How do I go about mediating a dispute?

You have to step in as a mediator when the confrontation not only keeps the two parties from working well together but also creates disruption in your department.

Mediation is a five-step process:

1. Identify the source of the conflict.

2. Look beyond the incident.

3. Look for solutions.

4. Identify answers that both parties can support.

5. Reach agreement.

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1. Identify the sources of the conflict. The more information you have about the disagreement, the more you can help your employees resolve their differences. To get the information you need, ask each person how the argument began. Your intent is to give each party to the conflict an opportunity to share his or her side of the story. This will enable you to better understand the nature of the situation, as well as prove your impartiality in the conflict. As you listen, demonstrate that you are actively listening by nodding your head and periodically saying "I see" or "Uh huh."

2. Look beyond the incident. It isn't always the situation but the parties' perspective on the situation that causes the anger to fester and ultimately leads to a shouting match or other visible—and disruptive—evidence of a conflict.

As mediator, try to get the two individuals to identify the real cause of their difficulty. Ask, "What do you think happened here?" Or, "When do you think the problem between you two first began?"

3. Look for solutions. After you have each party's perspective on the conflict, the next step is to have each individual identify how the situation could be changed. Your goal, again, is to get the disputants to share their opinions: "How can you make things better between you?"

Listen to their responses. Look for solutions that would steer the discussion away from finger pointing and toward a resolution of the differences between the disputants.

4. Identify answers that both -parties can support. You want to identify the course of action that is most acceptable to both parties and, as important, truly doable. You want an answer to the following questions: "What action plan can you both put in place to prevent a similar conflict from arising between you?" "What will you do if a problem arises in the future?" You want to reach the kind of accord where the answer to the latter question is, "Discuss it."

5. Reach agreement. As mediator, you want to reach the point where your employees are able to shake hands and agree to one of the solutions that was identified in the discussions. To be sure that the two understand each other, it might be wise for each to paraphrase what the other has agreed to, in your presence.

Critical to your success in mediating any dispute is your ability to remain neutral.

Being neutral means not voicing an opinion, ensuring that everyone involved in the conflict is heard, and preventing one party in the conflict from attacking the other. You need to choose your words carefully so that you do not seem to be supporting one side or another. You also have to keep confidences—you can't tell one side something that the other has told you in confidence.

How can I get things back on track after I have an argument with an employee?

Conflicts don't arise without cause, and they usually don't disappear until that cause is addressed. If the conflict isn't resolved, or at least its effects aren't tempered, then the conflict can return and even escalate.

Consequently, to get things back on track, you have to attempt to put the conflict behind you, which means putting an end to it. To accomplish this:

- Make an effort to understand the other person's viewpoint.

- Look for a basis of agreement.

- Find a solution.

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Make an effort to understand the other -person's viewpoint. Whether you are upset with another person or that person is angry with you, the same advice is applicable. You need to hear out the other person. Ask why she thinks that way. Even paraphrase what was said to be sure that you understand. It doesn't mean that you agree, only that you now know where the other individual is coming from.

Look for a basis of agreement. You may not agree with the other person's viewpoint, but you need some starting point for discussion. It may be solely that the other person is upset by your behavior or that you are angered by his. Don't dredge up past grievances. Rather, acknowledge a problem and a need to improve your relationship.

Find a solution. The third and final step is to show your willingness to close the gap in thinking or otherwise eliminate the differences between you. This means identifying a solution that is acceptable to both of you.

Thereafter, treat the other individual as you would if no conflict had arisen between you.

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