Workplace Mediation: How to Resolve Conflicts at Work

Updated 22 May 2023

Mediation is an essential form of conflict management that can help you resolve disputes that might arise in the workplace. A good workplace mediator has the ability to negotiate with different employees and find solutions for informal workplace problems before they escalate further. If you're looking to develop your conflict resolution skills, you may benefit from learning how to execute mediation in the workplace. In this article, we explain what workplace mediation is before demonstrating how to use it to resolve disputes in an organisation.

Related: What Does a Mediator Do? (With Mediation Process Steps)

What is workplace mediation?

Workplace mediation is a voluntary, informal and confidential conflict management process commonly used to resolve workplace disputes in their early stages of development. Mediation in the workplace is used to arbitrate and settle an altercation between employees in a confidential manner. It may involve a neutral employee acting as the mediator and providing an independent assessment and evaluation of the scenario. The mediator can help employees understand each other's perspectives on a situation by encouraging open dialogue and the expression of personal concerns.

Mediation is most effective when resolving issues between employees, rather than issues employees might have with company policies or procedures. Company-based mediation aims to de-escalate the situation quickly, preserve employee relationships and avoid disputes being taken through formal litigation processes.

Related: What Is Conflict Resolution?

How to undergo workplace mediation

Mediation is an effective tool for creating a productive and positive work environment. Successfully mediating disputes before they escalate further helps you to create a more positive atmosphere in the workplace. It can also build and maintain more open employee relationships. For managers, informal mediation also helps avoid costly and time-consuming formal procedures that could result in employment tribunals.

The outcome of mediation in the workplace can be improved by building on your conflict resolution techniques. The following steps detail how to implement effective workplace mediation to resolve conflict:

1. Invite employees to discuss their disputes together

If two of your team members are having a dispute in the workplace, it can be helpful to sit them down together in the same room. As a workplace mediator, it's your role to facilitate their discussion together, rather than talking to each of your colleagues individually. Try to encourage them to discuss their concerns in a joint conversation, as it promotes an open environment where employees are more likely to disclose their true feelings.

2. Clearly explain what the goal of mediation is

At the start of the discussion, it can be beneficial to clearly outline the objectives of the mediation. The mediator may run through the itinerary of the process by detailing key points of conversation. As a mediator, you may mention how you hope to arrive at a fair solution that suits all parties.

It may be helpful to set out any rules for the mediation, such as who may talk and when. You might remind participants that this is an informal setting to help them feel comfortable speaking their minds. As a mediator, you may find it useful to clearly state your role in the process, so participants understand that you're a neutral party.

3. Remain calm throughout the mediation process

It's essential to remain calm throughout the mediation process. As the workplace mediator, it's your responsibility to remain impartial by maintaining an optimistic outlook and reassuring attitude toward the situation. To help you mediate effectively, try to be empathetic towards each party.

4. Employ active listening skills to better understand the dispute

As a neutral arbitrator, it's integral that you attempt to understand both sides of the argument. You can do this by employing active listening skills during the mediation process. Active listening allows you to comprehend why employees are disputing and gives them the confidence to open up.

You may encourage each party to speak by showing that you're engaged in the discussion. Reactive body language such as nodding your head and asking pertinent questions can show that you're listening attentively. Participants who feel like you can empathise with them may be more willing to accept a resolution you suggest.

5. Avoid interruptions throughout the mediation process

As an independent mediator, you need to enable each participant to speak without interruptions, to maintain peace. Avoid cutting into the conversation unless it's necessary, as this sets a positive example of how the mediation might proceed. Also, encourage your team members to speak one at a time. A lack of interruptions can ensure each participant has provided their full and honest opinion. Mediators can control the conversation by reassuring each party that their point is valid.

6. Focus on the future rather than focusing on what has happened

When mediating conflict in the workplace, it can be beneficial to focus on future outcomes. To keep the conversation productive and positive, you can draw attention to the mutual objectives of each member and relevant company values. Mediators can increase the productivity of the mediation by steering the conversation toward an agreed resolution.

7. Focus on what's important to each of the parties involved

It can be helpful to focus on what's important to each of the parties involved when you're mediating conflict in the workplace. When a dispute arises, other issues which may not directly relate to the debate may become prominent. For example, an issue over which employee works particular shifts could turn into a personal dispute. As a mediator, you can manage the conversation by eliminating personal remarks and maintaining a level of professionalism. Try to focus on any conflicts that have occurred inside the workplace rather than any that may occur outside.

An activity to keep the mediation focussed on is to ask each party involved to rank each issue they have raised on a scale of one to 10. This can help you prioritise which concerns require addressing the most. In this example, you could focus on the concerns with the highest number first.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

8. Always try to offer multiple solutions

The ultimate goal of a workplace mediator is to provide effective solutions where each member agrees. In some cases, it may be necessary to devise multiple solutions to ensure resolutions are active over a longer period of time.

Providing a choice helps both parties come to a mutually agreeable outcome while also allowing both parties to feel as if they have contributed to the decision-making process. For example, if employees are arguing over who has to work on which weekends, you can draw up multiple schedules that both employees can consider together. Allow them to conclude together which schedule works best for both of them and for what reasons.

Top skills used for workplace mediation

Successful mediation requires a number of different skills that may help you to arbitrate disputes and resolve conflicts between employees. Top workplace mediators often have excellent communication, active listening and leadership skills. Here are the most important skills a workplace mediator may use:

Ability to remain impartial

To successfully resolve disputes, it's often important to remain impartial and offer an independent solution to the conflict. Successful workplace mediators often understand the importance of impartiality and are typically able to spot bias in their own actions and those involved in the workplace dispute.

Effective mediators are typically very good at understanding different perspectives. This helps workplace mediators to look at both sides of the conflict to understand and empathise with all of the parties involved.

Related: How to Grow Your Conflict Resolution Skills

Active listening skills

A good workplace mediator typically has excellent active listening skills that help them find out the core issue. Active listening skills often allow mediators to have a better understanding of what a person saying. This can be done by listening intently, asking relevant questions and demonstrating that you care about what the speaker says.

Communication skills

Workplace mediators can communicate well with colleagues from a variety of different backgrounds. Good communicators are often friendly, respectful and responsive. Workplace mediators may also encourage communication between the parties in dispute by showing empathy and impartiality through the discussion.

Related: 4 Types of Communication (With Examples)

Leadership skills

Managers usually carry out mediation in the workplace to resolve disputes in the company. These professionals can use leadership skills to guide the conversation. Good leaders can also build trust, encouraging participants to be more truthful about their feelings.

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