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The Cost of Confrontation 

Top 5 Tips on avoiding conflict in the workplace, with Bill Barnett of Thirdside Mediation
Conflict in the workplace has a cost - in 201112, there were 186,300 employment tribunal claims (MOJ 2012). The price organisations can pay for conflict, however, goes beyond the costs of an employment tribunal claim.
There are also the internal resources spent on discipline and grievance cases to take into account the CIPD Conflict Management survey report (2011) indicated that managing each grievance case takes an average of seven days of management and HR time.
The cost of conflict includes direct and indirect costs.
Some, such as sickness absence due to stress and staff turnover, are quantifiable and have an immediate adverse impact on the organisation.
Other costs, such as loss of team morale and presenteeism, (where employees are at work but not working to their full potential because of stress levels), are harder to pin down but the effects are just as damaging on productivity.
It is not only the organisation that suffers if there is conflict between people. The situation can have serious implications for the individuals concerned and also for bystanders who get drawn into the situation.
For every incident of conflict, there are likely to be several colleagues who witness or who are drawn into the disagreement.
If formal processes come into play, people may be forced to take sides in an adversarial way. This will do nothing to build relationships between those involved and could endanger future teamworking.

Being involved in a conflict be it a personality clash or a dispute over performance can cause psychological stress leading to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. The welfare of the organisation is bound up with the health of its employees.

The 201112 Labour Force Survey recorded a total of 428,000 people in the UK who reported suffering from stress, depression or anxiety, out of a total of 1,073,000 for all work-related illnesses. In 2011, CIPD and CBI surveys on absence reported that stress and mental health issues had become the number one reason for long-term absence.

Top 5 tips to avoid workplace conflict

1. Clarity, clarity, clarity.
Be absolutely clear about policies and procedures, make them available to all staff, and police them rigorously at all levels of the organisation. Have clearly defined job descriptions, so that people know what is expected of them, but keep the expectations realistic. Treat people respectfully, and expect them to do the same.
2. Tackle problems early.
An early informal management intervention is more likely to result in salvaged relationships, and fewer ongoing problems. Be neutral, Don't have favourites, or allow cliques to form which exclude people.
3. Deal with underlying causes, not just symptoms.
If the same problems re-occur, investigate why - is it increased workloads, or unrealistic deadlines which are causing the cracks to show? How is communication in the organisation?
4. If the situation warrants it, bring in a trained and accredited mediator.
If you have inhouse mediators, consider bringing in an external co-mediator to establish trust and neutrality. A good mediator will get to the bottom of all the parties' issues, and work with them to bring about a solution that all sides can sign up to.
5. And finally....
Remember, conflict is absolutely natural, and is not necessarily a problem unless/until it gets out of control.
Thirdside Mediation

ThirdSide is a specialist, Swindon-based professional mediation company operated by Bill Barnett, who is a member of the Professional Mediators' Association with 25 years experience of problem solving in: Human Resources, Intellectual Property, Contract Negotiation, Setting Up Spin-out Companies, Facilities Management & Project Management.
Thirdside Mediation - website