How To Mediate Conflict in the Workplace (With 9 Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 20, 2022

Published December 12, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Knowing how to mediate conflict in the workplace is essential for every employee because some conflict is eventually going to occur whenever people with different expectations and needs work together. Conflict management is critical for helping you avoid arguments, disputes, lasting conflicts or even litigation. By negotiating to find solutions that are best for both parties, you can resolve most conflicts in their earliest stages.

In this article, we discuss the mediation process and explain how to mediate conflicts at work.

What is employee mediation?

Employee mediation is a confidential, informal, voluntary process where a neutral party helps to resolve a conflict. It allows people to settle disputes and discuss their issues. A mediator can deescalate problems and encourage the people involved to express their concerns while respecting each other’s views.

Since mediation favors open dialogue and different perspectives, it is particularly useful for resolving interpersonal struggles between coworkers. When companies resolve disputes quickly, the company can avoid litigation costs and preserve relationships with customers and employees.

Related: Four Common Types of Team Conflict and How To Resolve Them

Steps to take in conflict mediation

Mediation helps leaders create work environments that will allow their businesses to be successful and help their staff members thrive. It keeps disagreements from damaging the organization’s positive culture and harming the entire business. Here are some typical steps for employee mediation:

  • The people involved sit down with the mediator to discuss the conflict.

  • The mediator describes the purpose of the mediation and its goals.

  • Each person describes their view of the conflict without comments or interruptions from the other party. This should be a short discussion that makes everyone clear about the disagreement and exactly which views conflict. You should intervene if either person attacks the other.

  • The mediator gathers information by listening to all sides.

  • The mediator looks for common ground, identifies issues and helps both parties decide how to settle them together.

  • The mediator asks each participant to describe the actions they would like to see the other party take. Three or four suggestions work well. For example, someone could say they want another employee to send their weekly report sooner to avoid delays and make sure that everyone can meet their deadlines. A staff member could also ask to work exclusively with a particular client instead of dividing the work with someone else. That way, they can avoid confusion and help work go faster.

  • All parties reach an agreement and commit to making the changes needed to resolve the conflict.

Related: 9 Key Steps for Conflict Resolution at Work

How to mediate conflict in the workplace

The basic process of mediation will be greatly improved and yield more productive results by following these important tips. Whether you are a mediator or one of the parties involved in the conflict, you should:

1. Stay calm

Empathize with others, and keep in mind that everyone has their own stresses and issues at work and at home. Consider if any personal problems might be a factor contributing to this conflict. Stay calm and be cheerful and reassuring when possible. Use mediation as an opportunity to show your leadership skills.

2. Listen to understand

During disputes, many people only listen to opponents so they can formulate opposing arguments. If you listen to understand, you may realize that some of the other person’s points are correct. Anger is often a defense mechanism that people use to cover up hurt or fear. To diffuse people’s anger, you need to listen to them and let them vent until they start to calm down. Then, they will begin to feel safe enough to tell you about the real source of their frustration.

Use active listening to show you are engaged and sympathetic. This means giving active nonverbal and verbal signs that you understand what the other person is saying. Nodding, saying ”OK” or asking a few questions can make others feel heard. You can say things like:

  • “That sounds frustrating.”

  • “I’m sorry you had so much trouble with that. We will make sure that it does not happen again.”

  • “What about that bothered you so much?”

  • “Why was that so important to you?”

Each participant in conflict resolution should feel they are fully heard. Listen carefully and avoid interruption. Invite participants to provide additional details about the problem. The more details you have, the better positioned you will be to find a solution that fits. While listening, try to find similarities between opposing parties and focus on resolving problems with these in mind.

Read more: 6 Ways To Overcome Listening Barriers

3. Be tactful

By helping people understand your perspective in a respectful way, you will be able to elicit a more receptive response from them. If you are mediating, ensure opposing parties understand that the discussion must be respectful and that opinions should not be stated as fact.

When possible, compliment people before giving criticisms. For example, you could tell a landscaper:

“The yard in front of the office looks excellent, but I noticed that some of the bushes on the side of the building near the road are getting tall. Can you trim them a little next time you visit?”

Or as the mediator between employees, you could compliment both parties and set a tone for them to do the same. For example, you could address both employees:

Samantha, I know you always prioritize customer service, so it is surprising that you forgot to call a customer back.”

And John, I know you are a great team player and committed to supporting your team, so this is surprising that you felt Samantha wasn’t following through.”

Related: 5 Conflict Management Styles and How To Use Them Effectively

4. Focus on the future, not on the past

Instead of focusing on what went wrong or who should have prevented a mistake, talk about what can be done to solve the problem and keep it from happening again in the future. Companies can look at the past to analyze exactly what went wrong, but resolving the existing problem should be your first priority.

Read more: 5 Ways To Achieve Goals in the Workplace

5. Ask the right kinds of questions

If you want someone to answer you honestly, make sure they understand why you need an answer. Tell the person exactly why you are asking, and put your intent first so they don’t have to guess it. Be polite and invite others to tell you what they think is important about the situation. This lets the people you interact with know you are trying your best to do your job, find a solution and make everyone satisfied.

For example, instead of saying, “Tell me why you feel unsupported by your team members” you could give more context by saying, “Tell me why you feel unsupported by your team members, so as a team we can better support you and our goals.”

6. Pick your battles

Being defensive or arguing points that will not matter long-term can make people angry at each other and keep them from reaching a productive conflict resolution. Ask both parties how important each issue is to them on a scale of one to 10.

If something is a two to one employee but an eight to the other employee, help the employee with the lower priority concede the point. That way, the employee with the higher priority will be more willing to make changes to a product or service that is more important to the employee with the lower priority.

7. Offer multiple solutions

When possible, give people a choice between several solutions. When people have more than one positive choice, they will feel more like you are trying to help. They will also feel more empowered. For example, if a manager in your office does not feel like their team member supported them in a project, you can say:

“I am sorry you felt that Sarah did not support you in your project goals. Perhaps, we could have Sarah report to you weekly or check in with you to ask about your goals more often.”

8. Be creative and confident

Remember that all issues are negotiable. Brainstorm, come up with creative resolutions and consider all alternatives. The best solutions are ones in which all parties feel heard and respected and will motivate them to be more productive.

Try asking your employees open-ended questions to get them thinking about a potential compromise, resolution and goals. Listen carefully to their answers and follow up with actions you can take to put these ideas to work.

Related: Conflict Resolution Skills: Definition and Examples

9. Avoid confrontation

Avoid confrontations between employees by resolving disputes before the situation becomes urgent. Also, do not meet separately with two employees who are having a dispute. You could give the impression that you favor one person over the other. Everyone involved in a conflict should meet together so they can discuss all issues and gain a clear understanding of how the other party feels.

Learning how to mediate conflict is an essential skill for business owners and managers. It can help you keep your business running smoothly, make employees more productive by eliminating distractions and keep all of your workers satisfied. Mediating conflicts can even help people relax, trust each other and work well together as a team.

Related: FAQ: Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

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