Disputes and conflicts within any business can have a disproportionately damaging effect but, in a small or medium-sized business, the impact can be greater still.

A dispute between the owners of the business, between a team of employees or within a project team can obliterate the team and can, in the most extreme circumstances, be fatal for the organisation. Not only that, allegations of bullying, harassment or discrimination raised by a disgruntled employee can require costly investigations, cumbersome disciplinary procedures and a significant amount of time spent at tribunal. So, what is a business owner to do?

How does mediation work?

Mediation is a powerful way of resolving a dispute or conflict within a small or medium business. It’s a great way to help the disputing parties air their concerns in a private space, it protects the relationship and it promotes dialogue. A mediator can help the parties to adopt a calm and compassionate tone and avoid the divisive tendency to blame each other when the going gets tough. Mediation isn’t about who is right or wrong, or who wins or loses. It’s about securing a lasting outcome to a conflict, which meets the needs of all parties.

Avoiding conflict

For many small business owners, any sort of conflict is seen as a threat and a risk. Business owners, often against their better judgment, create rules and processes, which, they are told, will reduce the negative impact of conflict. This is what our lawyers and HR partners have told us to do; however, they don’t say that the very policies we use to resolve a conflict can make the conflict a lot worse, creating unnecessary complexity and bureaucracy (and the worse a conflict becomes, the more they earn). Just think about it. When was the last time you achieved a good outcome from a grievance procedure? I am betting never. There’s no legal, moral or statutory duty to have a grievance procedure. It gets in the way of dialogue and it gets in the way of good business. Instead, I help organisations to embed resolution procedures that get people talking and which promote… resolution.

The benefits of mediation

Moving away from conflict, there are many other benefits that mediation can deliver:

■ It saves time, money and stress
■ It promotes cooperation and collaboration
■ It reduces the stress and the fear associated with inaction or over-reaction
■ It puts the resolution of a conflict in the hands of the parties involved in it
■ It delivers against your core business values – respect, excellence and growth

Mediation isn’t complicated. I would urge you to use someone who is trained to an accredited standard such as the mediators at The TCM Group. Otherwise, it’s simple enough. The independent mediator meets the parties separately and then they come together in a face-to-face meeting. In fact, increasingly our mediations are being done online. The costs are relatively low and compared to the costs of doing nothing or trying to resolve it at a tribunal, they really are a pittance. Mediation works: give it a go.


David Liddle is the founder and CEO of The TCM Group, a leading mediation and conflict management company. He is also author of Managing Conflict – a practical guide to resolution in the workplace, which provides practical tools and resources to help secure better outcomes from conflict at work.