Rob Cairns - Conflict Resolution

Types of Conflict Resolution
Services for the Workplace

Whether you are looking for conflict resolution services for an existing conflict in your workplace or are considering conflict resolution training for your employees so that they may prevent or resolve conflicts more effectively in the future, I have a variety of conflict resolution services available.

My conflict resolution services include:

If you are experiencing conflict in your workplace in any of the following areas, I can likely help: performance management, organizational changes, hiring and compensation issues, collective agreement interpretation, abuses of power and authority, harassment and bullying, sexual harassment, personality or work style differences, social gossip or rumours, and personal stress. For a more detailed list of conflict situations where conflict resolution services can be of help, see Sources of Workplace Conflict Where Mediation Can Help.

2 Party Mediation or Group Mediation or Facilitation Services

Mediation services can be helpful when 2 or more parties are having a dispute that is causing problems in your workplace. The conflict may be affecting the employees involved in the conflict, other employees or managers, or the organization as a whole.

Often organizations wait until a conflict has reached a point of crisis before hiring a mediator for help. While mediation can be helpful in resolving disputes that are wreaking havoc in your organization, it is more beneficial to seek the services of a mediator before the situation gets out of hand.

There are numerous benefits of mediation for the workplace. These range from saving costs and increasing productivity to increasing employee loyalty, commitment and personal satisfaction of their jobs. Mediation can also prevent costly litigation from occurring.

The steps performed during a mediation process in the workplace are described below.

  1. I begin the mediation process by privately interviewing each individual involved in the dispute.
    This interview provides an opportunity for the individuals to express their interpretation of the conflict without interruption from the other party. It also allows all parties to clarify what their needs are before attempting to explain them to the others involved.
    We also discuss the potential needs of each person involved. This is an important beginning to opening the perspective of the parties so that they can more easily hear the feelings and needs of others during the mediation process.
    This initial interview also involves a discussion of expectations about how the mediation will be conducted. The mediation process is explained, and an agenda for the mediation is developed. Guidelines for behavior on the part of the participants are established, and I emphasize the necessity of maintaining an objective frame of mind throughout the mediation process.
    Finally, during this meeting, there is an opportunity to quell anxieties about the mediation to ensure the parties will feel safe throughout the process, and to develop trust in the mediator’s neutrality, objectivity, and competency.
  2. Once expectations and needs are established, the next step is to meet with all parties. This meeting involves four separate steps:
    1. Establish an agenda using neutral language. We create a list of issues and the order in which they will be discussed.
    2. Identify and explore the interests and needs of each party for each of the issues on the agenda. During this step, the parties are encouraged to speak directly to each other and acknowledge the comments made by one another. Active listening methods are used and encouraged to ensure the parties feel that their position and needs are being heard and understood.
    3. Brainstorm for a solution. The solution must meet the needs of all parties. This step generally happens fairly quickly once everyone’s needs are clear and acknowledged.
    4. Establish a specific agreement based on the solutions discussed. Depending on the particular conflict, it may be necessary to put the agreement on paper. However, conflict resolution in the workplace is largely about establishing trust. Once this is done, and everyone is confident their needs have been heard and understood, the solutions are often easy to see and understand, making a written agreement unnecessary.

If your organization requires the services of a mediator, please contact me.

Conflict Resolution Training

I offer conflict resolution training in your workplace using the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model.

The NVC model comprises 4 steps: observation of behaviors, identifying and expressing feelings, expressing universal needs and making requests rather than demands. For more information on the Nonviolent Communication model, please see The Non-Violent Approach To Communication As Applied to Mediation.

Conflict resolution training helps employees and managers acquire skills to manage conflict in respectful and cooperative ways. This ultimately helps your workplace run smoothly so you can maximize your productivity. Although conflict resolution training can be helpful during times when conflict is active in your organization, it is also effective when offered as a means of prevention. While conflict is inevitable in organizations, employees trained in conflict resolution skills are much more likely to effectively reach a solution before the conflict escalates and becomes destructive.

Ultimately, conflict resolution training can end up saving your organization valuable time and money. Trained employees will be better equipped to deal with conflict on their own, without a need for paying for mediation and there will be a decreased likelihood of conflicts escalating to the point of harassment charges being laid or litigation cases brought forward.

The conflict resolution training is provided in your workplace. Trainings can be geared for employees, managers or both. They can be provided over a half day, one day or two days and include a combination of lecture and the opportunity to practice the skills of nonviolent communication. Follow up coaching sessions and/or practice group facilitation are also available to strengthen application and retention of the skills taught.

If you are interested in conflict resolution training for your workplace please contact me and we will discuss your needs and determine how I can best meet them.

Conflict Resolution Coaching

In conflict situations where mediation is not warranted or desired, conflict resolution coaching can be a beneficial option. Conflict resolution coaching can be helpful to employees or managers who find themselves in a conflict situation where they want some guidance as to the best way to resolve the conflict. It can also be helpful when people feel they are lacking skills in conflict resolution or have fears or concerns about addressing the conflict with an employee or manager. It can also be beneficial in circumstances where one party to the conflict is unwilling to participate in mediation.

During coaching, I guide the employee or manager in resolving the conflict using approaches to conflict resolution that resolve conflict for the long term. These two approaches are called the transformative or developmental approach and the Nonviolent Communication model of conflict resolution. To read more on these approaches, click here.

During coaching, the employee or manager sets specific goals for what they wish to attain through conflict resolution coaching and we work towards achieving these goals. In the end, the person receiving the coaching will have a plan of action for addressing and resolving any conflict situations at hand. In addition, he or she will acquire new skills and increased confidence for resolving conflict in the future.

