If asked what one thing I would change to reduce conflict in the workplace I would say that all line managers should be trained in understanding conflict and how to address it. Conflict is inevitable in the workplace and so the first ‘line of defence’ needs to be the manager. Yet all too often as a mediator I work on cases which have escalated to serious relationship breakdowns because the manager either did not act or intervened but without the necessary skills and knowledge and made things worse.
I was delighted therefore to spot that the CIPD have produced a series of Guidance for Line Managers and one of the guides is on Dealing With Bullying and Workplace Conflict. The set of guides is available on the CIPD website here https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/people/line-manager#11246. Pleased as I was, their appearance somewhat surprised me as being a member and active Branch volunteer I felt I should have been aware of these excellent resources – whether that is down to the CIPD not promoting it sufficiently or me not paying enough attention I’m not sure! Anyhow, having now made this discovery I can strongly recommend these resources and in particular the workplace conflict guide.
In less than a dozen pages the guide packs in a treasure trove of excellent advice. It starts off with some general guidance on what workplace conflict looks like and helps the reader understand bullying and harassment and the differences between them. It then goes on to describe how to deal with conflict. It does so in a logical way, starting with the best cure ie prevention, followed by what the manager can do as conflict escalates. In particular I love that it is stressed that, if handled correctly, conflict can have positive outcomes for the team:
Handling workplace conflict in a proactive and positive way will help you improve your team’s morale, retain valuable skills and talent, and reduce sickness absence
The guide also places strong emphasis on using informal approaches to nip conflict in the bud and makes it clear that formal procedures should be the last resort. This is absolutely the right approach and, in my experience, sadly not the norm in many workplaces. So I think this guide is great, BUT there is one major omission. How can any manager guide give such comprehensive and sensible advice without mentioning MEDIATION!! It is a natural and logical step to at least consider mediation if the manager has not been successful in helping team members resolve conflict. It is a major omission and I hope if the CIPD update the guide the option of mediation will be included.
Finally, if you haven’t got time to read the dozen pages, just look at the 10 Key Takeaways at the end – they in themselves provide a great summary of the key things to do, though of course I would add a number 11. Consider mediation!
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