Here’s a hypothetical scenario. Maybe you can relate.

Two department heads are leading a project for a tech startup on the cusp of exponential growth. They don’t get along. In fact, they have never gotten along. And working in close contact has exacerbated their problems. As a critical deadline looms, their Slack channels are awash in snarky jabs, their direct reports bicker relentlessly with one another over minutiae, and you, their supervisor, have just discovered that they failed to assign a major task to anyone on the team because their communication is so strained.

Time for some team mediation? You bet.

At the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (MD-ICCCR) at Columbia University Teacher’s College, we lead research that promotes conflict resolution and helps people work through difficult problems. Ten years ago, at the request of the U.N., we undertook a review of empirical studies about mediation. Through that work, we identified four primary reasons why mediation can fail.

As a leader, before you step in to resolve a difficult conflict like the one above, it can be helpful to know the problems that often arise — where your good intentions might go awry — so you can avoid them. First, we’ll share the four chief reasons mediations get derailed, and then we’ll highlight strategies you can implement to avert them.


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