Volume 7, October 2001: Mediating Conflict

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2001 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Resolving conflict is rarely about who is right. It is about acknowledgement and appreciation of differences.” — Thomas E. Crum, The Magic of Conflict

“Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.” — Mark Twain


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Education
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Seeking to manage conflict, not resolve it. Embraced, conflict is the prerequisite to higher order thinking.
  • Bringing all parties to conflict together to work out issues.
  • Working towards solutions that are “both-and” (win-win) rather than “either-or.”

Frequently Asked Questions

“We have a rift between departments that has existed for a long time. What’s the point of addressing it now?”
Rarely does a conflict cost an organization less than $250,000 in lost productivity, illness, avoidance, wasted time, decreased decision quality and sabotage. Reorganizing does nothing to quell it. As a leader, you have the responsibility to see it worked through.
“What if parties to the conflict will not meet and work on it?”
Then you resort to “enforced mediation.” “You will come together and work through this for the good of the organization and our customers.”
“Employees often come to me seeking my support for their position on a matter over others’. Should I endorse this kind of activity?”
You listen to learn, but you need to listen to all sides. And they need to listen to each other. Move the controversy to a joint forum, where speaking and listening occur, then collective problem-solving/solution-generation. And maintain your role as an equal advocate to all members of the organization.
“Our discussions over sensitive issues often result in heated emotion, grandstanding, walking out and worsening the problem.”
There is a process we use called “mediation,” that gets people unstuck from their positions, forces dialogue based on facts, and creatively engages participants in developing multiple alternatives that optimize everyone’s interests. You may need to have a neutral facilitator, who is strong enough to hold the process in place.


The Negotiating Table provides dispute resolution and training services to organizations and individuals. In a one-day course at your worksite, participants learn how to identify their own and others’ styles of managing conflict, work through differences themselves and to serve as a third-party mediator to others. (Also see Creatively Managing Differences.)

For courses on how to mediate conflict and mediator certification training, check out the Mediation Training Institute.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Have a look at the Institute for International Mediation and Conflict Resolution for global applications.

For application of mediation to cities, counties and communities, see CMC Mediation.

For government and business applications, see NAI Negotiation Advice.

* In looking for assistance with conflict, distinguish between negotiation – which means trading by giving up something to get something – and mediation, which means searching for a solution that optimizes the interests of all parties.


  • Bolton, R. People Skills. New York: Touchstone, 1979.
  • Cohen, H. You Can Negotiate Anything. Toronto: Bantam, 1980.
  • Crum, Thomas F. The Magic of Conflict. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987.
  • Fischer, R., & Ury, W. Getting to Yes. Boston, MA: Houghton-Miflin, 1981.
  • Key, M.K. Creatively and constructively managing differences. In M. K. Key (Ed.) Managing Change in Healthcare: Innovative Solutions for People-based Organizations. Chicago: McGraw-Hill, 1999.
  • Key, M. K  A method for mediating conflict among differing mindsets. Journal of Healthcare Quality. November-December, 22(6), 4-8.
  • Kohn, Alfie. No Contest. Boston: Houghton-Miflin, 1986.
  • Mayer, Richard J. Conflict Management: The Courage to Confront. Columbus: Battelle Press, 1990.
  • Neuhauser, P.C. Tribal Warfare in Organizations: Turning Tribal Conflict into Negotiated Peace. New York: Ballinger Publishing Company, 1988.
  • Phillips, R.C. The Art of Managing Differences: Part I: Levels of Conflict. Presentation to the Michigan Construction User Council, October 20, 1987.
  • Ross, M.B. Coping with Conflict: The 1982 Annual for Facilitators, Trainers, and Consultants. University Associates, 1982, 135-139.
  • Senge, P. The Fifth Discipline. New York: Doubleday, 1990, 249-257.
  • Sholtes, P. The Team Handbook. Madison, WI: Joiner Associates, 1989.
  • Varney, G. Building Productive Teams. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989, pp 40-41, 68-77.
  • Walton, R.E. Interpersonal Peace-making: Confrontations and Third Party Roles. (2nd ed.) Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1987.
  • Wheatley, Margaret J. Leadership and the New Science: Learning About Organizations  from an Orderly Universe. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1992.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

The most common style of dealing with conflict is to avoid it. Most people think there is only one other choice, which is to aggress. Thankfully, there are even more options. Check out what is going on inside of you. Listen deeply to what others are saying. Then pull people together to do the same. Your creativity and theirs comes from expressing your differences. In an environment of mutual respect and appreciation, surface these differences and use them to bring about a better order of things.


Buy MK’s latest book!