Development

What is Conflict Resolution, and How Does It Work?

Submitted by Patrick Cioffi

How to manage conflict at work through conflict resolution

If you work with others, sooner or later you will almost inevitably face the need for conflict resolution. You may need to mediate a dispute between two members of your department. Or you may find yourself angered by something a colleague reportedly said about you in a meeting. Or you may need to engage in conflict resolution with a client over a missed deadline. In organizations, conflict is inevitable, and good conflict management tools are essential.

What is conflict resolution, and how can you use it to settle disputes in your workplace?

Conflict resolution can be defined as the informal or formal process that two or more parties use to find a peaceful solution to their dispute.

Several common cognitive and emotional traps, many of them unconscious, can exacerbate conflict and contribute to the need for conflict resolution:

  • Self-serving fairness interpretations.Rather than deciding what is fair from a position of neutrality, we interpret what would be most fair to us, then justify this preference on the bases of fairness. For example, department heads are likely to each think they deserve the lion’s share of the annual budget. Disagreements about what’s fairlead to clashes.
  • Overconfidence.We tend to be overconfident in our judgments, a tendency that leads us to unrealistic expectations. Disputants are likely to be overconfident about their odds of winning a lawsuit, for instance, an error that can lead them to shun a negotiated settlement that would save them time and money.
  • Escalation of commitment.Whether negotiators are dealing with a labor strike, a merger, or an argument with a colleague, they are likely to irrationally escalate their commitment to their chosen course of action, long after it has proven useful. We desperately try to recoup our past investments in a dispute (such as money spent on legal fees), failing to recognize that such “sunk costs” should play no role in our decisions about the future.
  • Conflict avoidance.Because negative emotions cause us discomfort and distress, we may try to tamp them down, hoping that our feelings will dissipate with time. In fact, conflict tends to become more entrenched, and parties have a greater need for conflict resolution when they avoid dealing with their strong emotions.

Given these and other pitfalls, how can you set up a constructive conflict resolution process when dealing with conflict at work and other realms? Conflicts can be resolved in a variety of ways, including negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and litigation.

  • Negotiation.In conflict resolution, you can and should draw on the same principles of collaborative negotiation that you use in deal-making. For example, you should aim to explore the interests underlying parties’ positions, such as a desire to resolve a dispute without attracting negative publicity or to repair a damaged business relationship. In addition, determine your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA—what you will do if you fail to reach an agreement, such as finding a new partner or filing a lawsuit. By brainstorming options and looking for tradeoffs across issues, you may be able to negotiate a satisfactory outcome to your dispute without the aid of outside parties.
  • Mediation.In mediation, disputants enlist a trained, neutral third party to help them come to a consensus. Rather than imposing a solution, a professional mediator encourages disputants to explore the interests underlying their positions. Working with parties both together and separately, mediators seek to help them discover a resolution that is sustainable, voluntary, and nonbinding.
  • Arbitration.In arbitration, which can resemble a court trial, a neutral third party serves as a judge who makes decisions to end the dispute. The arbitrator listens to the arguments and evidence presented by each side, then renders a binding and often confidential decision. Although disputants typically cannot appeal an arbitrator’s decision, they can negotiate most aspects of the arbitration process, including whether lawyers will be present and which standards of evidence will be used.
  • Litigation.In civil litigation, a defendant and a plaintiff face off before either a judge or a judge and jury, who weigh the evidence and make a ruling. Information presented in hearings and trials usually enters the public record. Lawyers typically dominate litigation, which often ends in a negotiated settlement during the pretrial period.

In general, it makes sense to start off less-expensive, less-formal conflict resolution procedures, such as negotiation and mediation, before making the larger commitments of money and time that arbitration and litigation often demand. Conflict-resolution training can further enhance your ability to negotiate satisfactory resolutions to your disputes.

Written by: R. Erickson

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Development

Executive Coaching: Effective Conflict Resolution

Submitted by Patrick Cioffi

Executive coaching has become an investment that continues to provide a host of benefits for organizations of all sizes, both small and large. By addressing numerous critical elements of successful leadership, executive coaching boosts key leadership qualities and leads to a more productive workplace. Coaching skills acquired by leaders offer multi-level benefits.

In today’s dynamic environment, leaders, managers, and executives are expected to exhibit effective leadership, accountability and team change management skills. When business leaders drive performance from an empowered place in leadership and accountability, they become more confident to make critical decisions, as well as interact with and lead their teams. For example, Retention Coaching skills can help to encourage loyalty to an organization and boost employee retention. At the same time, when leaders are supported and provided with further growth opportunities in their soft skills, they feel a greater sense of connection and commitment to the organization at large. By learning highly effective coaching competencies, leaders become more resourceful and equipped to encourage open communication, setting the stage for a positive work environment.

