In Northern Ireland, we’re more than familiar with conflict. But luckily, we’re also familiar with resolving conflict through effective mediation

Few are better placed to discuss this subject than Enda Young, Programme Director at the William J Clinton Leadership Institute at Queen’s University Belfast. 

In an episode of ProfileTree’s award-winning Business Leader series, we sit down with Enda to explore how businesses can benefit from implementing processes for conflict resolution, negotiation and mediation. 

Watch our full conversation with Enda in the video below, and subscribe to the series for more fascinating insights. Check it out!

Enda young: conflict resolution and mediation

Enda’s Career Journey

As we kick off our discussion, Enda takes us on a quick walkthrough of his personal background and professional experience before entering the William J Clinton Leadership Institute, jokingly describing himself as a recovering mechanical engineer. 

conflict resolution mediation enda young

“That was my first degree and my first real passion. However, I always remembered a training session I had at the age of sixteen, when we had a small group present to us on conflict mediation. I immediately knew that this is what I wanted to do for a living.” 

He returned to university to complete further study in conflict resolution and mediation, leading him onto the career path he has now been following for the best part of 20 years.

Enda young
Enda has always had a passion for helping people, despite his initial career choice where he studied engineering.

Resolving Conflict: The William J Clinton Leadership Institute

So, what is the William J Clinton Leadership Institute, and what work is it involved in? Based in Queen’s University’s Riddel Hall and part of the university’s School of Management – the executive education department of the institution.

“We train a lot of companies and organisations in leadership. Wherever you are in your career, we have a leadership for you.

“You might be really good at your job, and all of a sudden you’re managing your first team. What is that shift, and what new skill sets do you need? Our course allows you to develop those skills and manage your time more effectively.”

Enda Young and the William J Clinton Leadership also deliver highly popular bespoke training courses which are tailored to the needs of any specific business or organisation. 

“We would work along with you for six months to a year, to develop a bespoke programme that helps move your organisation along.”

He suggests that the large physical space of Riddel Hall provides that essential area that businesses along with their colleagues and workers can come to learn, work and study together.

The mediation expert emphasises that the courses and services offered by the William J Clinton Leadership Institute aren’t limited to low-level workers. The Institute places great focus on training and developing the skills of senior management figures, including CEOs. 

“You may have business leaders who are so focussed on their work that they actually forget their own personal development. Actually getting the time to look at who you are and the latest theories in practice is extremely valuable, and at the Institute we do pair that with academic research.”

Conflict mediation should be a skill taught to everyone, according to Enda. 

“It should be as widespread as getting taught how to use a fire extinguisher. We all deal with conflict, and conflict in itself isn’t inherently negative. Some of the best and most productive relationships we have contain elements of conflict. It’s when conflict isn’t dealt with properly it can be destructive, and that will lead to situations where you may have people taking time off with stress.”

He suggests that the impacts of this can be profound, highlighting research from the Republic of Ireland which reflected that we spend up to three hours a week in a state of conflict.

The William J Clinton Leadership Institute
The William J Clinton Leadership Institute delivers impactful executive education programmes designed to develop leadership identity, transform performance and provide a competitive edge for businesses.
Image credit: BusinessFirst

People Will Always Be People

Whilst economies will always be in a state of change, Enda reminds us that people will always be people. 

“One of the key things we see is misinterpretation of tone in emails and instant messaging. We see people being micromanaged and the continued removal of autonomy. I guarantee you that conflict will grow from that point.

“If people have no say in the direction of their own career – that poor communication and lack of respect, people’s inability to listen to each other is a huge issue that we see more and more.”

In many cases, Enda encounters a gulf between what may have been intended with a particular message or action, and the actual impact that it has had upon a business or organisation. The bigger that gap is, the greater the potential becomes for more destructive forms of conflict.

“It may be that you had a totally different intention from that particular message or action. However, that may have made me feel a certain way, and that is the emotion that you have essentially left me with.”

Identifying your own personal style of conflict can be one of the most effective steps towards conflict resolution. 

