Employee arguments that escalate beyond differences of opinion typically end with one of two outcomes. When handled ineffectively, it can lead to negativity, animosity and a divided workplace. When handled effectively, such as through mediation, even the most serious argument can become a positive learning experience. During mediation, a neutral third-party facilitates communication between the arguing parties to resolve the situation in a way that promotes personal and professional growth.

Understand Your Role

A mediator is a facilitator, not a decision-maker. As the University of North Texas Human Resource Department notes, your role is to ask probing questions that reveal and establish a common understanding about the underlying issues of an argument and negotiate a solution. Both parties must want to participate and commit to finding and following through on a mutually agreeable solution. A calm demeanor, objectivity and active listening skills are essential. In addition, it’s vital to set ground rules that ensure only one person speaks at a time, that both sides comply with time limits and refrain from interrupting each other.

Ask Open-ended Questions

Gather information about the cause of the argument and each side’s perspective. The American Management Association recommends that instead of asking questions the participants can answer with yes or no, ask questions that focus on the issue, not the person, and that encourage each side to open up to you. For example, ask questions such as “What do you think happened,” “How do you think the problem first arose” and “Why did you feel upset?” Use active listening prompts such as “I see,” “uh huh” and “tell me more” to encourage the participants to look beyond the starting incident and reveal the underlying cause of the argument.

Brainstorm for Solutions

The goal is for the participants to find their own solution. After revealing the underlying issues and getting each side to agree on the problem, turn the conversation toward identifying how the situation could be changed. Again, active listening skills are vital. MindTools.com suggests you conduct a brainstorming session to create a list of win-win or compromise solutions. For example, start with a question such as “How can you make things better between you,” and then allow both sides to work together to come up with as many ideas as possible.

Resolve and Address the Future

Discuss each alternative, point out the advantages and disadvantages of each and then let the participants decide on the best course of action. Seal the deal with a handshake or draw up a formal written contract that identifies the actions both parties agreed to. According to the American Management Association, whether the resolution is verbal or in writing, it should address how the parties intend to prevent future disagreements and identify what they will do if problems do arise.