As a follow up to my column last week, today I will write on the importance of managers equipping themselves with mediation skills. There are a lot of conflicts in the workplace, either between employees or employers and employees.
Managers play a crucial role, in prevention and management of such conflicts and I believe they should have some basic mediation skills.
The importance was highlighted last week and some benefits are, motivating workers, reducing high staff turnover, reducing employee sabotage and minimising labour litigation.
Many times managers who do not have mediation skills contribute to fuelling conflict. Take an example where the manager is partisan and biased or already has a preconceived mindset on the dispute then such a manager will fuel the dispute and leave the aggrieved party disgruntled.
Before opting for mediation, the manager has several choices such as taking a wait and see approach where the conflict may dissolve on its own.
The mediation can be postponed until the business goals are met, the parties can also be separated. For example one party can be transferred to another team, termination may be used on one or both parties; for example staff who have disciplinary problems and are a constant source of conflict in the organisation; the manager may also opt to train or counsel the disputants or finally go for mediation.
Managerial mediation is mostly done for the benefit of the organisation and not for the disputants. Some of the benefits include retention of talented staff and minimising exposure to risk from labour disputes.
However, the manager does not make the decision, but helps the disputants come to a workable solution. Mismanaged conflict is very costly.
Managerial mediation can be preventive or to assist the parties in coming to a settlement. However, there are some instances where managerial mediation is undesirable such as using mediation to substitute for discipline, or in the event of illegal behaviour in the organisation.
For example if faced with sexual harassment claims and charges, then the manager should not resort to mediation to manage the conflict as one of the parties has committed an offence which is punishable under law.
Once the manager has the understanding that mediation is primarily for the organisation’s benefit then he should be the one to define the business problem to be solved and hear each person’s side of the story.
For example a managerial mediation can be employed in a team, to explore a settlement on how personal differences are affecting performance.
There is no legal requirement to include mediation as part of an organisation’s labour policies. However, how disputes are handled may form the definition of whether the organisation acted legally or illegally. In some cases, mediation can be employed as a tool to minimise litigation risk.