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Red Flags that Signal “Call a Mediator”

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell
red flag

When facing a personal or professional conflict with another person, it’s likely that you will be able to work out the difficulties between you over time. This article discusses some self-help techniques that people in conflict can use and some red flags that indicate you might need professional assistance.

Here are some tips that are useful when you’re in a dispute with another individual:

  • Slow things down.
    When we are in conflict we often don’t think clearly. The fight or flight response gets triggered and we tend to respond reactively rather than rationally.
  • Take a break and breathe.
    Ask for a timeout and get some water–it’s good for your brain and you’ll think more clearly if you are hydrated.
  • Set ground rules for how you will communicate.
    Focus on the problem, not the person; listen with an open mind; treat the other’s feelings with respect; and take responsibility for your actions. Here’s a video on listening and communication tips.

However, some disagreements are so heated, or the parties are so intransigent, that a mediator is necessary to help all sides understand each other and reach a consensus that everyone can live with.

Let’s look at some of the red flags which indicate a dispute has moved beyond resolution by the parties themselves and may require a mediator.

  • Effective Communication Has Broken Down.
    Arguments, debates, and presentations are not communication styles which lead to conflict resolution. When heated communication has become the main format of discourse, it could be a red flag that the problem is not easily resolved without additional outside assistance. The absence of communication between business partners and team members is a red flag that trouble may lie ahead.
  • One or Both Parties are Set in a “Win-Lose” Pattern.
    A conflict is difficult, if not impossible, for two people to resolve when one or both people are unwilling to move from their own position. If one person is intent on assigning blame, punishing, or finding fault in the other person, then an agreement is unlikely to be reached without the help of a neutral third party. Lack of interest or willingness to plan for contingencies in a small closely held business is another red flag of potential problems.
  • Strong Emotions or Negative Behaviors Prevent an Agreement.
    Disagreements are often emotional, and when feelings are not acknowledged,negative or unproductive behavior can fuel a conflict. Resentments, misunderstandings, and misperceptions are likely to prevent anyone from reaching an agreement without impartial assistance. Estrangement of family members may signal the need to bring in a mediator.
  • The Alternative is Litigation and a Trial.
    Unlike court proceedings,which are open and public, mediation is quicker and confidential, as well as far less expensive than litigation. About 95% of lawsuits settle before trial, indicating that the dispute could potentially have been resolved via mediation and saved all parties a great deal of money, time and stress.

If you witness these red flags, you may wish to consider consulting a mediator to begin the mediation process.


Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. An expert in dispute resolution and mediation, Ms. Kandell is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She has been a leader in the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution. She provides mediation services, group facilitation, neutral evaluation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Author: Ellen Kandell

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