Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies
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Each workplace conflict has a number of unique variables that move even the most adept managers to call experts for help. Some conflicts are easily handled, and others, well, are not so easy. You may want to call in a professional to manage the resolution because

  • You’ve assessed the conflict and it’s beyond your abilities. There’s no shame in acknowledging that you’re not the right person for the situation; in fact, doing so shows that you’re being thoughtful and cautious about the conflict.

  • You’ve tried everything else you can think of, and nothing has produced the desired effect. Giving it one more try by providing a fresh perspective may be what’s needed to calm the situation or to move an employee from his fixed position.

  • *You want the employees to know that you’re serious. Bringing in a professional can send a message to your staff: You want them to make a change and do things differently, and you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is. If you’re clearly invested in the process, employees often follow suit and invest in the outcome.

  • You can’t guarantee neutrality, impartiality, or confidentiality. Mediating a case in which one of the employees could accuse you of favoritism is a potentially destructive way to spend a few hours. And if the circumstances of the conflict are such that you’re not certain you can guarantee personal confidentiality, don’t risk your reputation or the trust of your employees by trying to tackle the situation on your own.

  • You want to create a personal or professional boundary. You may not want to handle every dispute and disagreement in the office! Create some space by allowing someone else to help out once in a while.

  • You believe your employees will be more receptive if they hear the message from a different messenger. Hearing someone else’s voice and learning from someone new may provide a needed breakthrough.

  • You anticipate that a disciplinary action will be necessary, and you want to show you’ve done everything you can. By bringing in a professional, you make a clear statement to the employee that a change is required. If a change isn’t achieved, you can follow up with punitive action.

  • You want to be a part of the process, but not as the mediator. There are times when being a participant alongside your employees in a mediation, training, or group facilitation produces promising results. Taking a supportive role in conflict can create a new dynamic and an atmosphere of team building and problem solving that can last long after the mediation session has ended.

Whether the decision to hire a conflict resolution expert is yours to make alone or you need authorization from someone higher up, be sure you’re giving it thoughtful and thorough consideration. Then when you approach your supervisor or Human Resources professional regarding your decision you’ll be fully prepared to answer questions. Include a summary of the current situation, how you’ve already tried to remedy the problem, what (if anything) has been successful, and why a professional is the right choice now.

About This Article

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Vivian Scott is a Certified Mediator in private practice and a retired Microsoft marketing manager. She is a member of the Washington Mediation Association and volunteers as a mediator at the Dispute Resolution Center of Snohomish & Island Counties.

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