Your business has heaps of policies: privacy, internet usage, intellectual property, performance management etc. It probably has ones on OHS, sexual harassment, discrimination, EEO, bullying and so on because these are required by law. These policies outline how people should behave and the course of action your organisation will take when these policies are breached.
Sadly, however, most businesses don’t have a policy on resolving workplace conflict. This gives a covert message that it’s not important. And it also means that when it happens, no one is sure what they should do about it so they don’t do anything until they’re at breaking point.
In the meantime, Sophia and Noah have spent a lot of time complaining about each other to their colleagues who then become drawn into the conflict. Staff tend to coalesce around the two combatants and those who don’t choose a side are despised as fence sitters. Now everyone’s involved watching the drama unfold, and maybe subtly feeding it by ‘supporting’ their champion.
Finally, Noah can’t stand it any more and decides to see his manager. By now, he’s extremely upset and possibly full of righteous anger. He may even use a term like ‘bullying’ because he wants his concerns to be taken seriously. After all, there’s a policy about bullying and that means it’s serious and something will be done (even if the only options are mediation or investigation).
And how does Sophia react when she’s accused of bullying? Not well, in my experience. So the conflict between them gets ratcheted up several more notches. Now, it’s going to be that much harder to get them to a point where they can resolve their issues.
So, what would a workplace conflict resolution policy look like?
- It would emphasise the position that conflict resolution is everybody’s responsibility (just like OHS)
- It would stress the expectation that parties would engage in resolution processes in good faith
- It would outline a process for resolving disputes, the first step of which would be self-resolution. Some training in self-resolution may be necessary for staff
- It would discuss future action if self-resolution is unsuccessful. This may involve the manager/HR person/conflict resolution officer who could triage the complaint and determine the best course of action. This might mean assisting the parties to resolve the dispute or engaging external personnel to mediate, coach or investigate.
In the scenario presented above, the parties would be expected to have settled their disputes through self-resolution. If that was unsuccessful, they would have sought assistance. In either case, the matter would have been resolved before parties became entrenched and damaged, and before the flames were spread throughout the organisation.
Most managers deal with complaints that are more rightly called workplace conflict than bullying, so get a policy on workplace conflict in place and get your staff some training in self-resolution. You will find you, and they, have a lot more time to get on with the job.
Helen Collins works in a variety of dispute resolution modes including mediation, coaching, facilitation and training. She assists businesses to increase productivity by managing workplace conflict.
Contact her at email@example.com or visit her website at www. profitableresolutions.com