You like to think of yourself as a fair-minded referee when you manage conflict. But your success as a mediator depends on whether you can build trust.
If you're trying to broker a peace between warring workers, use neutral language. Avoid labeling people even in jest. Describing an egomaniac jokingly as "your highness" might seem harmless, but it can offend and reignite ill will.
When workers attack each other's work habits, don't take sides. Resist the urge to inject editorial comments. If someone accuses a co-worker of maintaining a sloppy cubicle, shift the focus to how each employee can take steps to make the other more successful. Don't add, "Oh, there are worse sins than sloppiness."
In an effort to restore harmony, you might resort to manipulative praising. Examples include, "You're so smart, you must understand how what you said doesn't make sense" or "You've got a great personality, but you've got to keep your voice down."
Prefacing a critical observation with a dollop of praise can leave your staff on guard. They will become conditioned to think, "Uh oh, I wonder what's coming next."
The quickest way to fuel a conflict is to talk too much and lecture the combatants. No one wants to hear their supervisor make lots of "You should" or "You ought" statements.
Instead, summarize what they tell you and ask, "What else would you like to add?" When all parties have completed their comments, stay quiet. Wait to see what else they choose to add when given additional time to continue talking.
Your ability to remain silent allows them to draw their own conclusions. It's fine to prod people gently to share what's on their mind, as long as you remain a judicious observer rather than a judgmental commentator.