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10 Ways to Fail as a Mediator

Whether you own a small business, manage a large one, or even just work in a setting with two other employees, chances are you are going to run into conflict in the workplace. Others may be depending on you to help solve the problem. 

 Here’s a list of what NOT to do when playing the role of mediator:

1.     After you have listened to the argument for a short time, begin to nonverbally communicate your discomfort with the discussion (e.g., sit back, begin to fidget).

It is important to remain engaged during mediation.  These employees have come to you for help; any signs of disinterest can only create more animosity and give the impression that you don’t care about helping the situation.

2.     Communicate your agreement with one of the parties (e.g., through facial expressions, posture, chair position, reinforcing comments). 

Taking sides will make one party happy, but it is going to make the other even more displeased.  Keep focus on the issues rather than the people in the disagreement.  Remaining neutral is key.

3.     Say that you shouldn’t be talking about this kind of thing at work or where others can hear you.

Employees should feel like they can come to you for support, regardless of the topic.  If the subject matter of the conflict is sensitive, arrange a meeting in a neutral setting out of the office to ensure privacy.

4.     Discourage the expression of emotion.  Suggest that the discussion would better be held later after both parties have cooled off.

If an employee is upset, discouraging emotion will often make the situation worse by making them feel like their emotions aren’t warranted.  Sometimes it is best to work through a disagreement when it is still fresh and both parties can explain exactly what is bothering them.

5.     Suggest that both parties are wrong.  Point out the problems with both points of view. 

Pointing out problems with each party is only going to make them defensive and more upset.  It is best to establish common ground and focus on what both parties agree on.

6.     Suggest partway through the discussion that possibly you aren’t the person who should be helping solve this problem.

This implies that you don’t care enough to help solve the problem.  If you’re the manager and you aren’t the person to solve the problem, they might start to question your competence.

7.     See if you can get both parties to attack you.

The thought behind this strategy suggests that the parties will focus on being mad at the mediator and potentially collaborate together; however, it does not aim to solve the real problem, just serves as a distraction for a short amount of time.

8.     Minimize the seriousness of the problem.

Even if you don’t think the problem is that big of a deal, it is never a good idea to minimize what someone else is passionate about.  Everybody sees things differently and if you as a manager cannot express empathy, employees might start shying away from coming to you when they are in a bind.

9.     Change the subject (e.g., ask for advice to help you solve one of your problems).

Again, this is not a proactive way to work through a disagreement; maintain focus on the problem at hand.

10.   Express displeasure that the two parties are experiencing conflict (e.g., imply that it might undermine the solidarity of the work group).

Yeah, you may be disappointed with the conflict, but that’s not here, nor there.  Neither party probably likes being in conflict, so stating your displeasure with it doesn’t do anything to help the situation.

What do all of these guidelines have in common?  They don’t focus on solving the problem!  As a mediator, it is most beneficial to concentrate on the issues more than anything else.  Sure it’s easy to look at these tips and say, “Yeah, okay, I’m not going to do these things,” but a lot of the time, we don’t even know we’re doing them!  So be aware the next time a conflict surfaces and keep your focus on the problem rather than creating distractions.

Content contributed by Leigh Cameron, AKSourceLink.
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