Conflict Resolution or Secret Men’s Business

Generally speaking, conflict resolution is carried out by management and or HR behind closed doors. It is not a democratic process. Let’s call it secret men’s business. Is it any wonder that there are countless unresolved complaints from disgruntled employees in organizations?

The democratic process was first developed over 2500 years ago in Ancient Athens, and one of its foundations was the trial-by-jury process for resolving legal disputes and conflicts.
Though it is not new, doubters seem to have some major concerns when I mention using a similar process for reviewing and resolving conflict in teams and organizations today.

The main point about jury trials is that the process is transparent, with an open court where everyone that is interested gets to hear the evidence and testimony from both parties and the jury decides. Why this democratic process has been rejected by our organizations today could be one reason that there is no psychological safety present.

Here is some of the feedback I have received from people I pitched my idea to recently:

“Having said that, my one concern….is it not best to notify management rather than co-workers when something goes unresolved? Speaking from my own work environment, our chain of command exists for reasons like this. I fear that divisions, ostracizing, “us vs. them” mentality, etc., may inadvertently be the result of having a conflict made public in that way. Just my opinion :)”

and

“I am not sure that delicate disagreements lend themselves to management via software or via group council. People generally don’t wish to share disagreements with large groups, particularly when they involve fireable offenses or sensitive concerns. Generally these kinds of issues require a skilled mediator that understands the context of an organisation. I think you need to prove out your idea by speaking to your customer: HRBPs or HR Directors.”

and

“big disputes (i.e., the pain point) should be handled as professionally as possible and this seems to throw it to potentially very unqualified people”

Most seem to think that management and HR are the only people capable of making any judgment calls regarding conflict behavior and resolution. I disagree. At least 25% of workplace conflict is between an employee and management. In my book, getting management to resolve management conflict is a recipe for disaster.

Think about it for a moment, what type of country hides its legal disputes and conflicts behind closed doors? You guessed it, usually the corrupt ones, with something to hide and agenda to push. To me, management and HR are a big part of the problem in conflict resolution and are open to abuse their power and can have conflicting interests.

Concerns about airing our dirty linen, I believe, are countered by the fact that the news gets out, and everyone seems to be privy, to some degree, to the ongoing conflict within the organization. However, it’s usually second or forthhand hearsay from malicious gossip. I propose we open up our internal conflict to debate and peer review rather than have toxic gossip running through the organization, as I believe happens to a lesser or greater degree, yes, in every organization.

Airing our dirty linen, allowing both sides to share their side of the story, and using the sunshine to disinfect our conflicts, are one of the tenants of democracy.

And finally, I believe it’s usually more the offender who doesn’t want their behavior out in the open. Nobody is forcing the posting of the conflict on the network. The victim does not have to go to the third step in our proposed intervention. It is entirely up to them.

In conclusion, (your honor) using an independent peer review network, although it seems to be radically transparent, has been standard practice in one form or another for over 2500 years. Not many people seem to question such transparency and openness in our courts, so why question it being used in our organizations also?

Nothing will change if nothing changes! I rest my case.

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