Employee Development  

By learning proven coaching tools, a general manager, for example, can deeply enhance their communication skills, and consequently, help the organization to boost its team communication at large. Leaders who practice coaching skills display a better Emotional Intelligence and have positively influential social skills. These leaders can communicate effectively, which means they can lead without coming across as dominating; they are good at negotiating for the benefit of all parties involved: they can significantly boost team performance, combining their negotiation and leadership skills to meet the company’s short and long-term goals.

Team Efficiency  

On top of developing effective leaders and managers, coaching competencies can improve the function of a team, department, and entire organization. Leaders with coaching skills are well equipped to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each employee both on an individual and team level. This allows the organization to plan the resources at hand strategically and keep things working as they should.

Conflict Management   

One of the key values that leaders with coaching skills offer is an alternative way of resolving disputes in the workplace. Managers, executives, supervisors, team leaders and CEOs require a range of skills to perform their leadership functions while minimizing tensions resulting from conflict avoiding Conflict, providing ineffective and perfunctory responses and taking biased measures to resolve disputes are common unsatisfactory ways that leaders without coaching skills commonly use to address workplace conflict.

The consequences of addressing conflict in this way often produce adverse effects on the organization’s bottom line. When dealt with ineffectively, stress, anxiety, anger, and other related emotions can negatively impact productivity, employee, and team satisfaction.

As a tool for conflict management and resolution, executive coaching provides leaders with efficient ways to address issues with both short and long-term benefits. More specifically, coaching skills help leaders to enhance or develop:

  • An insight into their habitual dispute resolution style and triggers that may be inefficient or counterproductive
  • Their personal communication skills and preferences for addressing conflict
  • Effective ways to address the root cause of a conflict as opposed to focusing on the symptoms
  • Ways to identify their own needs and those of their team members, with respect to the issue in dispute
  • Their existing skills in resolving conflict in conciliatory and productive ways
  • The confidence and ability to consider a wide range of options to resolve conflicts
  • Alternative ways to replace counterproductive and habitual behaviors
  • A sense of the quality of life at work and overall sense of well-being, resulting from improved relationships and extra skills that can be applied in other problem-solving situations, and reduced stress and anger.
  • Methods of effective and constructive dispute resolution that offer a greater insight into conflict origins

With the right support in skills development, leaders in organizations can create a coaching workplace culture by building greater self-awareness and developing individual interpersonal skills. By utilizing coaching skills, leaders can build conflict resilience and facilitate more satisfactory employee relationships, especially in situations where conflict has been a chronic problem in the team environment. It goes without saying that conflict costs time, money, energy, morale and adversely impact an organization. When leaders learn how to leverage coaching tools, they can formulate effective ways to prevent and resolve conflict, resulting in a healthier and more productive team environment.

Biography

Patrick Cioffi is the founder of Inspired Mediation & Arbitration Services (IMA) and is a Florida Supreme Court Certified County Mediator and a Florida Supreme Court Qualified Arbitrator.  

He is also trained in Circuit Civil, Family and Elder Care Mediation and Conflict Resolution.

The firm is committed to providing exceptional professional services to assist parties to maximize the ultimate benefit of mediation, as the parties are in control of the outcome.

Mr. Cioffi is effective in working with people and their attorneys to evaluate their positions, explore viable agreement options and create solutions that are mutually acceptable and agreeable to the parties.

He is a career businessman with expertise in Contract Negotiations, Corporate and Organizational Development, Sales, Marketing, Intellectual Property, Business Strategies, Finance, Technology Solutions and Computer Software Logic.

In addition, he has operated in 23-vertical markets including but not limited to, Hard-goods, Soft-goods, Construction, Tenant/Landlord, Business, Publishing, Finance, and Corporate and Employment disputes.

Due to his more than 45-years of business experience, he brings to the mediation and arbitration process an understanding of the issues, concerns, and complexities inherent in business matters. His hands-on and unbiased approach combined with impeccable listening skills gives him the unique ability to zero-in on the root issues. Thus, saving valuable time and money on the part of the parties.

His view of a successful negotiation and conclusion of all matters is when both people agree and walk-away feeling that they have accomplished their goals and have resolved their issues, respectfully.

Written by: R. Erickson

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Mediation

Understanding the different ways men and women deal with conflict will strengthen your operation

Submitted by Patrick Cioffi

Where there are relationships, there will be conflict, it is an inevitable part of interpersonal dynamics, and learning to resolve conflict is a crucial part of successful relationships both at home and at work. Many people will just keep quiet rather than express their viewpoint to avoid conflict, which is a great shame because by doing so we might miss out on an exciting new idea. Conflict is not always a destructive force, sometimes when we are forced to find a compromise between wildly different ideas and viewpoints, that energy provides a spark for great innovation. Conflict, like necessity, can be the mother of invention.

