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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Workplace Mediation -- It Makes You Complacent

Wait. It does? How?

I had a remark made to me by a potential client for mediation. She felt any approach to resolving workplace problems that included "multiple issues in a single setting is inherently unfair, mindless, robotic, and would lead to complacency." Ouch.

She is an officer with a large national labor union headquartered in D.C. and I have done some work with her locals around the country. I referred her to the ideas, advantages, and cautionary remarks from recent mediation postings found in both the media and professional forums. She said she had read a great deal about workplace mediation, but remained unconvinced of its value. Still, she was calling as a potential participant -- at the urging of her colleagues. Okay, this is terrific, I thought. And we chatted for quite some time.

The notion of complacency, however, never crossed my mind before she called. Perhaps that is because I have not experienced any sense of smugness by past mediation participants. Quite the contrary. Attorneys, business managers, HR pros, and staff reps all thoroughly vet mediation before deciding to take that route. They are quite focused and involved in every aspect of the process.

Much has been said or written about mediating employee workplace issues, whether it pertains to grievances, stalled negotiations, general employee complaints, benefit administration disputes, ethics issues, class-action or individual cases. Preparation, determining the appropriate mediation approach and style, and the identification of shared goals are each ingredients necessary for success.

Mediation is an indispensable tool that is best utilized in strained relationships to mitigate the high cost of legal proceedings, arbitration, or the worries about failure to represent. Mediation offers individual treatment and self-determination to the participants -- and results in improved trust among parties.

But complacency? Well, I just never have seen that. Thank goodness.

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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.

Workplace Mediation -- Not Helpful At All

"The employees and the managers just don't like or trust each other. Mediation isn't going to get rid of that bad blood. Not here. Not ever."

Agreed. The use of mediation to resolve any employee complaint or grievance is not going to repair a lousy relationship.

Why? By and of itself, mediation is not designed to fix difficult situations that are borne of years of mischievous and bad behavior. We all know that tough times and overbearing personalities can ruin the desire for labor, employees, and management to work together for the common good. And that is why you so often hear "I'm not going to help them until they start trying to help me."

Since mediation does not repair relationships, or correct the history of what caused the poor feelings in the first place, what does mediation actually offer beyond just fixing one formal complaint?

Workplace mediation clearly opens the door for relaxing contentious management views about employees and vice versa. It offers managers a renewed degree of faith that employees are not just evil interveners in the needs of business.

A single mediation session can encourage participants to think about working together instead of against each other. Sometimes people walk through the mediation door and like what they see on the other side. Other people peek in the door, like what they see, but cannot move forward out of habit. Many, though, find that mediation offers a surprising glimpse into the potential that exists for (even modestly) improved cooperation.

The resolution of individual complaints is a stepping stone towards developing future work relationships, creating mutual agreements that can be applied on a going-forward basis, and solving other general misunderstandings. In most cases those who try workplace mediation discover that "the other guys" are not blind to the needs or wishes of co-workers -- more likely they are just unaware of them.

Mediation requires guidance and practice. And with both it can become an invaluable tool for managers, employees, their representatives, and attorneys.

Mediation is a cost effective alternative and complement to litigation, while not undermining anyone's legal options. It widens the array of ways to solve problems without the noise, cost, and entanglements of formal legalities.

Participants who mediate walk away with insight and empathy. Workplace mediation is the realization that steps can in fact be taken to improve working conditions and workplace results.

Mediation gets you past the "Not here. Not ever."

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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.