Make the most of the virtual environment, tackle workplace conflict head on

20 September 2021

Working from home doesn’t mean workplace conflict is a thing of the past. In fact, statistics show it is on the rise. Managing conflict quickly and making the most of virtual tools will help reduce ongoing disputes and legal risks.

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Working remotely is something we are going to be doing, in some form, for the long haul. Despite employees working from home, research has shown disputes and conflict are increasing. Don’t ignore the warning signs. Make the most of the virtual tools available and give yourself and your workforce the best chance at resolution.

Whether it’s a discussion you are facilitating, or you are engaging a mediator, our expert Workplace Relations Consultants and mediators have put together some tips and insights to help you tackle conflict head on.

#1: Relationships are key

Be proactive and take action to prevent conflict occurring. Relationships are key. If you are a manager, you need to make sure you build in time to regularly contact your team. If a member of your team feels they have a concern or complaint, it’s important they feel they pick up the phone and get in touch. If you’re not in the habit of having regular contact, there is a lesser chance your staff will feel comfortable to reach out to you.

Keeping in contact and building relationships isn’t just about you and the individual team members. You must have regular catchups as a team. Encourage them to talk, to debate, to speak openly, to challenge one another.  This is going to strengthen relationships, build resilience and create an understanding of personal circumstances, leading to greater empathy.

Getting these things right isn’t going to prevent conflict, but if it does arise, individuals will  be more willing to discuss issues openly and agree on a way forward. 

#2: Going virtual has massive benefits

To address or resolve certain issues, face-to-face meetings are always going to be preferred. Some individuals won’t have the skills to participate in a video call - however, for the majority of us, video calls and conferencing are normal. It’s how we talk to our colleagues, friends and family. It’s a great tool, so let’s use it!

Scheduling virtual meetings is easier; there is no travel and we don’t even have to shuffle from one meeting room to another. With no travel constraints, people have greater availability and a meeting can be arranged and held quickly.

Home feels safe; it’s comfortable and it’s private. No one sees us walking into the meeting room; no one sees us leaving - maybe a little flushed or upset by what has occurred. Talking about a workplace issue at home means the employee is likely to feel more comfortable and therefore be able to speak more freely and engage in the discussion.

When we start to think about resolution processes, the past two years has shown us virtual mediation works. Again, it’s quicker to arrange and there is no travel. If you are engaging an external mediation, that also means a cost saving.

A virtual mediation has other benefits. When you have a video conference, you see every facial expression and reaction more than you would in person. If you are taking notes online the other participants are unable to see, and don’t get distracted about what is or isn’t being noted.

#3: Ensure all parties are engaged

Before facilitating a discussion or instructing a mediator, take the time to talk to and work with each party to understand what they want to achieve, and if they are willing to actively participate in mediation.

Mediation isn’t about throwing people into a virtual room and letting them argue their case - and it isn’t about saying who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about exploring and discussing openly; it’s about agreeing how both parties will behave in the future, and importantly, it’s about coming to a place where both want to repair the relationship.

It’s voluntary. Don’t force anyone to mediate. While a mediator may be there to facilitate, if it’s just not working, anyone can walk away. If the mediator feels it isn’t working, they too may call time. To reinforce this message, communicate it to everyone upfront and let them understand what will happen if it doesn’t work – it’s not the end, but more formal methods such as a workplace investigation may be necessary.

#4: Get the right person

A resolution is going to be contingent on getting the right mediator; that’s someone who isn’t conflicted and there is no perception of conflict or bias. If you are using an internal candidate, think about any perceived alliances.

If you are using an external mediator, take time to talk about the issue and parties involved.  Ask them about their experience. Ask them to describe the process they follow. This will help you make an informed assessment about whether they are the right person.

Mediators should take the time to introduce themselves to the parties before the mediation. This gives them the opportunity to assess any hesitancy as well as any potential conflict of interests. It’s also the time to explain the process to the parties so they know what they are engaging in – there should be no surprises!

#5: Avoidance is not a strategy

Often a conflict occurs because we may not have dealt with the issue at the relevant point in time. Avoiding the issue is not a strategy. If you think a conflict may be brewing, get ahead of the issue immediately.

Managing conflict is part of business; we need to deal with it quickly and efficiently. Working remotely does not hinder resolution - if anything, our virtual tools can yield better results when compared to the conventional face-to-face methods.

How we can help

If you are managing, or need to manage a workplace conflict, get in touch. The Victorian Chamber’s expert Workplace Relations Consultants and mediators can give you firsthand insights into their experience with virtual mediation and other forms of dispute resolution.

Our consultants can coach you to help you manage the matter yourself, or they can act as an independent mediator. Call the Victorian Chamber’s Workplace Relations Advice Line for a no obligation quotation.

 

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