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Handling Conflict

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.

At some point in every manager’s daily life, you will be faced with the need to resolve conflict, either:

  • Conflict between two of your colleagues
  • Conflict between a colleague and someone else (a supplier, customer or distant colleague)
  • Conflict between a colleague and yourself

Two of the most valuable conflict management models have already been covered in the Management Pocketblog.

Exercise 1: Review Ellen Raider’s AEIOU Model

As a major figure in researching conflict, Morton Deutsch should be your first port of call. Read through the Pocketblog: Conflict: as simple as AEIOU. What are the direct lessons for you, from this blog?

Exercise 2: Review the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes

The most widely used model for understanding your choices when you approach conflict is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes model, which you can read about in the Pocketblog: Is this Relationship going to Work? Look at the five modes and ask yourself which ones you tend to over-use and which you tend to under-use.

Exercise 3: Review the basics of Mediation

If you ever need to mediate between conflicts, then the Pocketblog: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right will help you grasp the basics of the role, setting out six basic steps. Which steps do you do well, naturally, and which do you tend to skimp on?

All of this reading back should allow you to start to form your own ideas about what makes for productive handling of conflict. For me, there are six elements. I will offer three tips under each.

Element 1: Attitudes

  1. Respectful of differences: conflict arises out of differences – as soon as you respect those differences, conflict softens.
  2. Open Mind: try to see the other person’s point of view and what matters most to them: Respect that.
  3. People are not the problem – while behaviours may be unwelcome, distinguish the person from their attitudes, needs and behaviours.

Element 2: Discovery

  1. What do you know already: inventory.
  2. What do you not know: shopping list.
  3. What are the causes: a step towards solutions.

Element 3: Core Skills

  1. Listening: until you really hear, you cannot respect or discover the truth.
  2. Language: clear, straightforward and respectful use of pronouns (‘I’ takes responsibility: ‘you’ sounds accusatory).
  3. Calm: find ways to calm yourself so you can control your responses and remain objective.

Element 4: Strategies

  1. Spot the signs of rising tension early: move in to defuse the conflict before it gets properly started.
  2. Keep working: if you break contact, conflict will escalate in the gaps.
  3. Welcome contributions: make all contributions welcome by inviting, acknowledging and valuing every effort the other person makes.

Element 5: Support

  1. Ask for it: whenever you need it.
  2. Offer it: whenever you can.
  3. Match it: to the needs of the situation – is facilitation or mediation or arbitration the right approach?

Element 6: Cautions

  1. Avoid the mindset of trying to ‘win’. Look instead for a resolution that both parties will value.
  2. Right and wrong: are rarely appropriate categories – if they were, the conflict would be far easier to resolve.
  3. Blame, punishment and retribution: have no role. In the film Papillon, Leon Darga says ‘blame is for god and small children.’

Further Reading

  1. Resolving Conflict Pocketbook
  2. Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook
  3. Mediation Pocketbook
  4. The free ACAS Advisory booklet – Managing conflict at work
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When two people cannot resolve a disagreement for themselves, they need a third person to get involved. And in the escalation from a friendly nudge up to the judicial system, mediation is the first formal step.

And, since conflict is common in organisations, it’s as well to understand what mediation can and cannot offer, when to use it, and how to make it effective.

Continue reading Mediation

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Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

Okay, so that’s no way to talk about your colleagues – although it does sometimes feel that way.  But the next line and the title of the 1974 Stealers Wheel song is ’stuck in the middle with you.’

Go on – click on the link – you know you want to waste four minutes and hear the song – just for old times’ sake!


Stuck in the Middle

The Latin word, mediare – to be in the middle – gives us our word mediate, which is a process of intervening between two parties to resolve a dispute.  More and more organisations are turning to mediators to help resolve internal disputes before moving to disciplinary or legal sanctions.

How does Mediation work?

There is a very thorough description of the mediation process on the website of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (the catchily named OxCHEPS).  However, for most purposes, the process can be split into six steps, which form the basics of the process.  Different mediators and different contexts mean that there are a range of variations on this theme.

Step 1: Mediator meets person A (usually the person who has declared the grievance) and listens carefully to their point of view.  Mediator confirms with A that they are prepared to meet B.

Step 2: Mediator meets person B (in some cases the meeting starts with an agreement to pursue mediation – in others, that agreement will already have been given) and listens carefully to their point of view.  Mediator confirms with B that they are prepared to meet A.

Assuming both people have agreed to meet…

Photo: Steps in the Woods by Time Green Step 3: Mediator meets person A to share information and plan the meeting.

Step 4: Mediator meets person B to share information and plan the meeting.

Step 5: The mediator facilitates a meeting between A and B, at which they each listen to the other as they express their point of view.  The mediator ensures that all issues are shared and that each is listened to with care.  The mediator then helps A and B to explore their issues, and start to create an agreement.  When A and B reach an agreement, the mediator will document it and ask A and B to each sign the agreement and the mediator will witness it.

Step 6: In many cases, the mediator will agree a follow-up role, to monitor how the agreement is working.

The Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook


The Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook has pragmatic information about this trickiest of workplace topics, from a seasoned HR professional, Ruth Sangale.  With mini case studies, checklists and standard letters, plus a handy set of step by step processes at the end, this is a must have for all managers and a handy reference for HR practitioners.

Whilst Ruth does not describe mediation in detail, she refers you to a free booklet from ACAS and the CIPD;‘Mediation – an Employer’s Guide’, which you can download by clicking on the link.

Other Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Absence Management Pocketbook

The Induction Pocketbook

The Flexible Workplace Pocketbook

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

The Mediation Pocketbook

The Performance Management Pocketbook

The Employment Law Pocketbook

The Competencies Pocketbook

The Problem Behaviour Pocketbook

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