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Jackie Keddy

The Janus Partnership


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Five principles to ensure successful conflict resolution


The hidden cost of conflict is underestimated in many organisations.

Indeed, one recent survey by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution put the cost of conflict at £40 billion each year.
Grievance probes that are handled by inexperienced or poorly trained investigators can also lead to a spiral of appeals and reinvestigation, but the negative impact that such disputes have on colleagues and team members is likely to be great.
High-profile disputes, which include those played out at board level, will probably hit the desks of HR directors as they, perhaps more than anyone else in the organisation, are the ones that others generally turn to for advice when things go wrong in this area.
So if you do find yourself in this situation, the question is: how can you best advise the people concerned? Extensive feedback on high-profile dispute management from a wide variety of organisations suggests that a few basic principles commonly apply:
1. Listen
It might be among the oldest piece of advice in the book, but it is still worth mentioning time and again. Individuals who aim to help others by brokering disputes need to take the time to listen, and show that they are listening, remaining calm and really tuning in to what is being said.
Only by really listening can the underlying dynamic and drivers behind the disagreement have any prospect of being recognised and understood. At the same time, however, individuals need to feel that they can have their say without being blamed or criticised, even if this means letting off steam or expressing other strong emotions.
It is perhaps no coincidence that deep listening skills are considered a priority for hostage negotiators. The negotiator’s mantra is ‘we have two ears and one mouth, use them in equal proportion’.
2. Don’t judge
In dispute management, it is essential to mediate a resolution that each individual can find acceptable in order to move forward. An effective resolution should at the same time give conflicting parties the best chance of avoiding similar disputes with each other again.
A mediator who jumps to conclusions, makes implicit assumptions or criticises individuals for what they say cannot hope to bring this situation about. But building the necessary trust to enable openness and free expression depends partly on whether the disputing parties are able to see that the mediator is remaining neutral during their discussions. 
3. Help people to see the other side of the story
Help each individual to reflect upon why the opposing party sees things in the way that they do as well as honestly consider how their own actions and words may have contributed to other people’s perceptions.
It is often by diagnosing a dispute with a fresh, more objective pair of eyes that areas of common ground can be identified so that the parties concerned can work towards a resolution.
Encouraging individuals to reflect upon their expectations of how the dispute could realistically be resolved – but not to set expectations that have no hope of being put into practice – can open the way to agreeing workable compromises.
4. Be ready to intervene when appropriate
A well-prepared mediator can suggest problem-solving approaches, pose powerful questions that open up fresh perspectives and recognise when individuals might benefit from other interventions such as off-line coaching to help move the situation forward.
To help with this task, it pays to have anticipated the kind of situations that may require help before being put on the spot. Having a back pocket of ‘micro-tools’ can be invaluable in this regard.
5. Observe the ‘Law of Lama’
‘Lama’, or the practice of ‘looking after one’s own arse’, might seem somewhat impudent advice to offer to a concerned, would-be dispute broker, but it can save a lot of time and expense later.
In remaining mindful of how they may prejudice outcomes and potentially open the door to further escalations following allegations of unfairness, a sensible mediator seeks not only to protect their own interests, but also those of the organisation – and the warring parties as well.
More than anyone else, mediators need to watch out for pitfalls that might lead them astray, ensuring that they stick to the job in hand and do not become embroiled in the dispute itself.
As in the case of listening, observing the ‘Law of Lama’ recalls another old faithful piece of advice: someone who helps others in times of trouble should ‘keep their head, while all around them are losing theirs.’
Of course, every conflict will be different. Discretion is always required to decide on how best to intervene and there are no hard-and-fast rules to guarantee success. But remembering the five principles above should help to stand HR directors in good stead in order to help bring difficult situations to a successful resolution.

Jackie Keddy is a partner at dispute resolution specialists, The Janus Partnership LLP.

One Response

  1. conflict resolution

     Conflict resolution in an office context can often be a sensitive issue and can be strenuous for the HR department in the organisation because they must do their best to adapt to the different incidents that they come across. The key point is the first one, often employees with anger about a co-worker just want someone to talk to and vent. This can often calm people down and prevent any sort of conflict from resuming.

    acessplanit provides customiseable, flexible Training Management Software strategically developed to aleviate admin tasks and imrpove efficiency is training based businesses. 


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