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How to Build Internal Consensus to Bring in a Third Party to Address Conflict in Your Organization

And address conflict at the root


KEY POINTS

Beyond internal solutions: When internal efforts fail to resolve conflict, involving a neutral, third-party to help facilitate discussion can break through stalemates and foster solutions.
Addressing the paradox: Achieving consensus can feel impossible when the issue is deciding on how to address conflict. This guide offers strategies to overcome this impasse.
Unlocking resolutions: Involving key stakeholders early in discussions, positioning the conflict as a shared challenge and highlighting the benefits of a neutral third party are some of the approaches that can help achieve consensus.
Third party conflict resolution
author
JAMS Pathways Editors

Conflict is a natural part of any organization. Diverse perspectives, competing priorities and even clashes of personalities can create friction that hinders progress. While healthy debate can lead to innovation, unresolved conflict breeds negativity, hampers productivity and ultimately damages organizational harmony.

The question organizations face often is how to know when to step in. While building consensus in a team setting is of course the preferred option, some conflicts persist, escalating despite concerted efforts to resolve them.

In our article “Signs Your Organization Needs a Neutral Third Party to Resolve Conflict and Reasons Why a Neutral Facilitator Is a Good Idea,” we review a few of the telltale signs that it may be time to seek external support, such as conflicts that keep resurfacing, escalated emotions, a decline in productivity and a perception of bias that places employees at an impasse. No matter what solution is proposed, a lack of trust will prevent it from being effective. When these signs emerge, hiring a neutral third party might be the only way to effectively address the crisis, thus preventing further losses in productivity and increased turnover.

If you are considering bringing in a third party, you most likely will also face a critical hurdle: achieving internal consensus on the need for external intervention to resolve conflict. This can often feel like a catch-22. To solve the problem, you need to agree on how to solve the problem. In this article, we’ll give you a few pointers on how to guide your organization toward consensus on this specific topic, hopefully paving the way toward a conflict-free, harmonious and productive team.

Understanding Consensus

First, let's define what consensus building is. It’s usually a structured process that aims to achieve a solution where everyone involved feels heard and can live with a decision. Achieving it within an organization usually requires effective conflict resolution practices, clear decision-making process frameworks and honed consensus-building skills.

In short, even if we’re not talking about a solution, consensus building implies that all participants collectively agree on decisions that might bring the group toward one. In the case of bringing in an external mediator to resolve a conflict, it is important that the stakeholders and parties involved in the conflict agree to give it a try.

How to Build Internal Consensus for Bringing in an External Mediator

Now that we have defined our goal, how exactly do we get there? Below, we have outlined a few conflict resolution and consensus-building techniques that can be applied to this specific problem and help you structure your approach.

Step 1: Involve key stakeholders.

An impactful decision such as bringing in an external party to inquire about sensitive topics should always involve key decision-makers from the outset. This usually means not only managers and C-suite executives, but also financial decision-makers. Make sure to identify which stakeholders have the power to greenlight or block initiatives and invite them to join the discussions early. Fill them in on the relevant details of the conflict if they are not yet familiar with them.

By involving stakeholders from the beginning, you foster a sense of ownership and commitment to resolving the conflict collaboratively. When people feel included in the decision-making process, they are more likely to support and champion the initiative. This collective buy-in is essential for achieving organizational consensus and ensuring a smooth implementation of a third party intervention. 

Step 2: Clearly define the problem.

Begin by presenting the conflict as a collective challenge that affects everyone involved. This approach helps shift the focus from individual grievances to a shared issue that requires a collaborative solution. When team members see the problem as something that impacts the entire organization, they are more likely to engage in finding a resolution.

For example, instead of saying, "John and Jane can't get along," frame it as "Our team is experiencing communication breakdowns that are affecting our productivity and morale. It’s not an ideal situation for anyone, and I’m sure we all want a resolution as soon as possible."

Step 3: Use consensus-building techniques.

