Should Conflict Resolution Skills Training be Mandatory?

Colin Roy

I was recently asked by a workshop participant if I thought it was okay to make Conflict Resolution Skills training mandatory for everyone at their organization. My simple answer was, “Yes, I think that is a good idea.” However, that answer really needed to be more nuanced because it implies some other questions such as:

• Is there a benefit to “forcing” everyone to take the same training?

• When should an organization provide training? Is it reactive or proactive?

• What does the organization value in terms of skill development for all employees?

•Should everyone be “forced” to take a conflict resolution skills training?

Let’s be clear: the experience of forced to learn rarely produces engagement. If the training is offered as a reaction to a problem – or “problem” people that need to be “fixed” – then forcing everyone to attend will likely be met with a good deal of resistance. This makes it very difficult for the trainer to fully engage the group and, in my experience, this approach doesn’t make a lot of sense.

To make mandatory conflict resolution skills training as effective as possible, the organization needs to consider the next two questions:

How can we incorporate our values into the training?

In a big picture sense, training is the most effective when it’s linked to what an organization values. For example, if an organization values positive work relationships, it should routinely offer conflict resolution skills training to all its employees to help maintain that value. When training is linked to values, employees are more likely to engage with it because they are able to clearly see the rationale for why everyone must take the conflict resolutions skills training. When training is done proactively, it becomes a matter of course, not force.

When should we provide the training?

I have seen firsthand that conflict resolution skills training can be offered reactively when people are in the midst of conflict. Much like proactive training, reactive training provides people with common reference points and skills for having difficult conversations. However, the organization needs to frame the training carefully. When offered reactively, it is most effective to pair the training with other interventions such as group facilitation, conflict resolution coaching, and mediation. Staff members need to know that the training is offered in the spirit of trying to improve the work environment for everyone, and that their participation is expected as a result.

Ideally, conflict resolution skills training should be offered proactively in order to give people the skills necessary to deal with conflict as it arises. When the training is offered proactively, people are more likely to have a common set of skills and knowledge to draw upon when working through their inevitable differences. Proactive training also gives leaders a framework to rely on when they are guiding others through conflict. At ACHIEVE, we know from a recent survey that we conducted on workplace culture that timely conflict resolution by peers and leaders is highly correlated with having a great place to work. There will be more details on that in our upcoming book.

So, yes, I think conflict resolution skills training should be mandatory and offered as a matter of course to all employees. What do you think?

Eric Stutzman, Managing Director
ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership & Workplace Performance

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