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Mediation & Conflict Resolution At Work

October 10 2008 - A recent report finds that UK businesses are being badly affected by poorly managed conflicts in the workplace. According to Fight, Flight or Face It, a report jointly authored by business psychology firm OPP and the CIPD, the average British employee is spending more than two hours a week dealing with conflict. This adds up to the loss of more than 370 million working days a year, costing UK employers more than £24 billion.

The studies cited in the report show stress and heavy workloads as major causes of conflict (34% and 33%) by employees. But around a half (49%) point to personality clashes and warring egos as the number one cause.

According to Robert McHenry, CEO of OPP: "Workplace conflict is nothing new. But in the context of the current economic downturn, businesses could see steep rises in conflict as workloads increase, budgets shrink and stress levels rise. The fact that there are too few managers in British business with the insight to handle it effectively could cost us dearly.

"When dealt with in the right way, conflict can actually lead to positive outcomes such as more effective teamwork and greater innovation. Training is vital because it allows managers to understand and deal with the underlying causes."

A timely new book may help. On the basis of their extensive experience in the field of workplace mediation, consultants Nora Doherty and Marcelas Guyler provide a number of useful models as well as theories and case studies in the essential Guide to Workplace Mediation & Conflict Resolution: Rebuilding Working Relationships.

Offering a practical and wide-ranging treatment of mediation, the book is aimed primarily at 'those people in organizations who are in the front line and who have daily to anticipate, pre-empt or defuse conflicts in the support of performance or the preservation of productive working relationships.' It should also be useful to experienced and trainee mediators.

Published by Kogan Page, the book takes a reader-friendly approach: its 196 pages are layed out clearly with a set of 'essentials' highlighted at the end of each chapter, an extensive bibliography, and a concise index. It is divided into three main sections:

  1. Workplace Mediation. This section forms about half of the book. The main body of the text begins with Nora Doherty's working definition of mediation as:
      '... a structured process whereby an impartial mediator facilitates communication between those in dispute in order for them to understand each other better and for them to come up with mutually acceptable solutions that will improve the working relationship in the future.'

    Next in this section is a list of the basic skills of a mediator, an overview of the origins of mediation and an example case of bullying. This is followed by a discussion on 'just how does mediation work?' This outlines Nora Doherty's six-step model of mediation which is being widely adopted in the field.

    The other chapters in this section examine critical issues such as the nature of conflict, dispute resolution methods, 'what is special about mediation', how mediation can be used within organizations, workplace mediation for teams, team mediation and dynamics, and the way to introduce mediation into the workplace.

  2. Mediation in action: case studies of real life workplace mediations. This section gives real-life examples at three levels: mediation between two employees (including alleged bullying, sexual harassment, and racism); mediation with teams; and mediation for boardroom conflicts.
  3. The philosophy and processes of mediation: in support of conflict managers and organizational development. As the title suggests this is a more theoretical and philosophical section than most of the book and chapter 12, in particular, on 'Why do conflicts arise?' may be the most difficult for 'hands-on' practitioners to digest. The remaining chapters are more in tune with the other sections of the book and address how and why should managers respond to conflict, the relationship between mediation and empowerment, and a concluding discussion entitled 'beyond mediation'.

In summary,this is an immensely useful and practical book, of value to anyone interested in conflict at work.


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