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Conflict is Normal Are You Resolution Ready?


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John Crawley Part 1 of 4 Whitepaper Series Tel. 0845 600 8851

The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


Conflict Is Normal If you experience conflict in the workplace you, your staff and your organisation are not somehow defective or abnormal. Conflict at work is a normal, natural consequence of the modern diverse workplace. Empowered staff are more engaged but also more vocal. When encouraged to have a voice1 rather than sit back and take orders, people will disagree. Media communication has mushroomed, extending the arena for dialogue but also disagreement. Policies encouraging the expression of discontent around issues of fairness have also proliferated in the last 20 years. Conflict happens when people find it difficult to balance their needs and ways of working with those of their colleagues. Humans under pressure do not always behave well. A recent ACAS discussion paper ‘Riding Out the Storm: Managing Conflict in a Recession and Beyond’2 indicated a strong ‘individualisation’ of conflict at work and emphasised the need for effective, early conflict resolution. ‘The UK is currently experiencing its longest period of recession for over 60 years. Growing unemployment, downward pressure on wages and greater uncertainty over job security inevitably increase the strain on workplace relationships and the potential for conflict.’ The paper goes on to suggest that ‘latent conflict’ is also on the increase. Here the signs of unrest, discontent and disengagement are expressed indirectly, for example in increased absence levels and higher turnover, or a drop in performance. More fractious interpersonal relationships between managers and employees are also predicted which can lead to an increase in both incidences and perceptions of bullying and harassment.

John Crawley General Manager People Resolutions

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


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Resolution Unreadiness The fact that conflict is normal does not make it easy to resolve. The use of proactive mediation and dialogue-based conflict resolution has increased over the last ten years, but very few organisations have successfully put mediation at the centre of their people management strategies and created a genuinely proactive approach to conflict resolution at work. Conflict reactive approaches still dominate. People at work do not think and behave as though conflict is normal and a potentially positive force for change. Do you recognise any of the conflict reactive views and behaviours listed here?

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‘Managers do not have the confidence to use informal resolution’ for fear of getting it wrong particularly when HR support is perceived as ‘remote’3 ‘The formalisation of conflict’4 is encouraged by grievance procedures: “Once formal procedures have been triggered, the tendency is for differences to become more adversarial” Mediation has a proven track record – high resolution rates, good impact on working relationships but it only takes one ‘failed’ mediation to ruin an ‘organisation’s confidence in mediation’ because of mediation’s fragility5 HR is seen as the place to go for conflict resolution but frequently suggest as a first step that people go away and write things down just in case they need evidence. HR will often give policy advice but little support on skills. Where is the local support for early resolution?

The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready? Parties opt to go for a tribunal for the flimsiest of reasons because they feel they may win a substantial award

“Mediation – we don’t want any of that rubbish – these people have either got to shape up or ship-out”

People fall out or get ‘bullied’ and all policies encourage them to talk to one another or their manager first and try to sort it out, but neither they nor their manager necessarily have the skills or inclination to do this. Conflict resolution and mediation skills are not prioritised in the modern workplace. They are seen as ‘soft skills’ and rarely expressed as key competencies

Policy makers, CEOs and Finance Managers see resolution as an ‘extra’ rather than an investment which can prevent costly escalation

Untrained middle and senior managers are regularly assigned to internal grievance and disciplinary investigations because of their position and role, not their skills


Conflicts and disputes are allowed to fester and feed discontent in the hope that they might vanish A culture of ‘them and us’ prevails the moment a difficult conversation or negotiation arises What sort of workplaces are we creating that produce such conflict reactive attitudes and behaviours? There is a cost to all this unresolved conflict (see Appendix 1 - The Cost of Conflict).

References 1

Voice and Participation in the Modern Workplace: Challenges and Prospects, John Purcell and

Mark Hall, Acas, 2012 2

Riding Out The Storm: Managing Conflict in a Recession and Beyond, Acas, March 2010


The Practice of Discipline: Evaluating the Roles and Relationship Between Managers and HR

Professionals, Human Resource Management Journal 4

Mediation: An Approach to Resolving Workplace Issues, Acas & CIPD, February 2013


Mediation at work: of success, failure and fragility, Paul Latreille, Acas Research Paper, 2010


Argument to Agreement – Resolving Disputes Through Mediation, Crawley J, published by

JCMediation, June 2012 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14

Fight, Flight, or Face It? A global research report by OPP® in association with the CIPD,

July 2008 8

Managing Conflict at Work, CIPD, 2004 and Managing Conflict at Work, CIPD, 2004

13, 15

Absence Management, CIPD, 2008

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?

Unresolved Conflict Stops People Working The Cost of Conflict People carry the consequences of unresolved conflict about with them. Over the course of twenty five years I have asked people on my training courses to write down the potentially negative aspects of conflict at work.

