Written by Mervyn Malamed | PUBLISHED ON “Mediation.com”
Systemising the Way We Manage Workplace Conflict
The foundations of an effective Integrated Conflict Management System are:
- Two entry level workforce competencies: Understanding the nature of workplace conflict. The ability to have Brave Discussions, and to manage cultural conflict.
Whether intentional or by default, all organisations have systems for managing workplace disputes.
- Multiple points of entry to resolve workplace disputes that an employee may choose from: Formal
Grievance procedures, disciplinary hearings, arbitration etc. Informal:
Peer mediation, managerial mediation etc. Safe Space assistance:
a NEUTRAL, INDEPENDENT, CONFIDENTIAL, and INFORMAL thought partner to listen, coach, or help consider options. The NICI principles!
- Robust feedback processes to assist with organisational conflict management.
The leadership should know as much as possible (while respecting anonymity) about the deepest concerns of employees in an unfiltered form. This has the added benefit of acting as an early warning system where systemic management of conflict situations and corporate governance issues can be responded to before serious damage is done. For conflict management decisions to be sustainable. They need to address underlying needs and interests of an organisation’s stakeholders. Managing conflict according to the four NICI principles provides the basis for the highest quality of data available. The formula for effectively managing conflict is ANONYMITY + DIALOGUE = BEST FEEDBACK
- A Conflict Wise Culture
An environment that demands attention to conflict resolution from its employees, frowns on conflict avoidance, and sees conflict as opportunity to either stop waste, or to do generally improve performance.
The quality and efficiency of an Integrated Conflict Management System depends on the extent to which:
- Workplace disputes are resolved early, and at the lowest possible level, by the people involved.
- Mutual interests and needs are the focus of dispute resolution, and win/ lose outcomes based on rights or power, are only used by leadership when necessary.
- “Brave discussions” are commonplace in dispute resolution.
- The organisation’s dispute management culture encourages conflict dialogue as an opportunity to save money and increase productivity – indeed, a culture that frowns on conflict avoidance or mismanagement.
- The workforce is appropriately trained and skills are used sufficiently that workplace conflict becomes less demonised and the organisation’s conflict handling is constantly.
A good Integrated Conflict Management System covers a spectrum of dispute resolution practices from formal, to informal, and developmental.
“If you are going to be viewed as a leader in your organization and survive and thrive at work, you must develop your own conflict approach and develop a reputation for leadership in conflict management and consensus building.”
Lynne Eisaguirre, Author of Stop Pissing Me Off! What to Do When the People You Work With Drive You Crazy and The Power of a Good Fight: How to Embrace Conflict to Drive Creativity, Productivity and Innovation
Developmental conflict management practices are those which begin to unlock potential through skills development.
Leaders that recognise good conflict management as a strategic competitive advantage are building cultures that extract full value from conflict.
Such Integrated Conflict Management Systems are the culmination of methods developed analytically, in a way that is compatible with the cultural conflict of any business through a process of ‘kaizen’ – the Japanese expression for ‘continuous improvement’.
This chart shows the attributes of a system with several entry points and their implications:
It shows the informal and formal processes and in particular, the ways that the “NICI Principles” apply to “Safe Space” options. The NICI Principles are the four standards that are critical for employees to engage in a way that provides safety from retaliation when dealing with conflict.
It is the Safe Space part of a system that is crucial to constructive conflict management. Safe Space also serves management that values undiluted, raw feedback to monitor trends and early warnings of all sorts. [This data is of course provided in aggregated and anonymous form.]
Safe Space is “owned” by a person that functions uniquely in an organisation, who is:
NEUTRAL + INDEPENDENT + CONFIDENTIAL + INFORMAL = N I C I
This chart below shows examples of conflict situations and the way that an employee might see the options available and their implications.
Note how important it is for employees to be adept at having Brave Discussions in order to “manage conflict early, at the lowest level by the people involved, and without third party involvement”.
Notice also how the provision of Safe Space functions to contextualise and get help developing options when dealing with conflict that gets complicated and threatening.
Mervyn Malamed is an Organisational Conflict Management professional. Employees who are equipped to cope with crises and conflict carry a positive mind-set to friends, family and more. This exponential effect rubs off; it enhances lives and comes around to further enrich that same employee, co-workers, and the organisation itself.
With three decades in the jewellery industry behind him, and having built his own manufacturing, retailing, and consulting businesses in the US and in South Africa, he understands how productivity was reduced in his own companies through outdated and destructive conflict handling.
After some years studying the links between conflict management and productivity, it has become clear that massive opportunities are being missed. There is gross under-investment of time, money, skills, and ‘space’ in informal, interest-based options to deal with conflict.