Tension in the workplace is inevitable. Individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life come together within organizations to work productively and move themselves and the organization toward greater successes. With so many different personalities, perspectives, and worldviews, there are bound to be clashes.
Most workplace conflicts are relatively minor and can be worked out between the parties involved. Sometimes, however, emotions run high and tension increases. When conflicts escalate and tension rises, it can create chaos and pose a threat to the stability of the department, and sometimes to the organization as a whole.
Major conflicts come at a high cost for organizations. A 2013 study that was published by the National Institutes of Health found that employees in the U.S. spend an average of nearly 3 hours per week dealing with workplace conflict, resulting in approximately $360 billion in lost productivity.
Conflicts between employees can sometimes be resolved by a manager, although this is not always a good idea as office politics and accusations of “playing favorites” can make the problem even worse. But what happens when the conflict is between an employee and their manager?
Tensions with management are especially frustrating for employees. When an employee and manager butt heads, the employee often feels like they are not being given a “fair shake”. This can even lead to accusations of workplace harassment, discrimination, and other civil rights violations. This puts managers in a delicate position, because they are rightfully seen as having an inherent bias, which makes it very difficult for them to handle the situation without the employee feeling slighted.
Resolving Management Tensions through Mediation
Before the situation becomes even more toxic and the organization runs into a potential legal problem, it is best to consider an alternative means for handling an employee-manager conflict. One of the best ways to handle this type of dispute is through mediation.
Manager-employee mediation is facilitated by a neutral, third-party mediator. Ideally, the mediator is someone from outside the organization who has no vested interest (perceived or real) in the outcome of the proceeding. The mediator should be a highly-trained professional with extensive experience working with organizations and handling these types of disputes.
Workplace mediation is an increasingly preferred method for resolving all types of conflicts within organizations, because the process is less costly than a court proceeding, and the participants are often able to resolve their disputes without any further escalation.
Mediation for management tensions provide several advantages for organizations, these include:
A Collaborative Process: Mediation is done in a cooperative rather than combative environment. Participants are encouraged to work together toward a peaceable arrangement that all parties can live with. Until there is a change in jobs, the manager and employee must continue working together after the process is completed, and the goal of mediation is to facilitate an amicable resolution that will help restore a friendly working relationship.
Informal Process: The manager and employee come together to talk through their differences (with the guidance of a skilled mediator). Unlike a court proceeding, there is no discovery, calling witnesses, presenting evidence, etc.
The Process is Confidential: Everything that is discussed during mediation stays between the participants and does not become part of any official records. This can be especially reassuring for employees, allowing them to speak more openly about the issues they are having.
Participants Control the Outcome: Mediation is voluntary, and no resolution can be imposed without the agreement of all parties involved. This distinguishes the process from binding arbitration, where an arbitrator makes the final decision. Though the process is facilitated by the mediator, with mediation, the participants ultimately decide how they will resolve their differences.
As business partners come together, there can be mixed opinions about the direction of the partnership they have formed. Partners stand on equal ground in a partnership and sifting through the important decisions can be a strain on that relationship. Disputes often arise, many of which can be resolved on their own. There are times, however, when the intervention of a third party may be necessary to mitigate the issues around the dispute and keep these issues from jeopardizing the stability of the business.
Mediation for New Partnerships
The agreements made in a new partnership are important factors in determining how the business will function. As partners are just beginning to work together, it is very crucial that everyone be on the same page. Mediators have the professional training and experience to navigate discussions between new business partners. They can help to guide and advise the partnership based on the strengths each partner brings to the table. They can also help draft a business partnership agreement, which helps the business start off on the right foot.
Mediation for Partnerships Experiencing Disputes
In situations in which partners have a dispute, bringing in a third-party mediator can often be the most effective solution. Having a neutral party that can take an outsider’s view can help guide the partners toward a more amicable solution in which all parties can be satisfied. To work out these disputes, professional mediators can meet with each business partner individually, listening to them present their views on the situation.
The mediation process is confidential, practical, and cost-efficient. Once the mediators have analyzed the issues, they work to come up with a solution everyone can agree on. Each partner brings different strengths to the table, and professional mediators can see and understand these strengths and communicate them to the other partners. This can often help partners see things they may have previously been missing, allowing them to gain a whole new perspective on the issue. This type of approach can allow the partners to develop more creative solutions that highlight their strengths.
Another advantage of the mediation process is that it helps participants decide whether or not a dispute is able to be resolved, or if the differences are irreconcilable. If they can come to an agreement, then the partnership will most likely emerge much stronger. If they find that the major issues between them cannot be resolved, then they may have to have a discussion about dissolving the partnership. Either way, business partnership mediation participants are able to gain immediate clarity about what needs to happen next.
