Formal procedures have an important role to play in the workplace, but many disputes could be settled without the need to pursue a formal grievance procedure. Once formal procedures have been triggered, the tendency is for differences to become more adversarial. Once the conflict has escalated and positions have become entrenched, it is very difficult to alter people’s perceptions and have an open discussion. The likelihood of a mutually acceptable outcome then becomes more remote.
It is not only an organisation that suffers if there is conflict between people. The situation can have serious implications for the individuals concerned, and for bystanders who are not immune to events taking place around them. For every incident of conflict there is likely to be several colleagues who witness it or who are drawn into the disagreement. If formal processes come into play, people may be forced to take sides in an adversarial way. This will do nothing to build relationships between those involved and could endanger future team working.
Being caught up in a conflict at work can have a significant impact on someone's professional and personal life, and possibly their health and well-being. It is in the interests of everyone affected for the issues to be resolved as quickly as possible, with the aim of achieving an amicable outcome for all involved.
Mediation is where an impartial third party (the trained mediator) helps two or more people in dispute to attempt to reach an agreement. Any agreement comes from those in dispute, not from the mediator. The mediator is not there to judge, to say one person is right and the other wrong, or to tell those involved in the mediation what they should do. The mediator is in charge of the process of seeking to resolve the problem, but is not in charge of the outcome
Mediation seeks to provide an informal and speedy solution to workplace conflict, and it can be used at any point in the conflict cycle. The process offers a safe and confidential space for participants to find their own answers.
Exploring the issues, feelings and concerns of all participants and rebuilding relationships using joint problem-solving;
Allowing those involved to understand and empathise with the feelings of those they are in conflict with;
Giving participants insight into their own behaviour and that of others and opening up opportunities for change;
Helping participants develop the skills to resolve workplace difficulties for themselves in the future;
Encouraging communication and helping people involved to find a solution that both sides feel is fair and offers a solution that favours them;
Using energy generated by conflict in a positive way to move things on.
First contact with the parties is critical and may be a telephone call in the first instance. The mediator will meet parties separately. The aim of this first meeting is to allow each individual involved to tell their story and find out what they want out of the process.
The mediator generally brings the participants together and invites them to put their side of the story during a period of uninterrupted time. At this stage, the mediator will begin to summarise the main areas of agreement and disagreement and draw up an agenda with the parties for the rest of the mediation.
Having identified the issues to explore, the mediation is now about encouraging communication between the parties, promoting understanding and empathy and changing perceptions. The aim of this part of the meeting is to begin to shift the focus from the past to the future and begin to look for constructive solutions.
As the process develops, the mediator will encourage and support joint problem-solving by the parties, ensure the solution and agreements are workable and record any agreement reached if both parties agree to this.
Once an agreement has been reached, the mediator will bring the meeting to a close. In some cases no agreement is reached and other procedures may later be used to resolve the conflict, depending on whether or not the conflict is impacting on any of the parties’ levels of performance or professionalism at work. These issues would be dealt with through the relevant policy. However, nothing that has been said during the mediation can be used in future proceedings.
Anything said during the mediation is confidential to the parties. They may choose to reveal some or all of what has occurred during the mediation to colleagues or their managers, but only if all parties agree. The only exceptions are where, for example, a potentially unlawful act has been committed or there is a serious risk to health and safety.