11 Ways to De-escalate and Mediate Workplace Conflicts

Minor workplace disagreements left unchecked have the potential to quickly become completely unmanageable.

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Workplace conflicts are an inevitable part of working with people. As such, leaders need to have a proactive plan in place for handling these conflicts when they arise between employees. Disagreements left unchecked increase the chances of a conflict escalating, negatively impacting the culture of the company and creating a toxic environment as a result.

To help leaders deal with workplace disagreements before they spiral out of control, the members of Newsweek Expert Forum share how to effectively de-escalate and mediate workplace conflicts when they arise.

1. Directly Address the Issue

Address the issue immediately rather than waiting to see if it will resolve itself. Usually a misunderstanding or even a typo in a chat message can send someone on a dark path. Speaking directly to them and bringing anyone related into the conversation to resolve it is worth your time. As the workforce continues to evolve remotely, you especially need to have your finger on the pulse. - Chris Tompkins, The Go! Agency

2. Validate the Perspectives of Both Sides

A wise therapist taught me two truths can be true at the same time. It's important to validate both sides' "truths" or perspectives. Do not make one side right and the other wrong. When people feel heard, they are more likely to meet each other halfway. - Sonja Wasden, The Gap Press

3. Understand What Is Behind the Conflict

There will always be two sides to every coin. I think the best way to deal with conflict resolution is to help each side realize the values behind the other side of the issue. Once you understand what is behind the conflict, it's much easier to work toward a middle ground or at least validate the person while you explain why a specific solution has been chosen. - Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint

4. Have a Plan to Resolve Issues Before They Grow

Conflicts distract from delivering success. Conflict in a team shows something is wrong, from communication to culture. Find the cause, not just the symptom, and resolve it through consensus. But it's better to stop it from happening by building a "we, not me" ethos in the team through your leadership so that people proactively work in partnership and any issues are resolved before they become conflicts. - Chris Roebuck, Simply Success

5. Try the 10 Percent Approach

Ask each party to identify the 10 percent of the issue that they are wrong about and the 10 percent where the other person is right. Seek some common ground and points of agreement to enable the parties to step out of their own stories and stay open to another perspective. Ask what positive result can come of the argument. That will open the lines of communication and enable you to find the value in the conflict. - Michelle Tillis Lederman, Author, The Connector's Advantage

6. Focus on the Desired End Result

Tell your teams ahead of time, "Conflicts are inevitable. Going forward, when we're having one, I am going to ask each party to state what they want the end result to be and ensure they are talking to and with each other and not over, at or down to each other." If the latter occurs, step in and tell all parties to take a deep breath and come back when they can resume talking to or with each other. - Mark Goulston, Mark Goulston, M.D., Inc.

7. Ask Open-Ended Questions

In the heat of the moment, ask open-ended questions and avoid making assumptions. This requires being a centered leader and it is always better to be proactive. In my team development work, teams learn how to make conflict innovative, how personality differences feed into team dynamics and how they will collaborate together by creating a standing agreement. This aligns the group! - Karen Valencic, Spiral Impact

8. Encourage Unity Between Team Members

Conflict usually arises from passion. Commitment is great, but if that passion sullies a work environment and creates enmity within teams, it requires thoughtful intervention. The same passion that leads to conflict can ideally be channeled to unify team members. Encouraging team members to work things out directly can help create synergies, strengthen relationships and create more alignment. - Jacob Kupietzky, HCT Executive Interim Management & Consulting

9. Consider Employee Feelings and Context

An upside to COVID has been more remote working, which has eased conflicts. But there are still times not everyone is going to get along. Leaders should meet with those involved and iron out what the problem is. People today are anxious, nervous and maybe a little frightened. We must take these feelings into account and assure employees that every one of them matters. Being kind and diplomatic is a must. - Christopher Davenport, AutoParts4Less

10. Actively Listen to Both Sides

De-escalate and mediate by actively listening to each side. Focus on the situation and not the person or people involved. Jointly evaluate the implications of each side. Write down points of mutual agreement or disagreement. Bring forward what can be compromised in search of a resolution and assess how the new situation impacts the future. Achieve mutual agreement and ensure there is a timely regroup and follow-through. - Vipp Jaswal, Interpersonal Intelligence Advisory

11. Thoroughly Understand Your Team Members

Leaders should plan for and be prepared to address conflict in the workplace while organizing and planning their projects. Conflict in the workplace is inevitable and should never surprise or catch a leader off guard. Knowing your team members and having a thorough understanding of issues that may cause conflict helps leaders resolve conflicts in the workplace in a timely manner. - Matt Drayton, Drayton Communications LLC

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