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How do we mediate a "cease fire" between employees?

Mediation can be an effective conflict resolution process, but not for all situations and not for all employees. Breaches of the law or organizational policies are not subject to mediation. However, mediation can be effective for workplace conflicts when the clashes are causing employee turnover, a general lack of respect among employees, or a decrease in employee morale or organizational success.

Mediation to resolve a conflict between employees should be voluntary and conducted by a facilitator who is patient, able to remain neutral and trusted by the parties. If the conflict has been severe or long-standing, the employees may not be ready to even sit in the same room with each other, never mind hear what the other has to say. It may be necessary for the mediator to have private one-on-one sessions with each employee before bringing the two together. One-on-one sessions may allow each employee to explain his or her side of the conflict. The mediator may prompt the employee to provide specific examples of complaints and may ask specific questions about why certain issues bothered him or her to help the employee better articulate the root concerns or issues. This process may help the employee begin to discuss his or her concerns in a less emotionally charged way in preparation for the mediation meeting.

Once the parties are brought together, begin by reviewing the process, expectations and ground rules for participation, including the importance of listening and respecting the other person's feelings and opinions. Mediators should remind employees that threats of violence or abusive language will not be tolerated.

Often, the parties may believe that the mediator's role is to take sides, provide solutions, or determine guilt or appropriate discipline. The facilitator should clarify that his or her role as a mediator is to establish a climate where open and respectful communication can thrive and where parties are empowered to seek solutions that are mutually acceptable and actionable.

After ground rules have been established, each party is given the opportunity to tell his or her story of how and why the conflict started and persists while the other employee listens and does not interrupt or try to present conflicting information. The mediator may use a variety of techniques to keep the conversation constructive and on track while maintaining a neutral, impartial role.

Once the parties have had the opportunity to share their side of the story, the mediator should facilitate the following steps:

  • Ask participants to restate what others have said.
  • Summarize the conflict and obtain agreement from participants.
  • Brainstorm solutions. Discuss all of the options in a positive manner.
  • Rule out any options that participants agree are unworkable.
  • Summarize all possible options for a solution.
  • Assign further analysis of each option to individual participants.
  • Make sure all parties agree on the next steps.
  • Close the meeting by having participants shake hands, apologize and thank each other for working to resolve the conflict.

Lastly, remember that mediation is not always a stand-alone process. Sometimes other reinforcements, such as an employee assistance program, may need to be called upon to assist with employee conflict resolution.


Related reading:

How to Intervene in Toxic Team Dynamics 

Don't Just Quash Conflict -- Resolve It



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