The Best Ways to Utilize Mediation in the Workplace

When do you know you need mediation in your workplace?

The first thing to know is what mediation is (and isn’t) so that you’re equipped to recognize the need if and when conflict at work arises.

The second thing to know is that when your company has a built-in system to proactively manage conflict, then you will never have to face the question of needing mediation. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because here’s the reality:  Few organizations have such a system, and we’re most often called in to provide mediation services when the client workplace situation has reached the crisis point – and spiraling out of control fast.

What mediation is, and isn’t

Let’s dispel some myths. Mediation is not an adversarial, nasty, last-ditch effort to avert a court battle. While it’s a conflict resolution option that’s accepted and welcomed by the legal system, the value of mediation is greater than avoiding litigation. Nor is mediation only a court-appointed option; almost all of our engagements are voluntary, where leadership has taken the initiative to get help.

What mediation is: a process to bring people together to proactively resolve their disputes. The mediator is an impartial, confidential, third-party expert who listens to each side’s position, and takes the parties through a process to help them determine the real issues to be resolved, separate the emotions from the money, find effective ways to communicate with each other, make informed decisions to resolve the issues, and work on options for mutual gain.

Why would you want the services of a mediator?

Picture yourself in the leadership role of this scenario: A disagreement comes up, stubbornly persists, and gains steam day after day. The parties involved can’t come to an agreement even after the intervention of your management in numerous private conversations and meetings.

In fact, the parties are digging their heels in even deeper, getting more entrenched and angry. Everyone (including customers) notices and the workplace atmosphere begins to approach toxic levels. You see warning signs like cliques forming, random back-biting, higher sick days or even employees quitting, meetings becoming dysfunctional and contentious, productivity and innovation lagging. 

A client once told me, “We couldn’t have even been in the same room, let alone come to an agreement” (before we were called in to mediate – successfully, I’m happy to add). 

If this is a scenario you find yourself in, or is happening under your watch, it’s time to bring in a mediator – immediately, because the costs to this situation are high and will continue to grow, especially if it goes to arbitration or litigation.

How to utilize mediation for best results

With the help of the American Arbitration Association, I offer these steps to help you prepare for a mediation session to ensure the results you’re looking for:

1.    Define and analyze the issues involved in the dispute.

2.    Recognize the parameters of the given situation (realistic expectations, time restraints, resources).

3.    Identify your needs and interests in settling the dispute.

4.    Prioritize the issues in light of your needs.

5.    Explore positions, tradeoffs and a variety of possible solutions.

6.    Seek to make your proposals reasonable and legitimate, and be willing to accommodate needs of the other party.

7.    Prepare facts, documents and sound reasoning to support your claims.

8.    Anticipate the other party’s needs, demands, positions and version of facts.

9.    Focus on the interests, not the position, of each party.

10. Look at your strategies through discussion of issues and presentation of proposals, rather than your personal feelings.

Mediation enjoys an 85% dispute resolution success rate in commercial matters. Bringing in a mediator can help you resolve a conflict, repair fractured working relationships, and get your organization back on track to meeting its goals.

I would love to hear about your experiences with a dispute in your workplace; what it was like and the ways it was, or was not, resolved.

Please comment below to get the conversation started!