How to Mediate Tough Employee Conflicts

Julie Shenkman
Posted by in Human Resources

Tough employee conflicts affect organizations of every scale, and they are costly if not dealt with immediately. According to a 2008 study by CPP Inc., U.S. employees spend an average of 2.8 hours per week dealing with unresolved conflicts. This issue quickly adds up to numerous paid hours lost to gossiping, retaliation, turf protection and other unproductive actions. Use the following conflict mediation procedures to help your employees resolve a tough issue.

Tough employee conflicts often require a mediated session to help the involved parties come to a resolution. Schedule the meeting at a time that works for both employees, and ensure the meeting location is both private and peaceful. At the beginning of the session, state the agenda, objectives and allotted time, and clearly state your role as mediator. Also lay down some ground rules, such as not allowing employees to use trigger phrases like "You don't know what you're talking about" and "That's wrong." Allow each party to explain his or her side of the story, including any relevant feelings and perceptions, without interruption. Use the information you gain to identify the issue, and discuss it with those involved to ensure you have understood the employee conflict correctly. Identify an appropriate course of action that both parties agree upon, allowing employees to make suggestions as long as they are not solely based on emotion.

While this investigative approach is often sufficient, for more difficult employee conflicts, an interest-based mediation may also be effective. After the employees have shared their perceptions and views on the matter, have them begin brainstorming possible compromises and resolutions. A workable resolution created by employees themselves is more likely to bring an end to the conflict than a resolution imposed by the mediator. For this method to work, you must keep the employees' emotions from getting in the way by creating a non-hostile atmosphere and reminding them of the bigger picture.

If the atmosphere becomes heated or hostile at any point during the employee mediation session, call a 15-minute recess to allow things to cool down before reconvening. Ensure that the mediation session ends on time, and schedule a second meeting if the employees were unable to come to a resolution. If a workable resolution is established, obtain written confirmation of each party's commitment to follow through with the agreed-upon solution. Verbally clarify how you will follow up with the employees to check on their progress.

During a conflict mediation session, verbally announce to both parties that you are impartial, and be careful not to give preference to one party, such as allowing one employee more time to tell his or her side of the story than the other. Maintaining your composure and attempting to create a calm, rational atmosphere will help you resolve employee conflicts.


(Photo courtesy of adamr /


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