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<xTITLE>Business Mediation: A Better Way To Resolve Workplace Conflict</xTITLE>

Business Mediation: A Better Way To Resolve Workplace Conflict

by Marta J. Papa
August 2008 Marta J.  Papa

We’ve all heard the saying that a happy workplace is a productive workplace. Employers and business owners cannot afford contention in their midst, especially during these economically challenging times. In a highly competitive marketplace, businesses must maintain effective communication in order to foster a harmonious work environment. Too often disgruntled employees and lackadaisical management results in substandard product, poor customer service and losses for the business owner. In a situation where there is no process for eliminating conflict other than litigation, resentments build up and productivity plummets. Currently, we are seeing a trend toward solving conflict in the workplace through mediation rather than litigation or other more traditional methods of dispute resolution. The mediation process is one in which parties negotiate and resolve their conflict using the help of a skilled neutral third party. Mediation can be used for a variety of purposes such as negotiating contracts, organizing a partnership, creating a new business, dismantling an existing business or resolving personnel disputes just to name a few.

Business mediation can be used to resolve both internal and external conflict. More often than not, the source of the conflict stems from parties feeling they are not heard, not appreciated, or misunderstood. The mediator is a neutral observer who is not emotionally invested and can get through to the heart of the matter in order to open up discussions as to how to resolve the dispute. In mediation, the parties are voluntarily participating in the process and, as a result, fear and anxiety are greatly reduced. The neutral and safe environment that the mediator provides opens up the door to effective communication between the parties. A skilled mediator is trained to work through the emotionally charged atmosphere that often accompanies work related or business disputes. Often times, all that is required is a simple apology or slight change in company policy to make one or both parties happy with the outcome.

Rather than resort to litigation where there is a clear winner and a clear loser, the mediator strives to guide the parties to work toward a resolution that is agreeable to everyone. In this way the mediator evens out the playing field and everyone walks away a winner in some respect. When mediation is successful, the parties leave the process feeling validated and satisfied. The changes to the inner workings of the business that come out of the mediation process will likely have far-reaching positive effects on the morale of employees, which can only better the business as a whole. Turning to a more positive method of dispute resolution demonstrates that the business is interested in fostering good communication and values its employees as well as the eventual consumer. While litigation provokes hostilities, mediation is based upon the ideals of respect and cooperation. Business owners recognize how important it is to foster this kind of feeling in the workplace.

Another important draw to mediation is that it is a confidential way of resolving business related conflict. The parties are asked to sign confidentiality agreements and the inner workings of the business do not end up a matter of public record as they do in litigation. The protection of the parties’ right to privacy is a key factor to both the business and the aggrieved party and makes mediation an attractive choice.

Mediation is not only a non-advesarial approach to dispute resolution, it is also a cost effective option to litigation. Legal battles can be time-consuming and expensive, which businesses, especially small businesses, can ill afford. In mediation, the business pays for the session time used and usually a small fee for any paperwork or “Memorandum of Understanding” that is drawn up by the mediator outlining the decisions reached by the parties. As well as being legally binding, the agreements reached in mediation are “emotionally binding” since the parties had a clear voice in the process, put effort and work into the agreement, are happy with the outcome and are less likely to renege on its terms. In all of its advantages to litigation or other traditional methods of business dispute resolution, mediation will continue to grow in popularity and become the choice that most businesses turn to for resolving business-related disputes and matters.


Marta J. Papa, Attorney at Law

Marta is the most experienced mediator in the St. Louis area, successfully completing over 2500 mediated divorces. She received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston and obtained a post-graduate certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy Training from the prestigious Menninger Psychiatric Institute. She has extensive training in negotiation and divorce mediation, and is a member of the Association for Conflict Resolution, the Association of Missouri Mediators, the International Association of Collaborative Professionals, and the Collaborative Family Law Association. Marta has taught Mediation, Dissolution of Marriage and Civil Litigation at Webster University and is currently adjunct faculty at St. Louis University in the Graduate School of Social Work. She also conducts family law mediation training seminars for lawyers, judges, and mental health professionals, as well as seminars for individuals considering divorce. Marta has published numerous articles on family law and mediation, and as a regular guest speaker at conferences, on television and on radio programs, Marta has helped establish mediation and collaborative law as an alternative to divorce litigation in the St. Louis area.  Marta was recently elected to “The Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers” by Martindale-Hubbell and her peers. The Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register is limited to only the most distinguished law practices; those that have achieved the AV rating in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory.  The “A” signifies the highest level of legal ability, while the “V” denotes “very high” adherence to the professional standards of conduct, ethics, reliability and diligence.

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