Organizations have long recognized the value of hiring professional mediators to help resolve disputes. More and more, managers have begun to also see value in securing mediation training for themselves and their employees. Although there are times when the services of an unbiased, professional mediator are needed, there may also be instances in which employees can use mediation training and skills to resolve their conflicts swiftly and effectively in-house.
The Benefits of Mediation
In mediation, a neutral third party tries to help parties in conflict hammer out a resolution that is sustainable, voluntary, and nonbinding.
As employees learn in mediation training, mediation has a number of benefits as a dispute-resolution process. In workplace mediation, it enlists the employees themselves in finding a solution to their shared problem. By brainstorming and collaborating, employees often strengthen their relationship during mediation and are better equipped to work together in the future.
Mediation is also a relatively fast and inexpensive means of resolving disputes, even when the cost of mediation training is factored in. Because mediation is often effective at reducing tensions, it’s often smart to start with this fairly inexpensive process before turning to arbitration or litigation.
Through mediation training, employees will learn valuable skills that may enable them to help their coworkers:
- Air negative emotions with the goal of being heard and understood;
- Listen to criticism and complaints without becoming defensive;
- Brainstorm solutions that would satisfy all parties involved; and
- Foster an environment where employees feel comfortable mediating disputes.
6 Stages of Mediation
In her chapter, “Mediation,” in The Handbook of Dispute Resolution (Jossey-Bass, 2005), professional mediator Kimberlee K. Kovach outlines typical mediation guidelines:
- Planning. Before mediation begins, the mediator helps the parties decide where they should meet and who should be present.
- Mediator’s introduction. With the parties gathered together in the same room, the mediator introduces the participants, outlines the mediation process, and lays out ground rules.
- Opening remarks. Each side then has the opportunity to present its view of the dispute without interruption. In addition to describing the issues they believe are at stake, they may also take time to vent their feelings.
- Joint discussion. Next, the mediator and the disputants are free to ask questions with the goal of arriving at a better understanding of each party’s needs and concerns. Because disputing sides often have difficulty listening to each other, mediators repeat back what they have heard and ask for clarification when necessary.
- Caucuses. If emotions run high, the mediator might split the two sides into separate rooms for private meetings, or caucuses, which are typically confidential. The promise of confidentiality can encourage disputants to share new information about their interests and concerns.
- Negotiation. At this point, it’s time to begin formulating ideas and proposals that meet each party’s core interests. Some resolutions will truly be “win-win”; others will be just barely acceptable to one or both sides. If the parties come to a consensus, the mediator will outline the terms and may write up a draft agreement.
Mediation Training for Leaders
Rather than imposing a decision, a trained mediator applies communication skills, objectivity, and creativity to help disputants reach their own voluntary solution to the conflict. In his book, Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich, and Powerful People, Tufts University professor Jeswald Salacuse notes that for leaders, this role can be more complicated. Unlike an actual mediator, managers will have to live with the outcome of the dispute on a daily basis. Their personal allegiances, experiences with the disputants, and objectives may lead them to have strong opinions about the best result.
In addition, managers will want the negotiated solution to satisfy the interests of the broader organization as well as those of the disputants. For these reasons, leaders need to adapt mediation skills to their purposes. As long as the disputants respect their authority, leaders may feel empowered to try to change the behavior of one or both sides to serve the organization’s best interests, writes Salacuse. A manager might be able to do so by offering rewards, imposing punishment, or applying specialized expertise, for example. However, for sensitive personnel issues, a neutral, professional mediator can be a better choice.
In sum, by engaging in mediation training, managers may be able to help their coworkers get along better—and get back to work.
Have you ever used mediation training to resolve disputes in the workplace?