Who Started This Fight Anyway?  7 Ways a Mediator Can Help Resolve Conflict

Who Started This Fight Anyway? 7 Ways a Mediator Can Help Resolve Conflict

by Jim Guttmann, on October 10, 2016
Everything was just fine at home until little Johnny and Billy came running through the front door shouting and shoving each other. As Mom listens to sort out whose primarily at fault she hears the inevitable pleas, “Well, he started it!”. “Did not!”. Although this example involves children, this same scenario of conflict often plays out on various levels with adults, families, organizations or nations. Well, things don’t change all that much for grown-ups!

General Tommy Franks describes a continuum of four fluid states of any given relationship as Collaboration, Cooperation, Co-existence and Conflict. In the business world, when we see conflict between employees, we often try to move those troubled working relationships along the continuum back toward levels of cooperation and ideally collaboration. But how is this done? Well, let’s first look at what often is the cause of conflict:

What typically takes place is that….
  • Expectations of one or more of the parties involved were not met
  • Someone overreacts which further compounds the problem
  • Communication breaks down
  • Lack of respect and trust is created

Does this scenario seem familiar to you? At the heart of the matter is that one or both employees may believe that they have been disrespected. Very often that is the underlying issue preventing a resolution from taking place. The actual issue at hand may only be a symptom of the underlying problem of disrespect and lack of trust.

To help resolve matters, a trained mediator can often help by facilitating a mediation process that includes these 7 objectives:

1. Properly manage the emotions associated with the conflict.

2. Require the employees to treat each other with dignity and respect, even if the best that they can do initially is to “agree to disagree” in a respectful way.

3. Get each employee to identify individual needs, interests and concerns in order to find an opportunity for common ground and compromise.

4. Move the employees off any entrenched “positions” toward where their true “interests” lie. Only then can they see their conflict in a new and different light.

5. Encourage each employee to truly listen to each other (sometimes perhaps for the first time). This may generate a variety of possible solutions to the issues at hand.

6. When possible, utilize objective criteria (e.g. does an industry standard apply) to help facilitate an agreement.

7. Remind the employees that reaching a fair resolution benefits everyone in terms of avoiding further time, expense, and effort involved in the conflict.

As the saying goes, this is the first day of the rest of your life. And much of that life is spent with your co-workers. Each employee should decide whether the investment in continued conflict over a particular issue is worth it. Would that time, energy and effort be better spent in a more productive and fruitful endeavor? What certainty is there that either employee will fully get what he or she wants or any part of it?

A skilled mediator may encourage introspection by each employee with an acknowledgement that “moving forward” is far better than being “stuck in the past” while harboring ill feelings and resentment.

As a certified county mediator, I believe that mediation done well is a true art and empowers each employee to exercise self-determination. As the mediator facilitates the negotiation process, each side may naturally feel that he/she was due more; that it wasn’t a perfect resolution. However, without a doubt, reaching a reasonable resolution through mediation is often far better than the costs of the ongoing conflict. For both parties to the conflict, in the final analysis, does it really matter who started it?
Jim Guttmann

As a LandrumHR Senior Human Resources Manager, Jim is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and has over 30 years of HR generalist experience. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Florida State University and is an active member of the Raleigh-Wake Human Resources Management Association in North Carolina. Jim is also certified as a County Mediator in the State of Florida and in the administration of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Jim is also very involved in his church community and is commissioned as Stephen Ministry Leader.

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