Mediation is when an independent and impartial third party discusses a problem with you and your employer (or between you and another employee) to try and find a solution. It’s often used after informal discussions have not come up with a solution.
Mediation is voluntary and the mediator cannot force you or your employer to accept a solution. Both you and your employer must agree on the way to solve the dispute.
Conflict in the workplace is common. Most of the time things can be sorted out with a chat, but when they can’t, they can soon take a turn for the worse: communication breaks down, other people get drawn in, and what begins as a difference of opinion can quickly become a significant problem for your organization.
Disputes can occur at all levels: with colleagues, managers, within teams, and even between people several management levels apart. Line managers are often too close to the dispute to get involved and HR practitioners can often have a conflict of interest, or may not be trusted by employees to maintain absolute confidentiality.
Workplace mediation is a quick, cost-effective, and private method of resolving disputes, saving the stresses and costs of formal action, minimising absenteeism, and conforming to current best practice. It focuses on all parties getting what they want from their working relationships with others, and on moving forwards amicably with an agreement that everyone involved has contributed towards.
Our company has provided mediation services and tailored training as part of the Council’s approach to resolving conflict in the workplace. This has proven to be very successful and I would recommend them to other organizations wanting to do the same.
Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies Cheat Sheet
Conflict at work can be physically and emotionally exhausting, regardless of how directly you’re involved. Discover how to mediate a conflict in your workplace by following a set process and asking the right questions. And be prepared to use internal and external resources to help you resolve the conflict.
Mediation Process for Resolving Conflict at Work
If you’re a manager dealing with a conflict in the workplace (and what workplace doesn’t have some conflict?), you need a strategy to approach and defuse the disagreement. You can effectively mediate the conflict by following this process:
- Do preliminary planning, scheduling, and room setup.
Getting the right people in the right room at the right time is a good first step to creative problem-solving. Do some leg work upfront to determine who’s involved in a conflict. Then put some effort into creating an inviting environment so your employees have the best shot at successfully resolving their issue.
- Greet parties and discuss the process.
Setting ground rules, discussing your role as a neutral facilitator (which may be new to your employees) and letting the parties know that you’re open to helping them resolve their differences are all ways to demonstrate that this conflict — and its resolution — belongs to them.
- Share perspectives.
Refining the art of reflecting and reframing helps you identify core values, neutralize emotional language, and demonstrate that listening to each other’s point of view is far more productive than listening to rebuttals.
- Build an agenda together.
Creating a cooperative agenda after hearing each other’s perspective lets employees build a list of topics that acts as a compass for the rest of their meeting and provides a yardstick for their progress.
- Negotiate in good faith.
Giving employees the space to brainstorm and make proposals for solutions that benefit both of them can create remedies that are longer lasting and more durable.
- Hold private meetings if necessary.
Meeting privately gives each employee an opportunity to share sensitive information, practice how he might ask for what he needs, apologize for his role in the conflict, or acknowledge the positive aspects of his working relationship.
- Craft agreements, with details.
The best agreements are detailed agreements. Leaving anything to the imagination can cause trouble down the road, so crafting agreements with an eye for detail gives employees the boundaries and certainty they seek.
- Monitor follow-through.
Looking for signs that things are going well or tuning into cues that there’s more work to be done gives you an opportunity to praise your employees for what they’re doing well and to coach them on next steps.
Asking Questions to Help Resolve a Workplace Conflict
When you’re dealing with a conflict between yourself and a co-worker (your boss, a peer, or a subordinate), your focus is on resolving the conflict and improving the situation. Invite the other person to sit down with you, and ask these questions:
- What would you like to see happen? What does that look like for you? Ask these questions one right after another so your colleague can describe what he does want versus what he doesn’t want. He may ask for respect, but until he describes what respectful behavior looks like to him, you won’t know how to deliver on his request. Changing your behavior to match your definition of respect may not be what he’s looking for.
- What would it take for us to be able to move forward? How do we get there? These questions help an employee describe specific steps that may include an apology or a better understanding of his perspective before he can get over it.
- Are you willing to share the impact this has had on you? Are you willing to hear my perspective? Asking about a conflict’s impact moves the discussion from surface details to a working relationship level. Your colleague will appreciate your interest in him and may be more open to hearing your perspective as well. The goal is for both of you to understand the effects of actions, assumptions, and language choices.
- What ideas do you have that would meet both our needs? The key part of this question is “both our needs.” It puts the onus for solution on both of you and shows that you’re interested in creating a remedy that isn’t just about you.
- Can you tell me more about that? This question helps you avoid the “why” questions, which can lead to defensiveness. Show a curiosity to hear more so an employee can share his perspective without feeling like he’s on trial or your boss doesn’t misinterpret a “why” question as disrespect.
- What about this situation is most troubling to you? What’s most important to you? Either way you ask it, this question helps you pinpoint what the real issues are (and they’re almost always based on a core value being dismissed, disregarded, or trampled on).
Signs That Conflict at Work Is Subsiding
When you’re attempting to resolve conflict in the workplace, you want to see signs that the situation is starting to improve. Your mediation strategies are working when you begin to notice that your employees
- Have relaxed conversations and interactions
- Cooperate on tasks and projects
- Change their word choices (for example, “them” becomes “us”)
- Reduce their gossip
- Improve their tone of voice and relax their body language
- Keep their agreements
- Display a willingness to address new problems
Visit and contact us to discuss whether mediation could be suitable for your dispute.