Knowing how to mediate a conflict is an essential skill for everyone in the workplace, as conflict will likely occur at one time or another in your career. Disputes and conflict are common in the workplace, and many employees and managers do not know how to manage conflict. When workplace conflicts are left unchecked, they can interfere with workplace relationships and contribute to a lack of employee engagement. For this reason, it is important to encourage employees to learn about and work on resolving conflict when they are a part of and encounter it.
This article will outline some tips and tricks for mediating conflict in the workplace and help those dealing with it to remember they are on the same team and create a safe environment to resolve disputes. While it is not a step-by-step guide to resolving workplace conflict, this article will serve as a resource for reference when needed. This article aims to help you remember the basics and remain calm while mediating conflict.
Types of Workplace Conflicts
Before we get into the tips and tricks, it can be helpful to identify the various forms of conflict found within the workplace. When a conflict pops up, it can help to label the type of dispute, as it can often lead to the mediator identifying underlying issues or interests that could play a role in conflict resolution. Several types of workplace conflicts are discussed below.
One of the most common disputes at work is a task conflict. This is a disagreement about the parameters of a task. It can involve disagreements about the subject of research or the desired result, but these conflicts pop up frequently when multiple people are involved in a project. This is also the type of conflict that will likely repeat, forcing a team to deal with similar conflicts repeatedly, until the root issue is resolved. However, it is often an easy conflict to resolve if the parties involved can negotiate.
Another common form of conflict is process conflict. This is a disagreement about the way the team completes a task or goal. Rather than being focused on the result of the task, it focuses on the process of the task itself. It can include arguments about who will complete a specific part of the task or how the work is divided. These conflicts will also repeat until the underlying issue is resolved, meaning the team will continue dealing with the same conflict. Again, a process conflict is fairly easy to resolve if the team relationships have not fully broken down.
Interest-based conflicts are disputes that arise over disagreements in the underlying drive and motivation to complete a project or life in general. The differences can be found in both professional and personal opinions, but when they compete, they can cause long-lasting strife within the workplace. These conflicts do not happen quite as often, as people tend to keep moral and political opinions to themselves while at work. Still, they will occasionally come to a head, especially if someone has an ethical dilemma with a task or job. This can be difficult to resolve because will hold onto a point of view and will usually not change their mind.
The last type of conflict stems from the relationship of team members and how differing personalities play into that. Each employee will have a different background and behavioral patterns that may not always be everyone’s cup of tea. This can cause shifts within the team and harm their ability to work together. Personality clashes may happen frequently or not often, and they may be minor inconveniences or major issues. These are also often difficult to resolve as people cannot change much about their personalities.
Before diving into the tips for mediating conflict in the workplace, it can be helpful to have a brief overview of mediation basics, whether it is a refresher or the first time you have encountered the practice. Mediation is like a guided negotiation between the involved parties, often allowing people with different opinions to explore options and find a way to reach an agreement.
It is guided by a mediator, a neutral third party who helps the parties speak with each other and find a way toward compromise. Mediation is voluntary and either party can decide that they would no longer like to participate if they choose not to.
Formal mediation has several steps, which will be outlined below, but many workplace issues may be resolved less formally. If you would like a deeper dive into the skills needed to be prepared for mediation, I recommend looking at other articles or one of the courses we offer. Whether you are dealing with direct reports or supervisors arguing over a process, the following steps may be helpful to work through.
In formal mediation, the mediator will begin the mediation with an overview of the tasks to come and the mediator’s role. This allows them to set up some ground rules for how the parties will interact with each other and how to deal with emotions when they pop up.
Statement of the Case
After introductions, each side will often have a chance to present their view of the issue and the desired outcome they would like to see. This allows them to explain their reasoning without feeling like they will be cut off or talked down to.
Once the parties have had a chance to present their ideas, the mediator will likely put each party in a private room and speak with each person separately to determine the underlying issues and help the people find possible solutions. They will often move back and forth between the rooms to bring deals and encourage further discussion. They may also bring the parties back together to talk about the issues.
After some negotiation, the parties will usually reach an agreement of some kind. Either the parties will resolve the dispute, in which case the mediator will often record the settlement in a written agreement that the parties sign, or they will agree that mediating this conflict is not working for them, in which case they will proceed with other problem-solving models.
Tips for Mediating Workplace Disputes
Workplace conflicts, regardless of the issues and disagreements that cause them, can be difficult to overcome, especially when you are tasked with mediating conflict between two employees. Finding a mutually acceptable agreement may not always be possible, but it is often worth the work to try and find common ground.
If you are dealing with conflict between co-workers, attempting to solve the issue through mediation may be a good place to begin. The tips below may help when you find yourself working with two employees who cannot get along.
Establish Ground Rules
While it may seem like second nature for some of us to be respectful, conflict will often bring out the worst in people. Making sure to establish the rules that the parties will need to follow to continue working together will keep everyone on the same page and can give either person the language to communicate when they feel wronged.
Common ground rules include taking turns speaking, do not interrupt, and focus on the problem, not the person. They can also include boundaries around how to speak to the mediator both in the session and beyond. Most mediators will not allow unlimited access to their skills, and those boundaries will need to be honored. Creating these rules at the jump can help communication and encourage the desired outcome.
Practice and Model Active Listening
Active listening is an important skill to use and encourage. Active listening furthers the ground rules established above by helping the parties listen to the wants and needs of the other person while they talk. For a person to practice active listening, they need to focus on what the other person is saying and may repeat what they said back to ensure that they understand before responding. A good mediator will set an example by actively listening to everyone involved.
Create a Safe Space
Another one of the best strategies for mediating conflict is to create a space where the parties can build trust and display emotions safely and securely. This will often require you to stay calm when the discussion may turn tense and remind everyone to practice open communication for their opinions and emotions. For employees to feel safe, they may just need to speak to someone who will listen and honor their concerns.
A safe space can also include encouraging each person to focus on their nonverbal communication as well as verbal. Eye contact and body language will often be a sign to the other person about willingness to work together.
Ask Descriptive Questions
Another way to encourage employees to work together and create a dialogue is to ask descriptive questions, which are questions that focus on the emotions and motivating factors behind the decisions. Identifying these issues may help the parties in the mediation solve the root cause and prevent similar conflicts in the future. It can also help the parties explain the reasoning and find new strategies to deal with the same issues.
Everyone involved will need to acknowledge that they will not get everything they would like. This means that they will need to have an open mind about the other side’s point of view and need to be prepared to make trade-offs to achieve their goals. For employees in mediation, this can be giving up a project or account now to be guaranteed a similar one in the future or giving an example of skills necessary to continue working together. If all employees are prepared to work to find a way to communicate what they are willing to give up to get something in return, the parties will likely resolve their issues through communication and mediation.
Mediation is a terrific way to help employees or managers find a way to work together both currently and in the future. Workplace conflicts are not easy to deal with at the moment, but if you are willing to address them quickly and effectively, you may be able to stop them from snowballing into one that cannot be remedied, and mediation can help you do that. Finding the best mutually agreeable solution for everyone will often lead to better relationships between the people involved.
If you would like to learn more about how to mediate a conflict and other mediation strategies, we recommend that you check out one of our courses or contact us here!