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I am the director of a small senior center with 5 staff and some volunteers. If someone has an issue with another staff member/volunteer, I try to mediate with the two and work out a resolution with both of them together. Sometimes this seems to produce offense for one or the other. How do I avoid this?

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    You simply can't. Unless you are extremely senior to the people you manage and all of them have utmost respect to you and take your word as gospel, you will not be able to prevent animosities coming out of conflicts. If you are a psychologist, you can play mind games with them to each others' views but even in that case, success is elusive. – MelBurslan Mar 30 '16 at 18:10
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    I know this isn't Stack Overflow but, "How do I prevent two people from getting offended?" seems too broad to be an answerable question. – BSMP Mar 30 '16 at 19:17
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    Isn't there a saying that the only way you know if a negotiation was fair is if both parties are unhappy? On a more serious note though, this is too vague for us to be helpful. Does your "mediation" always offend someone? Does it tend to offend some people and not others? Does it really offend them, or does it just seem to offend them? What are you doing exactly when you mediate? Are you interfering in conflicts that folks would rather work out themselves, and they're annoyed, not offended? – ColleenV Mar 30 '16 at 21:21
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    I'm thinking that if handling personality issues between your small staff is a regular occurrence that you might consider finding different staff. – NotMe Mar 30 '16 at 22:00
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    Offending someone is different from being offensive. If they take offense at a reasonable executive decision that's their problem, not yours, unless they have skills you can't survive without -- and if that is the case, you need to deepen your volunteer pool's skill base. – keshlam Mar 30 '16 at 22:53
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I am the director

Being the director means you don't get to make everyone happy. It means you need to tell people when they're doing something wrong and determine what you believe is in the best interest for your company and sometimes be the bad guy.

If someone has an issue with another staff member/volunteer, I try to mediate with the two and work out a resolution with both of them together

If your co-workers aren't working well together because of personal reasons, that's unprofessional and not beneficial to your company. In this case, make it clear that it is a work environment that has a goal and that personal issues be left at the door.

If its because of something one person did that the other doesn't like, then you need to address what happened and how it should be handled to set a precedent. If it continues to occur, then it is easy to discipline. In these issues, you may side with one party and upset the other, but make it clear that you make decisions based on what will benefit the company.

This makes it so that you aren't targeting a specific person, but working to improve the company. Some may be offended, but basing your company upon not offending people will do more harm than good.

Remember, everyone gets offended differently. It changes by person, by time, and has way too many factors to work around. The best you can do is to avoid making it personal and understand that you will offend some people sometimes. Best of luck.

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  • Also remember that it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to fire a volunteer. It doesn't sound like you're in that state yet, and hopefully you never will be, but it's something to keep in mind. – keshlam Mar 30 '16 at 22:50
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    @keshlam very much agreed. I meant to include that. They're volunteers intended to help you. Even if it's free help, if they aren't helping you, then they're not worth it. – ChronoD Mar 30 '16 at 22:58
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Unless someone is clearly in the wrong, try to cause equal offense to each - who knows, they may bond over you being the bad guy, and at least they know you're aware of the problem and don't approve. As the director, it's your job to direct, not to be their friend.

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If one is clearly in the wrong, you only need to speak to one, in private preferably. I have never found bringing two people in as a great idea in such situations. The one in the wrong loses 'face' in front of the other which causes more resentment.

But, at the end of the day, if you're the manager of these people, you should not let things like offending staff members when you need to distract you from your work. It's not a beauty pageant.

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Stop mediating, it's not your job and will only further the problem by giving it credibility and by taking away responsibility for their behaviour from them.

Get them both together (with someone from HR); tell them their bickering is affecting the wider team and must stop. Tell them you will no longer be mediating and that you are giving them responsibility for their behaviour. Give them a deadline and some space to develop a Relationship Plan. This should detail when and how they are going to communicate, what they are responsible for achieving together, etc. (basically cover everything that might lead to an argument). Tell them that during the time you're giving them, you will give them space to do whatever it is they need to do to work it out, and that you're prepared to put resource into it to make it happen; if they want to spend the day working on a charitable project, fine, whatever. When they bring the plan to you tell them you expect them to abide by it and if they don't explain that it may lead to a disciplinary on the basis that they are not behaving professionally despite being given every opportunity to change. They can't protest because they defined nice. At the first sign of any disagreement after the plan, go straight to disciplinary - evidence it and go by the book because you may ultimately have to sack one of them.

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  • Just want to add, it doesn't make a difference if one or both are volunteers; they still have to behave appropriately. The volunteer may walk if you take this approach - well, okay. – Newperson Apr 1 '16 at 9:27

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