Invariably conflicts or disputes arise between employees for a variety of reasons. Often the best solution is for the two parties to determine how to work amicably with one another. However, sometimes these issues simmer over time or become caustic in nature. As a manager or peer this can poison a work environment. As a leader you may be called upon to work with the parties to help them come to a solution that everyone as a minimum can live with going forward. The hope would be to come to a solution where everyone is pleased with the final outcome. In reality often times the final solution maybe anywhere between these two extremes. So, how can you do this?
How to use mediation to resolve disputes between employees
Real world scenario may involve you, your boss, peers, employees, or others. What are you to do when you are involved, caught in the middle, or side with one of the participants? It is hard to be objective. You may have a stake in the outcome related to office politics, your pay or bonus, other social concerns, or environmental impacts as just some the obstacles that you or others are also concerned about. Emotions can run high. At times like this a trained mediator in conflict resolution with experience in these areas can be an extremely valuable resource. The mediator can build trust with the parties, remain neutral, treat all conversations as confidential, and help the participants to de-escalate, listen to each other and focus on interests.
Techniques to consider
Mediation techniques can help to diffuse the situation and help everyone focus on work. Instead of using authoritarian techniques to tell others what to do, mediation allows participants to be heard and to share in the decision making process. As a leader your role is complex. Unlike a true neutral outside mediator, you have to not only address this concern, but future relationships and other complexities associated with the firm, your team and the individuals involved.
As a manager and a leader, you have to adapt your mediation skills to the situation.
If the parties all agree that they respect your authority and impartial decision making and you feel empowered to mediate you should be fine. The question is do you? Here are six identified bases of social power for you to consider according to this article from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation. I have reordered them and, in some cases, given them different titles reflecting my own personal observations as a mediator with over 2,500 mediations, negotiations, and facilitations.
1. Relationships - Influence
Your relationship with the parties and your ability to influence them is critical to this question. If you have a strong, authentic, connecting relationship that you have established with time you are ahead of the game. By comparison if you have someone new and you have not had time to develop this type of a relationship, there may concerns about trust. Being consistent, demonstrating compassion, and the parties seeing you as competent not only technically, but on these matters too, are important.
2. Rewards and recognition
Consider rewards and recognition, timing, and perceptions by the recipient, your team, and others. For recognition consider thanking each team member weekly for something specific for what they have done. Get them the resources they need from their perspective. Give employees the chance to shine in leadership and acknowledgment. When providing rewards in terms of cash, bonus, travel, or something else ensure that you have thought this through. Special arrangements may backfire or be seen as a bad precedent.
3. Who’s expertise?
As a front line manager, often this manager has excellent technical expertise. This is not always the case. A team lead or other members of the group may have expertise in a particular area that the front line manager does not. As management moves up the organizational chart often technical expertise diminishes. Certain professions may have specialized expertise. If you do not have the expertise others may be dismissive of your commentary if they think they know more about the situation than you.
4. Inferential power
You are familiar with organizational power related to the organization chart. However, relationships between people within the organization may cause individuals without certain organizational chart power to be power brokers based on those relationships. Depending on roles and responsibilities you could find out that you stepped on someone’s toes that has inferential power and that could come back to you negatively.
5. Collaboration with networks
Sometimes reaching out to others outside of your network can be extremely beneficial. By building coalitions, collaborating with others, and using your extended network you may be able to leverage these connections to your advantage. For example, as a new member you may reach out to a senior well respected partner or executive level person to help you with the situation. This could be as mentor to advise you or as someone that will help you directly that you know both parties’ respect.
6. Coercion – ultimate decision maker you
As the manager you have the ultimate decision making capability. As a manger mediating between employees, you can state up front that you want to work with the parties to determine the facts, the issues, their feelings (how strong parties feel about certain issues versus others) regarding the issues and their interests. Interests are the key. Behind every position is at least one interest. As you uncover interests you will discover the seeds to a solution. In the end of the parties cannot reach an agreement, you as the manager of the group will have to decide what to do. Be careful here not to be harsh in your determination. This could come back to you at a later date and cause you harm.
There you have it. What do you think? You may want to explore training in this area, apply the ideas presented here, or bring on a neutral third party well versed in conflict resolution techniques. In the end, no matter what this is a trying area. Which of any of these techniques or others have worked for you?
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]