Conflict Mediation Guidelines

By Ann Porteus

Applicable Situations



Sources of Conflict

Deadly Assumptions

Common Conflict Management Syles/Strategies

Choosing the Best Method

Steps for Collaboration/Negotiation

Principles for Managing Conflict


Skills of a Third Party Negotiator*

Refereeing Provides for equal time. "Chris, you've talked almost five minutes. Let's hear what Terry has to say."
  Stops a long explanation by one and asks for an immediate response to specific points by another. "Chris, let me stop you for a moment and ask Terry to respond to that last point before we go on."
  Terminates a discussion by one or both if becoming repetitious or counterproductive. "Chris and Terry, I am hearing the same points being repeated now. Let's go on to another idea or perhaps stop for now."
Initiating Agenda Items for Discussion Needed most early in the meeting. "Let's begin by you both telling each other your concerns about what is happening between you."
  Helps focus the discussion if it gets off course. "I think we are off course. What is happening in your relationship that has caused you to stop talking to each other?"
Eliciting Reactions and Feedback to Each Other Can be used to help illustrate a point by asking one to give feedback to the other. " Terry, what do you see Chris doing right now? How does that affect you? How is that like or unlike what you have been telling him?"
Offering Observations on the Process Allows the third party to comment on what is being observed in order to focus on a certain dynamic or on a change in the conversation. "I'd like to note that both of you are holding your hands in tight fists."

"Let's look at what just happened. Each time one of you says something, the other looks away and pays little attention."

"It seems to me that tension level has gone down in the last five minutes. Both of you are now leaning forward and seem to be interested in what the other is saying."
Stopping Action to Ask Advice Calls on the two parties to prescribe themselves what should be done next or to set new directions. "Let's stop for a minute. If you were me as a third-party, what would you do next to get this thing rolling?"

"Let's pause a minute. Where do each of you think we should go next in working together?"
Reversing Their Roles By asking each to assume the other's position may allow more empathy and add new light to the situation. (Best dramatized by even having them switch seats.) "I want to ask you two to get up and switch seats. Chris, you are now Terry; and Terry, you are Chris. Carry on this discussion as you think the other person would."
Eliciting, Using, or Enforcing Basic Communication Skills    
  • Paraphrasing
Third-party says in own words what was just said in order to help clarify or to emphasize the point made. "Terry, check to see if I heard you right? You just told Chris that you are interested in help in getting a job. Am I right?"
  • Active Listening
Set the rules that before one person can speak, he/she must say to the other what was just heard. (Very effective if parties do not seem to be paying attention to each other.) "I want to imposed a new rule into this discussion. After each person says something, the other must repeat what they heard. OK?"
  • Keeping the Conversation in I/You Terms
Asks them to direct their conversation to each other, not through you the third-party. (A must!) "Chris, you keep saying 'he/she does this, he/she does that.' Talk directly to Terry, not to me."
Summarizing Agreements and Disagreements Third party either gives a summary of what has been occurring thus far or asks for one from the two parties "OK Thus far I have heard you two agree on.....and disagree on..."
  Allows points of agreement to be crystallized and points of disagreement to be brought to focus. "Let's see where we are. Give me a summary of what you have agreed on thus far and what you have disagreed on."
Structuring the Conversation Uses an overall process for the conversation such as:  
  What you want more of, less of, or the same from the other person. "Chris, can you tell Terry what you would like Terry to do more of in conversations with you so that they don't result in so much misunderstanding."
  What objectives you have in this conflict, what needs are behind those objectives and what other ways you can get those needs met. "Terry, what is your current position in this conflict, what do you think are some of your interests or needs that bring you to this position?"
    "What are some other ways that you might be able to get those needs met?"
Prescribing Discussion Techniques 3 Yes'es. Have the two parties interview each other to improve their communication and understanding. Have them continue asking questions of the other until there are three yes'es in a row. "Do you want me to help keep the room clean?"
"Would it be OK if I agreed to do it just on Sundays so we get off to a clean start each week?"
"Do you need it picked up more often?"
"Would it be OK if I agreed to pick up my clutter before I take off for class each day?"
"Would it be OK if you and I did a thorough cleaning on Sundays?"
"Yes" (Then switch interviewers)
  Incomplete Sentences. Helps get a lot of data out in a structured way. "I'd like for you both to complete the following sentence, and continue doing so back and forth until I stop you:
"When you _____, I feel _____. (or "I assume you know that I feel _____ about _____.")
  Images. Asks the parties to use a metaphor or a word picture to describe the relationship, the conflict, the desired outcome, present feelings, or whatever. Third party may even ask parties to draw the image and then to share it. "I'd like to ask each of you to imagine for a moment what the picture of your rooming situation would look like if this problem were absent. After a minute or two I will ask you to share your thoughts."

(* Adpapted by Mary Ann Huckabay for RA Training 1991. Bay Area Group Process Consultant and Lecturer, Graduate School of Business. From Reynolds 1980)




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Fisher, Roger, Kopelman, Elizabeth and Schneider, Andrea Kupfer. Beyond Machiavelli: Tools for Coping with Conflict. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Fisher, Roger ,Ury, William and Patton, Bruce. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Penguin Books, 1991.

Hart, Lois. Learning from Conflict. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1981.

Hendricks, William. How to Manage Conflict. Shawnee Mission, KA: National Press Publications, 1991.

Herriford, Whayne. "Working in Groups." Stanford University: Human Resources Development, 1991.

Huckabay, Mary Ann. Residence staff training materials, 1991.

Kindler, Herbert S. "Managing Conflict and Disagreement Constructively." In The 1995 Annual: Volume I, Training. San Diego, CA: University Associates, 1995.

Pareek, Udal. "Preventing and Resolving Conflict." In The 1983 Annual for Facilitators, Trainers and Consultants.. San Diego, CA: University Associates, 1983.

Robert, Marc. Managing Conflict From the Inside Out. San Diego, CA: University Associates, 1982.

Ross, Martin, B. "Coping with Conflict." In The 1982 Annual for Facilitators, Trainers and Consultants. San Diego, CA: University Associates, 1982.

Ury, William. Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way From Confrontation to Cooperation. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.


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