Content Page

No data

HR Mediation: Why Impartiality
is Your Superpower

A wooden block puzzle with two people standing on top of it facing each other and a comic star with  rays in the middle.
Hacking HR Team

Posted on March 19, 2024

Employees caught in a workplace conflict want fairness and impartiality from you. They want someone to listen, understand, and be objective. But is it realistic to expect absolute impartiality from HR when facing pressure from various sides within the company?

Nonetheless, maintaining impartiality can be challenging. The need to satisfy employees and the business, plus our natural inclination to form judgments, creates obstacles. Yet, staying neutral is the core of successful HR mediation. It builds essential trust, allowing all parties involved to communicate openly. This deeper communication paves the way for resolutions that benefit and work for everyone long-term.

The question remains: how can HR professionals withstand the pressures and cultivate this indispensable impartiality? Let's explore the strategies.

9 Ways to Demonstrate Impartiality in HR Mediation

Demonstrating impartiality isn't a passive act. While it means not picking sides, it involves deliberate choices, showing each person that their voice carries weight and their concerns are valid. And the foundation of trust rests on a sense of fairness. Every word and action you take contributes to that feeling or undermines it. 

Let's explore these strategies in more detail, understanding why each reinforces your role as a neutral mediator focused on process and resolution. Because to cultivate an environment for productive dialogue, these nine strategies play a crucial role.

1. Active Listening

Focus on understanding both sides' perspectives without judgment. Pay attention to nonverbal cues, demonstrate empathy, and acknowledge each party's concerns ("That sounds frustrating..."), which creates a safe space for open communication.

2. Impartial Language

Use neutral words that accurately reflect both sides' viewpoints, avoiding language perceived as subjective or accusatory. It will reinforce your neutrality and encourage trust in the process.

3. Manage Your Reactions

Maintain a calm demeanor, even under pressure or when faced with emotionally charged situations. Your professional demeanor demonstrates impartiality and inspires trust in the mediation process.

4. Set Clear Expectations

At the outset of mediation, outline your role as a facilitator, the process, confidentiality, and the timeline. Setting clear ground rules fosters a sense of fairness and helps everyone understand the boundaries of the mediation session.

5. Recognize Biases

Take time for self-reflection before and after each mediation session. Acknowledge any unconscious biases that might subtly influence your thinking and actively work to keep them in check for actual impartiality.

6. Separate Fact from Opinion

Guide the conversation towards verifiable information by asking for specific examples to support claims ("Can you describe a situation where that happened?"). Watch for emotionally charged language and gently rephrase for a more neutral focus. Regularly summarize the concrete facts to ensure everyone is on the same page.

7. Summarize and Reflect

Periodically paraphrase the key points shared by each party to demonstrate active listening. Reflect on the emotions you perceive ("It seems like this is causing you a lot of stress...") to build trust and create a safe space for continued dialogue.

8. Focus on Process, Not Outcome

Emphasize that your role facilitates a productive dialogue, not forcing a specific solution. Use open-ended questions to encourage both parties to share their perspectives and to identify their underlying needs.

9. Document Carefully

Maintain neutral, detailed notes on factual information. Avoid personal opinions or interpretations. Consider sharing a summary of your notes with the involved parties after the mediation to ensure alignment.

An Infographic titled 'HR Mediation. 6 Things You Need To Unlearn' shows six patterns of thinking and automatic responses based on experience HR professionals should become aware of in mediations: 1. Seeking Consensus 2. The Need For Solutions 3. Cultural Lenses 4. The Blame Game 5. Controlling the outcome. 6. Personal stakes.

The Importance of Unlearning in HR Mediation

You naturally develop patterns of thinking and automatic responses based on experience. While this serves a purpose, sometimes these habits become rigid "scripts" that can hinder successful mediation. Hence, unlearning these preconceived notions is vital to achieving true impartiality.

Think of it as a mental decluttering. By shedding outdated assumptions, the need to always have a solution, or fixating on finding the "right" answer, you open up space for genuine exploration and creative problem-solving during mediation.

  1. The Need for Solutions: Letting go of the "rescuer" mentality, as HR often feels pressure to resolve issues quickly. However, in mediation, stepping back and allowing parties to work through the conflict themselves is crucial, offering guidance rather than immediate answers.

  2. Cultural Lenses: Recognize that communication styles differ across cultures and individuals express themselves uniquely. Avoid making assumptions based on your cultural background, and be open to learning how others communicate.

  3. The Blame Game: Mediation is about understanding the root causes of a conflict and finding solutions that work for everyone involved. Focus on facilitating conversation that encourages accountability rather than finger-pointing.

  4. Controlling the Outcome: Let go of the need to control the outcome. Some conflicts may not be fully resolved within a mediation session, and that's okay. Trust in the dialogue process and acknowledge that sustainable solutions often take time.

  5. Personal Stakes: While it's natural to want a successful outcome, it's crucial for HR mediators not to tie their sense of accomplishment to the mediation results. Your role is to facilitate, not to ensure a perfect resolution personally.

  6. Seeking Consensus: Mediation is powerful, but setting realistic expectations is essential. Aim to find common ground and mutual understanding, even if complete consensus still needs to be achieved. Sometimes, simply creating a space for open communication is progress in itself. The Fractional Leader CERTIFICATE PROGRAM

12 Actionable Steps for Mastering HR Impartiality

Building an arsenal of impartiality techniques is essential for HR professionals. These actions go beyond just a fair and unbiased mindset; they equip you with tools to manage your reactions, navigate complex dynamics, and maintain a productive environment throughout mediation sessions.

  1. Manage Power Dynamics: Be mindful of potential power imbalances between parties involved in the conflict. Use active listening techniques and open-ended questions to ensure both individuals feel heard and respected, regardless of their position within the organization.

