The Problems With Conflict Resolution Courses (And An Alternative!)

Do you want to make sure you and your team can handle disputes within your organisation? Or maybe you or your team are going through some form of conflict right now, and you’re looking for a resolution? Or it could be that you simply want to become better equipped and more confident at handling conflict and difficult conversations.

The most obvious place to start is by investing in a conflict resolution course, right?

Yes, conflict resolution courses may seem attractive, but they aren’t the magic solution to solving all the disputes or arguments in your organisation (sorry!).

So let’s have a look at some factors you might want to consider before you make a decision.

An overview of conflict resolution courses

Conflict resolution training courses (or dispute training courses) are designed to teach you how to reduce conflict in your team or company. We know that less conflict can only lead to better outcomes, such as better employee engagement and retention, and increased productivity.

When you break it all down, during a conflict resolution course, you could expect to learn the following:

  • How to identify the factors that lead to conflict.
  • Different conflict resolution strategies (such as negotiation, mediation, facilitated restorative conversations or arbitration) and learn how and when to use them.
  • How to prepare for and lead a conflict resolution meeting.
  • How to encourage open and honest communication and practice active listening.
  • Understanding when to escalate and seek third-party help to resolve a problem.

All in all, these are fundamental skills to have in the workplace. It’s why it’s common practice for many organisations to invest in these types of courses. Choosing a course (whether self-paced, online, in-person, or a combination of those) is a cheaper option than having individual coaching. Plus, it also allows you to train groups of employees all at once.

Man presenting to group of staff

The problems with conflict resolution courses

However, before you book a dispute resolution course for a large number of employees, you might want to consider these points.

Lack of real-world application

A lot of conflict resolution courses are standardised so they can apply to a large number of organisations operating in different industries. This means that, often, the scenarios used during these courses are very high-level. Trainers tend to pick examples that everyone can relate to and avoid situations that may come across as too technical or niche as that would risk alienating candidates.

And while this type of content is more than enough for some organisations, it doesn’t scratch the surface in terms of the complex real-life scenarios you and your team may have to deal with on a regular basis. Exploring and addressing scenarios at a high level and in a ‘classroom’ setting doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the real world and the practical conflict situations you may need to tackle in the office.

Generic and one-size-fits-all approach

Similarly, conflict resolution training courses often only provide generic strategies rather than specific examples that apply to your industry or company. And while it’s great to learn anything in theory, it’s the application in your role and company that you want to be able to fully grasp.

At the end of the day, we all know what it’s like to attend a course for a day or two (or even a week), take a tonne of notes, get your certificate, and then go back to the office behaving like you always have.

Just like all organisations and jobs, your situation is unique. So what you want instead is to have access to a coach or expert who can give you specific, tailored and pertinent advice that you can bring back to the office and apply the next day.

Limited long-term impact

Another reason why conflict training courses don’t sometimes give great results is that, for obvious reasons, they tend to span over a short period of time. The training is concentrated over a number of days, and understandably so if you have lots of employees taking time away from their desks to attend.

However, taking a course for a limited period of time means there’s no real chance for the trainer to help you apply and embed the skills you learnt. What happens when you go back to your day job? How much of the material you covered will you be utilising? 6-12 months later, will you even remember the topics you learnt about in the course?

There’s another side to this coin, too. Maybe you attended an excellent conflict resolution course this month and took a lot away from it. Let’s say you’re able to successfully apply some of the techniques and strategies you learnt. Great! But what happens when your business inevitably moves on (or your career does) and you’re no longer equipped with the right tools? The truth is that conflict evolves too. And with that, you need an ongoing development of conflict resolution skills.

business woman presenting in front of staff

Conflict resolution is more than conflict resolution!

And finally, the problem with conflict resolution courses (even the best ones out there) is that they can only do a limited job of giving you the skills to become efficient mediators or negotiators. Just like with anything, you can have a broad introduction to the topic and the skillsets needed for a new job. You can learn how to do that role at a basic, theoretic level.

Ideally, you’ll want to learn how to stop conflict in its tracks before it…well, gets to the conflict stage! That means you need to foster a culture of open and honest communication amongst your team. All voices must feel heard and appreciated.