“Do you enjoy conflict, or do you do everything you can do to avoid it? Do you naturally collaborate and compromise? All of us have a style that we revert back to when we are tired, when our emotional resilience is low. We train people how to be flexible. As a leader, how can you flex your style, even when you don’t want to? It’s about asking how you see yourself, and how you think your staff see you.”

Enda suggests that the skills of mediation and conflict resolution have fallen under the category of ‘soft skills’ – something that he himself rejects.

“Small conflicts in work, people become preoccupied by it. That can be all-encompassing for that person, and it takes over. How many negotiations do you have in your own head before you come into work? These can impact huge issues, and I think this illustrates how important conflict resolution and mediation can be for businesses and organisations, regardless of their nature or size.”

Those wishing to learn more about the fascinating work carried out at the William J Clinton Leadership Institute can learn more by visiting the official website, or by following the institution’s Twitter account. Businesses and organisations can also reach out to Enda Young directly via LinkedIn.

Cornerstones of Successful Conflict Resolution: 4 Key Principles

Navigating conflict effectively requires a strategic approach focused on understanding perspectives, building trust, and reaching mutually beneficial solutions. Here, we delve into four key principles that act as foundational pillars for successful conflict resolution:

1. Address Issues Early Before Escalation:

  • Delaying difficult conversations often worsens the situation. Early intervention prevents emotions from flaring, clarifies misunderstandings, and allows for a more constructive dialogue.
  • Action: Create a culture of open communication where concerns are promptly addressed. Encourage proactive problem-solving instead of bottling up issues until they explode.

2. Focus on Needs Rather Than Positions:

  • People often get stuck defending their “positions,” but these might mask underlying needs and interests. Shifting the focus to needs facilitates empathy, identifies common ground, and opens doors to creative solutions.
  • Action: Ask open-ended questions to understand the “why” behind each position. Explore underlying needs and interests driving each party’s stance. Seek solutions that address these needs constructively.

3. Find Opportunities for Agreement:

  • Even in heated situations, areas of agreement often exist. Identifying these commonalities builds trust, reduces antagonism, and provides a foundation for further progress.
  • Action: Actively listen and acknowledge areas of agreement, no matter how small. Build upon these agreements to create momentum and encourage collaboration in seeking solutions.

4. Separate People from Problems:

  • Emotions and personal attacks cloud judgment and hinder progress. Treating each other with respect, even in disagreement, fosters a conducive environment for productive problem-solving.
  • Action: Focus on the issue at hand, not personalities. Avoid labeling, blaming, or personal attacks. Maintain a respectful and professional demeanor throughout the discussion.

The Mediation Process Step-by-Step

When conflict simmers and dialogue seems impossible, mediation offers a structured approach to facilitate communication, understanding, and ultimately, mutually agreeable solutions. Let’s explore the key steps involved in the mediation process:

1. Introduction and Ground Rules:

  • The mediator introduces themselves and explains the mediation process, objectives, and confidentiality principles.
  • Ground rules for respectful communication, active listening, and avoiding interruptions are established.
  • All parties consent to participate voluntarily and in good faith.

2. Opening Statements from Each Party:

  • Each party is given the opportunity to share their perspective on the conflict, outlining their experience, concerns, and desired outcomes.
  • The mediator ensures each party feels heard and avoids interruptions or challenges during this stage.

3. Identifying Interests and Concerns:

  • Moving beyond positions, the mediator facilitates a discussion to uncover the underlying interests and concerns driving each party’s stance.
  • Asking open-ended questions and actively listening are crucial to understanding these underlying motivations.
  • This stage helps identify common ground and areas of flexibility for potential solutions.

4. Brainstorming Solutions and Options:

  • With a clearer understanding of needs and interests, the mediator guides the parties in brainstorming potential solutions that address them effectively.
  • Creativity and open-mindedness are encouraged to explore various options without judgment.
  • The mediator may suggest solutions or facilitate discussion, but avoids imposing their own preferences.

5. Negotiating Agreement:

  • Based on the brainstormed options, the parties engage in negotiations to reach a mutually agreeable solution.
  • The mediator facilitates fair and balanced discussions, ensuring all voices are heard and concerns are addressed.
  • Compromise and flexibility are key as parties work towards a solution that satisfies everyone’s core needs.

