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How to Avoid the Escalation that Leads to Conflict

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A recent article on Mediate.com offered a commentary on Forbes Magazine’s annual Best Places to Work survey. The article touched on a number of issues that interest mediators and conflict resolution practitioners, but three of the points from the Forbes survey are particularly useful to anyone who wants to improve their workplace environment. These are issues that I talk about with my clients that experience employee disputes.

The first of these is a low tolerance for griping and chronic complaining. Employees who have a legitimate concern, even if only from their perspective, present their complaint in a positive and constructive manner, are treated with respect. Those who frequently gripe or complain but do present their grievance in a positive manner can create an environment where disagreements flourish.  The companies in the Forbes survey tend to have cultures that have a low tolerance for this type of communication. They tend to have formal communication training programs and processes to train their employees in positive communication techniques.

The second point highlighted by the article is that a number of the companies surveyed include in their communication processes training on how to resolve conflicts constructively. It is a concept I strongly endorse. In my own work with clients I emphasize the importance of providing employees with the training necessary to recognize when disagreements are becoming problem issues, and giving them the tools to work though these disagreements.

In my earlier posts I talk about how workplace disagreements can escalate into conflict for a variety of reasons, and how these conflicts can damage the progress of the work and damage the goals and objectives of the department or organization. Employees who can discuss their views in a controlled setting create the kind of environment that can prevent or mitigate the escalation that transforms disagreements into workplace conflict.

The third point discussed emphasized the importance of separating the issue from the person. Employees and supervisors need to recognize that personality traits are not the problem. They can influence how people react to issues, but it is the issue that matters and not the other person’s personality traits.

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