The way we deal with conflict is both fascinating and hugely diverse. It is dependent upon our sense of self, whether we had domineering parents or not and how they dealt with conflict, our social group, whether we have siblings and whether these siblings are older or younger than us, our genetics, and a whole host of other factors. Now add to the mix our gender and the gender mix in the workplace and it gets even more interesting!

Men are from Mars…

As with all elements of our personalities, there appears to be a masculine-feminine continuum, along which, all of us lie when it comes to confrontation and conflict resolution. From the shouting match, in your face, about to come to blows approach to the “if I talk about this immediately I might cry, which I REALLY do not want to do as it might undermine me” response. Conflict is often such an emotional experience that unless it is carefully dealt with, objectivity flies out of the window very quickly.

It is an absolute minefield when labeling things masculine and feminine and some people would fight to the death rather than be classified into one camp or other when it comes to emotional responses. The example of trying not to cry might sound sexist but ask any woman if she can relate to it and she will have been there at least once in her lifetime. Men can get frustrated by it and might even consider it a sign of weakness, but it is actually the sympathetic nervous system (the ‘fight or flight’ system) activating in response to feeling angry or frustrated. For some, yet, unknown reason, in women it more often cascades down the crying pathway than it does in men. Interestingly, tears also contain a natural painkiller, (leucine enkephalin), which could also factor into the response.

Humans are emotional creatures. We care about our opinions and how people view them, and it is exceedingly difficult to switch those emotions off and Zen Master ourselves out of an overreaction.

It takes two to tantrum

Another important issue is that it is not just about where you lie on the continuum, but where the other person in the conflict lies too. If one is a shouter and behaves aggressively and the other is a conflict avoider, then a good resolution is doomed. What often happens is that Shouty feels that they “won” because it ended as soon as they had their say, while the other keeps quiet or walks away, but will then tell anyone who will listen just how awful Shouty is, searching for the empathy that they feel that they should have received at the time. That is possibly the worse kind of outcome as it breeds negativity and can lead to people taking sides, widening the initial conflict even further.

Are we biochemically predisposed to bear grudges?

Interestingly, whilst men can often be more aggressive than women (mostly because they have higher levels of testosterone), many studies have shown that men tend to make peace more quickly after a conflict and are less likely to bear a grudge afterward. The same behaviors have been shown in male chimps too. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense as men would have had to resolve fights and re-affirm their allegiance quickly and be ready to defend their tribe against rivals and hunt effectively together. Pride is soon over-ridden when life depends on it.

Women, on the other hand, are often accused of being over-emotional and over-thinking things, which can prolong peace-making, but again a degree of this makes sense when you look at their role in the ancient tribe. Women shared child care duties with some of the other females in the group and so developed higher levels of empathy and sympathy than males, both to facilitate nurturing but also to allow them to be shrewd when it came to working out who to trust.

The problem arises when men and women cannot understand or appreciate the different ways in which they handle conflict, and miscommunication leads to damaging interactions.

When people feel that their emotional response is being trivialized or that their hurt feelings are not being appreciated, the conflict is more likely to descend into something negative and destructive. This is where empathy, compassion, and patience must be employed, often by a manager or a third-party mediator who is not directly involved in the dispute. Resolving conflicts in a positive way can be learned and taught, enriching teams and relationships and moving everyone forward.

How an organization handles conflict is an important and often over-looked part of its culture, which left neglected could undermine even the strongest of organizations.

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Mediation

The Five Steps to Conflict Resolution

Submitted by Patrick Cioffi

The definition of conflict resolution is to resolve an issue or problem between two or more people, but is there a correct way to handle conflict? What are the effects of poor conflict management? Disagreements in the workplace are inevitable, as employees have different personalities, goals, and opinions. Conflict management is one of our core areas of expertise. Learning how to handle disputes efficiently is a necessary skill for anyone in management and the key to preventing it from hindering employees’ professional growth. Here is the conflict resolution process in five steps

Step 1: Define the source of the conflict.

The more information you have about the cause of the problem, the more easily you can help to resolve it. To get the information you need, use a series of questions to identify the cause, like, “When did you feel upset?” “Do you see a relationship between that and this incident?” “How did this incident begin?”

As a manager or supervisor, you need to give both parties the chance to share their side of the story. It will give you a better understanding of the situation, as well as demonstrate your impartiality. As you listen to each disputant, say, “I see” or “uh huh” to acknowledge the information and encourage them to continue to open to you.

Step 2: Look beyond the incident.

Often, it is not the situation but the point of view of the situation that causes anger to fester and ultimately leads to a shouting match or other visible and disruptive result.

