What we nowadays call “mediation” is the practice of acting as a third party neutral between two or more groups or individuals in conflict to facilitate dialogue, improve the quality of conversations and find a settlement that satisfies the needs of all parties. Whilst the professional practice started in the early 20th century, the practice of mediating is old. The 19th century Swedish Ombudsman, the African tradition of the palaver, the peace-making role of the priest in medieval times, etc. Facilitation of dialogue by an external third party is efficient, and our societies didn’t wait for mediators to practice mediation.
In this series of blogs, entitled Workplace Mediation 101, we will seek to give an overview of some fundamental aspects of one of the most efficient tools for organisations to maintain peaceful relationships and improve life at work.
What are we talking about?
Professional mediation is one of the best methods to restore peace and balance human interactions. The process is confidential and voluntary, and the settlement is built by, and belongs to, the parties themselves. The mediator is not there to give a solution, or say who is right and who is wrong but actively facilitate communication so the parties can challenge each other’s vision of the reality of the facts in a safe space to help reach a workable outcome.
There are many models of mediation (facilitative, evaluative, transformative, etc.) that have been developed throughout the years. To facilitate understanding, I will use the general model of Thomas Fiutak in The Mediator in the Arena. He describes this process in four phases:
- What? What has happened, where parties will expose the facts, the important events, and their interests and values.
- Why? The parties, aided by the mediator, will seek to understand how they, and the other parties, perceived the events, how it affected them and their vision of reality.
These first steps allows for the mediator and the parties to draw a clear picture of what actually is, what actually happened. It leads parties to question their own perceptions and better understanding the other’s, giving them a stable ground on which to build the future.
- What is possible? Using creativity, imagination, building options for the future, parties invent solutions to resolve the conflict.
- Who does what, when & how? Sort out propositions, deciding on the next steps and drafting a settlement agreement.
Who are we talking about?
The mediator can either be a professional, specialised in resolving and preventing conflict, or an individual that can use soft skills a and knowledge in communication and conflict management to facilitate dialogue and appease tensions.
Mediation interventions within organisations can be made by either external or internal mediators, using a formal or an informal mediation process.
External mediators are professionals from outside the company who are experts in facilitating and mediating disputes and/or conflict, using the mediation process to find a lasting settlement. They often have a wide experience in mediating different types of disputes.
Internal mediators can either be an internal professional dedicated to handling conflicts and difficulties within the company (which can be the case for large organisations dealing with tense relationships on a daily basis), a nominated person within the organisation, such as a member of the Human Resources team, who can be called when a difference arises between two staff members or a manager or team leader.
Formal Mediation is the process we have earlier described, where a person acting as a third neutral party will facilitate resolution of a conflict or a dispute between two or more persons or groups.
Informal Mediation is the use of mediation skills and methods to facilitate relationships and communication with the objective to appease tensions or prevent conflict before it arises. A trained manager, leader or dedicated HR professional will often play this role in the workplace.
When to mediate?
Each conflict has its own characteristics, and each individual and organisation its own needs. Careful thought should be given on the best process to adopt. How entrenched is conflict with the relationship? What is the impact on the team, project or outcome? Should an internal or external mediator be sought? Would a formal or informal process be the best solution?
Imagine two directors who never manage to agree, colleagues who have stopped talking to each other, the union threatening strike action, etc., mediation could be a solution.
If the traditional routes have proved unhelpful, or if you fear the situation may get out of hand, allow yourself to look outside your comfort zone. Is there an in-house mediator or a social leader that could facilitate and improve the quality of the discussions? Would an external neutral be better accepted? Do you need to resolve a precise conflict or understand where tensions come from? There is more than one solution to conflicts, and by widening your horizon and options you may just be able to find the best route to resolution.
The neutrality of the mediator and the confidentiality of the process guarantees each side be heard and not discriminated against, making the process easier to accept. It has proven to not only facilitate settlement of disputes and resolution of conflicts but also to teach parties how to communicate, facilitating and improving social interaction, thus increasing the quality and productivity of your employees by improving their daily life-at-work.
To discover more about Workplace Mediation, and how mediation can help identify and tackle issues, join us for our next Half-Day workshop on 14 June between 9.30 & 12.30am, kindly hosted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Info & registration at: https://www.cedr.com/skills/flyer/?id=573
For more information about Workplace Mediation, or becoming a mediator yourself, you can contact Joachim Muller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Fiutak, T. (2009) Le médiateur dans l’arène. Réflexion sur l’art de la médiation, Eres, Toulouse (Only available in French)
 See our case study with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development: https://www.cedr.com/articles/?item=The-European-Bank-for-Reconstruction-and-Development-Our-Story