How to Resolve a Workplace Conflict
Three Minutes with Louisa Weinstein.
For every office BFF, there’s a work worst-enemy; that person who makes your blood boil with endless pen tapping, overrunning presentations and pointless emails.
Luckily, when life gives you lemons, it also gives you Louisa Weinstein. She’s a mediator and trainer who is working to help companies better understand effective conflict resolution.
With a background in corporate law, Louisa moved into neighbourhood mediation, often resolving disputes between former friends. Here, she saw “a carbon copy of the dynamics in a corporate workplace”.
“I fell in love with mediation when I saw how powerful the techniques could be when you transferred them into the workplace.”
Large businesses can spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on litigation (which already is far beyond the reach of most budget-stretched startups), and a huge amount of management time: twenty days over the course of two years. All of this time and energy spent breaking up disputes and calming nerves means that opportunities are being lost left, right and centre.
“We calculated that on a standard dispute with two normal individuals at management level, an organisation could easily lose £100,000.”
Disputes in the workplace can take many forms, from disagreements around performance, investment, strategic direction to property and even fashion. “People often go off sick because they are deeply affected by a dispute in the workplace and are not equipped to deal with it.”
Luckily, there are attainable ways to improve the way that you deal with difficult conversations and negotiations.
“People often don’t like to say ‘I have a conflict’,” explains Louisa, “particularly when it feels like something that you *should *be able to sort out yourselves”.
Mediation can impose structure through placing clear boundaries on the negotiation process. A mediator must be impartial, and participation from all parties must be voluntary, with the expectation that they will be treated equally.
A good place to start is by sitting down with an appropriately trained senior or HR manager, but sometimes this isn’t enough.
“Usually we come in when people are starting to talk about money or where there are really important key employees that people don’t want to lose. Or in forward thinking companies where they want to learn some lessons, and they realise that they’ve hit a wall.”
If you’re waiting for a conflict to emerge in your growing company (which it will!), you’re already on the back foot. Louisa also supports organisations in creating a preemptive strategic process for handling individual cases.
One trick of the trade is to create an “Early Resolution Scheme” which comes into effect before any other disciplinary and grievance process. “By changing the name, you’re also changing the psychological relationship with the employee, and this gives you different touch points to resolve things early”.
The aim of workplace mediation is always that “the parties can wake up the next morning saying ‘I can live with this’”, which means that “you have to be honest about what you expect.” Louisa recommends peer-to-peer coaching as a great way of figuring out your goals and negotiation strategy.
Ultimately, working through a conflict honestly and professionally can be a key growth moment, for both individuals and companies.
So there you have it: create a culture of mentorship, where conflict isn’t a dirty word and disputes are resolved as early as possible…and maybe you’ll never have to meet her! 😉