The source of the conflict might be a minor issue that occurred months before, but the level of stress has grown to the point where the two parties have begun attacking each other personally instead of addressing the real problem. In the calm of your office, you can get them to look beyond the triggering incident to see the real cause. Once again, probing questions will help, like, “What do you think happened here?” or “When do you think the problem between you first arose?

Step 3: Request solutions.

After getting each party’s viewpoint, the next step is to get them to identify how the situation could be changed. Again, question the parties to solicit their ideas: “How can you make things better between you?” As a mediator, you must be an active listener, aware of every verbal nuance, as well as a good reader of body language

You want to get the disputants to stop fighting and start cooperating, and that means steering the discussion away from finger-pointing and toward ways of resolving the conflict.

Step 4: Identify solutions both disputants can support.

You are listening for the most acceptable course of action. Point out the merits of various ideas, not only from each other’s perspective but in terms of the benefits to the organization. For instance, you might suggest the need for greater cooperation and collaboration to effectively address team issues and departmental problems.

Step 5: Agreement.

The mediator needs to get the two parties to shake hands and accept one of the alternatives identified in Step 4. The goal is to reach a negotiated agreement. Some mediators go as far as to write up a contract in which actions and time frames are specified. However, it might be sufficient to meet with the individuals and have them answer these questions: “What action plans will you both put in place to prevent conflicts from arising in the future?” and “What will you do if problems arise in the future?

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Mediation

What is Conflict Resolution, and How Does It Work?

Submitted by Patrick Cioffi

How to manage conflict at work through conflict resolution

Conflict resolution can be defined as the informal or formal process that two or more parties use to find a peaceful solution to their dispute.

Several common cognitive and emotional traps, many of them unconscious, can exacerbate conflict and contribute to the need for conflict resolution:

Self-serving Fairness Interpretations: Rather than deciding what’s fair from a position of neutrality, we interpret what would be most fair to us, then justify this preference on the bases of fairness. For example, department heads are likely to each think they deserve the lion’s share of the annual budget. Disagreements about what’s fairlead to clashes.

Overconfidence: We tend to be overconfident in our judgments, a tendency that leads us to unrealistic expectations. Disputants are likely to be overconfident about their odds of winning a lawsuit, for instance, an error that can lead them to shun a negotiated settlement that would save them time and money.

Escalation of Commitment: Whether negotiators are dealing with a labor strike, a merger, or an argument with a colleague, they are likely to irrationally escalate their commitment to their chosen course of action, long after it has proven useful. We desperately try to recoup our past investments in a dispute (such as money spent on legal fees), failing to recognize that such “sunk costs” should play no role in our decisions about the future.

Conflict Avoidance: Because negative emotions cause us discomfort and distress, we may try to eliminate them, hoping that our feelings will dissipate with time. In fact, conflict tends to become more entrenched, and parties have a greater need for conflict resolution when they avoid dealing with their strong emotions.

Given these and other pitfalls, how can you set up a constructive conflict resolution when dealing with conflict at work and other realms? Conflicts can be resolved in a variety of ways, including negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and litigation.

Negotiation: In conflict resolution, you can and should draw on the same principles of collaborative negotiation that you use in deal-making. For example, you should aim to explore the interests underlying parties’ positions, such as a desire to resolve a dispute without attracting negative publicity or to repair a damaged business relationship. In addition, determine your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA—what you will do if you fail to reach an agreement, such as finding a new partner or filing a lawsuit. By brainstorming options and looking for tradeoffs across issues, you may be able to negotiate a satisfactory outcome to your dispute without the aid of outside parties.

Mediation: In mediation, disputants enlist a trained, neutral third party to help them come to a consensus. Rather than imposing a solution, a professional mediator encourages disputants to explore the interests underlying their positions. Working with parties both together and separately, mediators seek to help them discover a resolution that is sustainable, voluntary, and nonbinding.

Arbitration: In arbitration, which can resemble a court trial, a neutral third party serves as a judge who makes decisions to end the dispute. The arbitrator listens to the arguments and evidence presented by each side, then renders a binding and often confidential decision. Although disputants typically cannot appeal an arbitrator’s decision, they can negotiate most aspects of the arbitration process, including whether lawyers will be present and which standards of evidence will be used.

Litigation: In civil litigation, a defendant and a plaintiff face off before either a judge or a judge and jury, who weigh the evidence and make a ruling. Information presented in hearings and trials usually enters the public record. Lawyers typically dominate litigation, which often ends in a negotiated settlement during the pretrial period.

In general, it makes sense to start off with a less expensive and less-formal conflict resolution process, such as negotiation and mediation, before making the larger commitments of money and time that arbitration, litigation and a trial often demand.

