The key to managing conflicts efficiently

How can companies learn to manage conflict efficiently in a world that has become globalised and where relationships are antagonistic and complementary?

This article is based on research by Teresa Duplá

The key lies in analysing how conflict is currently managed, introducing parameters to improve the effectiveness of conflict management and ensuring that it constitutes an integrated system that places business mediation at its core as one of the most effective problem-solving tools.

Conflict in companies can be very expensive and it can involve a long, public and arduous litigation process. Business owners that use mediation as an alternative way of resolving conflict not only save time and preserve confidentiality but also see a positive impact on the company's balance sheet.

"A third-party mediator helps both parties to reach final agreement. Several large studies in the US prove that companies that adopt business mediation to manage workplace conflict become more efficient," says Esade Professor Teresa Duplá, Director of the Research Group on Conflict Management and author of the paper Business mediation and conflict management published in the IDP Journal.

Do Better: What can we learn from American companies?

Teresa Duplá: In our study, we show that American enterprises are 20 years ahead of us using alternative ways of handling and solving conflicts in companies. The latest research shows that mediation has become the commonest technique for managing conflict in the US, surpassing arbitration and negotiation. No doubt the reason for this is that, unlike arbitration (which is also more expensive), mediations are not public and they require confidentiality.

Companies that adopt business mediation to manage workplace conflict become more efficient

A beneficial aspect for companies

A plus of using business mediation in companies is that when firms use this mechanism, they can stop the public getting wind of the kind of news that could plunge the company into crisis. Mediation grants strict confidentiality, which is one of the big advantages of using this method. That is why it has grown so much in the US in recent years. Today American companies are using mediation as their main way of dealing with various kinds of conflicts.

Are conflict levels rising in companies?

Companies are facing ever more conflicts – in part due to the use of social media, emails, hyper-connectivity and globalisation in general. Relations are no longer national, they are international. Any message, any email from or action by a company employee may have legal implications that the staffer is unaware of. This can all too easily spark conflict.

These new business realities make this topic even thornier and more complex. The issues go beyond compliance and risks. We are talking about the need to make business conflict management more effective in general.

When firms use mediation, they can stop the public getting wind of the kind of news that could plunge the company into crisis

What are the most common types of business conflicts?

There are several kinds of business conflicts, for instance, disputes between consumers and over intellectual property rights, sales, contracts, and other work-related issues. The most common internal conflicts in companies bear on work and contractual terms. External conflicts between the company and its customers can range from contracts and agreements to environmental issues, intellectual property rights, and taxes to name but a few.

How can companies become more efficient in their management and resolution of conflicts?

We should learn from American companies. In order to improve the efficiency of their conflict-management methods, American enterprises have integrated the Legal Department as a core unit in the company, and have also introduced management parameters to improve its effectiveness and actively prevent situations that could lead to conflict. Preventing conflict is the key and artificial intelligence can help on this score. AI can help us to better analyse conflicts and give us data-backed guidance on the type of management decisions that would be needed to solve the conflict.

Why would you recommend that companies use business mediation?

There are all the usual reasons such as saving time and money. But I believe these are insufficient. We should also add the importance of granting confidentiality to companies (as a preventative measure to stop the conflict from reaching the public), and taking advantage of the positive impact business mediation has been shown to have on the company's balance sheet.

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