Allowing employees to present their perspectives is an important part of conflict resolution at work. From the moment the first person speaks during a conflict mediation meeting, your job is to move her from blaming to eventually creating solutions. Do this by listening to both parties, pulling out pertinent information, acknowledging emotions, and neutralizing statements.
Your employees are likely concentrating on what they’re going to say, what they’re going to keep to themselves, and how they’re really going to let the other person have it when it’s their turn to talk, so they won’t want to listen to a long speech from you.
Deciding who speaks first
Ask the parties which of them would like to speak first, and allow them to make that choice on their own. No matter how tempting it may be, don’t make the decision for them. You can inadvertently set the expectation that when things become difficult you’ll step in to solve the problem (both in this meeting and in the future!). Instead, be patient and allow them some time and space to work it out. If they still struggle, comment on the fact that there’s no benefit to going first (or second, for that matter) and ask for a volunteer.
Although it’s important for your parties to make the choice on their own, watch for power moves. An employee may bully his way into speaking first, or he could gallantly let his co-worker go first because he feels certain he’ll be able to rip her perspective to shreds. A quick check with the other person (“Is that okay with you?”) lets him know it really is a joint decision.
Listening to the second participant
After the first employee has had a chance to express his thoughts, take the time to summarize what you heard. Then turn your attention to the second party. Start by thanking the first party for his statement and the other party for waiting and being patient (even if she really hasn’t shown a lot of patience!). Reaffirm that this is the second party’s chance to share her thoughts, and then put some additional parameters around your expectations.
Tell the second party that although she may be tempted to respond to what the first speaker has just said, you want her to speak as if she’s sharing first. This mindset gives her an opportunity to present her story in a fuller way.
You may find that your parties attempt to begin the negotiation process here by turning to one another and bypassing you as a facilitator. It’s important to prevent this from happening because it can seriously derail the meeting, but bear in mind that this action is actually good news! It means that your parties are active and engaged and ready to get to work, so use their desire to talk to each other to your advantage. To guide the conversation back on track, say, “I can see that the two of you are anxious to get started. Let’s complete this part of the process and then we’ll move forward.”