When should you use mediation to resolve workplace disputes?

Diverse opinions, working styles and approaches to a project make your workplace strong and healthy. Unfortunately, it can also lead to clashes. As an employer, disputes among your employees can be stressful and difficult to manage. Depending on the size of your business, you may or may not have other managers and a human resources department to help you resolve the dispute. When you need help bringing two employees, or even an entire team, back together, you may want to consider mediation.

The mediation process

In short, mediation uses a neutral third party to help identify issues in a disagreement and work toward a solution that both sides will accept. The sooner you introduce mediation into a conflict, the better your chances of success. The main steps of mediation include:

  • Ground rules – Mediation works best when both parties agree to it. Start by creating ground rules, such as confidentiality, honesty, listening to the other side without interrupting and acting in good faith. Make sure everyone agrees.
  • Discuss the matter with each person separately first – Let each person share their side of the story completely. Actively listen and ask questions. Try not to make judgments on what they are saying. Ask what they hope to get from mediation.
  • Meet as a group – Summarize the issues as you understand them. Note areas of agreement, as well as disagreement. Go through each issue and give both sides time to talk. Take breaks if things get heated.
  • Creating a workable agreement – Turn the discussion toward solutions to the problems. If they have points of agreement, identify those. Ask both sides to suggest solutions until they create an agreement they can both work with, even if it doesn’t satisfy both sides completely. Put the agreement in writing, using clear, simple language to avoid confusion or misinterpretation later. Give each side a written copy.
  • If they can’t agree – You may not bring your employees to an agreement. Mediation does not always result in success. If this happens, you, as the employer, will have to decide on the best next steps to take.

When informal mediation may not be the best approach

If the matter involves more than a work-related verbal dispute, informal mediation may not be the right approach. For example, if one employee is bullying or harassing the other, that employee may need to face formal discipline and the alleged victim may not feel safe participating in mediation. In such cases, you may need to seek advice from HR or your employment attorney to create a more formal process.

Choosing a mediator

Not everyone is the right choice to act as a mediator. As the boss, your employees may not feel as if they can be completely frank with you. Choose a mediator who is a great listener and problem solver and can be truly neutral. Many companies choose to hire one of many trained mediation professionals in the Bay Area. These people spend hours learning how to bring people together toward an agreement everyone can live with.

In the end, resolving the dispute between your employees is worth the time and effort. Not only do you keep your talented employees working together, they will probably be grateful for the chance to feel heard, even if things don’t go their way.

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