Your DIY Guide to Mediating Conflict at Work – When to Call a Pro

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For some workplace conflicts you definitely need an experienced independent mediator to help you mitigate risk and maximise the chances of a successful outcome. But for other conflicts, you can probably achieve a pretty good outcome by getting stuck in yourself. Learn how to mediate a conflict with this ‘by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ mediation guide. In this article you’ll learn about the types of cases that are probably suitable for you to handle and the ones to steer clear of.

When to Call Pro

There are three criteria that can help determine whether you need to hire the services of a professional mediator or whether it’s safe to have a go yourself.

Length of Time

The earlier you can catch a conflict the better, nipping something in the bud, so to speak is often far easier than mediating between 2 people who have been ‘at it’ for a couple of years and have anchored themselves deep in their trenches with enough resources to sit it out for bloody battle. A swift intervention is helpful because the conflict or incident that triggered the conflict will be relatively fresh in their minds reducing the likelihood of any data (their observations and experiences) being contaminated by the passage of time and morbid fantasies. So if it’s long in the tooth then tread carefully and consider calling in a pro.

Seniority

Intervening in a conflict between two senior managers can be a sensitive matter, partly because there ‘s often an implicit expectation in most organisations that senior managers should have the skills and maturity to resolve the conflict themselves but also it often involves ‘face saving’. So working with an independent mediator at least affords them some reassurance that the substantive nature of their conflict will be kept confidential. So I’m not suggesting you avoid mediating these conflicts, test the water and speak to both senior managers involved to gauge their willingness to talk with you.

Substantive Nature of the Conflict

Most workplace conflicts begin over a seemingly trivial matter like not returning a stapler or not replacing the milk in the communal office fridge. However there are conflicts that are more sinister in nature, I don’t necessarily mean that there’s anything sinister about the intent and maybe sinister isn’t the right word. What I mean is, the issues are just more weighty or serious. And in these circumstances the risks of mishandling the mediation are too significant. The kinds of things I’m referring to are conflicts where allegations of discrimination, harassment or bullying exist. For these cases I would strongly recommend calling on the services of a professional mediator.

Golden Opportunities for Mutual Learning

By in large, from my experience, most workplace conflicts are golden opportunities for you to help the key protagonists involved to think differently about their conflict and learn from their experience. So catch them early,  don’t be put off by seniority but test the water and if the risks are high for you, the parties and your organisation jump straight on the phone to a professional.

In the next post I’ll walk you through step-by-step the process of getting the parties buy-in to mediating. If you want to be notified of the next post you can subscribe via email (by entering your name and email address in the box to the right or by clicking the big orange RSS Feed icon to the right.

Want to read more on mediation? Then click this link: Mediation Articles

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