Becoming a Mediator
I'm involved in a workplace disagreement today. My partner (business and life), Lucy (above, top, bearing down), wants my input on finance and marketing jobs; I'd planned to write resources. We're not on task because we've got the extra job of arguing. Five minutes of sulking (me); justification (her); and a coffee in the kitchen fixed it. After 20 years of occasional working from home we're good at the swift resolution of minor misunderstandings.
But I'm not making light of the serious stuff; the scenarios where interpersonal conflict undermines confidence and diminishes productivity. These are workplace 'disagreements' that really hurt and cause lasting harm. Professional relationships sour into manipulation, harassment and bullying where one human being willfully (or even accidentally) damages another. It might be a difference of opinion, banter gone too far, unhealthy competition or even sexual and physical abuse. All are commonplace; none need go unacknowledged or unresolved.
As a coach I see a lot of this second hand. 90% of my coaching work includes 'people issues'. My clients are either involved or trying to sort things out, and are often wholly unprepared to do so. As well as this, coachees sometimes have internal conflict, battling with themselves, beating themselves up or judging themselves against some irrelevant personal criteria. You could say they have a longstanding workplace grievance against themselves. I can work with that, it's my job, but I can't reach beyond and into their workplace unless invited to do so.
So I've decided to invite myself, by training as a mediator. I've decided it's a natural and necessary development of my professional offer and my training starts in March. I'll share the journey with you here and I hope it helps you in some way too. You can even join me on the training if you like - details here
Conflict is a fact of life in the modern workplace; against a backdrop of tumultuous political and economic change and highly pressurised work environment.
Managing conflict in the modern workplace, CIPD 2020
If you want to know the scale of the challenge - and what to do about it - start here. This report from CIPD describes the good, the bad and the ugly of the contemporary workplace. One finding (from over 1000 respondents) suggests that, "people managers are at the forefront of identifying and managing conflict, as well as often being a cause of it." Conflict arises from differences in personality and working styles and the most common associated behaviour is lack of respect.
The potential impact is stark:
Our findings show how devastating the negative effects of conflict can be on people. Stress, a drop in motivation or commitment, anxiety and a loss of self confidence are the most common effects on people, but some individuals say the impact is felt for years, and their confidence will never be the same again.
However there's good news, which is part of the compelling attraction of mediation,
Respondents to our employer survey are significantly more likely to report a number of tangible outcomes in their ability to handle conflict where they have invested in people management skills training for their managers.
Learning to Mediate
Obviously nothing replaces actually doing it under the guidance of experienced trainers, but I've found The Mediator's Handbook an inspiring and practical read. It's a 'what/how' book rather than a 'why' one, covering the principles and practice of successful mediation. I think I'll leave it laying around next time I'm working from home.
Something to Think About
- What kind of situations cause workplace conflict?
- What's your experience of conflict or grievance?
- What, exactly, is conflict?
- Is one person's conflict another's lively debate or bonding chat?