When to Mediate Disputes in the Workplace

Posted on: March 11th, 2024

When you have had interpersonal disputes among your team, have you ever needed to bring in a mediator?

If you are someone who can always stay impartial about other people’s disputes, who can get people talking productively, and who can see both sides of an argument, then maybe not: perhaps you are a born peacemaker!

But at what point might any of us need to bring in the professionals? How far should we let a workplace dispute fester before we act, and to what extent should we leave people to sort out their own battles?

It is fair to say that in most multinational, multicultural teams (or actually in all teams!), there will be fallouts and misunderstandings from time to time, probably including:

There is definitely an argument for encouraging people to sort out their own differences, and to provide training and encouragement for them to do so more effectively. Our own experience of working with diverse multinationals across Europe is that giving people the competence and confidence to address their own disputes is a great long-term strategy. However, whether through lack of skill, lack of confidence, or lack of opportunity, people do often reach the point where they need extra help to have that difficult conversation.

Specifically, when two peoples’ interpersonal dispute does not get addressed, they can each get to the stage where:

…and this is the point where an impartial third party, whether a naturally-skilled facilitator or a trained mediator, should be brought in: providing the perfect opportunity for them to clear the air, to stop either avoiding or battling each other, and to begin collaborating again.

So, our top tips for situations where people are not getting on? First, don’t ignore conflict with the expectation that it will just go away: it doesn’t; secondly, give people the skills, confidence, and opportunity to resolve things for themselves where possible, and thirdly, recognise the signs for when a dispute has gone far enough. Then it’s time to bring in the professionals.


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Becoming an Interpersonal Mediator

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