Conflict resolution often teaches you how to put a plaster over a giant wound. Okay, it might stop the bleeding temporarily, but it’s not going to fix the whole problem (sorry for that analogy).

Your team not only needs conflict resolution training, but training on how to become better, more confident communicators, and this needs to be adopted across the entire company.

That’s why it’s best to hire an expert communications and conflict resolution expert for your organisation.

Why hire a professional with conflict resolution experience

You’re never going to be as good at that job as someone who does it day in and day out. Just like if I took a course on how to do what you, I wouldn’t be anywhere near your level!

Training (briefly) for something that you may or may not be called to do on top of your day job isn’t the same as working with someone who does that specific job and has done it for years in a number of organisations. That’s what professional facilitators and negotiators do. And that’s why companies just like yours hire them – because they have the experience, the expertise, and the specialist skills.

Some of these skills include:

  • Communication skills.
  • An understanding of human psychology.
  • Emotional intelligence training.
  • Cultural awareness and sensitivity training.
  • Problem-solving skills.

You may naturally have some of these skills. Or you may have received some of this training and successfully applied it to your job. But it’s not what you do on a daily basis. And no course can give you that breadth of experience in one go.

A man taking notes in a business meeting

The benefits of choosing a conflict resolution expert

1. An understanding of workplace dynamics

If you ever struggled to identify the issues or dynamics causing a workplace conflict (or your day job stops you from conducting a deep-enough analysis of the situation) a professional can help you do exactly that. In essence, you get personalised help based on your organisation.

For example, let’s say you’re a SaaS company and there’s a conflict between two teams – sales and development. Sales keep asking the development team to add in tech to the product that they’ve promised a client. Development agree to do this but keep getting annoyed and stressed. If there’s push back, sales get irritated as now they have to go back to clients to say that they won’t get what was promised.

A tale as old as time. Well, as old a tech…

A trainer can come in and help those two teams communicate more clearly and come up with an action plan on how things can be improved in future.

When I have done this myself, this has always been a powerful exercise where teams have really come together. We can bring in some much needed humour, understanding and connection and get to a place where teams are communicating much more effectively.

You cannot possibly get that with a course!

2. Real-time application of skills

Another advantage of hiring a trained professional is that they have the experience to be able to facilitate immediate and effective solutions, rather than relying on learned techniques. Knowing the theory is one thing, but having the capabilities and experience to apply strategies effectively is something else entirely.

Also, we all know that emotions can run high during a conflict, and a professional will be able to respond to anger, frustration, or resentment in a calm way. They’re not only trained to do so, but they’re also external to the company and not directly impacted by the situation. This means they will be more proactive and flexible in helping you come up with solutions that work for everyone. They will listen openly and objectively and treat everyone with integrity and respect because they have developed and honed these particular skill sets.

3. Expertise in complex conflict situations

A professional with conflict resolution experience is also better equipped at handling complex and high-stakes disputes. Remember – this isn’t their first rodeo, and they have done this before in other organisations!

Also, because they are external (and specifically trained) they will be more efficient in navigating sensitive issues. They will also help in facilitating resolutions that balance the needs of everyone involved without perpetuating conflict or negative feelings.

4. Customised approach and ongoing support

And finally, hiring a professional to help you train your teams on how to resolve conflict in your company can ensure the approach you follow is tailored to the specific needs of the business.

You won’t be following a cookie-cutter method that you learnt during a course and aren’t sure how to apply. Instead, the appropriate techniques or strategies will be flexibly and carefully chosen and taught to your staff.

Plus, a professional can also provide ongoing support and guidance. Conflict resolution can take time to learn. It’s an ongoing process. As a manager with other priorities, you may not have the bandwidth to follow up and see the process to the end.

However, a dedicated professional can make that time and see the commitment through. It’s their job at the end of the day! And this will ensure a long-term positive impact on your workplace.

Would you like the help of a professional to train your team to resolve conflict?

If you’re thinking of hiring a professional to help you resolve conflict in your organisation or train your team on how to communicate better, check out my services or drop me a line, and let’s chat some more.

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