Not allowing emotions to cold your commercial judgement is vital when dealing with disputes.
Dispute resolution is an ongoing problem for UK companies. And as human resources professionals are only too aware, disputes can be hugely disruptive to a business – they distract staff from the day-to-day running of the company and can damage the reputation of both individuals and the company.
Clearly, it is important that disputes are handled efficiently and yet, according to a recent survey commissioned by Field Fisher Waterhouse, 79% of the businesses surveyed agreed that disputes are still not handled very well in most organisations.
So where are we going wrong? One of the key issues is that staff at all levels allow emotions to cloud their commercial judgement when dealing with disputes.
Emotions and personal pride distract decision makers from reaching commercial solutions that would be in the interests of their business and ultimately their shareholders. Factors such as a personal dislike of the opposition and unrealistic expectations lead to poor decision making, a lack of objectivity, and an inclination to offload the problem onto someone else.
But is it really possible to take decisions in a purely rational and unemotional way? Aren’t staff with passion an asset to a company? This may be so but in the area of dispute resolution, it is clear they may cost you dearly.
There are no absolutes – few of us are entirely led by either our hearts or our heads. However, commercial decision making is more likely when you are emotionally detached from the issues at stake. That is not to say that what is needed is a company of automatons but that recognition of the emotional factors at play may help us to minimise their impact and help support staff closely involved in the dispute.
To minimise the impact of emotion on the effective resolution of disputes, it is vital that those involved take steps to address the emotional and psychological factors at play.
There are a number of practical steps that HR professionals can take to achieve this. These are in addition to the company’s established grievance procedure and the statutory dispute resolution requirements.
- Encourage open lines of communication. This ensures that managers identify a potential problem as soon as it appears, and can take steps to avoid it turning into a formal dispute. At the very least, encourage regular departmental or team meetings where potential problems can be aired and simple resolutions identified.
- Encourage the appointment of an appropriate senior employee or director to manage the dispute resolution process. This will have the effect of removing some of the personal antipathy from the dispute and encourage both parties to take a fresh perspective. Such staff should be given bespoke training on handling grievances and be made aware of internal procedures and legal obligations.
- Ensure management remains focused on the key issues in disputes by ensuring a regular dialogue between decision makers and HR or other senior managers.
- Urge management to consider all of the emotional and psychological consequences on staff and others. Put in place a strategy for dealing with these.
- Get legal advice early. External advisers are paid to be objective, which will help to minimise the effects of emotional factors. Also, the protection afforded by litigation privilege, which protects documents prepared for the purpose of litigation from disclosure, may assist you with handling the dispute in a way that does not come back to haunt you.
Alexandra Underwood, solicitor, Field Fisher Waterhouse
Key survey findings
- 79% of respondents said disputes are not handled very well in most organisations.
- 65% agreed that emotions and personal pride affected their chances of reaching a solution.
- 47% agreed that a personal dislike of the other side led them into expensive litigation.
- 77% said that a lack of focus on the weakness of their own position contributed to the escalation of a dispute.
Source: Field Fisher Waterhouse survey
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