Workplace Mediation is a confidential, informal and voluntary process whereby an impartial Mediator facilitates communication between those in dispute to assist them in developing mutually acceptable agreements to improve their future working relationship. Mediation can be effective in both union and non-union settings and at all levels of the organization.
Workplace Mediation offers important benefits to employers and employees alike. It provides fast, creative, mutually satisfactory resolutions. When a dispute is mediated shortly after it arises, the chances of optimal resolution are much greater: the parties’ differences have not had a chance to fester, the situation is generally more fluid, and the parties have more resolution options available to them. Mediated resolutions work better and last longer than authoritatively imposed resolutions because everyone involved has a stake. Moreover, Mediation fosters mutual respect through improved communication, and can mend and preserve frayed working relationships even when the parties are extremely hurt and angry.
Mediation within the workplace generally looks very different from Mediation within the context of litigation. The primary goal of workplace Mediation is to leave the parties better able to work together. Traditional “settlement conferences,” in which the Mediator separates the parties and shuttles back and forth between them, often will not be adequate to this task; the parties need to work through their differences together.
Many disputes arise out of a failure by either party or both parties to communicate, understand or consider the needs and interests of the other. People fix their attention on the question, “Who is right and who is wrong?” and become blind to the possibility that both may have a legitimate point of view. The Mediator’s task is to open communications between them about the reasons for the positions they have taken with each other, helping both parties to understand as fully as possible their own and the other’s view of the situation. As the parties gain an expanded understanding of the situation, their ability to work together toward resolution —and after resolution—increases.
THE MEDIATION PROCESS
An Agree Mediator will consult in advance with an organizational representative to clarify expectations with respect to confidentiality and reporting back, and to obtain information on the history of the conflict. Next, they will meet with each person individually to understand the issues from each person’s point of view. During these individual meetings, the Mediator will also spend time on conflict coaching to assist the parties in adjusting communication styles and ways of approaching or analyzing conflict to help them hear, and be heard by the other party. Then the Mediator will bring the parties together for a face-to-face Mediation session. The Mediation meeting is structured in order to encourage constructive communication and clarification of the main issues, and to help disputants come up with mutually acceptable agreements as to the way to move forward.
These voluntary agreements are then usually written up following the Mediation, and provide the basis for a subsequent meeting with the Mediator at some point in the future. Agree recommends a follow-up meeting 1 – 3 months later to provide additional support, and to hold the parties accountable to the commitments they made to each other.
WHEN IS MEDIATION EFFECTIVE?
Virtually any difference that arises in the workplace can benefit from Mediation if the parties are willing to deal directly with each other and if the company provides the resources for Mediation. Indeed, over time, a workplace in which Mediation is the preferred or presumed dispute resolution mechanism is likely to become a workplace in which colleagues and co-workers need less assistance in working through differences and begin to become natural collaborators.
EXAMPLES OF WORKPLACE MEDIATION
Certain types of workplace conflicts, in particular, benefit from the expertise and neutrality of an external Mediator.
Sexual harassment complaints
People often assume that parties to a sexual harassment complaint cannot work together to resolve the dispute. That assumption can do both parties a disservice. Many hostile environment complaints arise as a result of differences in perception about what is funny or flattering and what is offensive behavior, or they arise as a result of one person’s failure to respect the other or to understand the effect of his or her behavior on the other. If the parties are willing to talk with each other, these complaints can be mediated to excellent conclusions. The employer can save its relationship with both employees and avoid an expensive and painful lawsuit.
Disputes between employees
Sometimes interpersonal differences prevent co-workers from functioning effectively together. If there is a perceived lack of impartiality, or a history of avoidance on the part of management, facilitation by an external Mediator can be effective. The employees are offered a controlled setting in which to air their differences, guidance in communicating effectively about them, and a chance to make agreements about how they will function together in the future.
A good employee can stop performing well for many reasons. Often, when the manager attempts to address the problem, the employee responds with fear and defensiveness, resulting in further deterioration. Mediation between them can help each understand the other’s needs, requirements and requests and can yield an agreement about how they will work together in the future. Both are more likely to observe such an agreement because both had a hand in creating it.
Following an investigation
Investigations can have a negative impact on all parties involved. Whether an investigation has been founded or unsubstantiated, the parties at the heart of the matter may need to continue to work together, or at least be comfortable interacting in the broader workplace. Often other parties to the investigation (eg. witnesses and support persons) also need to heal following an investigation. Professional Mediation can allow both parties to heal, develop common messaging around the outcome of an investigation and their working relationship moving forward.
Between Departmental Leaders
Where managers have inter-related work teams and are having difficulty discussing or strategizing around their team’s deliverables and working relationships, a Facilitated Dialogue between these leaders can assist in aligning the interests of their respective departments in order to leverage their strengths and mitigate the effects of competing interests within and between the co-dependent units. The Facilitated Dialogue process highlights the interdependencies of the “Partners” and their need to deliberately invest in the success of one another in order to achieve both their team’s shared and individual goals and will focus on creating a framework for collaborative problem solving and a proactive issue resolution process in order to build relationships between themselves and their teams.
The Next Best Step: We invite you to call our office to discuss the most appropriate conflict resolution process for your situation – 1-800-524-6967.