  2. Avoid Preconceived Solutions: Resist the urge to propose solutions quickly. Instead, focus on facilitating a conversation that allows parties to explore their options and collaboratively find solutions that work for everyone.

  3. Validate Emotions: Acknowledge the emotions expressed by both parties, helping them feel heard and understood. It opens the door to a more productive dialogue. Maintain a neutral tone while reflecting on their emotions.

  4. Maintain Neutral Body Language: Be conscious of your body language throughout the mediation. Avoid crossed arms, leaning towards one person, or making facial expressions that could be interpreted as biased.

  5. Use Reflective Listening: Paraphrase and summarize what you've heard from both parties to ensure understanding and identify potential misunderstandings. It will demonstrate your impartiality and encourage further elaboration.

  6. Maintain a Neutral Tone of Voice: Speak in a calm, even tone without inflection or sarcasm. Avoid using language that could be perceived as favoring one party over the other.

  7. Document Objectively: Take detailed notes during the mediation, focusing on factual information and avoiding interpretations or opinions, ensuring an accurate record of the discussion without bias.

  8. Manage Expectations: Be upfront about the potential outcomes of mediation. Not all conflicts will be fully resolved in one session. Manage expectations realistically while emphasizing the benefits of open communication and trust-building.

  9. Build Pre-Mediation Relationships: Invest time in getting to know employees and fostering trust in the workplace. It’ll be more likely that employees will come to HR earlier in a conflict and feel confident in seeking mediation.

  10. De-personalize Conflict: Remind participants that conflict is often about the situation, not the individuals involved. Encourage them to focus on understanding the issue from multiple perspectives rather than assigning personal blame.

  11. Set Aside Your Opinions: Consciously bracket your beliefs and opinions during the mediation. Your role is to facilitate, not to advocate for a particular viewpoint. Encourage the same from the participants.

  12. Seek Co-Mediation Support: Co-mediate with a colleague or outside mediator for complex or sensitive conflicts. It provides an extra layer of impartiality and allows for broader perspectives. Leading HR CERTIFICATE PROGRAM

Action Plan

  1. Self-Assessment: Conduct an honest evaluation of your biases and triggers. Identify situations where maintaining impartiality feels particularly challenging. Consider using an 'implicit bias' test or engaging in reflective journaling to gain deeper insight into your unconscious thought patterns.

  2. Training and Development: Prioritize training in conflict resolution, mediation techniques, and emotional intelligence. It could involve webinars, workshops, or more formal certification programs. Seek opportunities for role-playing and practicing mediation with colleagues to build confidence and adaptability.

  3. Policy Review: Examine HR policies and procedures for language or practices that might promote a biased approach to conflict resolution. Update policies to reinforce the importance of impartiality and procedural fairness throughout all HR interactions.

  4. Internal Communication: Proactively communicate the benefits of mediation and the role of HR as a neutral facilitator within the organization. Share success stories (anonymized) to highlight the positive impact of mediation and foster buy-in from both employees and managers.

  5. Organizational Culture Shift

    • Encourage open communication and celebrate collaborative problem-solving across the organization.

    • Model impartiality in your interactions with employees and managers, setting an example for approaching conflict respectfully and productively.

Key Insights (the takeaways)

  1. Impartiality Builds Trust: When employees perceive HR as impartial, they're more likely to open up, feel heard, and engage in good faith. This trust is essential for uncovering the root causes of a conflict and finding resolutions that everyone feels invested in.

  2. Unlearning is Essential: HR professionals naturally develop patterns and instincts based on experience; however, sometimes, these become obstacles to impartiality. Let go of preconceived notions, the need to "fix it," and controlling the outcome allows space for deeper exploration and creative problem-solving during mediation.

  3. Focus on the Process: Your role as a mediator is to guide a constructive process, not force a specific resolution. Prioritize open dialogue, mutual understanding, and helping the parties involved identify their underlying needs. Sustainable solutions often emerge organically as a result of this process.

  4. It Takes Practice: True impartiality is a skill that requires ongoing development. Regularly reflect on your mediation performance, seek feedback from colleagues or outside experts, and continuously invest in training to strengthen your capabilities as an impartial facilitator.

Key Questions To Ask

  1. How can HR remain neutral when dealing with power imbalances in the workplace?

Proactively address power differences. Use open-ended questions, actively listen to the less powerful party, and consider separate pre-mediation meetings to establish trust and ensure a safe space for their voice to be heard.

  1. What are some specific phrases that convey impartiality during mediation?

Use phrases like "Help me understand...," "It sounds like you're feeling..." "What might a workable solution look like to you?" and "Can you tell me more about that?" These phrases encourage exploration without judgment.

  1. How can HR balance impartiality with addressing inappropriate behavior or harassment?

Note impartiality applies to the conflict resolution process, not the underlying issue. Document inappropriate behavior and address it separately but promptly, according to company policies. Be transparent with the parties involved, and you will take separate action.

  1. How can HR professionals manage their emotional triggers during mediation?

Practice mindfulness techniques, focus on breathing, and prepare for challenging scenarios through roleplaying. Recognize when a brief break might be needed, and consider co-mediation support for susceptible situations.

We are powering the future of HR!

Hacking HR is the fastest-growing global community of people leaders and professionals interested in all things at the intersection of people, organizations, innovation, transformation, workplace and workforce, and more. We deliver value through hundreds of events a year, community engagement opportunities, learning programs, (soon) our certificate programs, and more. Join our community platform, the Hacking HR LAB. Click here.


Document Map

Get more content like this in your Inbox

Email is required


Share the Article

on every platform


Related Posts