The Middle Way – Mediation as a means to solve disputes

The Middle Way – Mediation as a means to solve disputes

Human beings working together can do wonderful things. On the other hand,  when a group of diverse individuals spend eight hours a day under the same roof,  there is also more than ample scope for differences to emerge and conflicts to erupt.   

Conflict is what many managers dread. Let's say for a moment that Andrew and Lucy are at odds over the completion of a joint project. Lucy complains that deadlines have been missed because her colleague has been slow to gather the necessary information. Andrew retorts that Lucy has been undermining him. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. What's more, while Lucy is line manager and in charge, Adam has made some serious allegations about her conduct. 


Their manager sighs. He likes both of them, but he knows that any formal or informal grievance programme could result in a ruling for one and against the other. Indeed, grievance processes are, by their nature, adversarial. 



The Middle Way 

The alternative to a grievance process is mediation. The difference is that rather than choosing a winner or a loser, an attempt will be made to come to an agreed solution – one that will satisfy both parties. 



How is it Done?

There is no single mediation methodology, but the most common approach in the UK is  “facilitative.” Essentially,  a facilitative mediator will attempt to create a space where the two parties can come together for opposing positions. At the outset, they will undoubtedly be focused entirely on their differences. The role of the mediator is to encourage them to focus on common and important goals – say, finishing the project and even continuing to work under the same roof -   while reaching an agreement on how best to address their issues.   Only the warring parties can reach an agreement,  but the mediator makes it possible by setting ground rules and boundaries ahead of the process to ensure something close to a  safe space. During the process, he or she is there to listen to what is being said and help the parties to see things differently.  On the other side of the Atlantic,  mediators often adopt a so-called transformative approach. As the name suggests, it sets out to transform the relationship by encouraging them to appreciate each other's strengths and qualities and establish a better connection. 



Going for Mediation


So let's say you're locked in a dispute with an employee or colleague. How do you access mediation?

There are some ground rules. It has to be a voluntary process, and the mediator must be a) impartial and non-judgemental. So you shouldn't go in expecting someone to take your side or fight your cause. There are variations on the theme. Mediation may be informal,  or it could be a much more structured process based on HR department policies. The mediator could be an in-house manager or practitioner from outside.  Again you need to agree to the process. Once underway parties will be asked to make opening statements before exploring avenues to overcome their problems. The end game is to find a set of options to allow work to continue. In a formal process, these will be codified in a non-binding agreement.  The key to all this is that we're not looking at win/lose situation. A successful mediation will find a solution,  rather than deciding that one party is wrong and the other right.   It doesn't solve every problem. For instance, mediation is not designed to deal with an outright disciplinary situation. But it can be a way to prevent such situations arising.