Potentially negative aspects of conflict: • Sickness absence, stress • Violence – verbal / actual • Harassment / Discrimination • Negative impact on productivity • Values disconnect – personal / business • Personal prejudice • Winner vs. loser – not win/win • Lack of focus • Clouds the issues, lose perspective • Impact on culture / spreads • Focus on negatives rather than positives • Costs of conflict • Revisit previous situations (e.g. to bully etc.) • Easy to avoid raising issues because don’t want to be labelled a ‘troublemaker’ These negative traces will often bubble to the surface when people encounter conflict at work. One of the key purposes of the ABC approach is to replace these negative memories and experiences with positive ones which will feed conflict optimism and help establish a resolution culture.

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?

The Business Cost of Unresolved Conflict

The 2010 CEDR Tough Talk report likened this amount to:

The first ever cost of conflict survey in 2006 calculated that conflict costs businesses £33 billion per year. A more recent OPP survey6, published jointly with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) finds that poorly managed conflicts at work cost British employers in the region of 370 million working days.

Gross Domestic Product – If the cost of conflict to British business were a country, it would have the world’s 57th biggest economy (out of 180 countries) Government Spending – Amount equal to a third of the total budget for the National Health Service last year (£102.3bn)

These cost of conflict can generally be broken down into:

Revenue drain

• Legal fees • Tribunal cost • The cost of handling formal grievances vs. the cost of a mediated dispute

Management and staff time drain

• Working relationships and performance deterioration • Sickness / absence

Other indirect costs of unresolved conflicts

• Loss of valuable employees • Reputation cost • Employee relations difficulties • Inability to attract and retain staff

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


The ABC Approach To Workplace Conflict Resolution Creating Resolution Readiness

“Like architecture in general, resolution architecture sometimes works and sometimes does not achieve its intended purpose.” Image ©

We have developed the ABC approach based on over 20 years’ experience in workplace conflict resolution and mediation. It advocates putting mediation values, thinking and behaviour at the centre of your people management, HR and conflict resolution strategies. More broadly it will enable your organisation to adopt a cost effective, proactive approach rather than a reactive approach; to conflict at work which does not provide a good return on investment.

Using Resolution Architecture™ to design a resolution-ready workplace. Introducing or enhancing Resolution Building Blocks™ to increase resolution capacity, introduce resolution efficiency measures and reduce the cost of conflict. Changing the Resolution Climate™ Creating a sustainable shift from conflictreactive behaviour and thinking to a conflict resolution culture.

The ABC approach is based around three new reflective metaphors designed to help you think about where you are, what works and what else you need to do to manage conflict at work successfully.

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


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Resolution Architecture™ I have developed this term to encourage organisations to create a blueprint for resolution ready processes, structures, policies, and guidance material on effective conflict resolution at work.

Managerial guidance and HR processes have not caught up with the mediation ‘revolution’. E-mail and social media cause conflict and yet very little is done to create agreed etiquette to guide users. The tone and language of many conflict resolution procedures is excessively formalised.

Like architecture in general, Resolution Architecture is often an accident of occurrence rather than design. It may have developed organically out of the requirements for an earlier age and has been updated, or handed down.

The ABC guide will show you what to include in your Resolution Architecture Blueprint which will enable you to update procedures and protocols and create genuine resolution-readiness including:

Over time, fashions change and architecture is particularly prone to the influence of strong, powerful people. It may not be fit for current purpose. Old buildings can be adapted very well to new needs and retain some of their particular charm and function, particularly when a realistic, imaginative vision inspires the architect’s blueprint. Resolution Architecture in many organisations needs a radical re-design. Grievance procedures have conflict stamped all over them in their language and intent.

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• A statement of intent and core values around workplace conflict resolution • Creating a strategic, structured, staged approach on three levels – early local resolution; assisted resolution e.g. mediation, coaching, resolution review; backed up by fair investigation and disciplinary procedures’ • Building resolution pathways for a range of conflicts • Creating a resolution hub, conflict ‘triage’ and customising resolution • Building E-tiquette – preventing and resolving online conflict

The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


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Resolution Building Blocks™ Without building blocks, architecture becomes a fictional pursuit. The design stays on the architect’s drawing board. The building blocks put the substance into the concepts and ideas. Resolution Building Blocks are the practical, substantive measures that can be introduced to create a resolution capacity where there is none, or improve existing capability. In tough times spending is tight but be reassured many resolution building blocks do not cost a fortune and they generate good return on investment. Like real-life building blocks they may need to be consumer tested, modified and improved depending on effectiveness and user perceptions. Resolution Building Blocks are not for big organisations only. Part 3 of the ABC Guide illustrates a broad sample of tried and tested Resolution Building Blocks which will reap a good return on investment including: • Enhancement of managerial skills around the ‘Talk-it-Out Model’ – buying a book, online conflict resolution programme, customised leadership resolution and mediation programmes • Building in-house mediation capacity – in-house mediators, outsourced mediation, hybrid services • Conflict coaching – using the RESPECT model • Accessing in-time support • Pooling resolution resources • Underpinning resolution initiatives with effective the FAIR investigation processes and training

