Research shows that between 60-80 per cent of all difficulties in organizations stem from strained relationships between employees. Statistics show that managers spend up to 40 per cent of their time dealing with workplace conflicts – that’s the equivalent of two days every week! Personal costs are accompanied by the monetary costs of conflict, as research also shows that 50 per cent of employers have been sued by an employee. The real effects of interpersonal conflict sound pretty dismal. No wonder many people want to avoid conflict if at all possible.
While these statistics come from American sources, it is probably safe to say that the Canadian context is not too different, even if there is some truth to the old adage that Canadians are more likely to apologize and tend to be less aggressive in situations of conflict. Regardless, I’m sure all of us can point to situations in our work setting where someone has treated us poorly. And if we’re really honest, we can also describe situations where we have treated a co-worker poorly.
It is safe to say that conflict is a big part of our lives. Conflict is not only part of our work lives, but seeps into our relationships with our neighbours, our families and our social networks – volunteer groups, religious organizations – you name it.
There is lots of advice on how to manage conflict with those close to you: choose your battles, be a good listener, be open to compromise. Unfortunately, even the best communicators and peacemakers sometimes get caught up in anger, hurt and other strong emotions that prevent us from effectively managing our conflicts. As conflict situations escalate, we tend to minimize our own contributions and transfer more of the blame onto the other person. That’s just part of being human.
Sometimes it’s okay to ask for outside help. Sometimes that may include legal services, but often a much simpler (and cheaper) strategy is mediation – a process where a third party facilitates a conversation between the two parties so they can safely present their story and authentically listen to the other story as well. When both parties feel heard and understood, the mediator helps them problem solve to find a mutually agreeable solution. It sounds simple and it works. Organizations that adopt conflict resolution programs like mediation reduce their litigation costs by 50-80 per cent. Community mediation programs can solve up to 75 per cent of cases they handle – leading to improved relationships and genuine settlements.
The Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College offers a mediation program to individuals who seem to be stuck in a conflict. The program has a roster of trained volunteer mediators who work in pairs to help people in our community work through difficult situations. If this describes you or someone you know, please give us a call. We are happy to provide you with advice with no obligation, and of course, our service is free and confidential.
Randy Janzen, PhD, is Chair for the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College, and coordinates the Mir Centre Community Mediation Program. The program’s services are free and confidential. For more information call 365-1234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://selkirk.ca/mir-centre-for-peace/mediation-services