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Job and Career

Mediating When Communication Breaks Down Between Coworkers

When coworkers are caught in conflict, do you know how to re-open the lines of communication without getting trapped in the fallout? Do you care—or do you just stay clear? As a leader, here’s what you can do to minimize the grumbling, reduce stress and hopefully resolve the issue:

Avoid taking sides. Work with the individuals, warn upfront you’ll be talking to both of the parties to get a clear view of the situation.

Interview the bystanders. You can only make sense of someone else’s conflict when armed with unbiased versions of events and circumstances. Observe “innocent bystanders” reactions to the situation. Probe what they observed first-hand. Identify facts. 

Handle the PR. If you can, pass along complimentary remarks from one person to the other. Sharing positive past experiences adds credibility to the relationship and helps to resolve issues more quickly. 

Offer to coach. Restate their common goals—again and again. This is particularly important if the mediation is taking a long time.

Mediate. As a last resort, assume a mediator role:

  1. Share conclusions about where the miscommunication happened
  2. Lobby for a “no-fault” resolution. Downplay blame. Conflict is inevitable. No one has to be at fault. Conflict just is. “Let’s focus on working out a resolution.”
  3. Ask them to suggest resolutions. They are most likely to follow through on their ideas—not yours.
  4. Ensure that the solution is acceptable to both parties (not a win for one and withdrawal for the other.) Your presence ensures that one person does not overpower the other.

When you have been successful in helping others in a conflict crisis, they will trust you in the future. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve deactivated a productivity problem and kept that relationship and your team in place.

Don’t let disagreements gather momentum and turn into major crises. Instead, address them ASAP. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (402) 354-8000 or (800) 666-8606.