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How to handle confrontations at work (March 2011)

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Human Law Ezine - March 2011

How to handle confrontations at work 

Most managers in my experience dread conflict at work. As a consequence they often try a training course to develop new skills to help them in dealing with difficult employees or problems within their team. From my experience however, one of the flaws of most conflict resolution and mediation courses is their inability to deal with one on one confrontation. They do not train the would-be mediator in dealing and handling conflicts.

Yes, the model often gets the mediator or manager to identify issues, develop strengths and weaknesses, apply some pressure but what about giving tips on handling one on one conflict?

Let's face it. Most managers dread conflict.

I believe that mediation is certainly within an employment perspective about communication and bringing that back between the parties.

As mediators and lawyers, we know we should be encouraging parties to communicate and resolve their differences. Much better that managers resolve the problems with their subordinates than that they rely on someone else within their organisation, or worse still the law.

Typically by the time a lawyer is involved the working relationship may be over.

Yet often mediations are done with emphasis on keeping the parties apart or holding a joint session together which can be take a quasi-judicial role.

Courses tend to focus on legal compliance, but not on authenticity.

Managers often dread those one on one conversations. So much easier to avoid them. So how should these conflicts be managed? Some useful principles for the manager or the mediator include:

  1. Name the issue. What exactly is bugging you?
  2. Identify your own emotional feelings. The more I have delved into conflict the more I feel that they can often be something connected with the mirror. Often you the manager may be con-tributing to the conflict. Or you may be struggling with the conflict. Can you identify it?
  3. Prepare your thoughts and what you will say. Use of language and emotion is critical. The more you prepare the greater your chance of success. 
  4.  Aim for succinctness. In mediation, we are trained to prepare an opening statement. I believe that we should encourage individuals to prepare their opening statement. That opening state-ment should take no more than 60 seconds.
  5. Use a specific example that you want to change of the individual you wish to confront.
  6. Show that person, you wish to resolve the issue.
  7. Invite the other person to respond. This is how to manage a good mediation and can apply here too.
  8. Listen carefully and actively.
  9. Head towards a defined conclusion.
  10. Review how it went objectively. Afterwards, on your own review the position.
  11. Commit to try again. After you have dealt with a conflict you will have more confidence in doing it again. Become an expert in handling conflict and put yourself in a position to help others.

For advice on how to handle conflicts at work and for training for managers on mediation and conflict management skills contact Justin Patten here

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"Whilst Justin has a wealth of experience of the law and procedures involved in employment matters, I believe his greatest asset is his absolute genuine concern in taking the right course of action for his client. He is both sensitive and perceptive and, during a difficult time made the process less onerous and stressful for me."
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