Small Business Disputes

Small business disputes have a huge impact. In any organisation, disagreements and personality clashes cause problems. In her article on the cost of conflict, Andra Picincu lists 4 major issues: decreased productivity, loss of revenue, low morale and poor communication.  Other negative effects are increased absenteeism, staff resignation and mental health issues. However, when conflict occurs in a small organisation, the effects are magnified.

Why Do Small Business Disputes Cause So Much Damage?


Many small businesses grow organically, with employees recruited from friends and family. So although this reduces the chance of conflict, it increases its impact when it happens. They expect friends and family to agree and see their side of things. When they don’t, it is usually taken personally. Conflict at work spills over into the rest of one’s life. The person who disagrees with you about how to handle bad debt may be the person who is the mother of your children. An argument with a colleague outside work taints relationships in the business.

“10% of conflicts are due to difference in opinion. 90% are due to wrong tone of voice.”  Unknown

People usually recruit people who are like them and they like. So they aren’t used to dealing with disagreements, and their skills may have become rusty.


In a business with 2 employees if one employee is in dispute, that is 50% of your available labour force. If Amazon loses a customer, it might not even be noticed. But if you are management consultant with 3 or 4 customers, a dispute with one could lead to a major loss of revenue.  There is less wiggle room.

ResourcesImage by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Resources are limited. In a larger company, managers can call on the expertise of colleagues or human resources. In a small business, you may be brilliant at what you do. However, you also have to be sales, marketing, HR, credit control and operations manager.

Time dealing with conflict impacts on all your other jobs. It’s harder to get away from the conflict or to find space to resolve it. The longer the conflict goes on, the worse things get.


Most owner-managers or founders of businesses are passionate about their business. Passion may cloud reason. Disagreements with a passionately held vision or view is taken personally and reactions may be out of proportion.

What are the principles of Mediation?

Confidential: Everything that happens in the meeting is confidential. There are exceptions to this, for example, if there is a child protection issue, if someone is in immediate danger, or if someone has benefited financially from a crime. We will also co-operate with court orders.

Voluntary: The participants choose whether or not they want to use mediation. They are free to withdraw at any time. Mediation is non-binding; the parties are responsible for keeping any agreements they make. Some mediated agreements become legally binding court orders.

Non-judgemental: Mediators do not make judgments about the situation or tell the parties what to do.

Independent: Mediators are independent of the dispute and don’t take sides. They help both parties equally.

What Happens at Mediation?

Mediation offers a chance for everyone involved in the conflict to take time out from formal processes and try a more human approach. With the help of a skilled professional mediator, people are able to talk about difficult issues. It may take place before any formal process or participants may have already started taken legal advice.  All parties need to agree to the process (Roundtuit Participant Agreement to Take Part) and to the mediator chosen if it is a formal mediation.  (I also offer informal early intervention and  conflict coaching if people are not ready for mediation).

In cases where the dispute is between employer and employee, or between two employees, workplace mediation provides the best way forward. More details on workplace mediation.

Individual sessions

bringing discussion back and focus workplace mediation

Participant comment

First, a mediator speaks with each person involved in the situation individually. These sessions are confidential. Nothing is shared with anyone else (unless the person specifically says to do so). Each participant is encouraged to give their view, and express their needs. The mediator helps the person reflect on how to express this so that the other participants can understand. This time for consideration helps people think more clearly and objectively. It helps to highlight common interests. These sessions create an environment for the participants to have a constructive conversation. Then, when all participants are ready, the mediator arranges a joint session.

Joint sessions

Next, the joint session takes place, ideally in a neutral venue. In the joint session, the mediator acts as a SatNav or translator. The mediator(s) keep things on track by focussing on solutions and the future. She highlights similarities and differences. Then, she helps participants explore issues and discuss options. This skilled management of the meeting helps the participants understand each other.. They may be in the same room talking together with the mediator present or in different rooms with the mediator moving between them. This is also the case on-line with a virtual meeting.

At the end of the mediation, the mediator documents any agreements or actions. When there is no agreement, the mediator provides a statement of where things have ended. It is up to the parties with whom they share it. In the case of payment by an employer or third party, the parties in the mediation agree what information may be shared with this person.

More on mediation,  specifically in the workplace

How Can Mediation Help?

Recommendation for Nancy

  • Quick (swiftly organised,
  • Cost-effective (less expensive than lawyers. Nancy offers special prices for charities as well)
  • Promotes healing
  • Chance to understand each other
  • Gives clarity about next steps
  • Better communication
  • Opportunity to speak freely
  • Great for difficult to leave situations–if your driver is also your nephew, it’s harder to sack  him–mediation might offer more options
  • Future and positive focus

The earlier that positive solutions to conflict are considered, the better.  Contact for free confidential exploration of what would be best for your situation.