Addressing business partnership issues and coming to terms on the direction for their business can be a major challenge. Mediators have the experience, training, and expertise to work successfully with all types of disputes and partnership agreements. Mediation allows for a neutral space for all parties to speak openly about their thoughts regarding which direction the company should go. And after taking in the whole story from all partners, mediators can help the partnership develop a winning solution for their business.
Business partnerships are not unlike romantic relationships. In the beginning, there is nothing but excitement and optimism as they start their new venture together. Faults are overlooked, explained away, or otherwise ignored in an effort to focus on the larger goal of building something great together. When the partners move past the planning stage and decide to jump in with both feet and “tie the knot”, it often happens without a lot of thought given to how they will deal with conflicts that may arise along the way.
Some disputes between partners are small and fairly easy to deal with, while others can blow up into a major rift that threatens the future of the business. Here are five types of disputes that commonly cause business partnerships to fail:
1. Disputes over Finances
During the first 18 months to two years a partnership is in business, there is a good chance that there will be some tough times. Sales may be slow in the beginning, startup capital may start to dwindle, and the time comes when you have to make difficult financial choices. When there is plenty of cash lying around, there is usually not much worry about where you are investing your capital. But when funds start to dry up, money can become a major source of conflict.
2. Vaguely Defined Roles
When partnerships begin, the roles of the owners tend to overlap. This may be okay at the very start while you are getting the business off the ground and everyone is putting in 18-hour days. But if the partners do not clearly define their roles soon after, there may be confusion about who is in charge of what.
3. Personality Conflicts
Some partners have a hard time getting along due to personality clashes. For example, one partner may be domineering and controlling, while another is more passive. This might be okay for a while, but when things start to get tough, the passive partner may start to resent the one who wants to control everything. This is not to say that partners need to have identical personalities; that might actually be worse. However, if the personality differences become too much to bear, it may be best to consider parting ways.
4. Style Conflicts
What if one partner is a Type A personality who is focused intently on achieving goals and progressing step by step toward building the company, while the other goes from one big idea to another? The problem with the second partner is they are always coming up with these “amazing” ideas, but they never stay focused on one long enough to make it a reality. You can see how partners with these two styles can have some serious disputes.
5. Values Conflicts
Your business should have a vision, mission statements, and a set of values that you operate by. But what if, in the midst of all the excitement starting your business, you later realize that you and your partner do not share the same values? You should be clear from the get-go about what principles you will operate by, how you will approach business development, how employees and customers should be treated, and how you will deliver your products or services. Make sure you are on the same page on this one.
Is there a Solution for Major Disputes Among Business Partners?
Like marriages, there are some business partnerships that are simply doomed to fail. That may sound harsh, but it’s reality. There are others that can be saved if the partners take the right steps. In either case, one of the best ways to get a handle on conflicts between partners is through mediation.
Mediation is a form of dispute resolution that allows business partners to work out their differences in a cooperative setting. The process is facilitated by a neutral, third-party mediator whose job is to guide the discussion toward a workable and peaceful settlement. Through mediation, partners can identify and address the underlying issues that are causing the dispute.
At the end of the mediation process, partners typically have a much better idea where they stand. They either learn that the business can be saved and the steps they need to take to save it, or they learn that they are better off cutting their losses and dissolving the partnership. Either way, mediation helps partners move forward toward resolving the conflicts they are dealing with.
Bullying and harassment is a rapidly rising issue in the workplace. According to a 2016 study, about 47% of employees are bullied or harassed at some point during their career. Nearly one out of every two people experience bullying, whether through verbal slurs, nonverbal gestures, physical violence, or some other method. And while every case is unique, all cases should be handled with care and efficiency, or the company may lose valuable employees and even wind up in legal trouble.
Bullying and harassment can be a very sensitive issue. If not handled properly, the situation can become uncomfortable for the victim and for anyone who witnessed it. Unfortunately, bullying and harassment in the workplace is more complicated than the bullying that takes place on a school playground. It is not just about separating the bully and the victim, but about creating a cohesive environment where employees have a place they can excel in and use their talents and skills to make valuable contributions to the organization.
Bullying vs. Harassment and How Mediation Helps with Both
While bullying and harassment seem to be interchangeable terms, there is a distinction between the two, which significantly changes how they are dealt with in the workplace. Bullying is a form of aggression towards another person, creating a power imbalance. In the workplace, this could be anything from swearing or shouting at another coworker to resorting to physical violence.
Harassment can look the same as bullying, but has intent directed toward a person because of a certain characteristic they might have. This could mean that a coworker is being harassed because of their sex, gender, race, color, religion, disability, etc.
