Mediating Work Processes

Resolving employee issues, complaints, or grievances represents the mainstream (and historic) request for workplace mediation. Increasingly, mediation is being used to resolve other types of internal disagreements, debates, or stalled out discussions. These gaps in workplace cohesion can cause delays, bad feelings, and sidetrack cost reduction opportunities.

Unfortunately, mediation is still reactive in most cases -- scheduled only when problems have surfaced and festered for a period of time. Happily, though, mediation as a preventative step is now being considered more widely by organizations of all sizes.

Addressing flawed policies, edgy human relations environments, or poor internal work processes before (employee or consumer) complaints surface is, of course, wise. And the idea of continuous improvement is not new. However, bringing in neutral problem solving talent to address divergent thinking is. And mediators are quickly becoming the resource.

The historic employee complaint mediation often leads to valuable insights by the mediator on what causes a particular disagreement. Many workplace mediators share their observations afterwards with the appropriate individuals, intending to encourage and recommend systemic improvements. This is a great full-service approach, of course, and one that I fully endorse.

Is expanding the application of workplace mediation just consultant work by another name? No, I don't think it is. Mediators are not selling a pre-constructed product. Mediators do not gain from the installation of one system or plan over another. Rather, mediation is the catalyst to assure that a project is well defined, that the common interests of the participants are identified, and that all the viable options are explored, prioritized, and smartly assigned. Most importantly, mediators quickly resolve differences in opinion.

Mediation has become a "value add" to thriving businesses on several fronts, and is no longer limited to solving employee complaints. Mediation is also about resolving process and policy disagreements among those who are charged with creating best practices.

__________

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.

Workplace Mediation -- Judge And Jury Walk Out Hand In Hand

I heard the following from a reluctant participant who was considering workplace mediation: 'The odds are stacked against me. I am just not good at expressing myself and so I give up sometimes. I don't think I can get a fair decision from you guys.' From you guys? He meant mediators.

It is a misconception that a workplace mediator will evaluate each person's point of view and make a determination of who wins, who loses, and how much they lose or win.

I realize that workplace mediators are asked periodically to make such an evaluation. I am also very cognizant of my own personal desires to do just that at times. But absent a sudden, mutual agreement during mediation to have me evaluate the facts, this is not my role.

In those instances when I am called and asked to schedule a mediation to evaluate the strength of individual cases, I refer the callers to others, and often to the arbitration process. And I recommend arbitrators with the proper legal background.

Whenever possible, though, I do take the time to explain the benefits of mediation -- to consider mediation as an alternative process and as professional guidance, with the goal of mutual resolution and satisfaction. I mention that mediation is an approach that transforms obstacles into a free flow of ideas, and that encourages voluntary agreements. I also assure the caller that the elements of mediation are self-determination, fairness, flexibility, and confidentiality.

'I have seen the judge and jury walk out hand in hand too often,' said the caller in an interesting twist of a phrase. Not in workplace mediation. At least as I see it.

__________

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.

Workplace Mediation -- Stop Wandering Aimlessly

A workplace mediation that bounces wildly around from one subject to another is more than just a distraction. It is sending the mediation right down the rabbit hole. Fast.

The technical term for this dynamic is 'scope creep' -- defined as 'uncontrolled changes or continuous growth' in the purpose of the mediation. The drifting of the discussion's direction occurs most often because of participant anger or frustration, or due to a need to be heard perhaps for the first time, or as the result of a misunderstanding of the subject.

It is the mediator's responsibility to set limits on the inclusion of new topics, whatever the source of the digression might be.

I have to be careful here, though, before I am charged with being too directive in style. I am not suggesting that any mediation conversation be stifled. However, too much latitude to wander away from the central purpose typically results in no resolution. And too much freedom to ramble leaves participants upset about the other issues that crept into the mix and remain unaddressed.

Mediation can avoid straying with the use of a problem statement. It is recommended that the participants be crystal clear and agree (early) on the extent of the issue. Stating what the problem is, why it happens, who it affects, and visibly posting these summations on a flip chart all go a long way to stabilizing the deliberation.

And the process of writing a problem statement is an eye opener. On more than one occasion I have heard surprised parties say "You mean we agree on that particular aspect?" It happens.

Open, honest, and free flowing dialogue is crucial to successful workplace mediation and must be encouraged and allowed. But wandering aimlessly and endlessly? Well, that is a waste of people's time, money, energy, and emotional capital.

__________

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.

Workplace Mediation -- Nobody's Right If Everybody's Wrong

In a recent discussion with a labor attorney I heard a remark that really caught my attention. "You cannot mediate a workplace issue when both participants are wrong." I find broad generalizations about mediation are an opportunity to learn, or to teach. So, I asked about the issue he felt was impossible.

There were good reasons for his view. The parties had stumbled into this feud suddenly and unexpectedly. And both had reacted hastily (but predictably) given the circumstances of their dust-up.

I disagreed that mediation would not lead to a resolution. I felt mediation would allow the two of them to move forward. The warring parties might never agree on where the blame should be laid. But mediation isn't about rehashing history and assessing fault. Workplace mediation is about moving forward. (I leave it to arbitration and other legal proceedings to look back and establish original sin.)

Workplace mediation offers a fresh start. It keeps the participants in complete control of their decisions. Common interest discussions, brainstorming options, linking options to desired outcomes, and a review of the benefits of a decision are the lens through which we address workplace disagreements. And common ground always exists even under the most difficult of circumstances.

We are used to fighting for the redress of our grievances. And that is fine unless, by definition, fighting means that someone must win while someone else loses.

I agreed with my attorney friend -- a resolution will not be forthcoming for his client when the presumption is that nobody's right, and everybody's wrong. And I encouraged him to let mediation remove that thinking from the equation.

___________________

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.