What conflict resolution methods have you tried before? Leave us a comment.

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Mediation

Need to Work out Conflict Between Staff in Your Workplace

Submitted by Patrick Cioffi

TRY VOMPING!

“Vomping” is a simple and effective tool for working out interpersonal conflicts, establishing understanding, and finding common ground. If you follow the steps, it can really work.

A good recommendation is to familiarize your entire group with this process even before conflicts arise. That way, when an issue does come up, every person in the group will have this tool to tackle it— “hey, can we VOMP about this?”—and others will know what they are talking about! No one must be afraid to bring something up because they don’t know how to handle it. Everyone is equipped with these simple steps to follow.

VOMPing happens in four stages—Vent, Own, eMpathize, Plan.  This process works best when two people step aside and communicate one-on-one in a private and respectful manner.  Each person needs to recognize the process and agree to go through all the steps, alternating turns and listening actively, without interrupting one another.

 

  1. Vent

First, both people “vent” about this issue. This is your opportunity to tell your side of the story completely uninterrupted and get it all out there. Just make sure you use “I” statements, speaking only from the first person to describe your own personal experience.  Be vigilant about not disrespecting your partner and be honest. Use concrete examples, express your emotions, and get it all out there. One person goes first, then the other goes. While your partner is speaking, listen actively and do not interrupt them at all. Each person should have the time to tell their story.

  1. Own

Now, each person takes “ownership” of their words, actions, and attitudes and acknowledges their part in the story. Even when it seems like one person is totally “in the wrong” a conflict is never entirely one-sided. Be honest and remember that both of you are motivated to clarify and resolve the problem.

This is a very exciting step in the process of conflict resolution because it allows each person to assume responsibility for their part in the conflict, and since both people are committed to taking responsibility, much of the fire of hostility is extinguished in this step. Ownership is a safe step because both people are committed to this process and to identify their role in the conflict.

  1. eMpathize

This is your chance to stand in the other person’s shoes and see things from their perspective. When you do this, you can honestly internalize and recognize the other person’s experience and relate to their emotions and both the intended and unintended effects of your words and actions. Empathizing helps us grow in our understanding as people and brings us closer together.

  1. Plan

Now, suggest concrete actions and agreements that can be made to address the issue and solve the problem. Find the common ground here and make an action plan. The plan doesn’t have to be set in stone and can always be revised later.  Plans are important so we can move forward and feel like we’ve really accomplished something through the process. Plans can also be referred to as a mutual basis for accountability in the future.

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Workplace

Avoiding and Handling Workplace Conflict

If you’ve never experienced workplace conflict, consider yourself among the minority.

According to a study commissioned by CPP Inc. — publishers of the Myers-Briggs Assessment and the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument — 85% of U.S. employees deal with conflict on some level.

While it’s common to have conflict of some sort in the workplace due to differing personalities, management styles and opinions, it becomes a problem when a situation or disagreement disrupts the flow of work.

According to the report, the following statistics demonstrate how pervasive conflict is in the workplace:

-29% of employees deal with workplace conflict almost constantly
-34% of conflict occurs among front-line employees (employees who deal directly with customers)
-49% of conflict is a result of personality clashes and “warring egos”
-34% of conflict is caused by stress in the workplace
-33% of conflict is caused by heavy workloads
While most employees in the study agreed that managing conflict is an important leadership skill, only a small percentage had ever received any training on how to prevent or handle conflict when they entered the workforce.

So, how do you deal with conflict?

Training is the most beneficial and productive way, but if that isn’t available, experts suggest the following ways for managers to handle workplace conflict.
Understand the nature of the conflict. Try not to make assumptions about the conflict or play into rumors that may be circulating. Instead, figure out what’s fueling the disagreement between your employees. Is it clashing personalities? Tight deadlines? A difficult client?

Let individuals express their feelings. Some feelings of anger and/or hurt usually accompany conflict situations. Before any kind of problem-solving can take place, these emotions should be expressed and acknowledged.

Encourage employees to work it out themselves. This doesn’t mean that you stay out of it completely, it just means that as a business leader you want your employees to be self-sufficient – you’re their boss, not their mother. Provide guidance or talking points, if needed, to help each employee approach the other person in a positive manner. Don’t set the expectation that you’ll fix the problem for them, but rather you are there to help facilitate a discussion. While this doesn’t apply to more serious situations, it can be a good first step.

Nip it in the bud. If the employees can’t work it out, then it’s time to step in. This should be done quickly so that the conflict doesn’t get worse. When it’s time to get involved, determine if it would be best to meet with the employees together or separately, then hear them out. Give them time to tell their side of the story and focus on the facts. Once all employees have had this opportunity, ask each of them to offer ideas on how the situation could be resolved and how all parties could move forward. Whatever you do, don’t take sides!

