It was my pleasure recently to attend “Reframing Resolution – Innovation and Change in the Management of Workplace Conflict”, a one-day event from the Work, Organisation and Employment Relations Research Centre (WOERRC) and Acas. I attended in my role as Chair of the Workplace and Employment Group in the Civil Mediation Council (CMC) and the conference featured Sir Brendan Barber as a keynote speaker, at a time when mediation is clearly winning a place in minds of many leaders and managers.

I was heartened by what Sir Brendan had to say. In his speech – and also in our lead feature this week from HR magazine – Sir Brendan confirmed that there has been a shift towards informal interventions when resolving workplace conflict. As the world of business evolves, he says, so too are employers’ attitudes. For individual conflict, the move is somewhat slow (but at least moving) in the direction of prevention rather than cure. Yet many organisations are still frustratingly reactive in their responses.

Although employers are very aware of the possibility of employment tribunal claims, the strategic approach to managing conflict too often amounts to just “following procedure”. But if we want to create more competitive and productive workplaces, says Sir Brendan, we need to start taking alternative approaches more seriously.

Conflict is not (yet) seen as an important management competence and therefore managerial confidence in dealing with issues is understandably low. So Sir Brendan concludes that we need to fully embrace alternative methods of resolving conflict to bring mediation to the front of managerial minds.

Mediation, he and I agree, is often only considered as a last resort when everything else has failed. Instead, it must become the norm, rather than the exception.

Caroline Sheridan, Chair, Workplace and Employment CMC group and Founder of Sheridan Resolutions