A thousand days without speaking – mediation of work conflicts

Blogs September 5, 2016

Employment law

There were two employees in a company that had not spoken to each other for a thousand days. No one could even remember why the silence treatment started. It may be that neither did these individuals. They communicated through a colleague, who kept a record of how long the silence lasted. Sadly, this is a true story. According to the Central Statistical Office of Finland and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the statistics relating to workplace bullying have shown the same harsh truth for twenty years now: up to 5% of workers experience workplace bullying. This means that there are a hundred thousand Finns out there who feel unhappy at work. Managers spend up to 40% of their working hours resolving conflicts, according to studies. Workplace conflict is expensive; it eats away the company’s performance and wellbeing of staff.

I heard the opinion of an expert on the radio: “Let’s leave our emotions at home so we don’t have any more interaction problems in the workplace.” What a great idea! Why has no one thought of this before? Well, because it’s an absurd solution and quite frankly impossible. People need emotions, not only in social situations, but also in thinking and they bring a lot of positive things with them. Emotions are inherent to all human activity. Because we are people, not robots, emotions are part of us, and all of our thoughts and actions. Emotions also belong to working life.

Workplace conflicts are generally not caused by emotions, but by emotions being repressed. In the majority of conflicts, negative tension is due to the fact that these emotions are not talked about openly in the workplace. Emotions are often based on misunderstandings or erroneous analyses. Someone thinks that he was deliberately excluded, he is treated differently to others, or others act as they do simply because they want to be insulting. If these emotions were talked about openly, no conflict or tension would arise in the workplace. Few people intentionally treat others badly.

Recognising, investigating and resolving workplace problems are part of the employer’s statutory obligations. A good manger actively observes his team’s dynamics in different situations. In an open atmosphere, people will feel confident to speak openly. Only few persons speak openly in a reserved atmosphere. A manager needs to figure this out or have emotional intelligence to notice if something continues to gnaw at his team. However, simply noticing a problem is not enough; a manager is also expected to act on the problem. The manager must investigate the issue, find a solution and monitor that the solution does the trick.

Workplace problems can be resolved by talking. Conflict mediationis a process that can act as tool for handling and unblocking these situations. It seeks to provide an understanding of different viewpoints and hold a mirror to participants, allowing them to see how their behaviour affects others. In the best-case scenario, participants realise themselves that changing their approach or thinking can resolve the conflict. This insight is critical for the rest of the participant’s life, because it can be used to avoid future conflicts. A good manager uses the insightful learning principles of conflict resolution in his or her daily leadership.

All workplace conflicts can be resolved, not by leaving emotions at home, but by talking.