This page considers workplace conflict resolution and how awareness of the Principles of Effective Communication can be a means of supporting conflict resolution within the work environment. Some of the sections refer to the Underlying Philosophies of Mediation described elsewhere and links are given where this is so.
Other sections relate to good practice concepts that have been used within workplaces to promote learning and growth as a benefit of effective workplace conflict resolution.
As an example of one of the Underlying Philosophies of Mediation that has relevance to workplace conflict resolution and effective communication, let's consider the type of relationships that might exist within a workplace.
An Adult-Adult relationship will be one where all employees are considered and expected to be capable of finding ways of resolving their difficult situations, whether they be conflicts with another employee, or with a difficult situation or technical challenge.
They have ownership of their own situation which includes the responsibilities they accepted in taking on their post. This does not mean that employees remain in isolation in dealing with difficult situations as the roles of other employees will also involve input into some situations via their own job descriptions, but in an adult-adult environment, each employee takes on and is expected to take on that which they are clearly responsible for.
Difficulties arise however when a parent-child type of relationship emerges, by which I mean one in which, for example, an employee is considered to be incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities within their defined role and/or their relationships with others in the workplace.
For example, a manager may give less or different work to an employee who is considered less able to fulfill a duty within their job description leaving more work, or more demanding work to others in the section or department etc.
In such a situation, instead of dealing with the employee directly to support them in becoming more effective in their role, they are volunteering others to take on more work, not acting impartially towards them, rescuing the employee who is deemed to be less capable, disempowering the employee by denying them the opportunity to learn and develop.
There are various other Principles of Effective Communication and Underlying Philosophies of Mediation not being practiced in such a workplace situation. Rather than effective workplace conflict resolution there is conflict suppression or conflict avoidance, neither of which leads to resolution.
There will inevitably, therefore, be consequences to address that will add to the Manager's workload, because the conflict has escalated to involve others rather than remain with the individual as a result of being 'rescued'. These include:
Common consequences are many and varied speculations about the reasons for the manager's response to the situation:
This is likely to lead to a decrease in staff morale and motivation and hence productivity.
In Training, Free Choice is the Key....
Here's a great article (click here) by Werner Erhard which illustrates many of the features of the Principles of Effective Communication - particularly that we have the right to pass, that we do not volunteer others, that we speak only for ourselves and the Underlying Philosophies, particularly that of ownership and empowerment, but also the above one of assuming an adult-adult relationship with others described on this site.
This article challenges those who facilitate, and particularly those who 'direct' the training for the employees in their company to consider their approach and its ultimate effectiveness.
No blame environment
Another consideration that either supports or inhibits effective workplace conflict resolution is the tendency towards or away from a No-blame environment with regard to difficulties that arise in the day to day operation of an organisation.
Work-Stress-Solutions.com by Stephanie Goddard - a website very much in line with the thinking of this site. Stephanie also has 2 great books:
101 Ways to Have a Great Day at Work
101 Ways to Love Your Job
The consequences of a blame environment are often to be seen when there is an ethos of 'covering your back', 'not taking risks', 'keeping your cards close to your chest', secret meetings between people, both formally and informally etc. This also tends to manifest in a lack of creativity and willingness to change within the organisation or at least within the department or section in which the blame environment is practiced.
Creativity inherently requires mistakes and so an environment in which they are condemned is vulnerable to stagnation and rigidity. If it's not ok to make mistakes in the workplace then it will not be as creative as it could be. Effective workplace conflict resolution is intrinsically an opportunity for learning and creativity.
In a blame environment, the employee who didn't send the email or who didn't send the right information or who went to the wrong venue to meet the customer and lost the contract etc. is condemned and possibly sacked or demoted or at least considered 'less able' than others. (And obviously various, often derogatory, labels are ascribed to the employee by others as a result)
However it is extremely rare that such workplace mishaps will occur for only one employee as we are all prone to making mistakes.
Therefore, when it is seen that this is the way a mistake is responded to, the main activity of those associated with any difficult situation is to ensure they are not 'implicated', and for the one 'accused', the main activity is to pass responsibility to (blame) others.
Hence the initial, ineffective response of challenging the person and not the behaviour is also responded to ineffectively and so the practice continually reinforces itself.
Enormous amounts of time and resources are used in defending against the blame, not to mention the additional stress and impact on morale and motivation.
This is a comprehensive online resource that provides ideas and information on how to improve your communication skills at work.
The no-blame approach allows an open investigation into, and discussion of, the reasons why the problem occurred so that systems or policies can be put in place to reduce the likelihood of it occurring again in the future.
This is effective workplace conflict resolution with the following benefits and more: -
A Learning Organisation
A Learning Organisation
In the no-blame approach, conflict is seen as an opportunity for learning, connection and insight.
In many senses this and the rest of the Principles of Effective Communication and Underlying Philosophies of Mediation promote what is often described as a Learning Organisation as discussed by many writers, but in particular Peter M.Senge who wrote The Fifth Discipline
One of the Disciplines that promotes a Learning Organisation is Personal Mastery, about which he says:
Personal mastery goes beyond competence and skills, though it is grounded in competence and skills. It goes beyond spiritual unfolding or opening, although it requires spiritual growth. It means approaching one's life as a creative work, living life from a creative as opposed to reactive view point.
