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Tension in the workplace is inevitable. Individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life come together within organizations to work productively and move themselves and the organization toward greater successes. With so many different personalities, perspectives, and worldviews, there are bound to be clashes.

Most workplace conflicts are relatively minor and can be worked out between the parties involved. Sometimes, however, emotions run high and tension increases. When conflicts escalate and tension rises, it can create chaos and pose a threat to the stability of the department, and sometimes to the organization as a whole.

Major conflicts come at a high cost for organizations. A 2013 study that was published by the National Institutes of Health found that employees in the U.S. spend an average of nearly 3 hours per week dealing with workplace conflict, resulting in approximately $360 billion in lost productivity.

Conflicts between employees can sometimes be resolved by a manager, although this is not always a good idea as office politics and accusations of “playing favorites” can make the problem even worse. But what happens when the conflict is between an employee and their manager?

Tensions with management are especially frustrating for employees. When an employee and manager butt heads, the employee often feels like they are not being given a “fair shake”. This can even lead to accusations of workplace harassment, discrimination, and other civil rights violations. This puts managers in a delicate position, because they are rightfully seen as having an inherent bias, which makes it very difficult for them to handle the situation without the employee feeling slighted.

Resolving Management Tensions through Mediation

Before the situation becomes even more toxic and the organization runs into a potential legal problem, it is best to consider an alternative means for handling an employee-manager conflict. One of the best ways to handle this type of dispute is through mediation.

Manager-employee mediation is facilitated by a neutral, third-party mediator. Ideally, the mediator is someone from outside the organization who has no vested interest (perceived or real) in the outcome of the proceeding. The mediator should be a highly-trained professional with extensive experience working with organizations and handling these types of disputes.

Workplace mediation is an increasingly preferred method for resolving all types of conflicts within organizations, because the process is less costly than a court proceeding, and the participants are often able to resolve their disputes without any further escalation.

Mediation for management tensions provide several advantages for organizations, these include:

A Collaborative Process: Mediation is done in a cooperative rather than combative environment. Participants are encouraged to work together toward a peaceable arrangement that all parties can live with. Until there is a change in jobs, the manager and employee must continue working together after the process is completed, and the goal of mediation is to facilitate an amicable resolution that will help restore a friendly working relationship.

Informal Process: The manager and employee come together to talk through their differences (with the guidance of a skilled mediator). Unlike a court proceeding, there is no discovery, calling witnesses, presenting evidence, etc.

The Process is Confidential: Everything that is discussed during mediation stays between the participants and does not become part of any official records. This can be especially reassuring for employees, allowing them to speak more openly about the issues they are having.

Participants Control the Outcome: Mediation is voluntary, and no resolution can be imposed without the agreement of all parties involved. This distinguishes the process from binding arbitration, where an arbitrator makes the final decision. Though the process is facilitated by the mediator, with mediation, the participants ultimately decide how they will resolve their differences.

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