How To Keep The Mediator Away!
You may get a heart-sink when you are asked to support with a disagreement between employees. It may land on your desk as a fully-fledged conflict and you wonder how on earth the situation escalated in this way.
It may be time to bring in a mediator to support with a facilitated discussion to get ‘Rosie’ and ‘Bob’ talking.
It’s true that this situation may have been inevitable - but let’s step back with some tips about what you could do to keep the mediator away…
Spend time listening to informal complaints
Your first instinct may be to step back when ‘Bob,’ who reports to you, comes to complain about ‘Rosie.’
Maybe you feel that you don’t want to take sides as you work well with both of them. Maybe, on principle, you feel uncomfortable listening to negative stories which you perceive as gossip.
Maybe it just irritates you that ‘Rosie’ and ‘Bob’ aren’t getting along and you don’t want to get involved in what you perceive to be petty fare ups in the team.
There may be validity to your concerns but, equally, it would be wise to lend a sympathetic ear to the person who’s talking to you. You don’t have to take sides by listening.
If ‘Bob’ has taken the time to talk to you, then it’s a problem for him. Whatever you hear, you will benefit from understanding what’s going on with your employees and you may want to decide to do more on the basis of that.
Spend time early on in a conflict
You’re likely to be busy. You may perceive that spending precious time with two people who have fallen out is a time drain. There are simply so many other more productive things you could be doing.
The truth is that time spent supporting ‘Rosie’ and ‘Bob’ early on in their conflict will pay dividends later. Two precious hours spent talking to key team members about their relationship is not a lot.
After all, if it escalates there will be time spent on HR processes, a potential loss in productivity, possible sickness absences and, in the worst-case scenario, resignations or an Employment Tribunal.
Step into the situation
Once you recognise that something has broken in the relationship between your colleagues, you may be keen to start.
But then you hesitate.
Do you speak to ‘Rosie’ and ‘Bob’ together or separately? Maybe you feel scared that you might make a bad situation worse? It can be tempting to hope that it will just disappear of its own accord.
Unfortunately, the longer you leave an issue, the worse it’s likely to get. Grumbles can turn into gripes and gripes can turn into grievances.
Take advice from HR or from another colleague or specialist about what to do if you’re unsure. You’re more than capable of opening up a conversation with your colleagues.
It may feel uncomfortable and even be emotionally exhausting. However, the benefits are that it clears the air, and there is a chance that a solution can be found before trust between ‘Rosie and ‘Bob’ breaks down.
You won’t know it all
Although you may know your colleagues well, you can’t ever know everything about what’s affecting them. Be careful not to jump to conclusions, especially about who is to ‘blame.’
All sorts of surprising things have emerged from the mediations I have facilitated. By sharing information, this has shed new light on challenging relationships such as an undisclosed disability, and that illness and stress have led to behaviour changes.
Listen to those in the conflict and ask them: ‘And what else has a bearing on this that you haven’t yet explained to me?’
Put workplace relationship issues to the top of your list, it’s time well spent nipping situations in the bud – and prioritising a harmonious working environment.
Allegra Stone is a Workplace Mediator and Coaching Psychologist who has worked in the health, creative, scientific, aeronautical, charitable, and academic sectors.
She can be found at: