Last week, we delivered a 2-day mediation skills course to very senior managers at a well-known organisation in London. It was a great course, with delegates who were intelligent, self-reflective, engaged and willing to learn new skills that will help them to resolve workplace conflict situations more effectively in the future.
What strikes me when we deliver this course – regardless of which delegates attend and what organisation we deliver it to – is that people generally, and perhaps managers and HR professionals in particular, have a very strong tendency to want to rush to a solution to a conflict situation.
There are many reasons for this. For example, managers and HR professionals are often looked upon as the people who can “fix” a problem. This expectation means that they have internalised the need to find a solution for people in conflict. In addition, because they are usually extremely pressured in their jobs, they don’t have the time to fully explore a situation with the people involved to allow them to come up with their own resolution. Importantly, because most never receive any mediation or conflict management training, they don’t understand the importance of facilitating a conversation between people in conflict to allow them to explore and understand the underlying causes of their conflict. Instead, they often rush to find a solution which is unlikely to be sustainable because it isn’t owned by the people who are actually in conflict with each other.
The problem with this quick fix approach is that organisations continue to perpetuate a culture where people in conflict are not allowed to be responsible for their own resolution. Instead, many organisations expect their managers or HR professionals to “fix” problems for others, and to do so quickly and with a top down approach. Yet when the underlying causes of conflict are not explored, addressed and understood, a quick fix solution imposed by someone who is not part of the conflict will not be sustainable. And sometimes it may even make the situation worse.
It is really encouraging to see that more and more UK workplaces are offering mediation and conflict management training to their leaders. It is only by learning how to address, explore and resolve conflict in a sensitive and skillful manner that organisations and individuals will learn how to nip issues in the bud in an informal and sustainable manner.