them. In the same way, your conflict resolution policy and training also need to be revisited regularly, even when there hasn’t been a ‘fire’.

No one thinks that if they’ve taken part in a fire drill, they never have to do it again. The same should be true for conflict resolution training. Through annual training, staff can be reminded about their role in resolving disputes and the tools they have at their disposal. It also means staff who may have missed the training previously and any new staff can be brought up to speed.

Annual training for managers means they can gain more sophisticated skills and tools that will enable them to successfully tackle a broader range of issues.

Larger organisations might assign ‘fire warden’ positions: contact officers who staff can approach to discuss their concerns and learn about options before they speak with managers.

Organisations with staff in the thousands might appoint independent facilitators who, in addition to listening to staff concerns, could also provide coaching for staff and managers. These facilitators are often trusted by staff as they are seen as independent of HR who, rightly or wrongly, may be perceived as putting the organisation’s needs ahead of the employees.

So, I’m proposing a conflict management system with four foundation pillars to which other modules can be added depending on the size of your organisation. It’s a relatively simple system to set up and the initial funding would only need to cover policy development plus a half day of training for staff and one day for managers. After that, in maintenance mode, all that would be needed is an annual policy review and another half day of training for staff and for managers. It’s probably about what your organisation is currently committing to fire prevention. And, as conflict resolution costs Australian businesses more than fire*, it could be the best money you ever spent.

*The Know Bull Workplace Bullying Survey has discovered that the time lost to strife between workers is estimated to cost Australian workplaces, on average, between $6 billion and $36 billion every year in downtime. Compared to this, the cost of injury, lost lives and lost property to fire amounts to $1.7 billion.


Helen Collins works in a variety of dispute resolution modes including mediation, coaching and training, and conducts investigations. She assists businesses to increase productivity by managing workplace conflict.

Contact her at profitableresolutions@netpsace.net.au or visit her website at www. profitableresolutions.com


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