Opinion: Resolving workplace conflicts - Part 3

In the final part of the series, we hone in on the finer skills that will help you to manage relationship conflicts

Opinion: Resolving workplace conflicts - Part 3
In this final article on the seven elements of effective mediation, we hear again from Susan de Silva of Bird & Bird ATMD LLP, an employment law specialist and mediator trained at the Singapore Mediation Centre.

Don’t forget to read Part 1 and Part 2 for the full story!
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 this issue, let’s find out about some of the finer skills that will help you to manage relationship conflicts and secure commitment to a lasting settlement.
Dealing with complex relationships
Often, parties in a dispute have a relationship that goes beyond the problem at hand. This could be a friendship gone sour, an old grudge or even envy. Such relationship issues can be easily mixed with substantive issues, which are the actual points of the dispute.
A common relationship obstacle is a bias that causes a party to react negatively to the other side’s conduct. As a result, the party loses sight of the substantive issues, and fails to focus on a mutually beneficial outcome.
Another frequently observed behaviour is for a party to hold a long-term relationship hostage in an attempt to extract short-term substantive gains from the other side. Unfortunately, this gives the other side little incentive to cooperate, resulting in the collapse of both the short-term deal and the long-term relationship. For example, a long- serving employee might say that she will quit if her manager doesn’t select her for a special project.
The experienced mediator will encourage parties to deal with relationship and substantive issues independently. One common phrase heard in mediation is “to separate the people from the problem”. It is important for parties to know that it is in their best interest to set emotional baggage aside and consider the practical benefits of a settlement.
Securing Commitment
The best time to craft commitments is after all interests of parties are understood, the options generated have been considered, the criteria for selecting fair terms have been agreed upon, and the parties have evaluated the proposed commitments with their alternatives. Before this is done, the mediator should discourage parties from making premature commitments.
The settlement should be put down in writing to provide a clear record of the terms of agreement. In the case of business conflict, this can serve as a binding contract that is enforceable by law. In a workplace argument, it would be wise to summarise the agreement in an email that can be referred to if the argument re-occurs.
Bonus tip: When groups or organisations are involved, ensure that the parties attending mediation have the authority to make a decision. Some mediations fail because a manager who didn’t attend the session finally vetoes the agreement.
Training courses available at SMC
We hope that this series on the seven elements of mediation has better equipped you to manage workplace conflict more effectively. If you’d like to learn more, the Singapore Mediation Centre offers Strategic Conflict Management courses for professionals, where you would learn the latest and most effective techniques to resolve conflicts, and improve your communication and interpersonal skills. Participants can expect a highly interactive programme and active engagement in role plays and exercises.
SMC welcomes any queries about mediation, mediation training or selecting a mediator to assist with your workplace disputes. Get in touch with SMC here!

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