Reflections on the Causes and Approaches to Workplace Conflict by Alison Love, new Managing Director of Mediation at Work

October 4th, 2016

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Over a year ago I did some analysis of the mediation and conflict resolution work that I have been involved in for a number of years. Now six months into my time with Mediation at Work I thought it would be a good time to revisit this and reflect on how things have developed or changed.

An Increase in the use of mediation and alternatives?

The first six months have flown by and we have been very pleased to see already an increase in the level of instructions both from existing and new clients. Whether this is due to an increase in organisations looking to mediation and alternative options is of course difficult to determine at this stage.

However, my sense is that more and more organisations are recognizing the value of positively managing conflict by means of mediation, facilitation or investment in conflict resolution skills training. There seems to be greater awareness and recognition that mediation is a preferable option to the use of formal processes and mediation seems to be being proposed at an earlier stage than previously.

The role of the line manager remains key

This was one of the findings of the CIPD research in 2015 and in my experience this remains the case. The vast majority of the mediations that we undertake involve difficulties between a manager and his or her staff. Almost inevitably there has been a reluctance to deal with issues at an early stage and issues have been allowed to fester for far too long.

Alternatively, there may be a suggestion that managers have failed to make any positive attempts to resolve conflicts that have arisen amongst peers.

Either way, the manager’s response or lack of response will be a key factor in how matters develop.

Managers often lack conflict resolution skills

Surveys suggest that 60% of line managers avoid conflict rather than seek to manage it. There remains a real need to ensure that all managers have the necessary skills and confidence to resolve issues. There also has to be a greater recognition that this is a vital part of a line manager’s role, it is not something that should be low on the priority list because the day job gets in the way, it is the day job.

In house training for mediation or conflict resolution skills for HR and line managers continues to be in demand. My recent book (and accompanying training) Mediation Skills for Managers focuses on how mediation skills and techniques can improve the ability to positively resolve conflict. At Mediation at Work we also offer training for HR and line managers on how to have those Difficult Conversations with members of staff to positively manage conflict arising in the first place.

Causes/contributing factors

My previous analysis suggested, unsurprisingly perhaps, that communication features most highly; in reality this will have featured in every situation to some degree or other.

The impact of change and management style are often a contributing factor. Often issues arise when there is a change of manager who adopts a different style and approach to how a team and the performance of individuals is managed. Lack of resources and workload issues are also not uncommon.

Bullying is something that is often referred to by one or other party. Of course, one person’s robust management is often seen by others to be bullying and mediation provides the perfect environment in which these issues can be explored openly and understood by those concerned in a safe environment.

In my view, surprisingly few mediations arise where there are allegations of discrimination. It may be that organisations often seem compelled to deal with such issues under a formal process as they want to be seen to demonstrating zero tolerance. Whatever the reason, again mediation is a perfect mechanism to explore these issues in a constructive way which promotes real learning.


It is certainly our experience that the use of mediation and conflict resolution training continues to grow. However, there are areas where mediation or other options could be utilised more for the benefit of all.

In our experience alternative resolution processes (such as Neutral Assessments) could be more widely used in group or team conflict situations and discrimination is an area where mediation should also be considered as an early intervention option. As Dr. Daniel Dana, who is internationally recognised as one of today’s most influential innovators and practitioners of consensus building communication methods for organisations put it, “Unmanaged conflict is the largest deductible cost in organisations today and the least recognized”.

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The report was very professional, it dealt with all the issues raised and was particularly thorough. It clearly took the time to fully understand all of the issues and background. It was complex but the report really helped to break it down and I’m hoping we can progress in a positive manner following the recommendations.

Group HR Manager, Energy Sector |

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