Find a solution. Employees don’t have to be best friends; they just need to get the job done. To help ensure you reach a fair resolution, make sure your decision is aligned with company policy. No employee should be above workplace rules. Also, conflict resolution doesn’t necessarily have to end in agreement.

Sometimes, it’s best to agree to disagree, respectfully. When that happens, employees should acknowledge there is a difference of opinion or approach and come up with a solution together on how to move forward.

Teach Them How to Communicate

For some employees, talking out a situation isn’t enough. Typically, people who have these types of problems likely have communication issues already. If there’s a lot of discord among your staff, it’s probably time to teach them some basic communication and problem-solving techniques. Personality assessments and training, such as the DiSC profile, may help your employees communicate more effectively as a team.

Don’t completely rule out organizational changes, either.

Sometimes, if it comes down to it, you can improve employee focus and the workplace dynamic by reorganizing teams. It may be helpful to give the employees involved time to “cool off” before they work together again.
In some cases, you will need to involve the Human Resources Department and possibly the legal department, especially if the conflict is a matter of discrimination or harassment.

The best thing a manager can do is lead by example. Building a culture of engaged employees who respect each other, and work well together starts at the top. By speaking to your employees in an honest and respectful manner, you create an environment that fosters integrity and communication. When you’re open and honest, employees are more likely to follow suit.

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Mediation

Benefits of Mediation in Employment Issues

When faced with a legal problem at their place of employment, many believe that their only option is to the take the matter to court being unaware of the benefits of mediation in employment law cases. Mediation is a legal alternative to costly and lengthy litigation and is beneficial to both employee and employer.

Our firm, Inspired Mediation Services, offers mediation services to both employees and employers. In our experience, mediation is sometimes the best way to quickly and affordably resolve a workplace-related legal dispute.

Mediation is an Alternative to Litigation

One of the biggest benefits of mediation in employment law cases is that it can often keep a matter from entering into litigation. Court cases can be long and expensive, costing both employee and employer an excess of time and money. A benefit of mediation is that it aims to resolve the issue before it ever has to go to court. Most matters can be settled in only a single mediation session, providing a solution without a long and costly court case.

Mediation Improves Communication

Another benefit of mediation in cases of employment law is its ability to improve communication between employer and employee. Mediation allows both parties to speak freely about the matter in a confidential, moderated session. This increased communication can improve workplace relations and allow the matter to be resolved without feelings of bitterness and resentment.

Mediation Provides a More Satisfying Resolution

Many who engage in mediation say it provides the benefit of a more satisfactory resolution to their legal matter, as compared to litigation. Employee and employer can work together to find a solution they both agree on without having to rely on a decision made by the courts. Those who have settled their employment law cases through mediation often say they would utilize the process again should they ever have the need, as it provided them with a more fulfilling resolution than they would have received if they had gone to trial.

Before taking your employment law case to court, it is important that you explore and consider the benefits of mediation. Polaris can help you examine your options and assist you in the mediation process.

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Workplace

How to Resolve Conflicts with Your Co-worker

Published by: The Harvard Business Review

Differences of opinion at work are inevitable and often integral to innovation, problem-solving, and performance improvement. But knowing that most clashes have benefits does not make them any easier to manage. Disagreements with coworkers can be uncomfortable, and if handled poorly, result in unproductive and even harmful conflict. The good news is that, with a little planning, you can avoid a fight and find an answer that everyone agrees on.

What the Experts Say

Because most people are uncomfortable discussing differences, it’s rare that disagreements go smoothly. “Most conflicts are resolved through brute force or splitting the difference,” says Jeff Weiss, a Founding Partner of Vantage Partners, LLC and co-author of Harvard Business Review’s “Want Collaboration?: Accept and Actively Manage Conflict” and “Simple Rules for Making Alliances Work.” Unfortunately, this approach often means both sides are unhappy with the outcome. Having a productive disagreement starts with your mindset. “Assume you have something to learn, assume there is a more creative solution than you’ve thought of,” says Weiss. By entering the discussion with an open mind, regardless of your coworker’s stance, you are likely to find common ground. Of course, doing this right takes time and attention. Judith White, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Tuck School of Business and co-author of “Why It Pays to Get Inside the Head of Your Opponent,” warns that you should “expect to invest time and thought.”

Below are some guidelines to help you turn a negative situation into a positive one.

Prepare

Being prepared for a dispute requires knowing your own position and trying to better understand your coworker’s. Before approaching your colleague, White advises you “know what your underlying intentions are.” Weiss identifies three types of differences between coworkers:

1. Substantive, in which you disagree over the content or task at hand
2. Relational, when the dissent is really about your relationship with your coworker
3. Perceptual, when you and your coworker are seeing the problem differently

Understanding this can help you approach the conversation with clarity. First, acknowledge the type of disagreement you are having and check with your coworker that he sees it the same way.

