18.09.2014 Dealing with Workplace Conflict - Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

Dealing with Workplace Conflict

All organisations’ will experience some level of workplace conflict at some point.  It is inevitable when individuals with varying backgrounds, values and responsibilities come together at work. There are a number of way you may choose to deal with this.  Avoid responding to such conflicts within the workplace in a negative or unproductive manner, such as ignoring it; or you can address it with destructive behaviour that may well intensify the conflict, and therefore leads to destructive outcomes, such as hurt feelings, further anger and possibly even a desire for revenge.

The recommended path for dealing with workplace conflict is to respond to the conflict in a manner that leads to a constructive resolution.  When people experience differences, they can often work things out by themselves – quickly and satisfactorily.  This is usually the best way. However, sometimes a third person who has no stake in the outcome can help to resolve the problem.  A third party may be able to give a fresh perspective or offer unbiased suggestions.

When you feel the need for assistance in an effort to reach a constructive solution, there are a variety of resources available to you.  This initial information is intended to help you choose the option best suited to you and the situation.

There are formal processes available to you, such as the grievance and complaint processes.  Like the court system, these are 'rights based' and end with a decision-maker determining the outcome.  Each approach has its own timeframes, procedures and decision-making structure.  The demands on your finances, time and emotions, as well as the demands on your work environment are also important considerations.

Resolving issues through informal processes at the earliest possible point in a conflict is highly recommended.  Most workplace conflicts occur as a result of miscommunication.  Early one-on-one discussions about the issue can result in resolution before the 'I am right, you are wrong' frame of mind becomes established.  When there is no resolution from a one-on-one discussion, however, several alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques are available: coaching, facilitation, mediation and arbitration.

ADR is an interest-based option that leaves the resolution of a dispute to the persons involved in the conflict.  Through mediation, for example, you can help improve communication, build relationships and understand another person's point of view.  Mediation can be used before, during or in place of the formal administrative avenues, and it provides you with a more personal option for addressing your concerns.

In most instances of conflict, doing nothing is the least advisable option.  By seeking an appropriate avenue at an early stage to address your concerns, you can gain a measure of control over the situation and increase your chances of resolving it in the most timely and effective manner.


Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).  What is ADR ?

ADR is a voluntary alternative to, not a replacement for, more traditional and formal systems, such as grievances, discrimination complaints and appeals. Unlike the traditional formal processes, where the parties involved in a dispute are placed in a contest to determine a 'winner' and a 'loser', ADR provides an arena where individuals may examine all the matters related to their workplace concerns. It is an opportunity to develop unique solutions that are acceptable to all parties. Through ADR, participants can generally arrive at resolutions much more quickly than through the formal processes, and resolutions are designed by the participants rather than by an outside person (e.g. the next-level supervisor or a judge).

ADR consists of a variety of approaches and techniques for early intervention and dispute resolution, including facilitation, mediation, early neutral evaluation and others. Each ADR technique provides a nonadversarial setting, giving employees an opportunity to discuss and consider possible solutions with the assistance of a neutral third party.


Who may use ADR ?

Any employee at any level – including temporary employees, applicants for employment and former employees may ask to participate in ADR and may request that other involved individuals also participate. Mediation is the form of ADR that is most often used to address workplace disputes or concerns. Mediation is available to you when you are experiencing conflict with a colleague, or with a supervisor, and may be requested whether or not a complaint, grievance or personnel action has been initiated.  You maintain the right to pursue more formal avenues as long as you meet the required deadlines.


How does ADR work ?

All employees are encouraged to pursue available ADR options at the earliest possible time in order to minimise the disruption and stress that often accompany conflict.  ADR emphasises voluntary participation, neutrality, confidentiality as permitted by law and the ability of the parties to determine their own outcomes.

In mediation, specifically, a trained neutral mediator usually begins the session with all the participants present, by explaining the procedures and ground rules that will be used.  The participants are then invited to present the issues important to them in their own words.  The mediator provides structure, balance and fairness throughout the discussion.  The mediator may meet separately with each participant to discuss matters further and to develop possible options for resolution. Throughout the mediation process, the participants listen to each other's concerns and try to focus on problem solving.  Although an agreed-upon resolution between the parties is the primary goal, mediation is often considered successful if a better understanding or relationship between the participants is achieved.

Another ADR option is facilitation. In facilitation a third party neutral, referred to as a facilitator is trained and experienced in active listening and managing conflict.  The facilitator can assist employees, managers and groups exchange information, obtain answers to questions, discuss decision-making and otherwise support effective communication. The goal of facilitation is to open lines of communication; thereby promoting awareness and understanding and preventing and/or resolving disputes. Facilitation can involve a face-to-face meeting between individuals or groups, or it can merely involve relaying information through the facilitator.

Facilitation is recommended when: (a) an individual is having difficulty communicating with another individual; (b) a conversation or meeting needs to take place about a matter where one or both parties fear the discussion could become emotional or unproductive; (c) something has occurred in the workplace leading to gossip, rumours, suspicions and an individual wants to initiate a conversation to clear up the matter; (d) a new employee or manager has joined a group and changes are about to be initiated and there is concern about how the changes will be received; and (e) morale is low within a team, and there is interest in having a discussion about the situation and developing ways to improve the environment.

Some employees could also serve as conflict coaches. A coach works one on one with an individual to help them find ways to better manage a conflict. When parties don't want to mediate but need help with managing a situation, another person could help by coaching them through the situation. The coach talks to the individual about what is going on, looks at it from different angles and assists in developing some options for how the individual might address the situation. The individual may not want to approach the other person but needs help. The individual may need coaching before going into mediation or after mediation has ended. Coaching aids in processing a situation and manage the issues.  Another ADR process includes arbitration, where the parties designate a third person or panel to decide a matter for them and may agree to be bound by the result.


Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).  What is the EAP ?

The EAP is a professional counselling and referral service designed to help people with their problems, both on and off the job. It is free, confidential within the limits of the law, and voluntary.  The EAP provides employees with counsellors who are prepared to help them deal with virtually any issue or problem that may arise.  Some of the more common concerns relate to emotional issues, relationships, family matters, alcohol or drug use, and problems on the job.  Importantly the EAP is open to all, as any employee may use the EAP at any time.


How does the EAP work?

The EAP provides prompt assistance to employees and, in most cases, their immediate family members.  Through the EAP the employee requiring counselling is put in contact with a fully qualified EAP Counsellor, who meets with them in a confidential setting or on the phone.  After the employee’s initial contact, an EAP Counsellor may help them assess the problem, provide short-term counselling or problem-solving methods when appropriate, advise them in selecting a community resource when necessary, and follow up to make sure they receive quality assistance.


My organisation does not have an EAP in-place as yet.  How do we enquire about getting an EAP ?

Human Resources (Employers) interested in setting-up an EAP service for their organisation can request a formal EAP quotation from Health Matters along with details of all of the available EAP benefit options simply by emailing Health Matters at or calling the enquiries desk on Freephone 0800 988 0085.


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