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Arbitration And Conflict Management
 One of the responsibilities of leadership is to act as an arbitrator when differences in opinion escalate into conflict.
 In any organization that comprises people and their ideas, activities, responsibilities, goals, aspirations, personalities etc., conflict is inevitable. Often people resolve their differences themselves through negotiation and compromise, but where issues cannot be resolved by the parties themselves, someone has to step in and arbitrate.
 Not stepping in has its dangers. For example, time is wasted, morale is affected, productivity suffers, and increased stress and tension affects everyone as people express their dissatisfaction or line up allies to help them. At worst, customers are affected and there is even the possibility of lawsuits as fallout escalates to dismissals.
 A good leader and their organization will channel the conflict in positive directions. They recognize conflict is inevitable and even healthy, as long as it does not get personal and as long as people’s opinion are valued and not simply dismissed out of hand. They encourage their people to raise their concerns and address them as early as possible.
 They also ensure their organization has a shared vision and purpose everyone understands that can act as a touchstone in any conflict. They maintain open channels of communication and encourage dialogue. They encourage respect for differences and everyone’s opinion. Apart from fostering a culture that respects differences and encourages their resolution through compromise and cooperation, clear policies that govern standards of behaviour towards others are also useful to anchor the culture in written expectations.
 When arbitration must intervene to resolve conflict, the key is to be seen as fair, impartial, and committed to a solution that aligns with the broader goals of the organization. Set the ground rules. The parties must be allowed to express themselves without fear, and though they should be allowed to discuss their personal feelings, ensure the focus is on the issues causing concern, not the people themselves.
 Meet in a location that is neutral to the adversaries and ask each party to state their positions. Listen actively and get to the heart of the issue. Use aids. Perhaps write the problem down, and encourage the articulation of possible solutions. Ask open ended questions that relate to the issue. These start with how, and what, and why. Guide the discussion towards a solution and be careful not to take sides. Again, it is extremely important to focus on how the issue is preventing the organization from reaching its goals, not to place blame on one party or the other for not being able to resolve the impasse.
 In practical application, there are only a limited number of possible outcomes in any conflict. .
 The best possible outcome is that the parties are brought back to the issue that caused the concern, and agree to collaborate in solving it. Second best is probably compromise. Each party concedes something and they move on, hopefully together. Every successful arbitration probably has elements of both these outcomes.
 Third best is accommodation, where the differences remain unsolved but a truce is called for the sake of the greater good. The worst outcome is if there is a clear winner and loser because the loser is dissatisfied and the winner learns conflict can be used to their advantage. Neither of these outcomes is satisfactory because the issues remain unsolved, tension remains, and renewed conflict is almost guaranteed.
 You always want to work towards the first two outcomes. Get both parties to agree on how exactly their differences will be resolved, and how exactly they will collaborate to solve the larger issue. Rarely are circumstances so antagonistic that this is not a possible outcome so develop your skills and tools to get that result.
 Sometimes though, the parties must be instructed to accommodate each other, set aside their differences, and solve the problem. Alternatively, you as a leader must decide the issue. It is wise to take notes of the circumstances, what you attempted to do, and why the issue remains unsolved. See each party separately and tell them in no uncertain terms their behaviour is causing difficulty and is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in the future. Do not get personal and focus on the effects of their behaviour. Place your notes in their personnel files. If you do have to terminate the employment of one or both of the parties in the future, your notes support just cause.
 Remember though that this also represents failure on your part and learn from it. Arbitration can be difficult, so the more skilled you are, the better your ability to guide the parties to a positive outcome.
 © 2015 John B Voorpostel

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