6. Finalizing the Agreement:

  • Once a solution is agreed upon, the mediator helps document it in a clear and concise written agreement.
  • The agreement outlines the terms, responsibilities, and timelines for implementation.
  • All parties sign the agreement, signifying their commitment to upholding its terms.

Essential Tools for Navigating Conflict: Key Skills for Mediators

Navigating conflict effectively requires a unique blend of personal qualities and honed skills. As a mediator, your role goes beyond simply facilitating communication; you bridge divides, build trust, and guide individuals towards mutually beneficial solutions. Here are some crucial skills that equip you to excel in this dynamic role:

1. Active Listening and Empathy:

  • Listen intently: Beyond simply hearing words, actively listen to understand the emotions, needs, and motivations behind them. Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues.
  • Emphasize empathy: Acknowledge and validate feelings expressed by all parties, even if you disagree with their positions. This fosters trust and creates a safe space for open communication.

2. Asking Insightful Questions:

  • Master the art of inquiry: Craft questions that go beyond surface-level information. Probe deeper to uncover underlying interests, concerns, and priorities driving each party’s stance.
  • Ask open-ended questions: Encourage elaboration and avoid leading questions that bias responses. The goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of each perspective.

3. Maintaining Impartiality:

  • Remain objective: Avoid taking sides or expressing personal opinions that could influence the outcome. Maintain a neutral stance throughout the mediation process.
  • Balance participation: Ensure all parties have equal opportunities to voice their perspectives and participate in discussions. Avoid favoring one party over another.

4. Earning Trust and Confidence:

  • Project professionalism: Dress appropriately, maintain eye contact, and radiate confidence and competence. Your demeanor plays a key role in creating a trusting environment.
  • Communicate effectively: Speak clearly, concisely, and respectfully. Show active listening and acknowledge concerns to demonstrate that you value each party’s input.

Additional Skills to Elevate Your Practice:

  • Problem-solving and critical thinking: Analyze complex situations, identify potential solutions, and guide participants towards effective outcomes.
  • Conflict management: Facilitate constructive dialogue even in emotionally charged situations. De-escalate tensions and maintain a safe and respectful space for communication.
  • Intercultural competence: Adapt your communication style and approach to accommodate diverse cultural backgrounds and sensitivities.
  • Negotiation skills: Facilitate fair and balanced discussions as parties work towards mutually agreeable solutions.

Mediation, while aimed at reaching solutions, often encounters hurdles in the form of resistance from one or both parties. This resistance can stem from anger, fear, distrust, or simply feeling unheard. Overcoming these obstacles necessitates strategic interventions and a well-honed mediator skillset. Let’s delve into key strategies to effectively overcome resistance in mediation:

1. Allow Parties to Vent Emotions:

  • Suppressed emotions can explode later, hindering progress. Acknowledge and allow space for controlled emotional expression. Let them vent frustrations and concerns without judgment.
  • Action: Use phrases like “It sounds like you’re feeling…” or “It’s understandable to be frustrated” to validate their emotions and create a safe space for venting.

2. Reframe Hostile Language into Needs:

  • Hostile language and attacks often mask underlying needs and fears. Reframe these expressions to identify the needs behind the anger or negativity.
  • Action: When someone says “You never listen,” reframe it as “It’s important for me to feel heard and understood.” This shift helps move the focus from blame to underlying needs.

3. Take Breaks if Tensions Rise:

  • Heated emotions can cloud judgment and hinder communication. If tensions escalate, don’t hesitate to suggest a short break. Allow individuals to cool down and collect themselves.
  • Action: Acknowledge the rising tension and propose a break, stating “I see the discussion is getting heated. Let’s take a five-minute break to allow everyone to collect their thoughts.”

4. Find Common Ground:

  • Even in hostile situations, common ground often exists. Identify shared interests, concerns, or even small agreements to build trust and momentum.
  • Action: Ask questions like “What’s something you both agree on regarding the situation?” or “Is there anything you both value in a potential solution?” Highlighting shared goals helps shift the focus towards collaboration.

