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Workplace Conflict & ODR: Making Conflict Management Profitable for Your Organization

We are living in an era of incredible and unprecedented change. Rapid pace and constant change are characteristic of the modern workplace. Every aspect of how we work and who does what in the field, factory, farm and office has changed. Evolving gender roles, restricting global economies, limited natural resources, technological advances, heightened security and safety concerns, all of these factors have created increased conflict in our workplaces.

HR managers and supervisors say that they spend 25% of their time navigating workplace conflict. Symptoms of workplace conflict may be easy to spot such as shouting or yelling; or they may be more subtle, like an employee who chooses not to communicate or has excessive absenteeism, etc.

It’s easy to ignore conflict in the workplace and just hope employees work out among themselves, but costs in production, employee turnover, and conflict-related absenteeism can take an additional toll, not mention the cost of defending an employment law claim such as wrongful termination, sexual harassment, discrimination or hostile work environment can be astronomical.

Benefits of Workplace a Conflict-Management System

Having a Conflict Management System in place (CMS) customized to your specific organization’s internal processes and company culture is key in effectively resolving workplace disputes.

The CMS should be designed to make sense for your organization. A good CMS system is constructed to make the program approachable and responsive. In it’s simplest form this means maintaining an open door policy that encourages employees to bring their grievances to management with the assurance that no retaliation will follow. Details on how complaints are expressed and channeled should depend on your organization’s size and company culture. The CMS should be designed so that all possible outcomes include anything the parties could imagine or agree upon, just keep all policies and procedures as simple as possible with a minimum of structure or bureaucracy. Most CMS processes should focus on privacy and strive to avoid the potential embarrassment and potential unfavorable consequences of litigation.

Most CMS include:

  • A reporting process

  • An investigation process

  • Open dialogue between the parties

  • Access to formal rights-based processes

  • Feedback mechanisms allowing for revisions to the process as the needs of the parties change.

Possible Benefits of Workplace Conflict ODR CMS Whenever people work together, misunderstandings or disagreements will inevitably occur; however, in most cases, people can overcome significant differences by simply engaging in a mature, open dialogue.

We all need a mediator sometimes. Traditional mediation is a voluntary process of resolving disputes with the assistance of a neutral third party. Professional mediators rely on a variety of techniques to help disputants work through their conflict, including meeting with them separately and encouraging them to explore and articulate the interests underlying their stated positions. In contrast to other forms of dispute resolution, such as litigation and arbitration, mediation is a confidential, non-binding process. When communication is difficult or derailed, an impartial mediator can provide a forum for dialogue. A willing mediator is able to create an environment where emotional triggers lose their charge. As the mediator guides the conflict away from emotional thinking to reason and logic, magic happens.

Online Dispute Resolution ("ODR")allows you the ability to create the delivery of a personalized, individual, CMS system for your organization that can be conducted between parties who are located far apart as well as incorporating them into in-person meetings. Early research on ODR suggests it can be just as effective as traditional mediation techniques. Parties often find it to be a low-stress process that fosters trust and positive emotions.

ODR offers a way to manage conflict more effectively and efficiently. A study by Katalien Bollen and Martin Euwema of the University of Leuven, Belgium, found that subordinates who mediated a dispute with a superior were significantly more satisfied with technology-supported mediation than with traditional face-to-face mediation. The use of technology seemed to reduce the power differences that employees perceived between them and their superior. Thus, online dispute resolution may enhance employees’ perceptions that the process is fair and equitable.

Employers can also choose to use ODR to resolve conflict between employees working in different offices. When parties are so estranged that they can barely stand to be in the same room, online dispute resolution can provide a buffer and allow for more rational and productive discussions—even for employees located in the same office. In addition, younger workers who have used technology throughout their lives are likely to find online dispute resolution to be particularly appealing.

If your organization is thinking of using ODR to resolve disputes between employees, look for mediators who are trained in de­livering online dispute-resolution. When managed well, conflict in the workplace can be a positive output for profitability and change.


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