Mediators have the experience and background in dealing with many different types of disputes and conflicts, including those related to bullying and harassment. Sometimes, bullies are unaware that they are causing harm to their coworkers and would benefit from sessions with a mediator where they speak their mind about the other person and explain their actions. At the same time, the victim of the bullying can also speak to a mediator in a different room and express their feelings as well. By talking it out in a confidential setting, they may be able to see and understand their differences and begin to work cooperatively.
How Mediation Can Help Prevent Bullying and Harassment
Bullying does not have to be rampant in the workplace for mediators to step in. Mediation can help open the lines of communication among coworkers and help to alleviate tensions before the fireworks really start to fly. This can make your organization a more peaceful and enjoyable place to work.
The mediation process is guided by a neutral, third-party mediator who works closely with parties to bring them together toward a mutually agreeable resolution. The process is very flexible, and participants are able to offer ample input into whatever settlement is reached. In fact, the mediator has no power to impose anything on anyone, so it is up to participants to come to an agreement voluntarily.
There are several advantages to using mediation for resolving conflicts related to bullying and harassment. These include:
- Time and Cost Savings: Legal battles are expensive and time-consuming. It is always in the best interests of everyone involved to avoid litigation if at all possible, and mediation provides a viable and cost-efficient alternative.
- Confidential Process: Many employees are afraid to express their feelings in the workplace for fear of reprisal. With mediation, you work with a neutral mediator from outside the organization in a confidential process that allows participants to freely air their grievances. They are able to do this in a cooperative environment that is conducive to amicable resolutions.
- Higher Rates of Compliance: Because participants control the outcome of the process and whatever agreement is reached, they feel more empowered and they are more likely to take ownership of it. This greatly increases the chances that parties will live up to whatever they commit to.
Organizations that want to survive and thrive in the 21st Century need culturally diverse workforces. There is little argument that having a workforce comprised of individuals from different backgrounds that approach the job from different perspectives fosters greater creativity. This is very important in today’s competitive environment, where sometimes just a small technical innovation can give a company a decided edge in the marketplace.
Cultural diversity in the workplace can be highly beneficial for organizations, but it can also lead to conflicts. While many federal, state, and local laws are in place to help reduce the occurrences of blatant discrimination in the workplace, perceived discrimination is still a major issue that often leads to employee disputes.
What is Perceived Discrimination?
There are two ways the perception of discrimination can play out in the workplace. The first is the belief among employees that they are being treated unfairly by co-workers or supervisors because of certain characteristics; such as race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender transition, disability, physical characteristics, and religious or political beliefs. When an employee believes they are being discriminated against based on demographics, it can negatively impact work performance and cause tension with those they believe are mistreating them.
Another form of perceived discrimination is when employees buy into myths, stereotypes, or fears about a certain class of individuals and allow these perceptions to impact the way they relate to them. For example, a supervisor or employee may have a false perception that members of a certain ethnicity are lazy or otherwise not able to perform their job as well as others. This false perception alone can cause severe misunderstandings that often lead to conflicts.
The Negative Impact of Cultural Conflicts
Perceived discrimination leading to cultural conflicts is not only hard on those involved, but on the rest of the workforce as well. Studies show that just being exposed to inter-cultural disputes can create stress and tension on those observing the conflict, which lowers employee morale across the board.
This makes sense intuitively as well. We know from other settings (such as children who witness fighting among their parents) that people who are exposed to conflicts tend to be negatively affected by the conflict, even when they are not directly involved. This is why it makes sense to address cultural conflicts as soon as the organization is aware of a dispute and before the incident escalates into a legal matter.
The Benefits of Mediation for Resolving Cultural Conflicts
One of the best ways to resolve cultural conflicts in an organizational setting is with workplace mediation. With mediation, the parties sit down with a neutral, third-party mediator in an attempt to work out their differences and come to an amicable and peaceful resolution.
Actually, participants do not even have to be in the same room. If there is too much tension for them to sit down together, they can be in separate rooms with the mediator shuffling back and forth between them. This is commonly known as “caucusing”. Mediation can also be conducted virtually with participants communicating from remote locations.
The mediation process is non-threatening and non-binding. Participants are in an informal setting that is kept private and confidential. This allows participants to openly express their feelings without fear that their words will be recorded, made part of the company record, and used against them later on. The use of a mediator who is neutral and outside the organization also reassures participants that the process is fair, and the mediator will not favor one side or the other.
Though the mediation process is guided by the mediator, participants ultimately control the outcome. The mediator has no authority to impose a resolution unless it is agreed upon by all participants.
The fact that participants have the final say in any agreement that is reached makes them feel more empowered and tends to foster greater respect for their employer. And since any resolution that is reached is agreed on voluntarily by participants, they are far more likely to comply with its terms and conditions. This vastly reduces the chances of a similar conflict flaring up in the future.