What is workplace conflict?

Workplace conflict is a number of things. But one thing it is not: it is not a functional workplace relationship.

Workplace conflict is about a dysfunctional relationship, a workplace dynamic which impedes functional operations and team cohesion. It is about interpersonal conflict, rather than industrial or dispute centred conflict. It strangles communication and stymies growth.

Workplace conflict causes untold stress on the staff involved. It takes any enjoyment out of going to work and it impedes communication. Staff retreat into themselves, trying to operate in isolation. The longer the conflict exists, the more it builds. It exists in the air and temperature of the organisation so that it would be detectable to anyone entering.

As the conflict builds, staff often lose the ability to resolve the conflict for themselves. They are not sure how it began or what the nature of it is now. They second-guess the other staff member’s motives and attitudes to them. The situation turns into something bigger than themselves.

At this stage, the staff need to be helped to unpack the problem and re-engage with the other staff member. But how to do this?

One way to do this is through mediation. Mediation involves the staff members meeting in a safe space with an independent facilitator to discuss the issues they have been having and to look at ideas for how to work better in the future.

Both staff meet separately with the mediator first, where the mediator assists them to narrow down the issues and to consider what they would like from the other person in the future. The mediator also challenges the person to consider what the other staff member would like from them.

Mediation steps in to help staff members who are stuck. It is a tried and tested model of conflict resolution and has helped many Australian workers to move forward to greater work harmony.