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 400,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.