Workplace Conflict Resolution

Steps in Mediating Workplace Conflict for Effective Resolution

Business persons handshaking on a business meeting

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Managers Must Intervene in Conflict Resolution

Organization leaders are responsible for creating a work environment that enables people to thrive. If turf wars, disagreements, and differences of opinion escalate into interpersonal conflict, you must intervene immediately with conflict resolution mediation.

Not intervening is not an option if you value your organization and your positive culture. In conflict-ridden situations, your mediation skills and interventions are critical.

We're not talking about the daily disagreements that employees may experience at work. Most employees will get over and past those fairly quickly. But, a long-lasting conflict that is negatively affecting work and the people who work with the employees in conflict must be resolved.

This kind of conflict can pose a challenge for a manager because your employees are demonstrating that they can't resolve it alone and the manager's intervention is needed and critical for workplace harmony and productivity.

Actions to Avoid in Mediating a Conflict Resolution

As a manager, these suggestions should help you to effectively mediate conflict when your employees have demonstrated that they cannot do it on their own.

Don't Avoid Conflict Resolution

Do not avoid the conflict, hoping it will go away. It won't. Even if the conflict appears to have been superficially put to rest, it will rear its ugly head whenever stress increases or a new disagreement occurs.

An unresolved conflict or interpersonal disagreement festers just under the surface in your work environment. It bubbles to the surface whenever enabled, and always at the worst possible moment. The unresolved conflict has an impact on any employee who works with or who is associated with the employees who are in conflict.

Do Not Meet Separately With Employees Involved in a Conflict

Do not meet separately with people in conflict. If you allow each individual to tell their story to you, you risk polarizing their positions. The person in a conflict has a vested interest in making himself or herself right if you place yourself in the position of judge and jury. The sole goal of the employee, in this situation, is to convince you of the merits of their case.

Your Other Employees Need You to Mediate a Conflict Resolution

Do not believe, for even a moment, that the only people who are affected by the conflict are the participants. Everyone in your office and every employee with whom the conflicting employees interact is affected by the stress.

People feel as if they are walking on eggshells in the presence of the antagonists. This contributes to the creation of a hostile work environment for other employees. In worst-case scenarios, your organization members take sides and your organization is divided.

How to Mediate a Conflict Resolution: Begin the Meeting

Interested in what to do to resolve the conflict? These are the steps you'll want to take to help employees to resolve conflicts in your workplace.

  • Meet with the antagonists together. Let each briefly summarize their point of view, without comment or interruption by the other party. This should be a short discussion so that all parties are clear about the disagreement and conflicting views. Intervene if either employee attacks the other employee. This is not acceptable.
  • Ask each participant to describe specific actions they’d like to see the other party take that would resolve the differences. Three or four suggestions work well. An example is, “I’d like Mary to send the report to me by Thursday at 1 p.m. so I can complete my assignment by my due date of Friday at noon.”
    A second example is, “I would like to have responsibility for all of the business development and follow-up with that client. The way our work is divided now causes Tom and me to never know what the other person is doing.”
  • Sometimes, as in the second example above, you, as the manager, must own some of the responsibility for helping the employees resolve their conflict. Always ask yourself the question recommended by W. Edwards Deming, author of the 14 key principles for management for transforming business effectiveness, “What about the work situation is causing these staff members to fail?”

How to Mediate a Conflict Resolution: Continue the Meeting

  • If the situation needs further exploration, use a process adapted from Stephen Covey, the renowned consultant and author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." You need to ask each participant in the conflict resolution to additionally identify what the other employee can do more of, do less of, stop doing, and start doing.
  • All participants then discuss and commit to making the changes necessary to resolve the conflict. Commit to noticing that the other person has made a change, no matter how small. Commit to treating each other with dignity and respect. It is okay to have reasonable disagreements over issues and plans; it is never okay to have personality conflicts that affect the workplace.

How to Mediate a Conflict Resolution: Finishing the Meeting

  • Let the antagonists know that you will not choose sides. It is impossible for a person external to the conflict to know the truth of the matter. You expect the individuals to resolve the conflicts proactively as adults. If they are unwilling to do so, you will be forced to take disciplinary action that can lead to dismissal for both parties.
  • Finally, assure both parties that you have every faith in their ability to resolve their differences and get on with their successful contributions within your shared organization. Set a time to review progress.

The Bottom Line

Mediating a conflict is challenging, but as a manager or supervisor, the role of mediator comes with your territory. Your willingness to appropriately intervene sets the stage for your own success.