Moving Forward in Mediation Together

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How do you initiate a mediation when the other side is convinced they have nothing to gain? The provincial government of British Columbia in Canada was faced with this problem recently in its bitter contract dispute with the province’s 40,000 teachers, according to The Globe and Mail.

The teacher’s federation has qualms with the current education bill’s stipulations regarding the scheduling and terms for mediation between the federation and provincial government. The government is open to further negotiations, but refuses to offer more money. Susan Lambert, president of the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation, asserts that the government is acting in bad faith, claiming the “whole process is a mockery of fair play…There is a predetermined outcome that requires us to be complacent in stripping out of our collective agreement rights that [the employers tried to take out] at the bargaining table, rights that took a long time to negotiate.” Could mediation unlock value between these parties that was previously left untouched, even though one side has little faith in the process?

Dealing with counterparts in a tense negotiation can be a harrowing experience in itself, but what happens when you add in emotions and political rhetoric? The atmosphere that energy creates is definitely one in which mediation between the two parties is difficult if not unimaginable, or as Managing Director of the Program on Negotiation Susan Hackley describes, “The thing about mediation is that everyone must be in agreement every step of the way or the process breaks down.” A skilled mediator can help the parties get beyond their mistrust and anger and see the shared value in having a collaborative conversation. Canadian Education Minister George Abbott emphasizes that the mediation process is meant to promote dialogue between the two sides, observing that, “Clearly, the union could make gains for its members, were they to sit down and engage.”

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