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14 Things A Manager Should Never Do When Mediating A Co-Worker Dispute

1. Never Take Sides

When trying to mediate a co-worker dispute, a manager should never take sides. It is important for the manager to allow all parties the ability to share concern and what resolution they are seeking. The employee needs to know that they are heard and that the manager is supporting them in seeking resolution.

- Tania White, Canary HR Consulting

2. Don't Come In With A Decision Made

You should never come into the situation with a decision made. This will show and make it seem like you are taking sides. Come in and ask questions, and use questions rather than statements, to guide the participants toward resolution. - Alex Pantich, Upshift

3. Don't Let Bias Guide You

It is human nature to carry what you know about a person or situation with you when stepping into these settings, but in order to be effective as a mediator, it is important that you focus on the matter at hand and not allow historic behaviors or circumstances to skew the conversation. Preconceived assessments will demonstrate a bias and derail the impact you need to have in your role. - Angela Persaud, G/O Media

4. Never Embarrass Anyone

I aim to never embarrass anyone, to speak privately to each rankled colleague, to de-escalate the emotional component and bring the issue back to the facts. So when we talk afterward in a three-way conversation, or ideally the two colleagues talk directly without me, nobody feels they've been shamed. The facts as we know them and the common goals of the company need to drive our decisions. - Eric Friedman, eSkill

5. Never Make Assumptions

A manager mediating a dispute between co-workers should never make assumptions or give the appearance they are picking a side. Such behavior can be perceived as biased and unfair. It contradicts the intention of mediation. The short-term impact this behavior could have is that the employee may not feel supported, can feel attacked and can become defensive. This could potentially escalate the dispute. - Thalia Rodriguez, Providence Anesthesiology Associates

6. Don't Prescribe A Solution

A manager should never prescribe a solution because an essential part of solving a dispute is listening and asking questions so the parties can figure out a solution on their own. If a manager prescribes the solution, the dispute may be resolved in the short term but there will be no learning or growth; and the likelihood of recurrence of the same type of dispute will be high. - Olga Sanchez, GFR Services

7. Don't Dismiss An Employee's POV

A manager should never dismiss an employee's point of view or intent. They need to assume that the reason for the dispute is just as valid to both people and seek to not only understand the dispute but the rationales and experiences behind each individual's perspective. Treat people humanely and as adults, and take the time to consider. Never belittle in mediating, and look for common ground. - Russell Klosk, Accenture

8. Never Add Your Personal Opinions

As a mediator in any dispute, it is crucial to stick to the facts. Adding your personal opinions on the matter will almost always escalate the tension, and it can often make one person feel as though you are "taking sides" — the exact opposite of what it means to mediate. Steer clear of injecting your personal opinion, focus on the facts, and guide the conversation to a clear resolution. - Lindsay Gainor, Kent Power

9. Don't Use Sarcasm Or Jokes

Avoid sarcasm or jokes. At times, someone in a mediating position may have the instinct to make a joke to bring levity to a difficult situation. While these conversations can be uncomfortable, trying to make light of it may make one or both of the individuals in conflict feel they are not being taken seriously. I encourage managers to start getting comfortable with discomfort. - Bethany Kurbis, Winrock International

10. Don't Blow It Out Of Proportion

Do not overreact and blow the dispute out of proportion beyond what's actually going on between the co-workers. Some disputes are in fact petty, but get too much attention because of the players involved, the nervous style of a supervisor, hidden agendas, etc. Every organization has some level of politics at play naturally, and I'm a fan of avoiding fueling that whenever possible. - Bryan Passman, Hunter + Esquire

11. Never Downplay Employee Concerns

Never downplay the concerns of the employee who brought the issue to your attention. Even if you don't think their perspective has merit, their point of view matters, and it's important for you to try to step into their shoes, even if only for a moment. By being objective, fair and a good listener, you will be much better positioned to bring the conflict to a point of resolution for both parties. - Tracy Cote, Zenefits

12. Don't Quote Personal Anecdotes

A manager should refrain from quoting personal anecdotes or examples while mediating a dispute. A dispute typically arises as a result of two conflicting viewpoints. A personal anecdote tends to cloud the original issue and unintentionally side with one party, and it could create a feeling of not being heard. Being a good listener and allowing both parties an unbiased forum helps deflate the issue. - Vineet Gambhir, Contemporary Leadership Advisors

13. Avoid Making Comparisons

Managers should avoid making comparisons when mediating a co-worker dispute. Often, managers will try to de-escalate a conflict by providing the employees with an example of how other team members who experienced a similar situation resolved the situation. This approach minimizes the experiences of the current team members and may unintentionally create additional team conflict. - Kelly O'Connell, ON ITS AXIS

14. Don't Spend Too Much Time On It

A manager should not spend too much time on the cause of the dispute. She could try to get the consensus on the origin and then move the discussion toward the likely solutions. Too much discussion in the past about who caused it and what could have prevented it may lead to more issues than forward-looking solutions. It's hard to drive forward by looking in the rearview mirror. - Kumar Abhishek, S&P Global


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