Is conflict slowing down your workplace? Professional mediation could be the right approach. But before you make a large investment in time and money why not get a Quick Assessment?
Has teamwork stopped working? My Social Styles Workshop gets results:
Better communication, greater cohesion, and improved morale.
I have seen first-hand the harm that can be caused by conflict in organizations. Valued employees leave. Stress levels go through the roof. Decisions don’t get made. Important tasks don’t get done. A feeling of helplessness prevails.
Mediation offers an affordable and collaborative process to resolve harmful conflict and preserve relationships. I help my clients create stronger organizations where employees can focus on their work in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect.
Not all conflict is bad. In fact, constructive and respectful disagreements about things that matter can be a sign of a very healthy organization. Whether it’s a team or a board, I help members trust one another enough to make conflict natural and productive.
I taught the philosophy of art and ethics at the university level for about 10 years. In that profession, I practiced the skill of helping others to think clearly. That skill is perhaps my most valuable contribution to my work as a mediator.
By bringing clarity and a cool head to each intervention, I have:
- Helped prevent the break-up of a profitable business partnership through conflict coaching and ongoing support.
- Restored a respectful workplace at a small industrial firm by helping them develop and implement a “Code of Conduct.”
- Investigated sexual harassment and bullying allegations for a major Canadian university.
- Coached a client to prepare her for a difficult negotiation about the family property.
- Helped a creative-sector firm to resolve conflicts that had arisen in the course of a management transition.
- Restored damaged working relationships by helping to resolve long-standing conflicts between two company divisions.
I am on the Attorney General’s roster for the Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program.
I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and I have earned the designation “Chartered Mediator” from the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario.
I work with single individuals and with large and small organizations. One thing never changes: client names and identifying details are strictly confidential.
Conflict is what mediators spend most of their time thinking about, working through, and trying to resolve. Value refers both to moral values and to aesthetic or artistic values. I write on a wide variety of topics, including best practices in mediation, ethical and legal issues in the arts, workplace conflict, business ethics, and the ethics of everyday life. You may also find the occasional book review. I invite you to join in the discussion here: Thinking About Conflict and Value.
From the Blog:
(This is the third in an occasional series.)
Liz and Monica have a successful partnership doing all aspects of design and social media marketing. So far their clients have been small-to-medium sized businesses, but they’re eager to work with bigger organizations. Both women are hard-working and good at what they do. They’re equally committed to the success of the business and both put in long hours. On a personal level they get along well but sometimes see things differently.
For example, they were recently approached by one of the big national payday loan firms to put together a proposal for a complete re-branding project. Liz feels that the payday loan business harms the community. She doesn’t want to bid on the project because she feels that, by working for them, she would be complicit in the harm. Monica believes that “a dollar is a dollar” and that they’re not in a position to be so picky. This job might be their stepping stone to bigger projects. She wants to bid on the job. The two women are at an impasse and it seems there is no way to resolve it.
To my mind, shared core values are the single most important factor in a successful business partnership. Partners don’t need to be best friends; they don’t need to have similar personalities or even much of a shared history. But if they don’t share some basic values, the partnership is doomed.
Can Liz and Monica’s partnership be saved?
Maybe: If Monica is comfortable selling their services to anyone who can afford them, and Liz isn’t, then they two women won’t be in business together much longer.
Yet while Monica might have no problem with the payday loan business, there are likely to be at least some types of organizations she wouldn’t want to support. For example, she might not be comfortable working for certain political parties, or for businesses that test products on animals, or tobacco companies. But thinking this out before every new project and having to debate about every potential client is simply not efficient.
Liz and Monica need to have a conversation and come to an agreement about their business practices. Will they refuse to work with certain kinds of clients? Will they accept all potential business until they reach a certain level of success, and then start to be more choosy? The same causes that are important to Liz might not be important to Monica. They might have different priorities and different moral intuitions. That’s OK – as long as they present a united front, agree to support one another, and jointly reject clients on their “disapproved” list.
For more about business partnerships, see:
Can this Partnership be Saved (1) – Martin & Eli have different management styles
Can the Partnership be Saved (2) – Sam’s idea; John’s work. How will they share the profits?
Although I work in conflict resolution and prevention, I know that not all conflict is bad. In fact healthy, productive conflict is a sign of a flourishing workplace. Conflict can be an engine of creativity and an open, respectful exchange of opinion can bring people together, even if they ultimately disagree with one another.
But how do you know if your workplace is involved in a healthy conflict or a dysfunctional one? Here are some things to consider:
1. First, don’t be fooled by outward appearances: A healthy conflict isn’t necessarily one with calm tones and hushed voices and dysfunctional conflict doesn’t have to mean shouting. What matters more is the level of engagement. If everyone is engaged more-or-less equally, that is a sign that the issues are important to everyone and that people are confident that their opinion matters. If there is an imbalance – if some are passionate about the issues while others seem reluctant to share their views or to “tiptoe” around the problem – then you may have a problem. It could be that people don’t care that much. Even worse, it could be a sign that they don’t feel that their opinion, if they share it, will be valued.
2. The subject matter of a conflict reveals a lot. In a healthy conflict, people have differences of opinion over problems and issues, whether this means small day-to-day matters or an organization’s overarching vision. Dysfunctional conflict, on the other hand, is more likely to be focused on people, their personalities, and on (real or alleged) personal shortcomings.
3. A sense of proportion is often the first casualty of dysfunctional conflict. Comments and small incidents take on an outsize significance. In healthy conflict, people are better able to keep things in perspective.
4. I’m not sure whether this is a cause or an effect, but I’ve noticed that dysfunctional conflicts are more likely to be marked by information asymmetries. That is, parties have different access to information (or believe that they do). When there is an information void, gossip, rumours and confusion are likely to fill it, leaving everyone worse off. In a healthy conflict, there is sharing of information, even if full transparency isn’t possible.
5. In dysfunctional conflicts, phrases like “You always…” or “They never …” are commonly heard. Healthy conflicts focus on specific incidents.
6. A “post-mortem” conversation – in which people examine a failure or worse-than-expected results to see what went wrong – can quickly become a conflict. People tend to see their own possible errors and shortcomings differently than others see them. This is only natural. After all, we know our own intentions, how hard we worked and the difficulties we faced, and we don’t necessarily know the challenges that others have faced. In a healthy post-mortem conflict, the focus is on understanding: Where did things go wrong and what can I do differently in the future?
7. In fact, it is a general feature of healthy conflict that people take responsibility for their actions, past and present. In contrast, scapegoating is a prominent feature of dysfunctional conflict: People work hard to deflect responsibility from themselves and onto other individuals or groups.
It isn’t possible (or desirable) for life and relationships to be conflict-free. However we can always strive to make sure that we’re having healthy and productive conflicts.
About the image: By Dellex (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons