What Is Mediation And How Does It Fit Into The Workplace?


by Tim Hicks

July 2000

Tim Hicks

Put two people together in the workplace (or anywhere else!) and there will be conflicts. So it goes with people! In most circumstances, employees are able to resolve the disputes that arise between them. But there are conflicts that, for one reason or another, are difficult for those involved to resolve on their own. What can be done for those situations?

Conflicts that are left unresolved or poorly resolved have a negative effect on productivity and morale. Every business needs a clearly defined conflict management system and an essential component of any conflict management system is a mediation option. It is the option that comes after trying to resolve the problem directly with the other person and that precedes filing an EEO complaint or initiating a lawsuit. It is an alternative to giving up or ignoring the problem.

Mediation provides a structured setting in which the parties meet with a neutral "third party" to accomplish what they have been unable to accomplish on their own: hear and understand each other; become clearer on what their interests and goals are; problem solve and build agreements.

There are multiple benefits that result from providing mediation as an option for resolving disputes in the workplace:

  • Specific disputes can be resolved with the resulting benefits to the parties involved and to their co-workers, team, and the organization as a whole.
  • With the mediation option available, staff will be less likely to leave conflicts unresolved or avoid them.
  • Productivity and morale are enhanced by the resolution of specific disputes and by the knowledge and confidence that there is a way to resolve disputes when they arise.
  • Parties in mediation learn more effective communication and problem solving skills that they can bring back to the workplace.
  • With the introduction of mediation into the corporate conflict management system, EEO complaints and lawsuits are significantly reduced. For example:
  • NCR has reported that using alternative dispute resolution approaches between 1984 and 1993 has resulted in a 50% reduction in outside litigation expenses. (Controlling the Costs of Conflict by Slaikeu and Hasson)
  • Motorola research has demonstrated a 75% savings in employment related litigation costs after the integration of a mediation option in a dispute management system.
  • The United States Air Force has estimated that they have saved 50% per claim in 100 EEO complaints by using mediation. (Controlling the Costs of Conflict by Slaikeu and Hasson)

Mediation has a high success rate, often reported to be in the 70% range or better. Even when the parties are unable to reach full agreement, usually the process results in some improvement of the situation and the relationship. But staff can be resistant to using mediation even when it is available. They may see it as a sign of failure ("I should be able to settle this thing myself.") or cause for embarrassment ("What will others think?") If mediation is to be useful for and used by staff, they need to understand what it is, how it works, and how to access it. They need to develop some level of confidence in the option and in the mediator. Mediation and the larger corporate dispute management system must be documented in employee handbooks and policy manuals. Additionally, presentations on mediation and conflict management can help communicate the details of the conflict management system and demonstrate the commitment of management to the elements of the system, including mediation.

Mediation can also be used for disputes with suppliers and other business relationships. Agreeing to use mediation in cases of conflict within business relationships demonstrates a commitment to the relationship and to finding mutually acceptable solutions when there are differences.

There are two things true about conflicts in the workplace: 1. there usually exists a good solution to the problem and 2. the parties would like to find a solution. There are times when those involved are not able to find their way through the conflict thicket to daylight. Mediation can be the method for seizing the opportunity that conflicts present to improve the system and the relationships.

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Biography




Tim Hicks was a mediator in private practice for 14 years before coming to the University of Oregon to direct the Masters degree program. Prior to his mediation career, he and his wife started and managed two successful businesses, one that grew to 150+ employees. As a mediator, Tim worked in three primary sectors - family and divorce, workplace/organizational, and multi-party, environmental/public policy. He also consulted with and provided training for businesses and organizations in conflict management. He is the co-author the book "The Process of Business/Environmental Collaborations: Partnering for Sustainability" and author of the article "Another Look At Identity-Based Conflict: The Roots of Conflict in the Psychology of Consciousness" (Negotiation Journal, Vol. 17, #1, January 2001). MA Antioch University.



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Website: conflict.uoregon.edu/faculty/timhicks

Additional articles by Tim Hicks



Comments



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 Teresa ,   Mason City IA    03/20/07 
 Class Assignment 
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Mediation can be used to solve disagreements between co-workers, suppliers, customers and all other business contacts. I like the fact that this article shows statistics about how well mediation has worked in other companies. I would say that the only time mediation would not be appropriate is if the two parties want to solve the problem themselves or if one of the parties is unwilling to participate in a mediation.
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 Suzanne Montgomery,   Mason City Ia  undercoverboo2002@yahoo.com      03/14/07 
 Mediation in the Workplace... 
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I think that mediation in the workplace can be effective if both the parties involved are working toward the same goals. For example: in a restaruant- when there are labor cuts and yet customer service is the number one priority. if cutbacks in schedules cause a decline in customer service what is the purpose if the end result may be no customers to serve. this is when mediation is needed. i feel that a situation where mediation is not needed is when it is directed to an individuals actions not as the group as a whole.
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 M Lazarus,   San Antonio TX  m.lazarus@worldnet.att.net      07/27/00 
 Management Buy-in 
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I have done multiple employee dispute mediations and the main reason for not resolving them is the lack of management's willingness to negotiate a settlement and acknowledge the employee's stress over the situation. I have seen where the employee has offered a solution that is not their best alternative to a negotiated agreement and management will sit there and say they are not ready to make a decision. No wonder the employee says they don't trust management. I agree with the author that executive management must direct managers to go into mediation with potential solutions in mind and a willingness to acknowledge an understanding of the employees issues. This is where I believe 30-35% of mediations fail to reach an agreement.
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 Tom Bartels,   Tucson AZ  tbartel1@ci.tucson.az.us      07/05/00 
 Mediation in the Workplace 
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Perhaps the best thing said by Mr. Hicks is that..."If mediation is to be useful for and used by staff, they need to understand what it is, how it works, and how to access it. They need to develop some level of confidence in the option and in the mediator..." Very well said and so true.
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 Bill ,   Casper Wy    07/04/00 
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My experience and reflection on employee relations, including mediation, led me to conclude some years ago that the major factor inhibiting conflict resolution processes has been the truly archaic adversarial system of law...which has predisposed people (including those in the workplace) to litigate...
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