Additional Strategies:

  • Practice active listening: Demonstrate genuine interest in understanding each party’s perspective through attentive listening and clarifying questions.
  • Maintain neutrality and impartiality: Avoid taking sides or expressing personal opinions, ensuring all parties feel heard and respected.
  • Validate concerns: Acknowledge the legitimacy of each party’s concerns, even if you disagree with them. This fosters trust and encourages open communication.
  • Focus on interests, not positions: Move beyond stated positions to uncover the underlying needs and interests driving each party’s stance. This allows for creative solutions addressing core concerns.
  • Humor can defuse tension: Use humor judiciously and appropriately to lighten the mood and create a more relaxed atmosphere.

Unveiling the Benefits of Successful Mediation

Mediation, when conducted effectively, offers a multitude of advantages for individuals and organizations alike. By fostering open communication, understanding, and collaborative problem-solving, successful mediation delivers a wealth of benefits beyond simply reaching an agreement. Let’s explore the key advantages that make mediation a compelling choice for resolving conflict:

1. Improved Relationships:

  • Unlike adversarial methods like litigation, mediation prioritizes preserving and even strengthening relationships. Through open communication and collaborative problem-solving, parties gain a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives, fostering empathy and respect.
  • Outcomes: This improved understanding can lead to more positive interactions in the future, paving the way for ongoing collaboration and trust-based relationships.

2. More Durable and Voluntary Agreements:

  • Unlike court-imposed rulings, mediated agreements are voluntary and reached through mutual consent. This increases the likelihood of parties adhering to the agreement, as they feel invested in the solution and committed to its success.
  • Outcomes: Durable agreements reduce the risk of future disputes and foster long-term stability, saving time, resources, and emotional strain in the long run.

3. Reduced Time and Costs of Litigation:

  • Litigation can be a lengthy and expensive process, draining resources and causing anxiety for all parties involved. Mediation offers a faster and more cost-effective alternative, often resolving disputes in weeks or months compared to years in court.
  • Outcomes: Reduced legal fees, court costs, and lost productivity from prolonged litigation translate to significant financial savings for both parties.

Additional Benefits:

  • Confidentiality: Mediation proceedings are confidential, allowing parties to discuss sensitive matters openly without fear of public disclosure.
  • Empowerment: Both parties actively participate in crafting the solution, fostering a sense of ownership and empowerment over the outcome.
  • Preserved Reputation: Avoiding the public scrutiny of litigation protects the reputation of all involved parties.
  • Creative Solutions: The collaborative nature of mediation allows for exploring creative solutions that traditional litigation might overlook.


Q: When should I consider mediation compared to other conflict resolution methods?

A: Mediation is ideal for situations where parties want to preserve relationships, explore creative solutions, and reach voluntary agreements. If your conflict involves power imbalances, criminal charges, or safety concerns, other approaches might be necessary.

Q: What happens if one party refuses to participate in mediation?

A: While mediation requires voluntary participation, a skilled mediator can encourage participation by highlighting the benefits and addressing concerns. However, if one party remains unwilling, alternative approaches might be required.

Q: How much does mediation typically cost?

A: Mediation fees vary depending on the mediator’s experience, the complexity of the conflict, and the duration of the process. Consult with potential mediators to understand their pricing structure.

Q: What are the qualifications of a good mediator?

A: Look for mediators with training in conflict resolution, impartiality, active listening, and communication skills. Experience in your specific industry or conflict area can also be beneficial.

Q: What can I do to prepare for mediation?

A: Clearly define your desired outcome, gather relevant documents, and be prepared to openly communicate your perspective and concerns.

Conflict Resolution with Enda Young: Conclusion

Conflict is inevitable, but navigating it effectively can be transformative. When conducted successfully, mediation empowers individuals and organizations to resolve disputes collaboratively, build stronger relationships, and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. By understanding the benefits, key principles, and steps involved in the mediation process, you can make informed decisions about whether it’s the right approach for your situation and leverage its potential to turn conflict into an opportunity for positive change.

Remember, seeking professional guidance from a qualified mediator can significantly increase your chances of achieving a successful and sustainable resolution.

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