Mediation / Facilitating conversations at work


As an experienced coach and facilitator, I am used to listening deeply and making every effort to make people feel heard. I work hard to take a step back from the detail and imaging how things are from other people’s perspective. And these are two things which really help when there are challenging conversations to be had between two people or groups. And these challenging conversations seem to be increasing in frequency….

Misunderstandings at work are pretty common

And feel like they are getting more frequent. With hybrid working, communication is less frequent and more transactional. That quick chat on your way into the office or at the water cooler where you can read the other’s body language, smile, say hi, break the ice doesn’t happen anywhere near as often.

A meeting on Teams, an email or message, then back to your desk or kitchen table. Easy to see how we might misinterpret words whether spoken or written. The manager is not present to nip things in the bud, get you talking, understanding what’s going on for the other. Your resentment grows, throw in a bit of stress and you’re more and more likely to blame that person for a whole host of problems.

You’re the manager – what can you do?

Prevention is always better than trying to rectify once tension is building. Introducing the idea of mediation early on can make things worse, depending on the situation. Find opportunities to have team get togethers on a regular basis as this is how people build trust and rapport. Keep everyone talking. In person or online. Accept that this is life, people don’t always get on, we don’t have to be best friends with everyone and everyone is different.

Act quickly

If you sense there is tension between team members, don’t wait to see how things play out. Act quickly to prevent escalation. Speak to the individuals concerned. Ask them how things are, if they are facing any challenges.


Don’t be tempted to jump in with solutions or advice to start with. Just listen. People want to be heard and this might mean having a bit of a vent. Sometimes this is enough for them to start making sense of things and realise they have let things get exaggerated in their own mind. Or it might mean they come up with the idea of approaching the individual themselves to have a chat and see what’s going on.

If there is misconduct, you will want to involve your HR department – having a chat with them to find out what your best next steps are is a good idea.

Arrange a meeting

Simply listening to them may not work and you might want to bring the parties together for a facilitated conversation. This works if there is genuine misunderstanding (and not misconduct), if either or both parties have failed to grasp what’s going on for the other. Perhaps they’ve got off to a bad start if they’re new to working together. Perhaps there are feelings of frustrations coming from elsewhere but they have pinned the blame on their colleague. Such situations benefit from talking and gaining an insight into what’s going on for the other.

Remain impartial

You are not there to judge, to side or to agree / disagree. You are there to ensure both parties get airtime without interruption, are treated with respect. Let them know this will be confidential. As their manager you may or may not want to do this, depending on your relationships, and you may want to bring in an external mediator / facilitator.

Focus on common goals

Elicit why they’re there, what their role is, what their goals are in terms of their job and team. There will hopefully be commonalities. Try and generate some goodwill here. Ask each person to describe their challenges in achieving their goals. There may be some commonalities here too. And each gets an insight into the other’s world and what’s going on for them. They see they are human.

Seek agreement to move forward

Ask them what they can agree on as a plan to move forward. Not always easy. Small steps.

You may find that another meeting is needed for this, depending on how challenging the situation, how entrenched the attitudes.

Be courageous

It takes a bit of courage to face up to this sort of situation and it’s tempting to ignore, hope it blows over. Finding courage to get conversations started is the best way to find a positive outcome.

If you’d like to speak to me about mediation / facilitating conversations, email me.