Mediation is a tool to resolve conflicts that involves a neutral third party. The third party, usually a trained mediator, helps the parties in a dispute find a mutually satisfying way forward. The “parties” are the two people in conflict (it can also be two companies, or informal groups that are larger than just a single person on each side). To say they find a “mutually satisfying” way forward simply means that the resolution is voluntary; the mediator does not tell the parties they have to do anything.
It may go without saying, but the workplace is full of opportunities for conflict - and thus for conflict resolution, too! Some cultures welcome disagreements and open discussions; other places may claim to welcome open discussions but really try to shut down disagreements early on. Sadly, this winds up causing conflicts and discomfort to fester. A trained mediator can help resolve these conflicts no matter how long they may have been lingering.
Specific types of disputes mediators can help with include:
A successful mediation follows a four-step process:
Each of these stages is discussed during the initial stage, when we set expectations. That stage begins early on, with the mediator checking in with each party to see if they are both comfortable with the idea of mediation, even before a session is scheduled. In fact, parties are typically asked to sign an “agreement to mediator” that simply indicates that they agree to give the process a try, before the second stage starts.
The second stage is the one most people probably think of as mediation: each side gets to tell their story of the conflict. A trained mediator is listening for common issues and points of view, and to understand more of what is at stake in the conflict for each side.
In the third stage, the parties are asked to set aside any judgments and brainstorm a list of potential resolutions. Finally, the fourth stage involves the group choosing a resolution and hammering out the details.
Mediators resolve conflicts - the ones that keep you up at night. A contract mediator can be the objective third-party, trusted by both sides in the conflict, to help the parties communicate and brainstorm new resolutions.
Larger companies who keep a mediator on retainer demonstrate their commitment to solving conflicts in a productive way, and avoiding more punitive paths like lawsuits, disciplinary actions, or firing people. (Though using a mediator does not prohibit any of those actions!)
No, a trained mediator should never guarantee a resolution. Mediation is voluntary, and the parties come up with their resolution themselves. If a mediator guarantees a resolution, do NOT hire them.
On the other hand, some mediators who have handled many cases - or mediation agencies with a long track record - may advertise a percent agreement rate. This should not be interpreted as meaning your own conflict has those odds of resolution. It’s simply a reflection of the number of previous cases handled by that mediator or agency that came to an agreement.
When the conflict just won’t go away! You may have tried all the strategies you have up your sleeve and then some, but the problem just keeps arising. That’s when you know you really need a mediator to help you overcome this issue.
Mediation may feel like a last resort - so even when you are at the end of your rope, even when you’ve tried everything, you can still give mediation a try.
The main people involved in the conflict - usually just two individuals - should of course be present, and, anyone else who has decision-making power should either be present for the mediation or available through a phone call or text to sign off on any potential changes that are brainstormed as part of the resolution. While most mediations include a lot of time for the full group to be together, mediators also allow for private conversations as part of the process.
There are several types of mediation; three main categories are facilitative, evaluative, and transformative.
At CM+F, we use facilitative mediation. Facilitative mediation focuses on the specific conflict that led to the parties (or perhaps a manager or HR professional) contacting them.
Transformative mediation focuses on the relationship between the parties, for example, working on restoring (or creating) a friendship or a productive work relationship between the parties.
Evaluative mediation is a bit different. An evaluative mediator will suggest a specific resolution based on their expertise; the parties are still free to choose that resolution or create a different one with the mediator’s help. Evaluative mediation requires the mediator to use a second expertise - such as in business management, finance, specific types of legal issues, etc.
Generally, mediators will charge a set price per mediation session, that includes administrative work as well as the session. You are not paying for the mediator’s time, but for their expertise - similar to how you pay a premium for a good lawyer. However, generally mediators charge less than lawyers and there are no legal costs involved, as there are with lawsuits.
Yes! There are many reasons to work with an online mediator. The pandemic of course is one reason; convenience is another - not just for scheduling but also to ensure both parties can participate from whatever location is comfortable for them.
Online mediation is not new. There are many experienced practitioners, some of whom use special softwares to assist in resolving disputes. Many online mediators will use an e-signature solution to make it easy for the parties to sign documents. If you have questions about how it will work online, ask your mediator!
This post does not even cover half of what mediation is or how it works! Ask us your questions below.