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Mediation: Voluntary Really Means Voluntary

Mediation is a voluntary process for parties and mediators. Yes, you read that right. Mediators have an ethical responsibility to ensure all parties feel equally able to negotiate, and the parties do so in good faith. If a mediator has any doubt, they ought to end the mediation.

You may be thinking “But I’m paying you!” Yes, you are. You’re paying for the services of a mediation session (or sessions). As a trained professional mediator, my expertise includes paying attention to the parties and their ability to represent themselves in the process and negotiate on equal (or near-equal) footing. My expertise also includes making ethical determinations about whether the parties are operating in good faith.

The flip side of this is that any time a party feels uncomfortable, they have the right to end the mediation as well. Of course, feeling uncomfortable can happen for a great variety of reasons, and mediators will try to feel you out – usually one-on-one – to understand what may be going on behind a request to end mediation. But if you are in a mediation and:

  • You do not believe the other party is acting in good faith,

  • You feel it would be best to have another person to decide the outcome, or

  • You feel at all unsafe, then

you have every right to speak up to the mediator and talk with them about it, and to end the mediation.

Perhaps you’re wondering how this supposed voluntariness would play out in your own workplace. After all, in a world where “voluntold” is a verb, do you truly have the ability to step away from a workplace mediation?

Truthfully, the consequences of ending a workplace mediation depend on the workplace.

We all experience situations where there is a choice, but the choice is unpleasant. Here’s an unrelated example. The holidays are upon us. You may not want to attend the big family gathering for a variety of reasons, ranging from unpleasant childhood memories, to being asked annoying questions that make you feel you have to justify your life, to the presence of a particularly argumentative relative whose political views are polar opposite of yours. Most of us grin and bear it – but you do have a choice. You can spend the holidays with friends, with a smaller family group, or perhaps just skip that one large family party.

In the workplace, ramifications of our choices may seem more intense or even threatening. Perhaps the choice is to keep quiet and fly under the radar, or speak up to end someone else’s discriminatory actions but get a lot of unwanted scrutiny. Or it may be to participate in a mediation and agree to something less than ideal, or be fired.

Of course no one wants to be let go. The consequences of having zero income should not be understated. And yet. Most of us are able to get another job. It may even be possible to negotiate a severance package as part of a mediation, or, if your workplace is large enough, a job transfer.

At the very least, if you are in a mediation and feel that you must be there, you can ask to speak with the mediator one-on-one about that very situation. Your mediator can help you explore the reasons behind the feeling and the potential consequences of leaving the mediation.

To anyone reading this thinking of hiring us to mediate a workplace dispute, think about what you are paying for and what you want to get from mediation. The benefits of voluntary participation in mediation include:

  • More creative agreements,

  • A higher level of comfort with the agreement because the parties got to create it themselves,

  • And, a higher likelihood each party will abide by the agreement.

If you want to talk about what mediation could look like in your company, give us a call at 703-951-6647or fill out our contact form. We’re happy to discuss in detail how mediation can help your company and its employees.


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