Workplace mediations can often be a great way to resolve employee conflicts at an early stage at a very low cost to the organization. After a successful workplace mediation, employees feel valued, heard, and often re-engaged with the team.
However, often when we are called into mediate employee disputes, we discover the specific dispute is only a symptom of something bigger and more ominous, an overriding “dysfunctional conflict culture”. In other words, the dispute is the tip of the iceberg and is part of a larger systematic problem. The work environment has turned toxic and stressful. As a conflict manager, mediating the dispute and walking away is like a doctor giving a patient aspirin for a brain tumor and sending them home. If the systematic causes of the conflict are ignored, new symptoms will soon appear with even larger costs for employees and the organization.
Conflict is an inevitable part of any organization. However, in a dysfunctional conflict culture, conflict escalates and is the catalyst for loss of productivity, turnover, and litigation. In a healthy conflict culture, conflict is addressed skillfully in a direct manner and is a catalyst for growth, collaboration and innovation. The foundation of organizational health is “conflict competence” throughout all levels of the organization.
To construct this foundation a “Conflict Culture Intervention” can be initiated which not only addresses current conflicts, but also the prevention or early management of future conflicts. The first step is a comprehensive Conflict Culture Assessment to understand the sources of conflict in the organization. Out of the Assessment a customized Action Agenda is developed that can include suggested policy changes, mediation, training, team building, conflict coaching and/or Ombuds services. Many times there are easy, no cost fixes that can have a substantial positive effect on the culture.
In upcoming posts, we will take a more in-depth look at some of the causes of dysfunctional conflict cultures and how effectively addressing them can create a paradigm shift which “rehumanizes” the workplace.