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


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Resolution Climate™ Climate™ If you get your Resolution Architecture and Building Blocks right there will be an improvement in the Resolution Climate™. Unlike the weather, Resolution Climate is susceptible to a degree of control. Resolution Climate describes the more intangible aspects of atmosphere, culture, habit and circumstance that conditions how we feel and think about conflict at work. I am inviting you in this section of the ABC Guide to visualise creating your own climate-controlled dome in which storms are quelled, hurricanes harnessed and resolution shines like a rainbow. In Chapter 4 of the ABC Guide we will indicate how to build an organisationwide corporate Resolution Climate. You may already have some of the ingredients in place. Many organisations across a range of sectors are starting to use mediation more and have created some Resolution Architecture and Building Blocks. The Army and Barnardo’s; Citi Bank and the Greater London Authority; NHS

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Grampian and several private schools. At first glance these organisations could not be more different in terms of sector, values and purpose. One thing they share however is the ability to substantiate the business case for mediation and raise resources. They also share some belief that win/win and not win/lose resolutions have a value for working communities. The ability to engage stakeholders behind a resolution initiative and building resolution awareness and commitment are key ingredients of a Resolution Climate. Other key factors in building and sustaining a Resolution Climate are: • To replace negative conflict narrative with positive conflict narrative • Celebrate successes and promote the benefits of resolution without breaching confidentiality • Creating contingency and resilience of supply. Far too often conflict resolution initiatives succeed or perish depending on whether the people who run them remain in the organisation

The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


Mediation - Transforming Workplaces This ABC guide to Workplace Conflict Resolution expands the conventionally narrow definition of mediation - ‘A dispute resolution process facilitated by an impartial third party who assists the parties to resolve disputes in a safe, confidential, constructive setting.’ I see mediation as a life / work role that people need to step into when circumstances suggest it might be appropriate, and when it is potentially useful to others. Like other life roles – manager, carer, parent, friend or partner – the mediation role involves the deployment of a group of identifiable behaviours. In this case impartiality, active listening, conflict facilitation and resolution techniques.

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Mediation also involves using language in a neutral, nonjudgemental way – for example saying to people what you need from them rather than what you think of them.

Mediation turns an argument into a win/win discussion and agreement. These behaviours are hugely beneficial in the workplace for leaders, managers and colleagues.

The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?

Resolving to Get the Best out of People - Mediation Values

• People at work have common interests but often fail to recognise them when in a conflict

The mediation approach to conflict resolution is driven by a set of optimistic values7 which encourage positive thinking around conflict:

• People can balance their own needs with others and find mutually acceptable resolutions

• Conflict is OK and can lead to positive growth and change • Most people do not choose to be difficult or negative with others , but become so when their needs are not being met, or when their own needs clash with others • Win/win solutions are more satisfactory than win/lose • Anger is OK - people need to express upset and difficult emotions and get them heard • People can move out of ‘blame frame’ into the ‘aim frame’, if given the opportunity


• In a safe environment, people can move on from hurt and distress to acknowledgement, understanding and consideration • People often do not think straight when they are in a stressful situation, but are able to come up with workable solutions if their stress is reduced • Conflict resolution enables diverse communities to understand and work with one another to achieve their full potential • Once people who have different views and values start communicating constructively about their differences they will be more able to work together and trust one another

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


Benefits of the ABC Approach to Conflict Resolution at Work The ABC Guide contains a road map for strategy and a range of practical suggestions. Each title acts as a reflective metaphor to help you visualise and think about where you are and what you need. The ABC Approach is scalable, can be used in any type of organisation. It requires energy and determination but ultimately will enable you to:

• Significantly reduce the cost of conflict • Take a fair, appropriately challenging approach when resolution is not possible or appropriate • Resolve disputes within the workplace, rebuild trust and restore communication • Boost engagement and employee voice initiatives

• Send a strong message to everyone in the workplace that there is a commitment to resolution and working together when things get tough

• Enhance workplace well-being

• Address conflict early and avoid costly escalation

• Aim for conflict resolution excellence in the workplace

• Reduce resolution costs and introduce resolution improvement measures

• Get on with one another and your work

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• Make the most of resources that you invest in conflict resolution and get a good return on investment

The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


Making Workplace Resolution Work for You The great thing about improving Resolution Architecture, Building Blocks and Climate is that it has value beyond cutting the costs of conflict. I always generate a discussion about the potentially positive aspects of conflict on my courses. Most groups struggle to name these at first but once they get going they begin to recognise the business and human benefits of a proactive resolution approach.

