Positive Work Environment. Conflict Counsel No 5

Victorian Government Guide suggests that a positive workplace is characterised by;

  • a high degree of trust and respect between all levels of staff;
  • a climate in which colleagues feel valued, and have a strong sense of loyalty to the organisation;
  • high quality leadership and management;
  • open discussion that leads to resolution of conflict;
  • a measure of self-determination over how work is undertaken;
  • a culture where diversity is respected and valued;
  • a lack of exclusive ‘clubs’ and cliques;
  • opportunities for personal development and career progression; and
  • a high level of creativity and job satisfaction, arising from teamwork and cooperation.

However a positive work environment does not mean that no one ever leaves. Career advancement and change of role are signs of a work environment that encourages growth.

Conflict management skills it seems are essential for a positive workplace.  This advice is perhaps common sense.  But it is not so common in workplaces, from our experience.

The report can be accessed at http://www.ssa.vic.gov.au/images/stories/product_files/221_PSSC_PositiveWorkEnv_2ndEdt.pdf

Fairness and the Problem of Bounded Self Interest. Conflict Counsel No 4

Game theorists demonstrated in a much repeated experiment that we are all vulnerable to rejecting proposals that are otherwise in our best interest.  The classic experiment “The Ultimatum” shows that people will even turn down free money!

In the experiment two volunteers who do not know each other are involved.  One (the proposer) is given $100.00 and asked to propose a division of the $100.00 with the second person who can accept or reject that proposal (the responder).

If the proposal is accepted the two can keep their shares.  If rejected the money must be given back to the game organiser.   It is a one off game.

The results are remarkable.

You would think that if the proposer offered the “responder” one dollar then the proposer should accept. The results show that in most cases the responder will reject an offer of less than about $30.00, because (the scientists suggest) people feel better about getting nothing than accepting a “deal” that is not fair.

Imagine how much influence this human bias or tendency has when we are in conflict with each other.  Not only is reactive devaluation in place but the “standard” of fairness is higher with a person you do not like or trust.

What to do?

There are two suggestions;

  • Measure proposal not against your (subjective) view of fairness but against objective criteria.
  • When deciding whether to accept or reject an “offer”, measure it against your best alternative to the offer (BATNA), be honest (which is not always easy) and if the     alternative is worse than the offer you should accept EVEN if it does not seem fair!

No one can completely eliminate their own sense of fairness from decision making. Be sure though that if it is applied you are aware that the measure is often not congruent with your own self interest.

Resilient workplaces. Conflict Counsel No 3



The State Services Authority in 2010 published a report and a guide for the Victorian public sector to promote resilient workplaces.

Unlike other guides (for instance the 1996 NSW “Harassment Free Workplace Policy) the Victorian report and guide focuses on advice for employers on how to promote the sort of behaviour that supports a more positive workplace.   100 people across 40 40 agencies contributed to the report.   That group called the “conflict resolution network” is comprised of people committed to creating workplaces in which conflict is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow, and that the destructive risks of conflict is minimised.’

The report and guide argue that a conflict resilient workplace has four features:

  • Promote               -    They are proactive in building a culture of communication.
  • Prevent                 -   They stop things going wrong
  • Respond               -   They respond quickly and appropriately when things do go                                    wrong.
  • Comply                 –   They comply with the relevant guidelines, rules, regulations     and address principles  of natural justice and procedural fairness.

The reports are available as follows.