The August 2017 edition of the CIPD’s People Management magazine features a powerful article on resolving workplace disputes. It emphasises that our traditional formal processes are not necessarily the ideal solution, particularly in relationship conflicts.
So what do I see as the resolution options?
To start with we need to acknowledge that conflict is inevitable in any organisation, indeed positive conflict is essential as a force for change and innovation. Most of the time conflicts will be minor – a disagreement over how to address a problem, a misunderstanding on what was wanted, some feedback that is poorly communicated. In almost all these situations the people involved will sort things out themselves and that will be the end of it.
Where HR becomes involved is when it is not sorted. The people with the issue and their line manager have not been able to nip it in the bud and it lands on an HR manager’s desk as an employee relations issue to resolve.
Of course the HR manager can reach for the policies and procedures folder to pull out the company grievance policy. Though how many of those day-to-day relationship issues can really be sorted with the formal process?
Calling in a mediator is another option. Is it really necessary at this stage to bring someone else in to mediate? It’s a relatively low-level issue at the moment. After all, if you were rewiring your house you’d call in an electrician, but to change a lightbulb or replace a plug you’d do it yourself, wouldn’t you? But you would still need to know what you were doing. If you put the wrong wire in the wrong terminal you could end up with a serious situation.
The answer is to equip HR professionals to deal with low-level conflict themselves. That’s why I developed the 5 step AGREE model some years back. AGREE comprises five phases from initiating the intervention through to resolution. The five stages take place during two sets of meetings, together with preparation and follow up.
The five process phases are:
A ct You decide an intervention is needed and set up confidential individual meetings with the people involved. You open the meeting explaining to them how the process will work.
G ather Information In the individual meetings you invite them to explain what the situation is, clarifying how it has impacted them and checking how they would like the relationship to be.
R ecognize Issues In a joint meeting with both participants ask them each to explain to each other how the situation is for them and start to draw out what the issues are.
E xplore Solutions For each of the issues identified work through possible options and find mutually agreeable solutions.
E ncourage Agreement End the meeting by agreeing commitment to the actions for each solution. Implement what is agreed and follow up.
AGREE now forms the process element of ‘DIY Mediation’, a simplified mediation style approach where you follow the AGREE process, apply the four key skills and utilise DIY Mediation tools and resources. If you’d like to add DIY Mediation to your toolkit, look at the options for learning here.