It is said that compromise is the key to a happy relationship, but Veerash Srikison says that in the workplace it is just not that easy.
If you are constantly being undermined by the boss, feel shaky with anxiety about gossip by colleagues in the office, or discover that a colleague has been stabbing you in the back, then you are experiencing a level of workplace conflict that is likely to result in long-term misery and frustration at best, or sitting at a tribunal fighting over the fate of your employment at worst.
CONFLICT AT WORK
Workplace mediation, however, is a potential solution. It is an approach that is gaining currency with human resources departments. This is supported by the knowledge that the alternatives to not going the mediated route can become very expensive for both the employer and employee. There is inevitably a loss of team morale and productivity while the warring parties are at each others’ throats and, if someone resigns, there is the cost of recruitment. If a case does end up at a tribunal like the CCMA or in litigation, there are the potential consequences of legal bills and loss of income that follow for the employee.
A VOLUNTARY PROCESS
Employers cannot be forced to implement mediation because it has to be a voluntary process, but if an employer unreasonably refuses to instigate mediation when one is requested, a court might take a dim view in light of the mediation rules that now exist in South Africa. Employees must be made aware that they may request a neutral mediator to facilitate a dispute with a co-worker, as opposed to in-house HR personnel or company managers who pose the risk of bias in favour of the employer or bias because of a personal alliance with one of the disputants.
It is a paramount in mediation that the entire process stays confidential. Neither the managers nor the HR department may get involved in the process, which improves the confidence in the disputants that their personal battles with a co- worker won’t become fodder for office gossip in the long run.
TIPS TO PREPARE FOR THE PROCESS
To get yourself to the point of mediating a conflict successfully with a co-worker, these tips should help:
TACKLE THE ISSUES AFTER BOTH OF YOU HAVE CALMED DOWN
Address the issue early, before it turns into a bigger problem, but be sure to wait until things have cooled down. It is difficult to have a productive discussion if you and your co- worker are angry or upset. Wait until you are both clear-headed to begin a conversation with each other.
MAINTAIN A POSITIVE OUTLOOK
To maintain the productive nature of moving forward in mediation you both need to remain calm and treat the other person with respect. Do not assume the other person is hostile or unwilling to work out a solution.
PRACTISE ‘ACTIVE LISTENING’ AND SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND
Try not to jump to any conclusion but pay attention. The mediator will assist you both and ask questions so that you may be able understand the other person’s perspective and acknowledge the emotions that both of you are experiencing.
CONSIDER YOUR ROLE IN THE CONFLICT
Avoid the blame game. A mediator will encourage employees to take responsibility for their actions and encourage problem solving rather than pointing fingers at each other. In other words, you must able to let go after addressing the problem and move on to working on the solution.
You and your co-worker do not necessarily have to be great friends, but you do need to be able to work together in a collegial and professional manner.