Workplace Mediation – how does it work
Many people who have worked in any sort of office environment will know that workplace disagreements, disputes or “difficult atmospheres” happen from time to time. Mediation is becoming an increasingly popular way of resolving these sorts of disputes – not least because it is cost-effective from the employer’s point of view. Mediation in the workplace is often highly effective in helping those involved in the disagreements to understand the issues from more than their own point of view and work more effectively with their counterparts in the future.
Each workplace mediation situation is individual and the exact approach the mediator will take in conducting the sessions will always be adjusted and fine-tuned to meet the needs of the parties/participants. However, this article will explain how a mediation process in the workplace will typically be structured.
Decision to attempt mediation
Mediation is a voluntary process. All parties/participants to the disagreement need to agree to try to resolve their differences through mediation. So how might the introduction to a mediation service come about?
Some larger organisations might have a mediation introduction process in place. Even if this is the case, it doesn’t override the need for everyone in the dispute to agree to mediation. If mediation is not appropriate or not agreed to by all parties/participants, the organisation is likely to have an alternative process to follow to make a ruling on the dispute and imposing a binding decision on all parties – for example, following an investigation by the HR department.
However, it is generally accepted that an agreement arrived at by the parties/participants to the disagreement themselves is generally a much more favourable situation and one that is much more likely to result in an outcome which can be accepted by all and one that they are more willing to make work.
If there is no organisational process to refer a disagreement to mediation, it could be that one or more parties to the dispute suggests mediation. Mediation is familiar to more and more people these days, not least because it is very frequently used in divorce and separation negotiations around how to share child care arrangements and agree on financial matters.
If an employer is approached by one of their employees wanting to use mediation to resolve a workplace-related issue, the employer should contact Direct Mediation Service. We will be happy to discuss with them how cost-effectively we can help them resolve the dispute in question.
Initial meeting with mediator
The first step after the parties/participants and employer have agreed to try to resolve the disagreement using independent mediation is for the mediator to speak to all sides separately and confidentially.
The mediator will emphasise to the employer that the mediation process at the workplace is voluntary for everyone and confidential. That means that the mediator will not report back to the employer what happens in the mediation process or what the outcomes are. The employer has to accept, as do all the participants to the mediation, that this is the case.
The separate and confidential meeting with each party to the mediation has two purposes. Firstly, the mediator will explain an outline of how the mediation process is likely to work, the mediator’s impartiality, what is expected from the parties in terms of confidentiality, being respectful of other people’s points of view during the discussions, even when they don’t agree with what’s being said, and the importance of letting everyone have their say.
Secondly, the mediator will want to hear how each person sees the situation as having developed up to this point, where they agree or don’t agree with the other side’s point of view, and what they would like to see as an outcome of the mediation. This helps the mediator gain an understanding of each person’s points of view going into the mediation, the points they need to articulate during the mediation session and the key areas where they need clarification from the other participants.
The mediator will also ask each party to confirm in an agreement to mediate that they are willing to proceed with mediation, and give them the opportunity to ask any questions about any concerns they have or any points they need clarifying. The mediator will also want to check whether any participant has any specific needs so they can fully participate in the workplace mediation process – for example, if they have any disability or language needs to be taken into account.
Joint mediation session
If everyone agrees to proceed, a mutually convenient date and venue can be set for the joint mediation session.
The time needed for mediation depends largely on the complexity of the issues to be resolved, but a half or full working day is often sufficient.
The venue needs to be somewhere neutral and almost always needs to be away from the usual workplace. None of the participants should have the temptation to drop by their desk to check on emails or for a chat with their colleagues during breaks in the mediation! It is also wise to avoid gossip or speculation in the office about who is in the meeting and why.
The venue needs to provide a room sufficiently big for the number of people involved and also sufficient break-out rooms or quiet areas available nearby for people to take a little reflective time out during the mediation to mull over what has been said so far.
Ground rules need to be agreed at the beginning of the mediation. An agreement to mediate, which the mediator will have explained to all parties at their initial individual meeting, will explain the rules of conduct that are expected from everyone and has to be agreed and committed to by all participants.
It is also a very good idea to agree that all mobile phones should be switched off during the mediation session!
Conducting the mediation
The mediator’s role is to help participants explain how they are feeling about the situation, how they see matters and to understand things from different point of view. It is rarely the case that one side is absolutely right and the other absolutely wrong. The aim of mediation is to find the common ground from which to build and accept differing points of views and be able to live with these.
It is similar to two people watching a football match from different ends of the ground. They are seeing the same facts – the way the game unfolds on the pitch – but the angle from which they see the action unfurl gives a different interpretation of what happened. The fan at one end of the ground might feel outraged about their team’s goal being disallowed at the other end of the pitch, until they see the video replay from a different angle showing what the spectator at the other end of the ground will have seen – a clear off-side.
Unfortunately, however, there is not the advantage of a video replay in disagreements at the workplace! Mediation is often the best opportunity to see a workplace disagreement through a different pair of eyes and understand different perspectives of what actually happened.
Follow-up to mediation
The amount of follow-up to the mediation process will depend largely on what the individuals involved agree between themselves. Often, the people involved will feel more comfortable discussing difficult issues between themselves following the mediation, or sometimes they might find a follow-up session with the mediator helpful to them in consolidating what they have learnt about communicating between themselves through mediation.
Workplace mediation can be an extremely effective method of conflict resolution within an organisation. All too often, disagreements in the workplace, disputes or “difficult atmospheres” go unchecked and can have a real disruptive effect, harming productivity, morale and people’s effectiveness at work. Mediation is often the quickest and most cost-effective way to improve the way people experiencing conflict deal with the situation and find a way to communicate more constructively with their colleagues in the future.
Talk to one of our friendly and experienced team on 0113 468 9593 to find out how we can help you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if I don’t want to do mediation?
Mediation is always voluntary, so no one will force you into mediation. However, we would always encourage you to talk to one of our mediators about your concerns. We will try to put your mind at rest.
I’m nervous about doing this, what if the other side is better at speaking than me?
This is one of the main reasons why these disputes often are left unresolved. The mediator will help ensure that mediation is an open environment where everyone can have their say on an equal footing, even when some people in the room are more senior than you. Because the mediator will have some understanding of what is important to you from your initial meeting, they will be able to help you put your thoughts into words.
Isn’t it better to just let HR decide?
This is certainly one way of handling disputes, but people generally are able to accept decisions much better when they have been more involved in the process. One of the objectives of mediation is to help people understand different points of view of the same situation. A decision made by an impartial third party might not always achieve this as much.
As an employer, why should I pay for mediation?
Although mediation involves a cost to the employer, it is usually much, much cheaper than letting a workplace disagreement continue unchecked and develop into something much more serious and costly – for example, an aggrieved employee feeling they have no alternative but to leave and then taking an employment tribunal action against you for constructive dismissal. Disputes resolved through mediation often result in much better teamworking within and between teams.
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