UNDERSTANDING THE FUNCTION OF WORKPLACE MEDIATION

Jane Swain

 

Workplace mediation is a relatively unfamiliar service to most employers yet when used appropriately we save companies thousands of pounds in lost time, loss of productivity and ultimately loss of valuable personnel.

Mediation is not just about conflict resolution.  It has a number of applications including the facilitation of culture change.  In its most simple form employers gain the most benefit from our service in the immediate aftermath of an incident.  At this point emotions are often running high but, they are rarely so fixed that a solution cannot be pursued if a difficult conversation can be facilitated by an independent third party.

Feedback from my clients has included comments which describe the process as being like a “magic spell”.  The reality is our involvement allows people to recognise their disagreements are often disguising a lot of positives.  If they can discard their grievances with each other and reinstate positive lines of communication within a few hours or day – there is the potential for the reinstatement of trust.

Not all situations are suitable for mediation but, when used appropriately, if it fails – which is rare – it is likely due to the intransigence of one participant or the lack of adequate levels of self awareness in one or both people. Alternatively it could be that the exercise reveals an underlying issue unsuited to the process.  This could be something as sensitive as the existence of an undiagnosed mental health issue or something very serious like criminal activity.     There is also a third outcome which is not a “failure” as such but, more a delayed outcome.  This is where the participants do not have the time necessary to move them from their individual positions to discuss the issues in depth.  However, if emotions are acknowledged and calmed it is more likely participants will go on to find a solution once they have had time to reflect upon and revisit the reason they agreed to participate in the mediation in the first instance.

Even where tensions are running really high and a situation appears very serious the opportunity to mediate is seldom seen as unwelcome when offered.   Certain types of information can be safely discussed that would otherwise not be aired between participants especially if legal implications exist.  Such is the nature of the confidentiality agreement – which functions in a “without prejudice” framework – most if not all aspects of an issue are safely open to discussion.  It is entirely the decision of participants what they bring to the table.  Mediators facilitate conversations – we do not direct them or advise those involved.  We believe you have the answers – our role is to ask the type of question that helps you locate them.

I personally value the use of a Workplace Agreement.  While it is not legally binding the value of a written agreement that suits both participants serves as a reminder for all about what was agreed on the day.  This plays a helpful role in sustaining goals the pursuit of which will keep people committed to a collaborative relationship in the future.

So what is the value of using mediation in the workplace or other similar environments?  Separate but complimentary to the measurable financial benefits for the employer is the culture change it can introduce.   Effective conflict management is a life skill we all can benefit from but, for some reason it is given little priority in our upbringing and education.  Most assume some people are just “naturally” better at dealing with conflict than others.  The reality is the majority of us benefit from learning the techniques and how to deploy them.

Once I have trained people in the basics the feedback I receive is people feel more confident and self assured, experience improved inner calm and raised self esteem.  Much of this is due to the link between learning how to manage our emotions in tense moments.  Most people deal badly with conflict because they fear dealing with their own and others emotions more than the circumstances which are involved.

Mediators like me whose focus is on assisting in the reduction of interpersonal conflict in the workplace have extensive experience of working in commercial settings of all types.  Our knowledge of commercial practice is wide and we can anticipate much of what people are experiencing both personally and professionally.  Our skills can be applied in different ways.  We can “coach” individuals to prepare how to manage conflict more effectively or, train groups of people to use conflict constructively as well as facilitating a formal mediation.  We understand the pressures facing everyone involved in a workplace dispute – irrespective of their role and always seek to deploy the most effective method of support.

Email callthemediators@gmail.com or phone 07846 531 801 and speak with Jane Swain for more information about alternative dispute resolution in the workplace.