When do you use mediation as a way to resolve conflict?
Mediation is often a recommendation that is made following an investigation into a grievance where the grievance involves a complaint about the behaviour of a work colleague or colleagues; however, mediation can also be used as a solution to resolve issues or complaints before they escalate into a potential grievance.
Inter-personal conflict can cause negative impacts for employees and teams; such as a lack of collaboration and communication, avoidance of working with particular colleagues, and general unhappiness which can impact on workforce productivity and result in a disruption to a positive environment.
Certain behaviours that can exacerbate a situation are things like;
• Not speaking to each other
• Failing to return a greeting eg ‘Good Morning’
• Avoiding eye contact
• Believing gossip
• Rallying allies
It is important to ensure that the atmosphere at work doesn’t get worse or impacts negatively on others at work. Taking steps to ‘nip things in the bud’ at an early stage, resolving complaints informally through mediation is a good idea, particularly if you suspect the issue or complaint is likely to become a grievance, which could become costly to the business.
So what triggers an employee to raise a complaint and how can you resolve it?
Usually the trigger is simply when an individual’s feelings have been hurt. Left unresolved, this can result in individuals feeling isolated, self-conscious, unloved and uncomfortable, and can lead to them avoiding coming to work altogether.
The outcome an individual raising the concern is looking for is action and a remedy for the situation, a resolution to any conflict and a means to stop the behaviour escalating.
If an employee feels this way, they can raise the matter informally, usually through their line manager, or occasionally through their HR department. Once the complaint has been raised, you can then start to understand the severity and root cause of the complaint and the context of what has made the individual upset.
It is important that the complaint is taken seriously. Between you and the employee you need to understand the, who, what, where and whys of the complaint, and support the employee through the process.
Many managers find it difficult to know how they tell someone that their behaviour is upsetting a colleague, and unfortunately, many side-step the issue, or briefly mention it, in the hope that the problem will sort itself out without them having to engage in what many fear may become a tearful discussion.
This is where mediation can really support by using specialised open communication and negotiation techniques to resolve the dispute and drive constructive discussion to remedy the situation. A mediator will ensure the process is fair and open, and that both parties have ‘air-time’ to share their views and concerns, to result in an early and successful outcome.
Example of when mediation is used
The behaviour between two shop floor workers was perceived as bullying. Their conflict has a hugely detrimental impact on the shop-floor as a whole, with employees dividing into factions, one faction supporting one worker, and the other supporting the other worker. The Managing Director was at wits’ end to know how to manage the situation and was particularly concerned about the negative impact it was having on staff morale and productivity.
Mediation provided the workers with the time and space to talk to each other and explain how they saw the situation. They chose to reveal details of their personal histories from which they discovered that they had a lot in common and were able to empathise with the other person and understand how behaviours had been misinterpreted. By lunchtime, the two parties were feeling sufficiently comfortable in the other’s presence to have lunch together and continue their talking in private. Morale on the shop-floor improved enormously as a consequence of them settling their differences and deciding to work together collaboratively.
How we can help
Our upcoming HR connect running this November, focuses on how mediation can be used in the workplace to resolve conflict, and will be led Make UK’s Mediation expert, Penny Cole.
Penny Cole is Make UK’s National Mediation Lead, a lawyer and qualified psychologist and she has been conducting mediations on behalf of member companies for over twelve years.
Join Penny and the team at our HR connect event to enhance your understanding of how to manage conflicts with mediation and come away with new approaches and solutions to help with workplace conflict.