Unresolved employee conflict leads to underperformance, low morale, and dysfunctional workplace dynamics.
As the senior consultant at Align, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development, I mediate employee conflict regularly. Whether you are a manager or colleague in a workplace conflict or a family member seeking to help mediate conflict between two loved ones, here is my advice on resolving the dispute with ease and grace.
Steps to Mediate Employee Conflict
First, before entering into mediation, prepare a clear purpose statement, an ideal outcome, and questions to steer meaningful dialogue. This is primarily for you, and you may use it later in your summary report. It is essential to articulate the purpose and prepare questions before starting mediation to act as an unbiased and effective mediator.
For example, in response to a letter submitted by an employee to the HR department, I hold voluntary and confidential discussions with each party separately. Then I facilitate a dialogue between them. The purpose of mediation is for individuals to resolve the dispute themselves. This is accomplished through productive dialogue that leads to a deeper understanding of the reasons behind their conflict.
Generative Questions to Invite Dialogue During Mediation
Preparing questions ahead of time allows you to be thoughtful in your approach. Questions for meditation need to be generative, meaning they generate dialogue. The practice of productive questioning is rooted in the principles of Appreciative Inquiry. Generative questions create more questions. They invite curiosity and use the stems, like “What if” and “How would.”
For example, you may start with a “What would help you bring your best listening skills and problem-solving skills to this discussion?” This question allows individuals to establish ground rules. This reduces assumptions about what they should or should not express in mediation. Another question may be, “What if you could solve this conflict today? How would that look?”
Generative questions focus on the individuals in conflict rather than you, the mediator, owning solutions. This is key to effective mediation.
The Role of the Mediator in Employee Conflict
Next, you need to be very clear about your mediator role. Before group mediation, I meet with each person individually. I state that my part is not to impose an outcome. But instead to ensure both parties express their perspectives, concerns, and requests for resolution within a constructive framework. I typically repeat this at the start of mediation to ensure everyone is clear that they own the solution or outcome to conflict, not me.
My mediation approach is to hold a one-on-one meeting with each person, followed by a facilitated discussion. The facilitated discussion is typically 90 minutes long. Both participants need a piece of paper or notebook and a pen. My role is to ask questions, paraphrase back what I heard, and ask the other to confirm understanding.
Once I have modeled active listening and paraphrasing, I ask them to translate what they heard. I make sure one person does not misuse their authority or uphold their agreements to a non-violent dialogue.
Reframing and Reflecting in Mediation
Effective mediation requires skills in reframing and reflecting. Mediators like myself have trained to reframe criticism, respond to blaming, and support meaningful apologies. These skills are developed over years of practice and training. A third-party, unbiased professional can be the best option to mediate employee conflict.
Sometimes all parties come to a resolution before the allotted time. In that case, I ask both parties to begin writing a mediation summary. This includes any agreements made and any requests to sustain a resolution. I ask each person to read what they feel comfortable sharing aloud. When we don’t come to a resolution answer within the allotted time, I request both parties take a break from the dialogue, write a summary, and agree on the next steps.
Mediation does not always result in resolution. But the summary statement demonstrates a more profound understanding was established due to a mediated session.
· I often ask individuals to include a solution that does not require the other person’s contribution.
· I ask them to have any requests for support that would support them.
· Finally, I request each person to share these statements with me to include these in my summary report.
· I provide a summary report to the individuals who hired me and, in some cases, share the summary with all parties involved.
Again, mediating conflict requires skills developed over years of practice and training. If you or your organization needs to resolve an employee conflict, reach out for more information at email@example.com