Conflict is a natural element within the workplace and can be healthy, within moderation, in order to generate new ideas and move the business forwards.
However, there can be too much conflict which becomes obstructive. Employees may refuse to work with a certain employee or refuse to attend work until a particular employee is ‘dealt with’. It is usually possible for the line manager or the employees themselves to resolve the conflict, yet it may be necessary to use more formal channels to address workplace disputes. Research shows that workplace is most likely to be resolved when direct action is taken. The worst thing you can do is nothing.
When is mediation appropriate?
Mediation can be used when there is conflict between any two or more people in the workplace, whether that is a manager and their delegate, two senior leaders or colleagues of a similar job or grade.
Ideally, mediation should be used in the early stages of conflict in order to minimise the chance of the situation escalating. It can be used at any point during conflict in order to re- build relationships.
Mediation is most often used when relationships have broken down but it can be used for a whole range of workplace issues such as personality clashes, communication problems and bullying and harassment.
Medition is a voluntary tool which can be effective in resolving disagreements after informal approaches have not been successful. The goal of mediation is to provide a quick but long-lasting solution to workplace conflict and disagreements. It’s a flexible, voluntary process, which is morally binding rather than legally.
A Workplace Mediator will work with each employee involved giving them an opportunity to discuss what they believe the issues are, listen to what the other person has to say, without interruption or judgement, and to take a holistic view on how to move the situation forward. The Workplace Mediator aims to create a safe and confidential space so that a solution can be found.
According to the CIPD, the aims of mediation are to:
- Help parties involved in conflict to understand and empathise with each other’s emotions and situations
- explore the issues and concerns of all parties and use joint problem-solving to find a solution that each side feels is fair
- encourage communication and establish workable relationships
- help participants develop the skills to resolve workplace difficulties for themselves in future.
The impartiality off the trained Workplace Mediator allows them to facilitate a meeting and reach an agreement. Whilst they remain in charge, the solution comes from those participating in the mediation.
Why would you use mediation over other formal routes?
Mediation allows compromise and is less stressful for those involved. It also avoids the costs involved in defending employment tribunal claims and creates a lasting solution. It is also a useful tool when managers are not best place to deal with disputes, for example if they do not have the skills to resolve the conflict.
The stages of mediation:
- The Workplace Mediator talks to each party separately to understand their side of the story and to find out what each party wants from the process.
- The Workplace Mediator holds joint meetings in order for the employees to recount their story and listen to the other employee’s version, explore issues together and finally build and write an agreement.
- The Workplace Mediator will conclude the process and provide a copy of the agreed statement to each participant. The statement will show the responsibilities of each person.
Sometimes, no agreement can be reached, and other formal procedures may have to be implemented to move the conflict forward.
It’s important to note that mediation is only successful if all parties are willing to work to a solution and there are some cases when mediation is not appropriate:
If it’s used by a manager to avoid their managerial responsibilities.
If a decision about right or wrong is needed (criminal activity).
If an individual is experiencing mental health problems, such as severe stress, or has learning difficulties which will be an obstacle to a group meeting.
External Workplace Mediators can provide a cost-effective source of conflict resolution and will have dedicated time to address all elements of the process, with on-going support and supervision.