Mediation: The Unsung Hero in HR Conflict Resolution

By Jenny Barnes on Sep 15, 2023
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In any workplace, conflict at work between employees is inevitable. Whether they stem from differences in personalities, misunderstandings or varying perspectives, conflicts can disrupt productivity and hinder teamwork.  

Few small business owners and managers are trained in mediation. However, mastering that art will help you learn how to resolve conflict between two employees at work with the goal of fostering collaboration, mutual understanding and a harmonious work environment. 

How to Resolve Conflict Between Two Employees at Work: Mediation

Sound HR conflict resolution and conflict management strategies prevent minor disagreements from escalating into full-blown disputes that can negatively impact an entire team. Understanding how to resolve employee conflict in the workplace promptly and professionally demonstrates an owner’s or manager’s commitment to maintaining a respectful workplace culture and preserving positive relationships. 

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These steps outline how to handle conflict at work: 

1. Create a Safe Space

Reduce tension by setting the stage for open and honest communication. Choose a neutral location that ensures privacy and confidentiality and where all parties will feel comfortable during the mediation process.

Encourage employees to freely express themselves while remaining civil and treating each other respectfully. Let the employees know that, as the mediator, your role is not to choose sides but to facilitate discussion and help them achieve HR conflict resolution. 

2. Listen Actively 

Hear out each party without interruption. Allow each one to share their perspectives and emotions. Remind them that each person deserves to be heard, and encourage them to listen to each other without trying to formulate a defense. 

RELATED: How to De-Escalate a Situation at Work >>

3. Identify & Focus on the Issues

Have each party state their perceptions of the conflict. Try to pinpoint the underlying issues. Remind the employees that the goal is to achieve a shared resolution for the conflict at work.

As much as possible, maintain focus on the issue at hand, rather than allowing the discussion to devolve into blaming. Note that you, as the mediator, have a responsibility to intervene if either side starts to attack. 

4. Clarify Misunderstandings

Address any misunderstandings, misinterpretations or differences in perspective that might have contributed to the conflict. Depending on the situation, you may want to highlight each individual’s strengths and how those unique attributes contribute to the team’s success. 

5. Explore Solutions

Encourage compromise and collaborate to find mutually beneficial resolutions. One technique that can be helpful is to ask each party to suggest every idea they can think of that might help resolve the conflict.

After all options are on the table, help the employees talk through them and choose the ones that create the biggest overall win-win. This joint problem-solving approach encourages the conflicting parties to work together to arrive at a solution.  

RELATED: How to Have Difficult Conversations with Employees >>

6. Agree on & Commit to Action Steps

This is arguably the most important (and challenging) part of the workplace mediation process. Together, decide upon clear steps for resolving the conflict and preventing its recurrence.

Both parties must clearly state that they understand what is expected of them and commit to making the agreed-upon changes.

7. Follow Up

Check-in with the employees after a reasonable period of time to ensure that the actions they agreed to are consistently being taken. If they are, assure the employees you have faith in their continued ability to effectively resolve their differences.

If the agreed-to actions are not being followed, you may need to set up a follow-up discussion with one or both parties or communicate that further unwillingness to comply could result in disciplinary action. 

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Creating a Harmonious Work Environment 

Successful HR conflict management and conflict resolution create a productive work environment characterized by cohesive teams that operate effectively despite individual differences – and can prevent conflicts from ever escalating to the level that requires mediation. The following strategies can help business owners cultivate greater harmony in the workplace: 

  • Encourage open communication

    Foster an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their opinions and concerns openly. 
  • Set clear expectations

    Establish clear guidelines for behavior and performance. This reduces ambiguity that can lead to misunderstandings. 
  • Provide conflict resolution training

    Train employees on conflict resolution techniques so they know how to handle personality conflicts at work.  
  • Conduct regular check-ins 

    Regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees can help identify potential conflicts early and provide a forum for promptly addressing them.  
  • Create diverse teams

    Promote diversity and acceptance of diverse thinking within teams, as varied perspectives can lead to richer discussions and innovative solutions. 
  • Lead by example

    Model respectful behavior in your interactions with employees. Show that conflicts can be addressed without negativity. 

RELATED: Staying Out of Harm's Way - How to Handle Disgruntled Employees >>


The art of mediation is a skill every HR professional, supervisor and small business owner should master. Learning how to effectively mediate conflict between employees is not only about resolving disputes but also about fostering a culture of understanding, collaboration and respect where individuals and teams can thrive. 

For expert advice, reach out to one of our experienced HR solutions professionals today by filling out the contact form.

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Written by Jenny Barnes

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