Workplace Mediation -- Can It Stop The Games People Play?

Games. Manuevering. Posturing. I hear about these things all the time when I receive calls for workplace mediation. Many ask if mediation is a way to prevent the "other" participants from continuing down their path of time consuming meetings, outlandish offers and endless postponements. Great question. The answer is "no." There is no such guarantee with workplace mediation. But the answer is also "maybe yes" since a mediator can coax out bad behavior and point the offender towards productive ideas and the intrigue of thoughtful options.

Mediators have a responsibility to set expectations. This requires upfront work before the meeting -- reviewing the issue, asking participants what their desired outcomes are and then, most importantly, laying some groundwork for how the mediation might best proceed. When the parties just show up at the appointed hour, unaware, unprepared and perhaps with plans to torpedo a mediation, then the proper setting is not established.

In all honesty, I have caught myself tempted to gloss over preparation when scheduling requests are urgent "next day" emergencies. But I resist that risky approach. And I get to work immediately. Even in those situations where a mediator is seemingly not given adequate time for preparatory steps there remains a window to do so -- early on the day of the mediation -- with individuals or with the entire group. And that opportunity is incredibly valuable -- it is not to be overlooked. 

Legal proceedings work differently than mediations -- by design. Legal matters end up with winners and losers. The avoidance of grandstanding and maneuvering (historically found in the more formal hearings) remains mediation's greatest advantage.

So, maybe yes -- mediation can prevent or stop game playing.


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.