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2 against 1 – The Problem with Alliances in a Dispute

2 against 1 – The Problem with Alliances in a Dispute


Conflicts in the workplace often involve a group opposing an individual. Mediator Emma Jenkings highlights the importance of recognising individual experiences, rather than resorting to a ‘them vs. one’ mentality. Early intervention and a focus on building relationships can lead to fair resolutions. Have you encountered similar situations in your organisation? How do you approach conflict resolution?

Don’t you love it when you find your ‘people’ – a group of like-minded individuals who get where you are coming from and share the same values, interest, and principles?

We human beings love a feeling of connection.

So, what about those times when you are around someone who you feel very disconnected from? Perhaps they have a different opinion to you, or you simply don’t understand their behaviour…?

It doesn’t take a sociologist or psychologist to be able to predict that you are less likely to align with them than you are with those who you form an easier connection with. And, on the face of it, there is no huge problem with that very natural, human instinct.

Now, let’s step into my arena for a minute and picture the relationship process that happens in the workplace involving these natural instincts…

Imagine that you are in a team and there is one person in that team that seems to always have an opinion that opposes yours. (Yet, most of the other people in the team resonate with you.) It starts to get a little irritating. During one team meeting, which this individual could not attend, it became clear that you are not the only person feeling this way. The situation continues and from the messages you are getting from other team members, it’s clear that you all are getting a little sick of it.

Tensions are now becoming more palpable to the leadership team and so I get a call to see what I can do.

(Just to be clear, the scenario I am describing does not relate to a specific mediation but refers to common themes I have noticed in multiple mediations that I have facilitated, and my fellow mediators have too.)

Now, what I often see in scenarios where there are more than two people involved is this:

•  It looks like the issues of the pair/group against the individual are the same – there are always some differences, even if subtle!

•  The individual is often the last to know about the issues.

•  The pair/group have discussed the individual on multiple occasions with multiple other individuals.

•  The longer these frustrations have been bubbling away, the less keen the pair/group are on finding a win:win resolution to the issues and are more keen for their side to ‘win’ overall.

So, are the pair/group the only protagonists in the situation – the ones who are entirely responsible for the conflict?

In a word, no. Among the shared issues, there will be some legitimate reasons for needing a facilitated resolution. And, sometimes, it can be helpful to have a few voices to highlight concerns that may otherwise be ignored or not come across clearly.

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