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.