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On the other hand, he will find it much more difficult to convince Barbara and Joe that he is truly impartial, that he can take off his ‘HR hat’ and be independent. Large organisations can get round this to some extent by using people from a different part of the organisation but will he ever be perceived as truly independent by the participants? Also, Bob is likely to have only limited experience – how often has he done this before? Compared to an external specialist whose job it is to supply mediation services it is unlikely he will have the same level of experience. Which is fine if the situation does not demand it – so a critical question is when can it be managed in-house and when does external support need to be accessed?


In my view the sensible approach for organisations to take is multi-layered. Ideally we want our employees to be sorting issues out themselves. So we must train them in having the necessary difficult conversations with fellow employees so any disagreement or miscommunication


can be cleared up right away. If that doesn’t happen, at Conflict Management- tiered approached


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the next level we need managers who are both competent and confident to identify and manage low level conflict.


They need training in spotting the signs and then dealing with it early on. All too often our managers avoid conflict, seeing it as ‘too difficult’ or risky. Unfortunately this can easily lead to conflict escalating until HR get the call or even a grievance letter lands on the managers desk. At this point the organisation needs more specialist conflict skills. This could be HR or turning to trained internal mediators, but it is important that companies have access to external support when impartiality and experience are critical to the case.


So who should mediate for Barbara and Joe? The scenario is based on an actual case I dealt with as an internal mediator.


It turned out positively, but actually the critical


factor was not whether I was internal or external, HR or non HR. What matters is whether the mediator has the knowledge, the competence and can establish sufficient trust and confidence in the participants that they are independent and impartial.


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