Potentially positive aspects of conflict: • Clears the air • Relaxes tension • Creates understanding on both sides – listening • Saves time, happier staff, less management time taken on conflict • A more positive external view of the company • Promotes development of solution based culture • Builds positive point of view of the company and selves • People are valued • Making a contribution • Being part of the change • Reduces the emotion • Learning from the experience • Respecting differences • Learning how to express differences positively We recommend that you invest time, thought and people resources on all three elements – Resolution Architecture, Building Blocks and Climate as this will bring you better, longer lasting results.

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


Appendix 1 The Cost of Conflict Meaningfully Measuring How Much Conflict is Costing You A ‘meaningful’ cost estimate depends on what you count and how. My advice is to use the information on these pages to create a formula which means something to you and the stakeholders in your organisation. A typical cost calculation formula counts formalised conflict like grievances, bullying and harassment complaints (some of which may not truly be ‘conflicts’ but more likely disciplinary matters), employment tribunals. Many organisations are currently monitoring activity and resource time expended on these formalised conflicts so there is readily usable data. For example:

• Informal conflict which may never reach formal procedure • The indirect costs of conflict such as reputation damage, loss of customers, inability to innovate when differences are not being brought out and managed • The efficiency and ROI of current conflict resolution measures • Where cost savings can be made and efficiency measures introduced People Resolutions have a conflict calculator which you can utilise at http:// Your organisation will also be able to reap the rewards of reducing the negative energy of conflict and harnessing it for mutual well-being.

Individual conflict cost – duration, number of people directly and indirectly involved (x % of their salary lost to conflict), reduced billable hours, time dealing with conflict, absenteeism, grievances, third party costs, litigation, compensation, productivity losses (%), staff turnover Organisational conflict cost – individual cost x number of grievances / formalised conflicts It is more difficult but equally important to sample and quantify:

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?


Cost of Conflict Data The CIPD ‘Managing Conflict at Work 2008’ survey notes that on average, a UK employer receives three ET applications a year. The survey also finds that 14% of bullying and harassment cases escalate to ET. Conflicts which escalate towards tribunal can attract significant staff costs, plus the cost of an award. In 2010 the median was £10,000 and the maximum was £227,208 A prominent government department calculates that they save £20,000 average costs per tribunal, for every case diverted into their in-house mediation service During 2009/10 the BBC paid out £607,138 plus at least £34,201 in tax as a result of tribunal claims and associated legal fees.

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The cost of handling formal grievances vs. the cost of a mediated dispute: Cost of a formal case where one party complains about another:

Cost of a formal case where two parties are in dispute:

Investigator time (14 days)

Mediator time (2 days)

Union time (5 days per case8)

Coordinator’s time (0.5 day)

Parties’ and witness time (4 days)

Parties’ time (1.5 days x 2)

Time for delays/postponements

Union time (not needed but may be wanted)

Total approx 23 days

Total approx 5.5 days

The figure shows that formal processes are four times the cost of informal ones. (Training and support time for mediators and investigators is not included, nor is administrative support for investigation including note-taking.)

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The ABC of Workplace Conflict Resolution Conflict Is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?

Management and staff time drain

Sickness / absence

• The average employee spends 2.1 hours a week dealing with conflict

• Over a quarter of employees (27%) have been involved in a workplace disagreement that led to personal insults or attacks, while a similar percentage (25%) have seen conflict lead to sickness or absence

• One in ten managers say that they spend six hours a week or more dealing with conflict • Half of HR workers spend between one and five hours a week managing disagreements9 • ACAS argues that reducing the incidence of grievances from one for every 355 to one for every 400 employees would produce savings in management time of nearly £19 million. Reducing the incidence of disciplinary cases from one in every 158 to one in every 175 employees would produce £53 million savings in management time

• Average cost to a public sector health organisation of sickness absence due to stress is estimated as 11.7 days per employee. Stress is the number one cause of short-term absence for non-manual employees, and accounts for 72% of absence in the public sector15

Working relationships and performance deterioration

Other indirect costs of unresolved conflicts

• 57% of employees have had conflicts that lead to demotivation and disengagement10

• Loss of valuable employees

• 10% of employees have failed to attend meetings because of a conflict11


• Reputation cost • Employee relations difficulties • Inability to attract and retain staff

• 10% of employees have taken multiple days off to avoid conflict situations12 • 18% of employees say they know people who have left the organisation because of conflict13 • 9% of employees attribute a project failure to conflict14

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Conflict is Normal Are You Resolution Ready? By John Crawley

PART 1 of 4 To learn more about this whitepaper series, please visit

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Conflict is normal abc guide to conflict resolution part 1  

Part 1 one the ABC Guide to Conflict Resolution - Conflict is Normal - Are You Resolution Ready?

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