What is Mediation?
Mediation is an informal, structured process in which an independent third party, (a mediator), helps people in a disagreement to create a way forward. Mediation introduces a powerful new dynamic to any negotiation or dispute discussion. It enables people to restore and develop healthy working relationships.
The goal of mediation is for the people involved in a disagreement or dispute to negotiate their own mutually agreed solutions to their problems.
- Future – focused – it is concerned with how things will be from now on, rather than finding blame for how things have been in the past.
- Optional – any party can withdraw from the process at any stage, to use other formal and informal procedures.
- Private and confidential – information shared during mediation is not disclosed to anyone.
“ You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist”
As an independent third party, the mediator does not express views about how to handle a specific conflict. The mediator helps the parties find an agreement between themselves and does not advise on a course of action.
All mediators should be trained and experienced in working with conflict. It is essential that the parties to the mediation process have entered into it of their own free will.
The mediator aims to:
- help the parties explore the conflict situation
- develop understanding
- identify acceptable ways forward
- where appropriate, assist the parties in reaching agreement on ways of working together
The conduct and content of any mediation meeting is confidential. The mediator will not pass on anything said during the mediation process without the permission of the parties involved – unless not to do so would involve the mediator in breaking the law. Any written agreement reached by the parties will remain confidential to the parties unless the parties specifically agree otherwise. Details of the content of the mediation process will not be included in any report unless requested by the parties.
The Mediation Process
Mediation is an informal process – there is no laid down procedure to be rigidly followed. However, most cases follow a common structure.
The mediator will meet with each of the parties to the mediation process separately. This briefing meeting provides an opportunity for each party to tell the mediator how they see things from their perspective and to be clear about what they want from the mediation process. The initial briefing meetings provide a good opportunity to raise with the mediator any concerns or questions about how the mediation meeting might proceed. The mediator will check with the parties that they are willing to proceed to the next stage of the mediation process.
If everyone agrees, a mediation meeting between all the parties follows the briefing meetings. The mediator chairs the mediation meeting. Generally one briefing meeting and one mediation meeting are sufficient. Occasionally, further meetings are needed.
If the parties reach an agreement about ways forward, the mediator will offer to help them put this in writing. It is up to the parties to decide whether anyone else receives a copy of the agreement.
The mediator remains impartial throughout the process and does not offer advice about the parties’ contractual or statutory rights.
How workplace mediation can help – a case study
The performance of a whole department was being undermined by the lack of trust between two members of the senior management team. Initial private meetings were held with each to discuss their situation. In these, both expressed the feeling that the other party did not appreciate the pressures they were under.
At a subsequent joint meeting, they explained how the other’s behaviour was affecting them. Through this, they gained insights into how they themselves were contributing to the poor atmosphere, and it became clear that the behaviour of another colleague was also contributing. As a result, the parties agreed on a number of ways forward, including:
- regular meetings to appraise each other of progress, new initiatives and pressures
- joint management of their colleague to ensure they weren’t ‘played off’ against each
Both were visibly relieved and energised by finding a way forward, and other senior managers quickly noticed the knock-on effect on the morale and performance of all concerned.
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