Opinion: Resolving workplace conflicts - Part 2

Learn more about mediation skills that can help you to diffuse conflicts, forge agreements between colleagues and make you an effective conflict resolver in the workplace

Opinion: Resolving workplace conflicts - Part 2
Keen to learn more about mediation skills that can help you to diffuse conflicts, forge agreements between colleagues and make you an effective conflict resolver in the workplace? Let’s hear from Susan de Silva of Bird & Bird ATMD LLP, an employment law specialist and mediator trained at the Singapore Mediation Centre.
Mediation is a voluntary process in which the parties to a dispute engage the assistance of a neutral third party (called the mediator), to facilitate negotiations between them with a view to resolving their differences amicably for a win-win solution.
In our first article, we introduced mediation and techniques of drawing out hidden interests and generating creative options in a dispute. This time, we will cover settlement criteria, evaluating outcomes and effective communication.
Setting fair criteria for settlement
Everyone wants to be treated fairly, and they are more likely to agree to a settlement if they believe it is fair. The problem is that everyone has a different idea of what is “fair”.
Thus, we need an objective standard that both sides can agree with. Using objective criteria produces sensible, lasting agreements and enhances the working relationship between parties. By sticking to objective criteria, parties are able to rely less on bargaining and produce face-saving and justifiable results.
For example, in a salary dispute, consider reports on industry salary benchmarks, inflation, the average time it takes to reach the top of a salary range for the job category, or even the company's financial performance.
Considering alternatives to a settlement

When deciding whether to accept a mediated settlement, parties need to ask themselves what would happen if there is NO settlement.
Alternatives are outcomes that do not require the cooperation of the other party. In a business dispute, common alternatives include going to court, or giving up on the case. In a workplace dispute, alternatives may include ignoring the other party, giving in, complaining to the boss, or even quitting.
A mediator will often ask parties to assess their Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (WATNA) and Most Likely Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (MLATNA) in comparison to the proposed settlement.
In the salary dispute we discussed, the manager’s BATNA is to continue business as usual without any raise. Her WATNA is the employee’s immediate resignation, and her MLATNA is for the employee to stay long enough to find a replacement.
Bonus tip: Alternatives should only be explored in private when the other party is not present. The mediator can also ask each party to consider the other side’s BATNA, in order to better appreciate the strength of the other side’s bargaining position.
Facilitating effective communication
We’ve all experienced communication breakdowns before. You’re telling your colleague that you recommended him to take charge of an exciting new project that will open new doors for him. He thinks you’re just trying to give him your extra work.
In arguments where emotions run high, it’s easy to focus on what you are saying, rather than what the other party hears. This leads to misunderstanding.
It is important to paraphrase in neutral language what is being said and seek clarification to ensure that everyone understands fully. The mediator should also encourage parties to show that they understand the other side’s point of view. This will enable each party to present proposals that the other side can accept.
We’ve now covered hidden interests and generating options in Part 1, as well as fair criteria, weighing alternatives and effective communication in Part 2. How are we going to wrap up the dispute? Find out in Part 3, where we will cover relationship issues and obtaining commitment.
SMC welcomes any queries about mediation, mediation training or selecting a mediator to assist with your workplace disputes. Get in touch with SMC here!

Read: Resolving workplace conflicts - Part 1

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