My interest in workplace conflict developed during my work as a rehabilitation consultant specialising in psychological injuries in the workplace. It was evident, at the time, that the mechanisms in place for the early resolution of conflict were inadequate.
As a result, people hold on, trying to cope as best they can, usually at the expense of their conflicts escalating. Feelings such as rage, hopelessness and fear kick in. Many people experience sleeplessness or report a deterioration in personal relationships as they take their worries home.
The stresses associated with interpersonal or team conflict are hard on the body. Over time it can, and does, lead to health impacts such as adrenal fatigue, immune system depletion, anxiety and depression, with signs of PTSD evident in many sustained cases of bullying. For those with pre-existing mental health conditions, the deterioration is usually evident much sooner and can be catastrophic.
So, as a rehabilitation practitioner I recognised the need to develop conflict resolution skills. I had no idea then that the next twenty years of my career would be committed to lecturing on conflict management and working to introduce industry best practice.
In projects such as Taking the Heat Out Of Workplace Conflict we worked with 70 public sector departments and agencies to introduce CINERGY® Conflict Management Coaching as a dynamic early intervention approach.
Though our understanding of best practice in dispute resolution has improved markedly over the past decade, the uptake of best practice methodologies within organisations is still patchy. For most people, the formal grievance pathway organisations offer is too onerous – often leaving considerable bruising and ill-will between parties who must then continue to work together.
A worker’s compensation claim, by contrast, offers a pathway that removes the individual from the source of their stress and also validates one party, the injured party, as being impacted. An accepted claim legitimises the suffering of the individual and can force the organisation to do something about resolving the conflict. An unintended consequence is that it tends to validate one party in the victim role, leading to increased complexity in negotiating the return to work.
Most rehabilitation practitioners can recount stories of the conflict management skills needed to negotiate return to work skills when a manager is personally aggrieved or frustrated by a situation that has been left to run too long.
Carol Croker, former president of the Australian OT Association immediately recognised Conflict Management Coaching’s role in injury prevention and case management. She now bases her practice on coaching principles. Conflict Management Coaching is an early intervention approach to helping individuals develop insight into their conflicts and find a way through before they reach the point of expensive claims.
The same potential is being recognised by some insurers who are funding in-house training of conflict management coaching. For those individuals who do have active claims, conflict management coaching can be utilised to work in an empowering way with individuals to find a pathway to successfully return to work.
So for many reasons, we’re excited to bring together HR, mental health and rehabilitation practitioners and insurers who are keen to learn more about conflict management coaching in our Canberra-based training July 17 - 20, 2017.