Regardless of the nature of the quarrel, try to leave your emotions at the door. “Disagreements are best solved through objectivity rather than emotions,” says Weiss.

Preparation also includes careful consideration of logistics. Schedule your meeting so you will have enough time to reach a conclusion. Be sure the conversation can happen face to face in a private setting. Don’t try to solve differences using email, which does not do a good job of conveying tone or nuance.

Identify Common Ground

To start a difficult conversation the right way, it’s important for you and your coworker to identify something you agree on. This may be a common goal or a set of operating rules that you consent to. Try saying something like: “We both want to develop a plan that will take our company to the next level,” or “We said we would be thorough about this decision.” Be sure that the common ground is something your colleague genuinely cares about, and not something you think he should. Before moving on, check for your coworker’s agreement. You may also want to reassure him that you value your relationship. This will reassure him that your point of contention is not a personal one.

Hear Your Co-worker Out

Even if you think you already understand your coworker’s perspective, you should hear what she has to say. Ask questions that help you fully understand her point of view and determine whether your disagreement is a function of differing interests or differing perceptions. According to Weiss, this requires that you “stop figuring out your next line” and actively listen. Don’t just hearing her story but take it in as well. Remain open to persuasion since your coworker’s explanation of her side may uncover an important piece of information that leads to a resolution. For example, if she says she is just trying to keep her boss happy, you can help her articulate how a resolution is aligned with her boss’s concerns.

Once you’ve heard your coworker out, share your own story. This should not be done in a “point, counter-point” way, but should focus on helping your co-worker to see where you’re coming from. If she challenges your interpretation, let her vent and express her frustration.

Propose a Resolution

When all data is on the table, offer a resolution. Don’t propose what you walked in the door with but use the information you gathered during your conversation to come up with a better solution. Say to your coworker, “You’ve said A, and I’ve said B, perhaps we can consider solution C.” “Don’t assume a combative stance,” says White. If he isn’t happy with the solution you’ve put out there, engage him in a problem-solving process to come up with a result you can both live with.

When it goes badly…

Even with a well-thought-out approach, some disagreements turn ugly. “Most often these conversations turn into battles when it gets personal,” says White. If your exchange becomes heated, bring the conversation back to your shared interests or goals. Re-focus the dialogue on the future. “You can’t resolve a battle over a problem that has already happened, but you can set a course going forward,” says White.

If your co-worker is antagonistic or aggressive, it may be best to take a break from the conservation. You can either literally step out of the room or pause mentally pause to observe the course of the conversation. This “outsider” observation can help you gain perspective on what’s really going on. You may also try changing the process: step up to the white board, take out a piece of paper to brainstorm, or even offer to continue the discussion over drinks or dinner. This can help to alter the dynamic that’s developed between you. If all else fails, withdraw and find a third person to mediate.

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Focus on shared goals and interests
  • Understand the nature of your disagreement before meeting with your coworker
  • Remain open to persuasion

Don’t:

  • Assume you fully understand your colleague’s perspective
  • Try to solve a disagreement over email
  • Stop your coworker from venting his frustrations

Case Study: Reframing the disagreement as an agreement

Andrew Lund is a professor of film and media at Hunter College in New York. His department, like all departments at Hunter, is assessed by an external reviewer every eight years to help the university allocate resources. Last year, the department received a glowing evaluation. However, the reviewers said in their report that film and media’s graduate program was taking valuable resources away from its undergraduate program.

Andrew and his colleagues knew that this would upset graduate program professors. Before long, they began to hear rumors that these colleagues were planning to repeal the report. Simon (not his real name), one of Andrew’s coworkers, a leader in the film and media department, felt that the group should remain silent on the issue, neither endorsing nor distancing themselves from the report. According to Simon, they weren’t responsible for what went into it especially since no one in film and media had expressed that opinion during the review process.

Andrew believed that remaining silent would only infuriate the graduate program professors. “The only thing it would do is create suspicion and competition between colleagues,” he said. With a faculty meeting looming, he knew he had to resolve the conflict between him and Simon and align the department. After listening to Simon’s view, he told him that they both wanted the same thing: funding for the department and a good working relationship with all their colleagues. He said he believed that their disagreement was procedural more than anything. Andrew explained that speaking up would show support for graduate program faculty and put film and media in a position to dictate further funding terms.

He proposed that they make a motion at the beginning of the faculty meeting to rescind the section of the report without taking accountability for it. After hearing Andrew out, Simon agreed to go on record that the review didn’t reflect the department’s views. “Not only did we solve the conflict, we won goodwill,” the team was triumphant!

