Conflict in the workplace is inevitable when people with different values and opinions come together. That is not always a bad thing, but unaddressed issues will often fester, cause emotional stress and negatively impact the business. Workplace mediation can improve communication and teamwork, reduce stress and prevent disputes from escalating.

When we get into an argument at work, we often look on the surface for the cause of the escalation. It could be a missed deadline that had everyone on edge, a botched meeting or someone getting passed over for a promotion. However, these events are often just the final straw in a much bigger picture.

What causes conflict at work is not just that one big catalyst but an underlying tension of unspoken issues. In the workplace we are often forced to work closely together while coming from a variety of different backgrounds. The cause of disharmony can be unkind words in stressful situations, a lack of support or appreciation, different work and problem-solving styles or misunderstandings due to different expectations of each other. Just like any other relationship, workplace relationships require openness, a willingness to compromise, and mutual respect to function.

Disputes in the workplace can negatively affect the business, including work disruptions, decreased productivity, failed projects, and even terminations. For the individual emotional stress can be both a cause and an effect of workplace conflict. This stress affects our thinking and behaviour, making us more likely to get into conflict situations. In turn, being in a disagreement can cause significant anxiety, which further affects our health and wellbeing.

Who do people turn to for solving conflict in the workplace?

A 2015 CIPD survey found that most employees chose to raise their conflicts at work with a manager or HR. The second most common option was to discuss it with a co-worker or someone outside the workplace. Others said they chose to look for an exit strategy like a transfer or even quit the job.

Another option is to start a more formal HR complaints process, depending on the severity of the conflict. While the HR complaints procedures in companies are put in place to protect employees, the issue is that they can turn out to be a lengthy and bureaucratic process. Employees may need to continue working together while their disagreement has not yet been resolved, which makes tension rise further. These complaints procedures also often focus entirely on the fallout from the conflict and not enough on the underlying causes.

According to the CIPD survey, only 30% of participants agreed with the statement ‘My organisation has effective procedures for resolving interpersonal conflict’ and 46% agreed with the statement ‘I feel confident raising issues in my organisation’.

Conflict in the workplace - Two male business partners arguing, female business partner resting her head in her hand from exhaustion at a meeting.

Mediation as the solution

For teams and individuals who continue to work together, improved communication is the only way to get to the root of a conflict. It might be uncomfortable, but to put a disagreement behind us, we need to discuss what is causing the stress and try to come up with solutions. When fully resolved, conflicts can even lead to better ideas, better understanding, and better working relationships.

Mediation is an efficient, quick and cost-effective tool to solve conflicts, whether recent disagreements or old disputes flaring up again. In a mediation session, an impartial mediator creates a setting where both conflict parties feel safe enough to share their view of the situation. Everything discussed stays between the mediator and the people attending the session.

All conflict parties are asked to listen to the other side’s view and then start to come up with ways that could improve or resolve the issue. That could be significant changes or minor adjustments; it could be common goals or new boundaries that are set. The mediator guides this process by ensuring that everyone can voice their needs and better understand the other side’s needs. The mediator does not make a final decision or draws up an agreement at the end – the resolution of the conflict has to come from the people in conflict.

While seeking out mediation may seem like a big step, you can easily learn more about it online. Disputes Mediation offers an initial consultation to get an idea of whether mediation could be the right approach for your conflict. The consultation is completely free and comes without any commitment.

Solving conflict with mediation - Three business partners at a meeting giving each other a high five in a relaxed, positive atmosphere.