Dispute Resolution Toolkit

Contents


Summary

UNT recognizes that in most conflicts, neither party is right or wrong; instead, different perceptions collide to create disagreement. Conflict is natural and it's up to you to respond to conflict situations quickly and professionally. Conflict can be very positive; if you deal with it openly, you can strengthen your work unit by correcting problems. Conflicting views give you a chance to learn more about yourself, explore views of others, and develop productive relationships. Clear and open communication is the foundation of successful conflict resolution.  UNT offers various ways to resolve disputes and conflict.  This includes having your employee relations representative coaching both parties on ways to resolve the issue, mediation services and services from the Office of the Ombuds.

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Guiding Principles

By managing conflicts skillfully, you can:

  • Gain cooperation from team members
  • Improve performance and productivity
  • Reduce stress and preserve integrity
  • Solve problems as quickly as possible
  • Improve relationships and teamwork
  • Enhance creativity
  • Increase staff morale

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Resolving Conflict Situations

To manage conflict effectively you must be a skilled communicator. That includes creating an open communication environment in your unit by encouraging employees to talk about work issues. Listening to employee concerns will foster an open environment. Make sure you really understand what employees are saying by asking questions and focusing on their perception of the problem.

Whether you have two employees who are fighting for the desk next to the window or one employee who wants the heat on and another who doesn't, your immediate response is imperative. Here are some tips you can use when faced with employees who can't resolve their own conflicts.

  • Acknowledge that a difficult situation exists. Honesty and clear communication play an important role in the resolution process. Ask questions and find out what's happening and be open about the problem.
  • Let individuals express their feelings. Some feelings of anger and/or hurt usually accompany conflict situations. Before any kind of problem-solving can take place, these emotions should be expressed and acknowledged.
  • Define the problem. What is the problem? What is the negative impact on the work or relationships? Are differing personality styles part of the problem? Meet with employees separately at first and question them about the situation.
  • Determine underlying need. The goal of conflict resolution is not to decide which person is right or wrong; the goal is to reach a solution that everyone can live with. Looking first for needs, rather than solutions, is a powerful tool for generating win/win options. To find out what people need, you must try to find out why people want the solutions they initially proposed. 
  • Find common areas of agreement, no matter how small:
    • Agree on the problem
    • Agree on the procedure to follow
    • Agree on worst fears
    • Agree on some small change to give an experience of success
  • Find solutions to satisfy needs:
    • Problem-solve by generating multiple alternatives
    • Determine which actions will be taken
    • Make sure involved parties buy into actions. (Total silence may be a sign of passive resistance.) Be sure you get real agreement from everyone.
  • Determine follow-up you will take to monitor actions. You may want to schedule a follow-up meeting in about two weeks to determine how the parties are doing.
  • Determine what you'll do if the conflict goes unresolved. If the conflict is causing a disruption in the department and it remains unresolved, you may need to explore other avenues. An outside facilitator (such as the Staff Ombuds Office or Mediation) may be able to offer other insights on solving the problem. In some cases the conflict becomes a performance issue, and may become a topic for coaching sessions, performance appraisals, or disciplinary action.

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Dealing With Anger

When you meet with someone who is angry, you can use the tools of effective listening to help defuse this anger. Nevertheless, when anger is directed at you, it is much more difficult to respond definitively, because your own emotions are usually involved.

To effectively defuse anger, keep in mind the needs of the angry speaker:

  • To vent. An angry person needs to let off steam and release the anger that may have been brewing for a long time. Use your communication skills to allow the person to do this for a reasonable period of time.  You do not need to let this go on endlessly.
  • To get the listener's attention. An angry person wants to know that you are paying attention. Use your body language to show this by using an attentive posture and nodding the head periodically. 
  • To be heard. An angry person wants someone to listen to his/her point of view. Acknowledge the feelings you hear so that the speaker knows you appreciate how angry he/she is.
  • To be understood. An angry person wants someone to appreciate how he/she feels. Try to empathize with his/her experience so that he/she feels you understand the situation, and acknowledge his/her right to feel the way he/she does.

When you're listening to an angry person:

  • Be attentive and patient. Keep in mind that the individual will become less angry as you let him/her express him/herself.
  • Be sincere. Empathy and validation must be both honest and genuine.
  • Be calm. Try to remove your own emotions from the discussion. Remember that an angry person may say inflammatory things in the heat of the moment, but you do not have to react angrily.

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Mediation

What is mediation?

Mediation is available to all Faculty, Staff and Students of the University of North Texas, and is free of charge. This program is a voluntary, confidential, interactive process that serves as an alternative approach to resolving disputes.  During a mediation session, an impartial person, the mediator, facilitates communication between the parties to promote reconciliation, settlement, or understanding.

When is mediation most appropriate?

Mediation can be used any time the working relationship of two or more individuals has broken down.  Mediation is appropriate when the parties involved:

  • Have voluntarily chosen to participate in the mediation and do not feel coerced

  • Are committed to finding workable solutions to their issues

  • Need help from an external third party to facilitate discussions

  • Have to work together and experience frequent conflict

Mediation Program FAQs

Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy 1.7.5

For additional information regarding the mediation services offered by UNT, to ask about a specific case, or to determine whether or not mediation may be appropriate, please contact your Human Resources Consulting team.

 


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Other Resources

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