Often I have heard from employees and even managers that the conflict management system looks fine on paper, but they do not feel comfortable using it. "It will hurt my career. It will make me look like a whiner. It will cast me in the role of trouble maker. If I get involved in this, I will be fired." These are common responses by employees and line managers in crisis who need access to an effective conflict management system.
Conflict will go unaddressed unless employees are protected by the system. The Protection Focus rates the degree to which actors feel safe to raise issues. A workplace participant who fears retaliation will avoid participation in conflict resolution. Similar to the Applicability Focus, there must be evidence of protection from retaliation for open dialogue to occur. This is especially true for performance-paid employees. Since the employer is in charge of performance evaluation, assignment of work and promotions, employees are vulnerable to subtle reprisals from management actors. The fairness system must discourage retaliation from other workplace participants, especially those in positions of authority.
One way to discourage reprisals is to concentrate on interest-based options. This has the advantage of engaging the participants and sharing the victory. The less litigious the fairness system is, the less likely it will give rise to retaliation. Participants need sufficient buy-in to trust the other actors and the system’s results.
Another way the system can minimize retaliation is by protecting participant confidentiality. In many cases this may be difficult. Nevertheless, a high score on the Protection Focus will depend upon the care to which the system guards the confidentiality of its participants.
Finally, the system should discourage parties from taking the law into their own hands. The conflict management system must impose consequences on those who retaliate, and reward those who cooperate by meeting their interests.