Conflict resolution coaching can be provided for employees or managers and can be conducted in person or over the phone. Many managers see it as part of their role to resolve conflict, and don’t want to acknowledge that they need help to handle it. The fact is, our culture prepares us poorly for this role, and many of us don’t know how to proceed when faced with it. It is the enlightened manager that is willing to acknowledge this and seek help managing conflict through coaching. The fear based approach to management of conflict (do it now because I say so, etc.) can have negative repercussions for relationships and performance over the long term.

If you think one of your mangers or employees would benefit from conflict resolution coaching, please contact me for more information.

Harassment Investigations

Hopefully your workplace will never have a situation where harassment or bullying occurs. At times harassment can be the result of a conflict that is left unaddressed for too long. Or, harassment can be due to an employee or manager using their authority or simply their sense of entitlement to bully someone else into doing what they want. Harassment can be verbal, physical or sexual in nature. It can be overt or covert. Whatever the case, it is by far the most damaging type of conflict that occurs in the workplace and often cannot be resolved successfully through mediation.

There are times when an alleged harassment can be resolved during mediation. If that is not possible, a harassment investigation may be necessary. A harassment investigation will assess the evidence and the credibility of the parties and determine whether the alleged behaviour occurred, and if so, whether it meets the definition of harassment contained in the applicable policy or legislation/regulation. The harassment investigation process is confidential, respectful, and mindful of the requirements for procedural fairness and natural justice.

Dealing with harassment situations obviously can be a difficult and sensitive situation. For this reason, I audio record and transcribe every interview I conduct and share the relevant "testimony/evidence" gathered with the complainant, respondent, and the company/departmental contact person in a draft report. This ensures that I get objective, accurate statements from both the complainant and respondent and reduces interpretation and bias when collecting the information. It also provides assurance that I have not misunderstood the parties or witnesses.

The steps I follow during a harassment investigation follow:

  1. An interview is held with the complainant. I use this opportunity to clarify the written complaint and to determine what evidence I will need to look for and consider when meeting with the respondent.
  2. Using the audio recording and transcription of this interview, questions are prepared for my meeting with the respondent.
  3. Meeting with the respondent allows him/her to answer the questions I’ve prepared regarding the allegations that have been made against him/her. It provides the opportunity for the respondent to add any issues or perspectives considered relevant to the harassment investigation.
  4. Based on the two interviews, I meet with any witnesses and view any documents that seem relevant to the investigation.
  5. A draft report is created based on the interviews conducted and the evidence collected. This report is specific; it includes the names of witnesses and all of the information I have been provided with. This ensures both the complainant and the respondent have a complete opportunity to defend themselves against any comments made or evidence put forth.
  6. Copies of the draft report are given to the departmental representatives, and they have an opportunity to discuss the contents of the report with me before it is passed to both the complainant and the respondent.
  7. The complainant and respondent have a set window of opportunity to review the draft report and make written comments regarding the report.
  8. The final step is my written analysis and findings of the investigation. Acting as a neutral third party, the goal of my analysis is to consider all of the evidence and determine the most likely conclusion that a reasonable person would reach. My analysis and findings are then given to the departmental contact representatives for consideration and discussion before release to the parties.

If you think you have a situation of harassment occurring in your organization and want a harassment investigation conducted, please contact me.

Workplace Assessments

Sometimes there is cause for concern about how a particular part of the organization is functioning interpersonally, but no formal complaints have been filed. In such circumstances, management may wish to have a fact finding investigation completed, and recommendations made for possible ways to address the issues identified. This is where a workplace assessment report may be of value.

Steps I follow for a workplace assessment:

  1. I meet with management to understand the nature of their concerns, the part of the organization affected, and the scope of the investigation they would like undertaken. We discuss who might be interviewed, and the kinds of issues and questions that might be considered during those interviews. We also discuss management of the communication with the group involved about what will be occurring, and the results they can expect from this process.
  2. I interview the employees concerned, and gather data (observations, feelings, needs, requests) for the report that will be prepared. Often employees are relieved to have an opportunity to talk about the issues they are experiencing in the workplace in a confidential and supportive environment. This in itself can be a valuable outcome of the process.
  3. I prepare a draft report which identifies themes from the interviews without specifically identifying who said what. This allows greater candor in the data gathering process. Where I think it would be helpful to be more specific about individuals, I seek their permission before disclosing information that would otherwise have been treated as confidential.
  4. Finally, I prepare recommendations for next steps to address the themes and concerns identified by staff. In some cases, I can offer specific services myself to address issues raised, or the client may choose to find other specialists to carry the work forward.

Team Building

All teams go through a predictable series of developmental stages from forming to storming to norming, and finally to performing. Changes to the membership of the team can begin the process over again, and other set backs are also possible. If you have a team that needs help transcending the “storming” stage, I can help.

There are many different forms of “team building” to choose from. Structured experiences with an opportunity to debrief about what occurred and what parallels exist in the workplace are one option, and there are many such experiences to choose from.

A more direct approach might be a talking circle to specifically and directly address the issues of concern to the group, and identify needs, values, norms, and agreements that the group wishes to adopt for itself. It can also be helpful to consider how the group will deal with occasions when these “agreements” are not lived up to – preferably in a way that treats these occasions as learning opportunities rather than opportunities for punishment.

Sometimes groups are simply seeking a shared experience that is fun and light and different from their usual activity at work to allow bonding to occur on a different level. This is no less valid a use of time in my opinion, and there are many options available in this category.

My wife Roberta and I enjoy leading team building workshops together, and can easily accommodate larger groups in this way. Roberta is also a Certified Executive Coach.

If you are interested in discussing specific team building options for your group, or any of the other services described on this page, you can find my contact information here.

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Rob Cairns provides conflict resolution services including mediation, conflict resolution training, team building, workplace assessments, coaching, and harassment investigations in the Vancouver, BC area.

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