Now that you have the right parties for a discussion and the right framework, the ways in which you open the discussion are important. For example, if intervening parties of the original conflict are participating, it’s important to choose a structured way of approaching the topics, avoiding opportunities for escalation. Here are a few methods you can use:

  • Facilitative leadership: This kind of leadership involves providing direction without taking control, avoiding veering off topic and ensuring everyone on a team is involved in group decision-making. As this blog post suggests, a facilitative leader who manages both the content and process of group discussions is ideal to guide teams in a conflict resolution setting. Choose someone who uses this style of leadership to guide discussions and steer the group toward common ground.
  • Structured discussions: Implement a clear agenda and techniques such as round-robin participation so that everyone has a chance to speak freely. In this technique, each participant takes turns sharing their thoughts without interruption until everyone has had a chance to speak. This results in equal participation and can surface ideas that might otherwise be overlooked.  A neutral third party can further facilitate by actively listening, asking clarifying questions and seeking common ground to build upon.
  • Voting and ranking: Utilize anonymous voting or ranking systems to gauge preferences and identify areas of agreement. This can be a helpful tool for narrowing down options and identifying common ground. 
  • Finding creative compromises: Explore solutions that incorporate elements from different proposals. This fosters a collaborative spirit and allows everyone to feel like their voice has been considered.

Step 4: Highlight the advantages of neutral, third-party intervention.

During the discussion, you can explain the benefits of neutral, third-party intervention, such as the ability to facilitate effective communication and create a collaborative environment conducive to finding a mutually agreeable solution. These are the advantages of bringing in a neutral third party:

  • Neutral perspective: An outside party has no role in the internal dynamics and can provide an unbiased assessment of the situation. It usually is one of the most effective ways to build trust on the solutions proposed.
  • Experience and skills: They are trained in conflict management and possess extensive intervention techniques to help navigate complex situations.
  • Process facilitation: They can guide the conflict resolution process, helping everyone to be heard and keeping discussions productive and on track.
  • Confidentiality: They provide a safe space for open communication, knowing that sensitive information will be kept confidential.
  • Long-lasting change and effectiveness: Hiring professional help is the surest way to resolve conflict and instill meaningful change.

Additionally, there are a few long-term organizational benefits that come from effectively addressing conflict:

  • Improved communication: Neutral third parties can help establish healthy communication patterns within the team, creating a foundation for future collaboration.
  • Enhanced decision-making: By facilitating a more inclusive process, the intervention can lead to more informed and well-rounded decisions.
  • Increased productivity and profitability: Resolving conflicts efficiently minimizes disruption and allows teams to get back to focusing on core tasks. This ultimately increases revenue, as the organization becomes more efficient.

 

Step 5: Address concerns.

Be prepared to address concerns about the third party's role or their process. One of the most common problems is that most decision-makers feel conflict is an issue better handled internally, citing, for example, privacy concerns. While this line of thought is well intentioned, here are some of the reasons why this approach often fails to be effective:

  • Internal bias: Even with the best intentions, internal teams can struggle with perceived or actual bias, undermining trust in the process.
  • Resource constraints: HR teams are often stretched thin with multiple responsibilities, leaving limited time and energy to devote to complex conflict resolution.
  • Skill gaps: Conflict resolution is a specific skill that requires training and experience that may not be fully present within the internal team.
  • Confidentiality concerns among internal staff: Employees might feel uncomfortable disclosing sensitive information to internal staff, fearing repercussions or breaches of confidentiality.

You can also emphasize the third party's commitment to confidentiality. They are aware it’s one of their most valuable currencies.

Step 6: Present case studies.

Being able to review the journey of organizations that went through the same process and harnessed positive results can be the single factor that builds trust and consensus to move forward. JAMS Pathways’ library of case studies is conveniently segmented by industry, which is very helpful if you’re looking for specific examples to include in a presentation.

Additional considerations for the process:

Set clear expectations: Clearly define the scope of the intervention, the desired outcomes and its timeline. This will help manage expectations internally and promote a successful process.

Select the right third party: Choose a third party who has experience in handling similar conflicts and possesses the necessary intervention techniques and consensus-building skills. At JAMS Pathways, we know our biggest asset is our team of seasoned, experienced mediators and conflict professionals, trained to handle conflicts in a variety of industries and formats. We invite you to visit the JAMS Pathways career page to find a profile that meets your organization’s needs.  

(…) even if we’re not talking about a solution, consensus building implies that all participants collectively agree on decisions that might bring the group toward one.

Conclusion

While achieving internal consensus to bring in an external third party for conflict resolution may seem like a daunting task, rest assured that it can be done with the right approach. This is the starting point for most organizations willing to efficiently solve conflict, with many having emerged victorious on the other side.

By understanding the end goal for consensus, engaging the right stakeholders and applying effective techniques, you can hopefully conquer organizational conflict—and pave the way for a culture of collaboration and mutual respect.

Disclaimer:
This page is for general information purposes. JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness. Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals.
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