The purpose of this website is to support visitors in achieving such an aim.
In successful project management we need effective communication and conflict resolution between involved parties such as the customer, project team members, members of the control board of the project, sub-contractors, etc. For in depth understanding of project management and the management of a portfolio of projects please refer to Project Management Know How
The Principles and Philosophies described on this site support the creation of a choice of more effective responses to communication and the resolution of conflict, rather than reactions in which no choice is recognised to be available.
The Principles provide a basis, or benchmark, for reviewing present practices in these areas and thus an opportunity to learn new ways of responding where needed.
But a further aspect of Senge's quote that I very much support is the idea that it is Personal mastery and it is about our choice to own our responses and create new ones in response to difficulties. It is about recognising our ability to respond, and thus our capacity to take responsibility for those responses.
Walking the talk...
Walking the talk...
However,it should also be noted that sometimes, even within a no-blame environment, an individual may protest that a mistake or mismanagement of a situation was 'beyond my control' when in fact it may have been due to the individual's ineffective time management or some other simple oversight.
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I make this point to emphasise that it is still our individual responsibility to adopt a no-blame approach both in how we respond to others' mistakes and how we respond to our own.
The no-blame approach requires that we acknowledge our own part in a mistake, and thus take ownership of the situation and accept responsibility.
If we adopt a blame approach towards ourselves we are likely to go into denial rather than be open about reviewing the things we could have done differently.
There can be a clear hypocrisy in an organisation which claims to adopt a no-blame approach but it is not seen to be practiced by staff at all levels of the organisation.
It seems fitting that we cannot 'blame' our managers for not adopting a no-blame approach, nor can we 'blame' our employees for not adopting it even if we try to introduce it.
It then leaves it down to us to genuinely walk the talk, and focus on ensuring we practice it ourselves - if we mean what we say.
Once again - effective conflict resolution is about self-awareness and not techniques for controlling or changing others.
Even in the workplace.
Have you had good/bad experiences of communication in the workplace? How do YOU define good/bad communication? Has the information on this website helped in any way? Let us know your thoughts...
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
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How to Resolve Bullying in the Workplace. Stepping out of the Circle of Blame to Create an Effective Outcome for All.
"Alan Sharland has written a vital book on bullying. His approach is the way forward. Instead of focusing on 'proving it', which takes us in the direction of investigations and hearings that go no where and only serve to exacerbate an already sensitive situation, he shows the way forward through direct communication and a focus on the behavior that is of concern." John Ford - Editor of Mediate.com and Director of HR Mediation Academy
Train to be a Mediator in London, UK with CAOS Conflict Management.
Get the Guide!
Are you experiencing difficulties communicating with someone? Perhaps at work with your boss, or your colleagues, or at home with your partner, children or other family members?
Is there an unresolved conflict that you are struggling with?
There's also a FREE COPY of the e-booklet Listening, Summarising and Questioning - The Simple, Effective Skills of Conflict Resolution with every purchase of The Guide.
Some recent feedback on The Guide:
Dear Alan - I recently purchased The Guide which I think is excellent and highly useful in a personal and professional context. I am a teacher with the Skills Institute in Tasmania and I'm about to roll out communication training in Tasmania's only youth detention facility. I have an enormous amount of material regarding communication but none as succinct or as user-friendly as what you have developed.
Teacher-Human Services Skills Institute - Tasmania
It is refreshing to find reading material that informs and inspires and can provide a good resource for small organisations such as ours.
Anne Johnston - The Shropshire Housing Alliance Mediation Service
I did a 1 hour workshop where I presented your Facts and Feelings Listening Exercise. We learned so much about how we listen and the consequences of not listening well that I was asked to purchase your book and have another Listening Meeting.
My team just launched a project that could have whipped the team members and executives into a tremendous conflict. I required everyone to follow your rules for listening and it has been the best implementation we have had in 10years.
Thank you for your generous and comprehensive communications and conflict resolution information.
Angela - Information Technology & Systems VP
'What is a Bully?' Comment on article by Alan which was published on the Mediate.com website
Thank you SO MUCH for this article! It brings forward some very key points about the phenomenon of "bullying" which I have been pondering for some while. Among others, asking to what extent can/should the person on the receiving end of the bullying/perceived to be bullying take responsibility/initiate steps to shift the paradigm? How can this happen without implying that the recipient is somehow responsible for the bullying behavior?
To a certain extent the steps you suggest point to the strategies of NonViolent Communication: Observe and simply describe the behavior, understand and honor your own feelings and needs in the situation, and take responsibility for meeting them by making requests to change the situation.
There has been a significant upsurge of email traffic about bullying in the last year among the members of the Int'l. Ombudsman's Association (principally the academic sector). Much of the exchange, in my view, has tended to favor the stance of "recipient of the behavior as victim," without agency to change the situation, thereby perpetuating the problem and doing a disservice to all. I will be forwarding this article to my colleagues to spice up the conversation!
Laurie McCann, Campus Ombuds, Univ Calif Santa Cruz