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 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.