5 ways to calm tensions in a ‘diversified’ workplace



Where there are human beings it is not atypical for tensions to surface, at times over petty issues. And when you throw into the mix people of varied racial persuasions, an evenly-balanced gender mix, and those with disabilities, there is a recipe for ‘disaster’.


As head of department you have work cut out. You should be prepared to be called in to play peacemaker often. Look at yourself as head of your organisation’s version of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Human Resources (HR) is more than deploying skills to areas where they will add value to the organisation’s bottom-line.


Before much ado, keep this in mind: methods published in a Harvard University’s human resources journal won’t just cut it in South Africa’s complex environment, which is still undergoing social and economic metamorphosis.


Specifically, the following may prove handy:


  1. Do not take sides. Use Reverend Desmond Tutu’s approach. Did you ever see him take sides when interrogating victims and alleged offenders as head of the then Truth and Reconciliation Commission? If he did, his counsel was going to be questioned or adjudged to be biased.
  2. Examine views from each of the conflicting parties according to their own merits to establish the root cause of the unfortunate shouting match. Could it be a case of misinterpretation or an outlet for bottled up anger?
  3. Exercise firm control over the mediation. Make the parties involved understand that you wield authority and let them respect conversational etiquette. One person should state their case without interjections like “Liar!” from the other. Emotional statements should not be tolerated. You are not running a crèche but an institution well regarded by the public.
  4. Remind the warring factions that the company policy does not tolerate stereotyping of individuals on basis of gender, race or creed.
  5. On strong evidence that the hatchet has been buried and foe has turned friend, ask the former enemies to sincerely shake hands or hug. Make everyone realise that they were making a storm out of a tea cup.



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