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MEDIATION JOURNAL


Advocating mediation in bus iness


Work Disputes, Who Should Mediate?


Can those who work for the organisation mediate disputes within it? By Marc Reid


Joe was frustrated. He’d become manager of the sales admin team only 6 months ago. It was his first managerial role, a year after finishing graduate training. He really didn’t understand why one of his team, Barbara, was so difficult, and when she stormed out of the performance appraisal he was at a loss as to what to do.


Barbara was really fed up. Since Joe had been manager he’d become ‘pally’ with the other two in the team who were both much younger than her and she seemed to be bearing the brunt of Joe’s complaints about team performance. He was so rude and disrespectful.


Sound familiar? It is a fairly typical workplace situation and looks like an ideal case for mediation – but who will mediate. Someone in HR? How about a senior manager? Or should we get external help? To help decide let’s consider the key things the mediator needs:


1.


2. 3.


The necessary knowledge to know what to do. The competence to do it effectively.


To be sufficiently independent and perceived to be so.


Looking at the first, what knowledge would the person need? Most people have a vague idea of what mediation is – you might hear ‘it’s getting them to sort things out without fighting’, ‘bringing them together so they talk about it’ etc. However, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and trying to mediate between people who are emotionally invested in a relationship conflict can potentially go badly wrong. In our scenario let’s assume the HR Manager, Bob, decides he will mediate. A key principle of mediation is that the participants should control the outcome. Bob is aware of this but time is


pressing and once Barbara and Joe and have had their say they aren’t seeing what is obvious to Bob so he gives them the solution he knows will work. He’s surprised when a month later Barbara raises a grievance as she’d never bought into Bob’s solution. So a basic requirement to mediate should be that the person has been trained in mediation skills and processes.


However even if Bob knows what he should be doing, can he do it? This is where competence comes in. I can read books and go on courses on making good presentations but still make a mess of it when I stand up in front of an audience because unless I’m a natural presenter I need to practise my skills to become competent. It is the same with mediating people in conflict. We know for instance we need to remain impartial, but as a HR or line manager we are so used to weighing up the arguments and making judgements that it is hard to switch this off. Many people I’ve trained in simple mediation skills have turned round after the role play and said it is simply not for them. There is nothing wrong in that – mediating is a skill like any other and just because we work in HR or are used to managing people it doesn’t mean we are born mediators.


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Let’s say Bob knows what to do and is competent. The final question is whether it is appropriate that he mediates. This raises the tricky question of whether you use internal or external mediators. Increasingly large organisations are training selected staff to mediate. This is how I started my own mediation career so having worked as an in-house mediator and now an external supplier I can see both sides. There are advantages to using Bob as he knows the organisational culture, he understands the jargon and is available whenever the company asks him to be.


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Mediators with over 20 years’ experience of workplace mediating


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1212UK Mediation Journal | Issue 1 Sponsored by


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