Untangling workplace conflicts

Untangling workplace conflicts

< Back to Articles | Topics: Working for you | Contributors: Conciliation and Mediation Services (CMS), Acting Chief Conciliation and Mediation Officer, Peter Lloyd | Published: March 4, 2021

Workplace conflicts are complex. Often you can see the symptoms, but the underlying causes remain unclear. They are multi-layered, multi-armed, and most people want to ignore them at all costs! At Conciliation and Mediation Services (CMS), we help unionized workplaces in Nova Scotia who are experiencing conflict, every day. We achieve this by doing what most people avoid: we get in the middle.

Leadership Training Company VitalSmarts says that 95 per cent of employees have trouble even voicing a difference of opinion! Clearly, people are, by and large, conflict avoiders. But that can have real impacts on people and organizations. When not managed properly, conflict can lead to morale and performance problems, stress and mental health issues, absenteeism and presenteeism, grievances, and recruitment and retention issues, to name a few. So, what is an organization to do?

Have you ever considered obtaining the assistance of a neutral third party to resolve workplace conflicts? A neutral is an individual outside of your organization, who has no stake in the conflict or outcome. They have no decision-making power and are not necessarily experts in the facts of the case. Rather, they assist individuals in voluntarily reaching their own settlements, by utilizing a neutral process.

They slow conversations down, remind parties of their goals and ground rules, and even separate parties when necessary, ferrying messages back and forth in a practice known as shuttle diplomacy. They can also provide individuals with a different view of the issues and behaviours, ‘from the balcony’ as negotiation expert William Ury famously explained it.

Does all this sound too good to be true? A neutral process is not guaranteed to work and needs three key pillars to be effective. It must be:

1) Voluntary - All parties, including the mediator, must choose to participate and can withdraw from the process at any time.

2) Impartial - Any perceived or real power imbalance must be eliminated, and ulterior motives and conflicts of interest must be set aside/removed.

3) Confidential - The contents of discussions are only shared and/or used in a fashion agreed to by all participants.

Sitting down and talking through issues with a neutral party allows for time to consider solutions that might otherwise be over-looked. Mediation lets participants craft mutually agreeable outcomes that are more durable and reflective of their day-to-day realities. No one wins, no one loses, and everyone collaborates and compromises. This in turn can help the relationship, the labour relations climate, and the workplace as a whole.

CMS has a variety of free-of-charge programs and workshops available to assist unionized workplaces in Nova Scotia, including providing neutral third parties to act as mediators for grievances and acute workplace conflicts. We also have skill-building workshops on relevant topics, such as conflict management and resolution.

To find out more and apply, visit the website, email conciliation@novascotia.ca or call (902) 424-4156.

< Back to Articles | Topics: Working for you

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