Steven Covey had the right idea. There are discreet skills and

attitudes, habits if you will, that can elevate your conflict

practice to a new level. This article shares a selection of

habits and attitudes that can transform a good conflict resolver

into a highly effective one. By that I mean someone who

facilitates productive, meaningful discussion between others

that results in deeper self-awareness, mutual understanding and

workable solutions.

I have used the term ‘conflict resolver’ intentionally to

reienforce the idea that human resource professionals and

managers are instrumental in ending disputes, regardless of

whether they are also mediators. These conflict management

techniques are life skills that are useful in whatever setting

you find yourself. With these skills, you can create

environments that are respectful, collaborative and conducive to

problem-solving. And, you’ll teach your employees to be

proactive, by modeling successful conflict management behaviors.


Since you’re the ‘go to person’ in your organization, it’s

natural for you to jump right in to handle conflict. When an

employee visits you to discuss a personality conflict, you

assess a situation, determine the next steps and proceed until

the problem is solved. But is that helpful?

When you take charge, the employee is relieved of his or her

responsibility to find a solution. That leaves you to do the

work around finding alternatives. And while you want to do

what’s best for this person (and the organization), it’s

important to ask what the employee wants first– whether it’s to

vent, brainstorm solutions or get some coaching. Understand

what the person entering your door wants by asking questions:

• How can I be most helpful to you?

• What are you hoping I will do?

• What do you see my role as in this matter?


By now everyone has taken at least one active listening course

so I won’t address the basic skills. Collaborative Listening

takes those attending and discerning skills one step further.

It recognizes that in listening each person has a job that

supports the work of the other. The speaker’s job is to clearly

express his or her thoughts, feelings and goals. The listener’s

job is facilitating clarity; understanding and make the employee

feel heard.

So what’s the difference? The distinction is acknowledgement.

Your role is to help the employee gain a deeper understanding of

her own interests and needs; to define concepts and words in a

way that expresses her values (i.e. respect means something

different to each one of us); and to make her feel

acknowledged—someone sees things from her point of view.

Making an acknowledgement is tricky in corporate settings.

Understandably, you want to help the employee but are mindful of

the issues of corporate liability. You can acknowledge the

employee even while safeguarding your company.

Simply put, acknowledgement does not mean agreement. It means

letting the employee know that you can see how he got to his

truth. It doesn’t mean taking sides with the employee or

abandoning your corporate responsibilities. Acknowledgement can

be the bridge across misperceptions. Engage in Collaborative

Listening by:

• Help the employee to explore and be clear about his interests

and goals

• Acknowledge her perspective

o I can see how you might see it that way.

o That must be difficult for you.

o I understand that you feel _______ about this.

• Ask questions that probe for deeper understanding on both your


o When you said x, what did you mean by that?

o If y happens, what’s significant about that for you?

o What am I missing in understanding this from your perspective?


Messages transmitted from one person to the next are very

powerful. Sometimes people have to hear it ‘from the horse’s

mouth’. Other times, you’ll have to be the transmitter of good

thoughts and feelings. Pick up those ‘gems’, those positive

messages that flow when employees feel safe and heard in

mediation, and present them to the other employee. Your

progress will improve.

We’re all human. You know how easy it is to hold a grudge, or

assign blame. Sharing gems appropriately can help each employee

begin to shift their perceptions of the situation, and more

importantly, of each other. To deliver polished gems, try to:

• Act soon after hearing the gem

• Paraphrase accurately so the words aren’t distorted

• Ask the listener if this is new information and if changes her stance

• Avoid expecting the employees to visibly demonstrate a ‘shift in stance’ (it happens internally and on their timetable, not ours)


Power is a dominant factor in mediation that raises many

questions: What is it? Who has it? How to do you balance power?

Assumptions about who is the ‘powerful one’ are easy to make and

sometimes wrong. Skillful conflict resolvers recognize power

dynamics in conflicts and are mindful about how to authentically

manage them. You can recognize power by being aware that:

• Power is fluid and exchangeable

• Employees possess power over the content and their process (think of employees concerns as the water flowing into and being held by the container)

• Resolvers possess power over the mediation process (their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and commitment form the container)

• Your roles as an HR professional and resolver will have a significant impact on power dynamics


Agreeing to participate in mediation is an act of courage and

hope. By participating, employees are conveying their belief in

value of the relationship. They are also expressing their trust

in you to be responsive to and supportive of our efforts.

Employees may first communicate their anger, frustration,

suffering, righteousness, regret, not their best hopes. You can

inspire them to continue by being optimistic:

• Be positive about your experiences with mediation • Hold their

best wishes and hopes for the future • Encourage them to work

towards their hopes

Be Resilient. Remember the last time you were stuck in a

conflict? You probably replayed the conversation in your mind

over and over, thinking about different endings and scolding

yourself. Employees get stuck, too. In fact, employees can

become so worn down and apathetic about their conflict,

especially a long-standing dispute; they’d do anything to end it.

Yes, even agree with each other prematurely. Don’t let them

settle. Mediation is about each employee getting their interest

met. Be resilient:

• Be prepared to move yourself and the employees though

productive and less productive cycles of the mediation

• Help the employees see their movement and progress

• Be mindful and appreciative of the hard work you all are doing

Hopefully, you’ve discovered that these are your own habits in

one form or another and that your organization is benefiting

from your knowledge. You can learn more about workplace

mediation and mediation in general from these books and websites:

The Power of Mediation Bringing Peace into the Room Difficult

Conversation: How to Say What Matters Most

[ (The New England Association of Conflict Resolvers)

(mediation portal site)

(conflict management toolkit)

“Mediation is based on a belief in the fundamental honesty of

human beings. Which is another way of saying we all want to be

treated justly – that is according to our unique situation and

viewpoint on the world. And we cannot expect to be treated

justly if we do not honestly reveal ourselves.” ~ the Honourable

Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister 1937