If you’re regularly referring employee(s) to HR, the person or group has a problem. If you’re referring to a bunch of different groups and people, your company has a problem.

That problem can be solved with effective conflict mediation. We’ve been talking a lot about worst-case scenarios on this blog- let’s look at best case scenarios and how to make them happen.

When to Mediate

In my experience, the inter-workplace disputes that can be mediated are the ones that look silly to outside parties. Here’s what I mean:

  • Bob and Jeff work together.
  • Bob and Jeff are different races.
  • Bob says something disparaging about Jeff’s race.
  • Jeff is very upset.

This is obviously NOT a situation that can simply be mediated. I’m sure most people reading this thought I was going to swing and miss here- the point is, anybody outside of that situation can agree that HR needs to get involved.

Next situation:

  • Bob and Jeff work together.
  • Jeff is very political.
  • Bob is very political.
  • Jeff and Bob talk politics and discover they disagree.
  • This causes animosity that spills into their work.

This is when you meditate; a situation where neither coworker’s rights have been compromised. There are lots of examples you could throw here-

  • Sports arguments
  • Deadlines not being met
  • Rudeness
  • Foul language
  • “I just don’t like her/him”
  • Etc

You’ll notice that these are all situations that look ridiculous to those who aren’t involved. You’ll have to resist the temptation to just tell them to grow up. Adults don’t always act like adults.

When NOT to Mediate

It’s just as important to know when a situation absolutely needs to be handled by HR. These are situations where laws are broken, workers rights are infringed, or there is an element of personal safety involved.

  • Harassment of any kind, including our first example.
  • Pay
  • Discrimination based on the membership of a protected class
  • Corporate malfeasance- really anything that might harm the company
  • Litigation
  • Any public relations issues

The purpose of an HR department is to protect the employees and protect the company. Let them do that.

How to Mediate Inter-Office Disputes

People tend to see themselves as good mediators for almost no reason and it’s baffling. Most seem to shoot for the middle ground fallacy. Essentially, they equate a compromise that meets exactly in the middle of the two positions with a solution, but it typically solves nothing. They’re missing the point.

The whole purpose of mediation is to create healthy communication. That’s it. If you haven’t already decided to take punitive action against one or both parties by the time you’re scheduling a sit-down, one of them would actually have to do something worse during the meeting (with their boss!) for you to change course. They probably won’t. So, create a situation where both parties can safely express their opinions, which doesn’t usually happen naturally between people at odds.

Even if you’ve already informed yourself of the situation, give each party an opportunity to give their account, and build a complete idea of their grievances. Your ability to recount what a person says is part of active listening. As the two parties recount their grievances, try to figure out where the communication broke down.

Your HR department should be able to help with this, especially if its a recurring problem. Even in situations where no company policy is being violated, the culture of your company is also important, and a healthy culture lends itself towards preventing more serious problems.

Materials like employee handbooks, steps taken during the hiring process, and the way you yourself choose to lead all contribute to this culture and how your employees communicate. Therefore, any mediation actually begins in how you’ve constructed the work environment.

Once you understand what the issue is, figure out how you can prevent it from recurring. Anything that actually warrants punitive measures is something the HR department should already be involved with. Here are some options:

  • Make it understood that an employee may be sensitive about a certain subject.
  • Keep those employees from working together if possible.
  • Give an employee additional training to make them more reliable or productive.
  • Ask them if they can move past it. If they say yes, do nothing.

That last one is most often the best course of action. Being called in and sitting across from your boss in a mandatory meeting should already communicate that they need to correct their behavior. It’s stressful. Assuming they’re adults, you should be able to rely on them adapting.

Further issues would warrant a visit from HR.

How Mediation Helps Settle Disputes

Healthy communication prevents the conflict from escalating into something serious. Stop the fight before it happens. It’s less headache. It’s less expensive. It gets everybody back on track.

The goal of any workplace is to do work. While conflict resolution tactics can’t replace a professional HR department, it can absolutely keep small problems small. Rather than look for information on how to react to issues, practice preventing them.

If you’re interested in conflict resolution training, or more in-depth HR services, give us a shout. We’d love to hear from you.