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Philippa Newis: Resolving conflict - is there such thing as 'too much too soon'?

Thursday 23 June 2016

Philippa Newis, Senior Adviser at Acas, discusses her own experience of being a mediator and its effectiveness at resolving conflict.

Phillipa Newis Philippa Newis

Philippa Newis is an Acas Senior Adviser/Collective Conciliator based in London.

She covers all aspects of collective employment relations and dispute resolution.


Recent Acas research, 'pdf icon Managing individual conflict in the contemporary British workplace [528kb]', reveals that many organisations accept that conflict is part and parcel of working life. It also shows that managing conflict is not seen as a core competence for many managers and, sadly, mediation is often only used as a last resort to address problems.

My own experience is that mediation can be a very powerful tool when applied earlier in a potential dispute. I think 'too much too soon' is a far better option than 'too little too late'.

Take the example of Louise and Deborah. When I met them their working relationship had virtually broken down, with any rapport they had eroded by a lack of communication and a misreading of each other's interests.

As is often the case, no one was solely to blame. Louise had become very withdrawn and stressed because she was covering for a member of her team who had been off for several months on sick leave. Deborah, her boss, felt she had tried to help but her advice had been ignored. She no longer felt able to talk openly to Louise.

At Acas we use a facilitative style of Mediation. My job as the mediator was to help Louise and Deborah:

  • talk about the issues
  • understand the impact of their actions on one another
  • clarify their needs
  • work towards a mutually acceptable solution.

I'm not there to make a decision about who's right or who's wrong. Passing judgement may result in temporary cease-fire but rarely leads to a lasting peace.

Supporting parties to find their own way forward, rather than an imposed solution, is vital in building a sustainable resolution to conflict. This can be daunting for people initially. The idea of sitting in the same room, let alone reaching an agreement, can feel very challenging at the outset. But for those willing to give it a go, it can be an empowering experience. Mediation enables parties to both deal with the past and take responsibility for the future.

Many people ask me about the difference between mediation and Acas' early conciliation service. Each has a part to play in a conflict resolution strategy. While both are voluntary, mediation is a less formal process focused on preserving the working relationship, whereas conciliation is guided by legal requirements and aims to help parties reach agreement - eliminating or reducing the need to proceed to an employment tribunal. Both services are facilitated by expert Acas advisers whose watchwords are confidentiality, impartiality and independence.

As for Deborah and Louise, they came away from their mediation with a better understanding of each other and an agreement that promised to help keep their working relationship on track.

1 Comment

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  • Posted by Andrew Craven  |  29 July 2016, 1:52PM

    I had a terrible experience with Greene king exploiting its salaried staff, I was recently a kitchen manager and expected more from such a large employer.It seems the larger the organisation the more they are able to bully and coherse its workers.I worked for 7 weeks and was subject to bullying, reduced hours from my team meaning the expectation of salaried staff was to work on my own/ team taken off duty and having to serve, clean down, wash pots, carry out lots of paperwork. I worked an extra 120 hours in a six week period. I recently had a conferance grievance to be told that they would not pay me the overtime as long as it worked out to NMW, this must be unacceptable, I have heard that many greeneking salaried staff have taken them to tribunal and yet they still carry on regardless. Put me  on pension scheme without authority and took £112 out of my wages when i enquired with the pension fund they informed me that no monies had been paid into the fund, payroll said that they wait a month before it is paid in, this means that they hold onto approx 30000 staffs money accumulating interest this cant be right. They are refusing to refund this to me. What a disguting company to work for, they also place everybody new on emergency tax even though i handed in my p46.