Failure Isn't Fatal -- Hesitation Is

Failure isn't fatal in a workplace mediation. But hesitation can be.

In a recent discussion with a new client about workplace mediation I was struck by what she had to say. She is an officer of a 30 employee organization and a member of their senior executive team. I am paraphrasing what she said a bit, but I am very close to her exact points, if not word for word.

 "We have been kidding ourselves by counting unresolved employment issues as a win for the company. Our apparent age-old strategy of kicking the grievance-can down the road has had measurable negative effects on the relationship between our employees, our customers, and our investors. We can see it, feel it, and are learning how to measure that dismay."

"The fast, fair, uncomplicated resolution of any kind of business problem minimizes the unproductive energy spent chewing on emotions or bemoaning an apparent disregard for employee concerns."

Great insight. She didn't have to sell me on her ideas. Many company policies and guidelines have been in place for decades. And they have taken on an almost religious life of their own.

"Shedding old policy history and designing a suitable, responsive approach to employee concerns is not hard. It is not costly. It is the right thing to do."

Did I mention that she has been with her company only 10 days?

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Thornton Mason is a national dispute resolution consultant and human relations mediator with 25 years of experience resolving over 1200 employee matters. His 60 Second Updates have a current reach of over 750,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.

Is Mediation As Indispensable As They Say?

I am going to make a grand claim: Workplace mediation is in fact indispensable to the overall health and bottom line of your company. Here is why I believe that:

Thanks to new technologies, employees now have the ability to share and become a recognized voice inside and outside of their company. Employees can (and do) share their ideas, frustrations, feedback, concerns, and feelings about their jobs, every day. And if a company doesn't listen and act upon good ideas and complaints then all the goodwill towards your team is for nothing.  

In the past, employees were expected to be silent. They did what they were told and that's it.  Today, your company is a living and breathing organism that must listen to what the employees (and customers) want, and how they feel, and respond accordingly.

Disagreement exists in healthy companies. That is not only a fact, it is to be encouraged. Periodically, however, difficult circumstances become a distraction and are not a welcome circumstance. When that happens, and it will, expertise should be sought to resolve the matter. Failure to seek professional advice is a weak trait and contrary to forming successful habits.

Is workplace mediation indispensable? Yes. Is it hard to get that first one going? Yes. Is it worth your time to become acquainted with the idea and concept of mediation? Absolutely. Take another 60 seconds here. See if indispensable is the right word.

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Thornton Mason is a national dispute resolution consultant and human relations mediator with 25 years of experience resolving over 1200 employee matters. His 60 Second Updates have a current reach of over 750,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.

In Mediation -- Respect Is Not Optional

It's required.

I lost an employer request for mediating an old and lingering issue when I started discussing conduct expectations. And not for a reason I anticipated.

The employer's rep said 'never mind' because of my explanation of respectful behavior. "Our boss will be attending. And he is a bully and antagonizes as a strategy. He thinks intimidation is perfectly okay." And he won't comply if asked otherwise? Nope.

I have been advised over the years not to set behavior standards for those attending a mediation. Some professionals (mediators, attorneys) say such expectations are not true to the inherent precepts of mediation. Yet with my experience of over 1200 workplace mediations I still discuss parameters for behavior that I believe encourage an atmosphere of successful conclusions.

I ask participants to be:

  • Prompt -- to arrive and return from breaks on time
  • Unplugged -- to turn off phones and tablets and avoid outside activities or visitors
  • Respectful -- towards everyone
  • Patient -- if they hear the same old things they have heard a dozen times before, it's okay
  • Creative -- because new solutions during mediation often are richer and more varied
  • Open minded -- to new ideas, even when they feel they have already compromised enough
  • Participative -- to speak out, be heard, be involved
  • Good listeners -- including focusing on the ideas not the personalities.

These ideas don't seem extraordinary to me. And running afoul of one boss who prefers bully behavior hasn't changed my mind on conduct basics.

Nonetheless, this reason for cancellation was surprising and disconcerting to hear. And it was disappointing to be dropped as their mediator for seeking a respectful behavior demeanor.

(On the other hand, there was also this request recently...)

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Thornton Mason is a national dispute resolution consultant and human relations mediator with 25 years of experience resolving over 1200 employee matters. His 60 Second Updates have a current reach of over 750,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.

Opening Remarks In Mediation -- I Thought They Mattered

"This is your mediation. You are in control of your own decisions," said the mediator in the first few minutes of her introduction.

"Great," responded one of the participants. "Skip your introductions and let's get to work."

Mediators have all sorts of sage advice and guidance to share during their opening remarks. How do you begin without at least some direction on the way the meeting will proceed?

Here is how: consider listening and adjusting to the participants' preferences when they all agree. And when there is not consensus make a judgment on how to proceed.

Keep in mind that a mediator has many opportunities, if need be, to enhance the discussion by returning to planned opening remarks during appropriate points in the meeting. Not all guidance has to be part of the few minutes set aside for opening remarks.

On occasion I have been asked to disregard an agenda entirely. I hesitate to do that. I believe that part of the reason I am asked to mediate is to assure the best opportunities for success are put into play. I can give up the "how's the weather" intros and move directly to working out the differences. But I find it difficult to get the parties focused on a resolution without a definition of the problem. Nor can I ignore taking a few moments for the group to discuss their common interests in settling. Too directive? I don't believe it is. I say that because I have never mediated an issue that failed as a result of the parties defining the problem and their common interests.

A laissez-faire approach to mediation might work. However in workplace mediation I have found a total hands-off style is risky. The central reason is that company settings rely upon a leader. That simply is cultural. And so I have essentially dismissed that free-style option from my choices in technique. I believe that a complete hands-off mediation style undermines the central reasons for seeking out a mediator -- counsel, guidance, experience, and leadership in surfacing an agreeable conclusion for all participants.

I continue to learn from colleagues and from clients alike that the participants are the customer in all matters. But should mediators always take their lead from the parties?

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Thornton Mason is a national dispute resolution consultant and human relations mediator with 25 years of experience resolving over 1200 employee matters. His 60 Second Updates have a current reach of over 750,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.