by Rita Bailey

When to mediate

Mediation is used across the public, not-for-profit and commercial sectors in a wide range of settings. Below is a list of some of the situations in which mediation has successfully been used to resolve issues, after being chosen as the preferred route:

  • Disputes concerning pay and work conditions
  • Planning and development disputes
  • Environmental disputes
  • Team disputes
  • Contract disputes (with suppliers, customers and so on)
  • Neighbourhood and community conflicts
  • Children’s behaviour when in child custody
  • Property issues
  • Business to business disputes
  • Conflicts between institutions and service users (for example, between a university and the students’ union)
  • Personality clashes.

Mediation is also suitable for the following:

  • When maintaining a working relationship with the other person is important because there is a strong level of interdependency
  • When one party feels uncomfortable confronting the other party unless a neutral person is present
  • When one or both parties want to avoid formal proceedings
  • When a decision needs to be made.

When mediation does not work

Mediation is not a cure-all for every problem. In particular, it does not work when

  • Individuals are unwilling to participate and listen
  • Individuals are too upset to take part in the process
  • Court seems more appropriate, as the parties can’t stick to voluntary agreements
  • An imbalance of power makes fairness unlikely
  • An individual is determined to have revenge or inflict public embarrassment on other individual.

In such cases, an adversarial approach, such as litigation, arbitration or adjudication may be more appropriate; alternatively, a more structured non-adversarial approach, such as non-binding arbitration, may be the best option. For more about other approaches, see , Conflict Resolution – Approaches to resolving a conflict.

Legal issues

You should also be aware, as a manager, of the legal implications of conflicts arising around diversity issues. Legislation that may concern conflicts in the workplace includes The Sex Discrimination Act 1975, The Race Relations Act, The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 (see topics on Bullying and Harassment and Discipline and Grievance).

In certain cases, and at an extremely early stage before matters have become complex, people have been stirred up or legal issues arise, mediation has been used to settle potential harassment or bullying issues. But voluntary mediation should not be used as a way of glossing over discrimination. The individual will always have the choice of taking the evidence-based legal route, and if, as a manager, you get involved in a potential discrimination issue, you should be able to answer this question – Are you completely neutral and fair? – with a resounding yes.

In general, if you suspect that the details of the conflict may include offences under the terms of any of the above acts, then you need to deal with the individual who has given offence firmly and instantly, taking into full consideration the other individual’s feelings and reactions.