Updated January 2023
When people spend a significant amount of time together, conflicts are sure to arise. And when you add the pressures and stresses of the workplace, disputes become not only inevitable, but costly.
A global study from 2008 found that on average, employees spend roughly 2.1 hours each week dealing with conflicts at work. That equates to approximately one day each month in lost productivity.
The study also found that letting such disputes go unaddressed can lead to personal attacks, physical sicknesses, and project failures.
That's why workplace conflict resolution is a key area for mediation. A growing number of business leaders are using mediation to resolve corporate conflicts and restore harmony at the office.
Whether you’re an aspiring mediator, HR professional, or business manager, there are proven mediation techniques you can use to defuse conflicts and build a healthier work environment.
Start by following these seven key steps.
1. Bring both parties together
Don't choose a meeting place that's associated with one side or the other. It's important to find a neutral locale that's both quiet and private. Each party in the dispute needs to feel safe enough to express themselves fully and honestly.
Hayley MacPhail, an experienced mediator and instructor, explains the importance of setting the stage for effective talks.
"As mediators, we create a safe and supportive environment for clients to do the really hard work of moving away from conflict and hurt, toward resolution and peace."
2. Lay out the ground rules
Explain that your role as a mediator is to guide the group toward a mutually beneficial outcome. You aren’t there to assign blame or impose a solution.
Encourage participants to focus on the problem they share, rather than point fingers at one another.
Make it clear that aggressive behavior and language will not be tolerated. Ask everyone to be respectful and treat each other with dignity.
3. Find the root cause of the conflict
Before you can move forward, you have to make sure everyone understands what the real problem is. In many cases, what started as a minor disagreement has festered and gotten worse over time. Tensions are high and emotions run strong.
For instance, a customer service rep may be outraged by what they describe as a shoddy product offering from an incompetent development team. But you need to get past the anger to uncover the core issue.
Once the complainer runs out of steam, it may become clear that the real problem is that the developer never answered the rep's emails or returned any phone calls. The rep now faces a slew of irate customers and is concerned for their job.
Every dispute has an underlying, often hidden root cause. Mediators read between the lines and ask open questions to bring those thorny issues to light.
4. Actively listen as each side has their say
Make sure each person has enough time and space to air their views. Steer away from attacking or blaming. And don't let any one person dominate the conversation.
Give each speaker your complete attention. Summarize and repeat back what's been said to make sure you understand.
If the participants feel you are genuinely interested in seeing things from their point of view, they will be more inclined to trust your leadership and participate in finding a resolution.
5. Establish a desired outcome
Talk about what each party hopes to get out of the process. The idea is to get both sides to agree on a shared goal. That way, everyone knows what they're striving for.
So do some brainstorming. In workplace conflict resolution, it's safe to say that everyone wants a calmer and more harmonious job environment.
But what else can both parties agree on? What common aims would benefit both sides?
6. Get participants to suggest potential solutions
Look for a course of action that each side can live with. Discard any options that the group deems unworkable.
Formal dispute resolution training is a great way to learn techniques for guiding disputing parties toward mutually beneficial solutions. Hayley explains:
"Students learn how to ask goal-oriented and future-oriented questions so clients can move forward and begin discussing goals and strategies for change. The client has the answer to their problem—and it is our role to bring forth those moments of awareness and revelation."
7. Agree on a resolution and what must be done to make it happen
Once both parties have agreed on an acceptable solution, they need to own it. Have each participant acknowledge their responsibilities.
That might be as simple as having them explain what specific actions they'll take to resolve the dispute. Or you might decide to create a written agreement that specifies tasks, obligations, and timelines.
The bottom line: Some workplace disputes are much tougher to resolve than others. But there is no question that following a standard framework like this will bring you closer to your goal.
Eager to expand your workplace conflict resolution skills?
Explore the Mediation and Dispute Resolution certificate from Kompass.
It's a 12-week mediation course that's delivered entirely online. The certificate is accredited by both the ADR Institute of Canada and the ADR Institute of Ontario and fulfills the training component needed to achieve the Qualified Mediator designation.
This training is ideal for people who want to become certified mediators as well as those who simply want stronger conflict resolution skills for work and life.
Click on the link below for complete course details or to chat live with an admissions advisor. We're here to help!