Are you in a conflict, but you don’t know how to tell the other person that you want to call in a mediator to help you resolve it?
If you don’t know how to bring up mediation, you’re not alone. People are often concerned that saying that they want to call in a mediator will make the other person — or people — in the conflict feel that they don’t trust them.
Of course, often you don’t trust the other person. The person might not have earned your trust, or might have earned it at one point but then destroyed it.
Yet you know that if you say so outright, the other person could be insulted, and refuse to work with a mediator — and then you’ll never get the conflict resolved.
If, for example, you and your cofounder in a startup want to sever your partnership gracefully, you may not be able to, which means you’ll probably incur the time and expense of hiring attorneys and fighting it out in court. If you’re working with a colleague who makes your life hell, you may have to contemplate changing jobs. If you’re dealing with a client who drains your time, money, and energy, you may have to pay them a substantial amount of money to go away.
If you can suggest mediation in a way that makes the other person or persons agree, you can get out of your partnership gracefully, fix your relationship with your colleague, and quickly “fire” the client.
How to tell someone you want to work with a mediator
Here are some ideas for how you can tell someone, or a group of someones, that you want to bring in a mediator.
Example 1: circumspect and elaborative
If you and the other person are both aware that you’re not resolving the conflict on your own, you could try this:
“We’ve been trying to resolve this on our own, and we’ve both worked hard and done our best. At this point, I think we could use some help in finalizing our agreement to go our separate ways (or whatever the issue is). I think we should work with someone who’s trained and experienced in helping people in our situation. I want us to work with a mediator. That might sound like I’m saying that we should call in the UN, but what I’m saying is we’ve done the best we could and we need some help.”
Example 2: blunt and plain
If you and the other person are both aware that you’re not resolving the conflict on your own, and you can be more blunt than in Example 1, you could say,
“Look, we’ve done our best trying to find a way to work together more productively. We need some help. We should hire a mediator.”
Example 3: taking the blame to get what you want
If the other person thinks you haven’t been fair to them, either in the conflict itself or how you’ve been trying to resolve it — and it doesn’t matter if they’re wrong — try this:
“I know you don’t think we’ve delivered what we promised (in the case where a client is unhappy). How about if we work with someone who has a lot of experience with helping people have a conversation where we can work things out. The mediator can make sure that you get what you need and we come to a fair agreement to wrap up the work we’re doing for you.”
What makes these work?
All of these examples have some things in common.
First, they start with a neutral summary of the problem, as blame-free as possible. Even if you know the other person is totally to blame, saying so will put them on the defensive. If they’re on the defensive, they’re likely to say no to your suggestion of working with a mediator, and then your conflict doesn’t get resolved. So start with a neutral summary of the problem.
Second, the examples talk about the benefit you and the other person (or people) will get if you hire a mediator. If you communicate to the other person how they’ll be better off, they’re more likely to agree. “Better off” means that they’ll get the comfort and security of working with a trained professional, the impasse between the two of you broken, and a process they can feel secure in.
Third, they don’t start out using the word “mediator.” If the other person doesn’t know much about mediators, using the word can sound like mediation is rigid, formal, and difficult — which it isn’t. Instead, talk about a “trained professional” who can “help people in our situation.”
If you’re in a conflict with someone and you want to hire a trained professional to help you work it out, but don’t know how to suggest it, try this. Start with a neutral, short statement of the problem, without blaming the other person. Then, tell the other person what the benefit will be to them. Finally, wait to use the word “mediator” the end; start with terms like “trained professional” and “experienced in helping people in our situation.”
It doesn’t have to be hard to suggest to someone that you hire a mediator to help you work through a conflict, so you can resolve it and move past it. You can sever your partnership without the expense of hiring attorneys, mend your working relationship with a colleague, and gracefully fire a client.