Resolving Conflicts respectfully™

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Workplace

HOW TO RESLOVE WORKPLACE CONFLICTS

Note: The following is an excerpt from the book, Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO.

For business professionals who hope to positively impact their organizations while also building their executive presence, conflict can provide great opportunities to test their mettle and show enlightened leadership. The following list offers some additional tools and strategies to aid in that process.

Use Active Listening — Most of us understand the benefits of “being in the moment.” In a conflict situation, this means listening carefully to all sides without an emotional filter, the way a judge listens to lawyers pitching their cases. If you’re a manager arbitrating a conflict between two employees, this is a bit easier than if you are a party to the conflict. Nonetheless, being crystal clear on the reasoning of each side in a conflict is critical to helping create a mutually satisfying resolution. The term “listening” in this context applies to more than words; you should strive to perceive the multitude of signals — from vocal tonality to facial expressions and body language — all of which can speak volumes about the intent and motivation of the participants.

Acknowledge and Validate — As an arbitrating manager, it is critical that you not only seek to understand both positions in a conflict but also validate each party’s claim. You don’t have to agree with the claim; just acknowledge each party’s unique perspective. This alone can open the parties’ minds with the assurance that they’ve been heard, even if the outcome doesn’t exactly go their way. People need respect and consideration just as much as they want to get their way. In the game of conflict, sometimes emerging emotionally validated, with one’s status intact, is enough.

Empathize — The power of empathy in conflict resolution cannot be overstated. Empathy happens when you put yourself, minus your biases and personal experiences, in the shoes (the circumstances) of both parties and, if you’re one of the combatants, in the shoes of your opponent. Try more than to just see the situation from the other person’s point of view; try to feel it, too. If you do, you may find that the picture takes on a slightly different hue.

Implement Boundaries and Expectations — Because you are a manager, people are looking to you to clarify boundaries and expectations for behavior and outcomes. If these things are muddy in the middle of a conflict, your job is to clarify them for the feuding parties. The idea here isn’t to reprimand but to prevent escalating emotions from clouding the established norms of conduct in a conflict and to reinforce the expectations for roles, behaviors, and outcomes. A good way to open this can of behavioral worms is to simply ask the parties to state what they believe the boundaries and expectations to be that pertain to debating the issue at hand, using their perspectives as a platform for your clarification and reinforcement. This approach enables open and honest communication and will keep the parties within acceptable boundaries as they (or you) work through the issues.

Be Tactful — This may not be easy, as any one of the parties to a conflict may be way out of line from the outset. But don’t get sucked into the brewing emotion, and don’t convey even the slightest sense of disrespect for the parties or their views even if they originated on another planet. If you remain sensitive to their feelings, the chances that they’ll remain open to your input increase — to everyone’s benefit.

Explore Alternatives — The parties to a conflict rarely are interested, at least at first, in looking at things differently. It’s your job as the arbitrating manager to help them do this, and it happens when you begin exploring alternative views and solutions with them. Ask open-ended questions such as “How would you act differently if this policy were reversed?” that require thought and elaboration. If you can get them to talk about an alternative, you’re a step closer to getting them to accept one.

Use “I” Statements — When you are a party to a conflict, using a first-person context is much more productive than using other language. If you say, for example, “I was angry when you said that about me,” you’ll be greeted with more openness than you would be if you say, “What you said about me was wrong.” People can’t argue with how you felt, but they can certainly dispute the right or wrong of things. Speaking about how you feel avoids accusation, and accusations are fuel on the fire of conflict.

Make Use of the Power of Stroking — It may sound manipulative, but if you can say something positive about the other person in the heat of a dispute, that person will be more open to hearing what you have to say about the issue at hand. Stroking the other person says you aren’t attacking her character and haven’t lost respect for her, only that in this instance you disagree with something that was said or done. Conflict goes off the rails when it becomes personal, but ironically, injecting something personal in a positive manner is the best way to keep it from going there.

Attack the Issues, not the Person — Conflicts sometimes are smoke from another fire or the surfacing of past disagreements or personality conflicts. When you sense triangulation entering the argument — the use of an unrelated opinion or issue to create a negative context for the present one, such as, “You always put yourself first in these situations” — you know that this is personal rather than issue-driven. As an arbitrating manager, listen for anything that is personal in nature and bring the conversation back to the issue as quickly as possible.

No matter how enlightened your conflict management approach is, when emotions run high and egos get bruised, relationships can suffer long-term damage. And particularly in a work environment where cooperation and teamwork reign supreme, this isn’t something to shrug off. Use these techniques to restore a relationship, or at least replace simmering resentment with mutual respect and collegiality.

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