How to Resolve Disputes at Work with Better Communication

Elizabeth Bilton

Elizabeth BiltonAccredited Mediator and Qualified Solicitor for Midlands Dove

Friday, November 8, 2019

Disputes are not only a natural part of life; they’re often a healthy part of it. Many disputes come about because two (or more) people have different ideas about how to reach the same goal and by airing their differences in a constructive and respectful way, they can ultimately reach a more effective solution than either of them would have managed on their own.

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At the same time, however, disputes do have the potential to become very destructive and to eat away at your team. The difference between constructive disputes and destructive disputes often comes down to the way in which they are managed.

With that in mind, here are some tips provided by workplace mediation specialist, Elizabeth Bilton from Midlands Dove, on how to resolve disputes at work by better communication between your team.

Hold regular one-to-ones and team meetings

It’s all very well for managers to tell their teams that their “door is always open” but in the real world, it probably isn’t and even if it is, people won’t necessarily tell them everything they’d like to know because it won’t occur to them to do so unless managers actually ask.

In addition to this, spending some “quality time” with employees shows them that managers genuinely care for their welfare and helps to foster trust.

Try to resolve disputes informally as much as possible

One of the big advantages of holding regular meetings with their teams (both individually and collectively) is that it gives managers the opportunity to hear about disputes while they’re still in their early stages and to address them before they get out of hand.

In essence, managers should be performing the role of a conciliator (and it may help to get training in this area), but they’ll be dealing with issues which can still reasonably be classed as minor disagreements rather than serious conflict.

Enlist the help of external mediators/conciliators

In this context, external really means “external to the department” rather than “external to the organization”, although in some instances it may be appropriate to appoint someone who can be clearly seen as totally independent and hence completely free of the influence of “office politics”.

This is particularly important in cases where there’s a possibility that failure to resolve the dispute could result in legal action against the company. Both mediators and conciliators are far more affordable than lawyers, plus the matter can be settled in private, which is generally far preferable to having the company’s internal matters aired in public.

Mediators and conciliators are, essentially, trained negotiators, who specialize in diffusing conflict and helping people to find solutions which are acceptable to both parties.

The difference between a mediator and a conciliator is that a mediator doesn’t usually have the authority to impose a solution on the two parties, whereas a conciliator (to a certain extent) does.

Conciliators are not judges and so can’t insist their solution be accepted, however, if two parties agree to the terms of the conciliation then there’ll be an expectation that they’ll accept being bound by its outcome.

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