Welcome back to a new year!

I hope you are feeling refreshed and energised for the year ahead. Can you say the same for your staff? Are any of them in conflict with each other? Then this article may timely for you to consider…

Meditation, medication or mediation? Which option are you offering your employees to manage conflict?

During a workplace conflict which had been going on for nine months, Natalie* had resorted to the first two strategies to manage her stress. Her employer brought in the third strategy, mediation, to address the conflict but it shouldn’t have got to that stage for Natalie.

Many workplaces have a grievance policy for employees. It’s becoming more common, and indeed an expectation, that mediation is a strategy implemented to assist employees in conflict. More often I’m finding employers don’t realise the benefit of mediating a conflict early and that’s why some of their employees end up like Natalie – having to take drastic action, personally, because of workplace conflict.

Here is an overview of what your employees can experience by entering into mediation and it is hoped that by gaining a better understanding of the process, employers will enact this strategy earlier than many are currently doing.Workplace mediation

Before the mediation – meet with the mediator first

Participants should meet with a workplace mediator before the mediation session commences to ensure the conflict is suitable for mediation and if so, for the mediator to explain the process. I find many people are both nervous and relieved when I meet with them before the mediation and they are usually like Natalie’s colleague, Andrew*, who was “very keen to get it sorted as it should not have gone on for this long”.

During the mediation – the light bulb moments happen by following a process

A mediation can take up to four hours. Its purpose is to support participants to come up with their own workable outcomes. The role of the mediator is to encourage participants to make their own decisions while the mediator stays neutral.

The process starts with housekeeping and then participants talk about what has been going on, from their perspective. This provides an opportunity for them to present, in a safe environment, with the independent mediator, the facts as they perceive them and how they have felt as a result of what they have experienced. Each person gets to speak, and to listen, to their colleague.

The mediator repeats what they have heard both people say; this checks for understanding and also enables each participant to hear things if they missed it the first time.

When the mediator has received agreement from each participant that they have understood their issues, a list of items for discussion is designed. This list is used to ensure participants have a chance to talk about everything they want to address.

Next, participants discuss their concerns in detail. Ninety minutes can easily pass here as participants share and discuss their and their colleague’s issues. This step can be quite an emotional one for participants as they are expressing facts and also the emotional impact this situation has had on them.

More often than not,
information never heard before is revealed
an apology is usually offered.

After both participants have shared their past experience, a break is taken. During this break, the mediator stays in the room and meets with each 1-1 to find out how the session is going for them. It was during this time when speaking with Andrew I heard how he was relieved to hear an apology from Natalie and he was also surprised to hear the toll this conflict had taken on her.

Andrew was now more keen to work with Natalie to gain a workable outcome and as a result, what he thought was important before he entered the room had changed.

Hearing all the facts often does that to participants – once they know the full story, their perspective changes and in some cases, so too does the outcome they are looking for. The mediator may take on the role of a devil’s advocate to ensure participants have thought about potential outcomes from all perspectives to ensure they aren’t thinking on emotion only.

Everyone returns to the room with the mediator and the focus turns to the future. Their conversation now changes to consider how they will work together, differently. During this stage, agreements will be made on some items while others may be considered “discussed and not yet agreed”. This phrase paves the way for future agreement on those topics.

The session ends as agreements are confirmed, usually in writing. Natalie and Andrew were thankful for the mediation as a lot of their concerns had been resolved. But they shared one thought – they wished the conflict hadn’t gone on this long and their employer had brought in a mediator much, much earlier.

Maybe then, Natalie wouldn’t have needed the medication and meditation.

Are you acting quickly enough on conflict in your workplace?

*no real names were used

Andrea (166 Posts)

Andrea Doyle MHRM, Accredited Mediator – NMAS
Workplace Mediator, Conflict Manager
Author, Presenter

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