When Should You Offer Mediation?
Mediation is a tried and tested way of resolving conflict in the workplace. However, it’s important to get the timing right when considering its use – too late and views will be increasingly entrenched – and to deploy it in the right situations to ensure that the process produces a positive outcome.
The types of scenarios that are suitable for workplace condition generally relate to management styles, work processes, relationships and the working environment. Some examples are:
- Personality clashes or other types of inter-relationship friction or tension
- Breakdowns in working relationships
- Before, during and after big change management projects, when people are more likely to be stressed, worried or angry
- Inappropriate or unwelcome behaviour (possibly including harassment or victimisation)
- Blockages in the work flow due to team working issues
- General office politics or power ‘cliques’
- Disagreements about poor performance or assertive/aggressive management behaviour
- Communications difficulties that have led to misunderstandings
- Issues with employees exercising their responsibilities and/or authority.
It doesn’t follow, though, that mediation should be applied in every scenario that falls within the above categories. For example, the company’s disciplinary procedure may be more applicable to instances of serious bullying or discrimination. It is also not designed to be used to resolve disagreements around employee terms and conditions in the contract of employment. These are better handled informally or via the grievance procedure.
Mediation can be used at every level, from the most junior employees to the organization’s Board, so there are no settings where it’s inappropriate.
Why Training is The Key
When deciding if and when mediation should be used, managers who are trained in conflict resolution will be able to exercise better judgement. They will be able to spot the early signs of disputes and encourage the affected employees to take part before the problem becomes too large or complex to be fixed. Having obtained buy-in, they can then decide whether to facilitate the mediation themselves or appoint an independent mediator.
While early is always better, managers should also be able to identify conflict situations that could benefit from mediation even if other formal procedures have started or even concluded. For example, relationships will be just as damaged if an employee’s grievance against someone else hasn’t been upheld. Mediation can offer a route for the individuals to learn to work with each other again.
With this knowledge, managers will be in a better place to use mediation correctly and evaluate the outcomes. Overall, it’s important for the cost of mediation interventions to be compared with the outlay if nothing had been done to manage workplace conflict. Reduced sickness absence, better staff retention rates and higher productivity can all be measured, thus applying a strategic element to the decisions taken on when to implement mediation.
Linking management decisions on mediation with the bigger picture ensures that organizations make the best use of workplace conflict solutions and optimize the value of the actions taken.
Katherine Graham has 22 years’ experience in the field of workplace dispute resolution. She was made Managing Director of CMP Resolutions in 2009; prior to this she was CMP’s Director of Dispute Resolution. She has delivered more than 400 mediations, often working at the most senior level mediating complex disputes between directors, partners, and CEOs. She has developed new and innovative ways of bringing the benefits of dispute resolution to the workplace. Katherine regularly posts thought-provoking blogs which challenge readers to think differently about dispute resolution at work.