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How to Mediate Conflict Between Staff Members

Posted by Louellen Essex on March 6, 2014 in Communication, Managing Difficult Situations, Performance Management, Team Development

In a perfect work world, employees would manage their own conflict, maturely talking through issues in a professional, respectful manner. In reality, however, they often lack the necessary communication skills as well as the initiative to discuss their differences. Managers need to intervene, helping them clear the air so they can work together more effectively. Here’s a model you can use to facilitate these discussions.

Ask each party to thoughtfully prepare.
Good preparation increases the probability that the discussion will be effective. Ask each person to write down answers to these questions:
1. What is working well between you and the other person? It’s important to acknowledge that, while not perfect, some aspects of the relationship are positive.
2. What is getting in the way of the two of you effectively working together? Ask each person to identify the barriers that are making it difficult to work together. Limit the number to the top two concerns because it’s difficult for anyone to hear a laundry list of problems.
3. What changes would you like the other person to make? Ask for two specific changes that would make the most difference.
4. What do you think the other person will say about you in response to these questions? The last question is designed to stimulate self-reflection and to “save face,” since often individuals know what the other person is likely to bring-up in the conversation. Additionally, it adds some intrigue to the discussion, as each waits to hear if their predictions were accurate.

Meet with each employee individually.
Emphasize that resolving the issues is important and that you are confident, that while it may be challenging, direct communication with each other is the first step in clearing things up. Ask them to review what they have written. Assist them in wording what they want to say in respectful language with specific examples for clarity. Help them avoid defensiveness, attacking the other person, or assigning intent to behavior. Once each employee has individually discussed their answers to the questions with you, it will be easier to communicate them to the person with whom they have conflict. Think of these meetings, in part, as rehearsals.

Meet with them jointly.
Begin by establishing some ground rules: listen carefully to each other without interrupting or arguing, ask questions if you don’t understand, keep an open mind. Then ask each to review their perceptions related to question one about what’s going well. Help each employee to be clear by asking questions to sharpen examples. Redirect if ground rules are violated. Complete the process for questions two through four.

End with a set of agreements.
Ask each person what he or she is willing to do, based on what they have heard. Help the parties negotiate options, if there is disagreement about what should change. Make suggestions if they seem stuck, but avoid dictating what should be done. Write down the agreements and review them for accuracy.

Follow-up both informally and formally.
Don’t drop the ball. Follow-up informally with each person to see if things have improved. Schedule a meeting within two weeks to facilitate a conversation about what has improved, and what needs further attention.

Facilitated discussion can be the key to resolving issues that are festering among your staff. It teaches a way to talk about conflict and builds confidence. In the end, staff members should be able to talk directly to one another, using the skills they have learned through this process.

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In these times of rapid change, leaders can never stop learning.”

Dr. Louellen Essex