Mediation

by Rita Bailey

Common questions

  1. What is mediation?
  2. Why mediate?
  3. When to mediate?
  4. Why bother to mediate?
  5. How do I remain impartial?
  6. How do I get disputing employees around the table?
  7. How do I handle the difficult emotions that arise?
  8. How do I get staff to agree?
  9. How do I deal with it if the mediation process breaks down at the meeting?

 

1. What is mediation?

Mediation is a process for resolving contested issues. It is relatively informal, despite involving an impartial third party, who assists the disputing individuals to discuss their situation with a view to reaching a mutually-acceptable agreement or resolution to the dispute.

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2. Why mediate?

It is now accepted that organisations are coping with more change than ever before, whatever sector they are in. This leaves the gate open for differences and disputes to occur in any modern workplace. Yet many managers admit that their own skills concerning dealing with conflict when it arises have not kept pace with this increasing number of disputes. Managing conflict comes high on the list of most managers’ priorities, as they are frequently involved in a whole range of formal and informal procedures for dealing with disputes. It makes good business sense to reduce waste of management time and costs and to increase staff well being and collaboration in the workplace. The cost of formal proceedings, such as tribunals, is high and the proceedings take much longer than mediation provided by line managers.

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3. When to mediate?

Below is a list of some of the situations in which mediation has successfully been used to resolve issues, having been 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

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4. Why bother to mediate?

Think of a recent dispute you observed or were involved in: how did the dispute arise?

When you consider how disputes between departments or even between team members originate, you will recognise that they often start small. They may arise from a performance or inequity issue, concerning budgets, work loads, understaffing and changes. The changes may be in working practices, personal matters that require different working times or difficulties with new processes, any of which can lead to staff feeling alienated from those who manage them, from their group or from particular individuals. Inevitably, if an issue remains unresolved for too long, grievances will start to build up.

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5. How do I remain impartial?

Impartiality is a key aspect of mediation. Mediation will not work unless this is clearly demonstrated. There are two aspects to this:

  • As a mediator, you will need to set aside your own assumptions, prejudices, and judgments
  • You must mediate without showing favour to any specific person, interests or solutions.

In other words, you need to ensure that both parties see you as impartial, fair and operating from a totally balanced perspective.

A good question to ask yourself, if you intend to mediate, is this: is there any chance of someone seeing either you or your actions as favouring one member of staff over another? If your answer is yes, then it is advisable to get someone else to mediate. This person may be internal, such as someone from HR who is trained in mediation, or an external professional mediator.

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6. How do I get disputing employees around the table?

The task of encouraging individuals to come to the table will require you to share clear understandable information about the nature of mediation, your role as mediator, the process itself and the opportunity it offers. The role of the manager is to take the opportunity to approach each individual separately to explore their interest in taking part in mediation, as well as to get a clear idea of their expectations about the process. Be prepared to emphasise the positive aspects of mediation, describing what takes place and how mediation can get everyone working together effectively.

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7. How do I handle the difficult emotions that arise?

Don’t be afraid of the emotions that may well arise in mediation. Typical among these are resentment and frustration. Each individual will express what they need. As the mediator, you need to gather information from both sides to understand what each individual will agree to work with.

Ask good questions, keeping your language simple, positive and impartial. Listen carefully to each person’s expression of their interest and what is important to them, giving each fair air time.

Assist each person by clarifying, reframing and summarising what is said to defuse any tension and help with the process of understanding.

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8. How do I get staff to agree?

The mediation dialogue provides the opportunity for each staff member to reply to what was said, ask questions, and respond to the other person’s perceptions and feelings. It is during this time that a picture starts to develop regarding the obstacles, core issues and possibilities for moving forward.

At every stage, you are asking individuals to agree to seek a solution. This starts from the moment you approach them individually and ask them to participate in mediation meetings and continues during the meeting as they increasingly engage in the process and begin to move forward.

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9. How do I deal with it if the mediation process breaks down at the meeting?

Sometimes, individuals are too upset or act disruptively or they want to stop and leave. At this point, it is important to explore the effect their choice will have on their own work, their future interactions with the other individual and their chances of getting what they want, as well as the impact on others concerned, such as other team members and their own work.

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