Whether it’s with your boss or your colleagues, workplace conflict is a more common occurrence than we might like to admit. And rather than hoping disagreements blow over, or worse, become even more heated, knowing how to defuse situations with proper conflict mediation is an important workplace skill.
With a bit of emotional intelligence, proper planning and a tactful approach, we’ll run through how to mediate a conflict between two employees in a way that benefits everyone who’s involved.
What is conflict mediation?
Conflict mediation is a way of managing conflict with an impartial third party in order to help team members resolve disagreements in the workplace. This is done to ensure things don’t escalate and become more strained, result in formal disciplinary actions or lead to tribunal claims.
For this reason, some companies train their staff in the skills needed for conflict mediation, although it’s just as common for organisations to bring in external mediators – especially if the issue is a particularly complex one.
How can mediation help resolve conflict?
Often quicker and less expensive than litigation and other formal processes, conflict mediation can help resolve conflict for the following reasons…
- Through increased compliance
Since conflict mediation tends to be informal, those involved don’t tend to go into things with their guard up quite so much. As such, they’re more likely to engage in the proceedings, take responsibility for their role in the conflict and hold themselves accountable for coming up with solutions to the problems. The mediator guides them towards these outcomes.
- Fostering a healthier workplace
Conflict doesn’t exactly make for a positive workplace. And when it isn’t properly resolved, it can be a big drain on everyone’s emotional wellbeing – even for employees who aren’t directly involved in the issue itself. Mediation can do the opposite, creating a more peaceful work environment, all of which can lead to greater employee retention, wellbeing and productivity.
- It maintains strong working relationships
Ultimately, the work involved in conflict mediation goes a long way towards improving relationships between employees. It also has the added benefit of potentially improving their own conflict resolution skills independently too, which can reduce the need to hold conflict mediation meeting altogether.
How to plan a conflict mediation meeting
Not sure how to be a mediator in conflict-driven scenarios? The following steps can help create the right conditions for a productive, resolute meeting.
- Get involved early
The earlier you can intervene, the better. This way, you can head things off at the pass before the issue has time to become more severe and difficult to resolve.
- Lay out some ground rules
Meet with each participant separately first so you can outline what they can expect from the meeting. It’s also absolutely vital that you make sure that they’re both willing to participate, attempting to force them will likely lead to them resisting.
- Talk to each party individually first
Before you bring them together, find a quiet room that won’t be disturbed and talk to each participant on their own, so that they can share their side of the story without interruption. Here’s where active listening can come into play. Pay close attention, allow them to express their feelings openly, and repeat what they’ve said back to them to show you’ve understood them.
Ask them what they want to gain from the mediation too, but be prepared to remind that it’s about finding solutions to the issues, rather than targeting the other person’s character.
- Then bring them together
With each side of the story understood, it’s time to bring both parties together. Thank them for their time, remind them of the ground rules, sum up what you’ve understood, and then mention any agreements and disagreements.
During the meeting, make sure they have equal time to talk and allow them to talk openly without interruption. Emotions will be running high, so any time things do become aggressive, gently bring them back to the main issue – and try to look at it from the other’s point of view.
- Identify shared opinions
The next thing to do is assess the points that have been raised and then look for the commonalities within them. The common ground you identify here can be used as quick wins, which you can build on – a great way to boost both sides’ confidence in your ability to find the right solution.
- Create a written agreement
With a solution agreed upon, the next step is to write it up as a formal agreement. Doing so makes it easier to act on, laying out the actions they should take to resolve the conflict and prevent it from happening again.
The language of the agreement should be neutral and easily understandable. Once it’s written up, read it back to make sure everything is fully understood, and if necessary, clarify any points that think are too vague.
- Bring the meeting to a close
Give both participants a copy of the agreement, and state clearly what you expect when they return to their duties. You should also discuss how to deal with any challenges that putting the agreement into action might face, summarising these steps so that everyone is clear on what to do next. Let them know that you’re here to support them, and thank them both for their cooperation throughout the meeting.
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