Employment & Labour, Mediation

Mediation often best route for resolving workplace disputes

By Rob Lamberti, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

Proactive conflict management is an efficient and effective method for resolving disputes within the workplace, says Toronto arbitrator and mediator Victoria Romero.

Romero, principal of the mediation and law firm VR Law, tells AdvocateDaily.com the underutilized process can help organizations avoid costly litigation while enhancing company productivity, quality, and employee engagement.

“While I agree that some cases do need to go to court, I also believe they are in the minority,” she says.

Romero says her acumen as a workplace fairness analyst enables her to help businesses reach their potential, in part through effective conflict resolution.

She says mediation can be used once an issue escalates or proactively, by providing employees with the skills to deal with disagreements as they arise in constructive, non-adversarial ways.

Romero suggests teaching these people skills — including clarity in communications, spelling out expectations, and using non-confrontational neutral language — will help resolve issues long before they reach a boiling point.

“This really makes sense when one remembers that a group of people and the organization generally have one goal in common — to have a successful outcome,” she says. “It always wants to achieve its goals and wants its team members to get along.

“Companies want engaged workers who use their energy for the benefit of the organization so that all can profit from its success,” Romero says.

A key to managing conflict is to analyze its causes and the way the business responds, she says.

Romero says being proactive involves approaching conflict as a natural aspect of human interaction, and exploring its sources both internally and externally.

It also includes reviewing the organization itself, such as its size, core industry, whether it’s a union shop, the applicable law, the demographics of its employees, and any existing sub-groups, including the power relationships at individual and institutional levels, she says.

Romero says most companies utilize either traditional power-based conflict resolution — leaving it to the boss to find a solution — or the rights-based option which relies on the enforcement of employer and employee rights.

She says a third alternative — an interests-based model — should be considered. That method involves viewing conflict and resolution with an understanding of each other’s interests and/or needs and a commitment to meet them.

“This is the best option in my view. It most effectively addresses the actual root of the conflict and offers better long-term solutions,” Romero says, adding the focus in dispute resolution is not to make it personal.

“When there's conflict, how should it be addressed? Options are team building, communications skills, and soft people skills. These are things that could be put into place through training,” Romero says.

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