How to mediate conflicts (With definitions and steps)

Updated 15 May 2023

Mediation is an important workplace skill in which an impartial person helps two or more conflicting parties resolve a dispute. Effective mediation works to solve disagreements, overcome workplace challenges and improve relationships among members of your work team. Learning about what mediation is, the steps for mediating a conflict and what skills contribute to successful conflict management can help you improve your conflict resolution skills. In this article, we describe how to mediate conflicts, what makes mediation important and what skills you need to be an effective mediator.

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What is mediation?

Mediation is a process whereby an impartial intermediary, known as a mediator, helps parties resolve a conflict. Mediators help others overcome disagreements by using specialised negotiation and active listening skills. A mediator uses these skills to ensure that each member of the disagreeing parties expresses their perspectives, describes their understanding of the conflict and negotiates for their view while respecting the different perspectives of the other parties. Through this process of listening and negotiation, the mediator guides the discussion and creates an environment of mutual collaboration and problem-solving.

How to mediate conflicts

Mediating conflicts requires several steps. Here are seven steps to help you learn how to mediate conflicts:

1. Get involved early

Intervening early in an emerging conflict can reduce its impact and severity. Many supervisors and managers prefer to know about a conflict once it begins, so they can start the mediation process as soon as possible. Disputes often worsen over time, and intervening quickly can help mediators respond to the initial source of the conflict, restore the situation efficiently, prevent the conflict from intensifying and return the parties to working productively towards their goals.

2. Call a meeting with both parties

The next step is to invite both parties to a meeting to resolve the conflict. Choose a private location to ensure that the process does not distract other employees. Make sure both disputing parties are comfortable and relaxed before the meeting begins.

Related: Top 9 leadership skills to develop

3. Reduce confrontation

At the earliest possible time, create effective boundaries for the meeting. These boundaries can include rules that minimise the potential for aggression or criticism while promoting honesty, assertiveness and mutual respect. The objective is to resolve the problem and reach a point of agreement. Achieving this goal requires the mediator to encourage both parties to speak up and express their views so each side feels heard, understood and validated in their perspective.

4. Ask each party to share their side of the story

Give each employee equal time to share their perspective without interruption. Be ready to intervene if either party becomes disruptive. During this stage of the process, ensure you're listening and showing active interest in both parties. Doing so helps you to identify the root cause of the dispute, prepares you to proffer solutions to it and shows unbiased care for all sides of the disagreement.

5. Identify points of agreement

While both parties share their perspective on the dispute, identify the underlying problem. Also, note where both parties share similar viewpoints. Make them aware of the opinions they both share. Helping the parties find points of agreement can reinforce their confidence that a realistic solution is available for their dispute.

6. Encourage them to see each other's points of view

Next, encourage both parties to see each other's points of view. Often, the cause of conflict is the inability of one employee to see the viewpoint of the other. Hence, an effective conflict resolution strategy is to make each party curious to find out about the other party's perspective. When each party understands that they're mutually working towards resolving a problem, it can shift their perspective from working against each other towards a solution to working together against a problem.

7. Proffer solutions

Once both parties begin to adjust their viewpoints and feel ready to compromise their stances, move their focus from the past to the future. This means proffering solutions to their conflict. To do this, brainstorm options for resolving the disagreement. You can also ask both parties to share ideas on what they believe can bring a lasting solution to their conflict.

Why is mediation important in resolving workplace conflicts?

Mediation is important in the workplace because it reduces tension, improves problem-solving and betters the relationships between disputing parties. Learning how to mediate allows you to work with conflicting individuals to help them understand the source of their dispute, respect differences in perspective and agree to work together towards achieving mutual goals. In addition to these benefits, here are five reasons mediation is important:

It is quicker and less expensive than litigation

In many cases, internal mediation is less expensive than other dispute resolution processes. For example, litigation is a process in which a company hires a law professional to mediate a workplace dispute. Although this can be an effective option, it can also be expensive to hire a litigator to handle a conflict. Training current personnel in conflict resolution skills can save money by using the abilities of those already working for your business.

It elicits a higher level of compliance from parties

The mediation process engages the conflicting parties and guides them to take responsibility for their contributions to the dispute. It also holds them accountable for developing and implementing solutions for the problem. The mediator functions as a guide who helps them arrive at this mutual conclusion. When the disputing parties accept responsibility for their part in the conflict and take ownership over their role in finding a solution, they may feel more compliant with implementing solutions.

It ensures a healthy working environment

Conflicts take a physical, emotional and mental toll on the workers in a workspace. In addition to affecting the disputing parties, it can affect the morale of other team members. Mediation facilitates a healthy and peaceful work environment by minimising the impact of internal disagreements. Good mediation promotes improved work conditions, which can increase employee retention, wellbeing and productivity.

It is private and confidential

Conflicts persist sometimes when parties worry about losing respect from their coworkers. Mediation provides a private and confidential process for dispute resolution. As a result, parties can express their views and settle their disagreements without fear of another colleague becoming privy to it.

It helps to preserve employees' ongoing relationships

Mediation provides a safe platform for parties to communicate and understand each other's standpoint. This ultimately improves the relationships of all employees by helping them identify points of common interest. Additionally, once the parties go through the process of mediation, they may improve their own conflict resolution skills. By learning these skills through their experience with mediation, they can use them to improve their own relationships beyond the original dispute.

Related: 10 valuable soft skills that you need to succeed in your career

Skills for mediating workplace conflict

To conduct effective employee mediation, both employers and employees need to have conflict resolution skills. Here are some skills that contribute to effective conflict management:

Active listening skills

Active listening is the ability to pay complete attention to what a person is saying. The goal of active listening is to understand the person's perspective fully. By actively listening to all parties in the mediation process, you can better determine the cause of the dispute. This understanding provides a foundation for finding a solution to the conflict. Additionally, mediators can model active listening, which may help the disputing parties learn this technique and improve their own conflict resolution skills.

Read more: How to improve your active listening skills

Communication skills

A mediator who possesses communication skills knows when to listen and when to intervene. They also know how to ask follow-up questions and are tactful when expressing their opinion to avoid misunderstanding. Improving your communication skills also helps you to read verbal and non-verbal cues.

Read more: How to improve your communication skills

Problem-solving skills

Resolution of conflicts in the workplace requires an objective approach. A problem-solver uses their creativity and analytical thinking abilities to identify potential solutions to complex challenges. To solve problems effectively, mediators collect information from all parties involved in the dispute, guide them through processing this information and help them assess potential solutions that allow them to work towards mutual goals.

Emotional intelligence

Another important conflict resolution skill is emotional intelligence. This is the capacity to understand other people's viewpoints. Being emotionally aware helps you to be empathetic to other people's feelings. At the same time, you're conscious of the fact that your actions influence other people. Understanding the viewpoints of several people and knowing how your own actions guide the mediation process allows you to respond effectively during a conflict.

Neutrality and impartiality

By displaying unbiasedness and fairness, mediators can successfully build trust with the parties in the resolution process. Actions such as giving each party the same level of attention and equal time to speak are ways of showing neutrality. When all participants feel they've had equal time to express their perspectives, they may feel listened to, validated and respected.

Read more: What are conflict resolution skills? Definition and examples

Other conflict resolution skills

Here are 10 more conflict resolution skills to improve your mediation:

  • Teamwork

  • Stress management

  • Negotiation

  • Patience

  • Empathy

  • Assertiveness

  • Accountability

  • Leadership

  • Responsibility

  • Analytical thinking

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