Mediation is a process that is often misunderstood or feared, as it is commonly associated with entrenched conflicts and confrontation. Mediation, however, does not have to be intimidating. In fact, mediation can assist parties in discussing issues at the first sign of a disagreement and can be modified to ensure all parties feel safe and comfortable. Mediation, also known as Dispute Resolution, is a process that assists individuals experiencing conflict discuss their perspectives, with the aim of reaching mutually agreeable outcomes. This simply means that if two individuals are at odds, mediation can help sort it out. Confronting issues can be difficult and sharing our perspectives and feelings can feel dauting. Mediation supports individuals to feel more comfortable about sharing, while remaining practical in its approach to working toward outcomes.

Let’s begin by busting some common misconceptions about mediation.

Myth: All mediation processes are the same

False – There are various kinds of mediation processes including family and workplace dispute resolution processes, that differ from one another.  Family mediation supports people to plan their parenting and property arrangements following a relationship separation. Registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners (FDRPs) are accredited with the Attorney General’s Department, under the standards set out in the Family Law (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners Regulations) 2008. FDRPs have expertise in guiding parties through a prescribed family dispute resolution process under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). At the end of the mediation process, separating parties’ may draft a parenting plan and/or a mediated agreement regarding their property.  In contrast, the Australian National Mediator Standards apply to mediators accredited under the National Mediator Accreditation System (NMAS). Mediators accredited under NMAS can conduct mediations relating to workplace, community, corporate & other issues and these mediations are not governed by the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), therefore, making the process a little different. There are commonalities and core structures across all mediation processes, however, and mediators are registered with their appropriate registration body to conduct mediations.

Myth: I have to see the other person

False – It is commonly thought that by agreeing to enter into a mediation process, all individuals are automatically in the same room. The mediator will speak with each party to the mediation prior to a joint mediation session. The mediator will use this individual session to understand individual perspectives and assess whether mediation is suitable. They will assess the best way to proceed if mediation is suitable. For example, they may discuss whether having support persons in the mediation might be helpful or suggest you mediate from separate spaces. If you are concerned about being in the same room, it is important to discuss this with the mediator so that you can explore options. Keep in mind that all conversations with the mediator are strictly confidential, so you can feel safe to speak honestly and openly.

Myth: Mediation with a mediator is different to mediation with my HR Manager

True and False – When referring to a Mediation process, we are referring to a process that is managed by a registered mediator. Sometimes organisations have internal professionals who are registered mediators, while other organisations will refer to external services. If you have been referred to mediation and are unsure about the process, it is best to talk to your HR team or referring manager.

An external mediator is independent form the employer, which has the advantage of no prior or ongoing relationship with any participant.

Myth: A mediation does not go ahead only if someone is violent  

False – When assessing suitability, there are many factors that mediators take into account. Power dynamics, the level of conflict, psychological & physical safety and the willingness of parties to mediate, are just a few of the many factors considered when a mediator is making an assessment about mediation suitability.

Myth: Everything discussed in mediation is confidential

True and False – Everything discussed with the mediator and with other parties during the mediation process are strictly confidential, not to be shared with anyone outside the mediation (including managers or anyone in the workplace). In a workplace mediation, if the participants reach an agreed outcome then that will be confirmed in writing by the mediator. Mediation outcomes that are work-related are typically also provided to the workplace so that the relevant manager or HR can support the outcomes as required in the future.

Myth: Mediation forces you to make formal agreements

False – Mediation aims to create a space where individuals can discuss their issues safely. It does not, however, force anyone to reach agreements of any kind.

Myth: Mediation is a performance management tool   

False – Mediation is not to be used as a performance management tool and sits outside performance management processes. The aim of mediation is to assist parties discuss their differences and try to understand each other’s perspectives. If performance management processes are in place and you are contemplating initiating a dispute resolution process, it is wise to speak with a mediator to understand if it is appropriate under the specific circumstances of the situation or how to keep the two processes separate.

Myth: “There is no point in mediating as the other person will just say what the mediator wants to hear”

False – Mediators are impartial and not decision-makers. They do not have an agenda and as a result, there isn’t anything that a mediator specifically wants to hear. Their role is to support conversations and outcomes that the parties drive. If you are unhappy with what is being discussed in mediation, you can ask the mediator for a private session with them, request a break or discuss how you’re feeling with the other person present.

We hope you have learned a little bit more about mediation and feel more comfortable engaging in the process should it ever be helpful. If you or individuals within your team are experiencing a conflict, do seek support before the conflict becomes entrenched. You might have access to Converge services for free through your employer. Converge offers support through a service called “Conflict Assist”.  Conflict Assist offers one-to-one coaching sessions for anyone who is wondering how to positively manage conflict and learn skills & strategies to better approach it. Conflict is a part of human interaction, and it doesn’t have to be negative. With the right support and guidance, conflict can identify issues and potential resolutions.

To access Converge services and check if you’re eligible, simply call 1300 OUR EAP (1300 687 327), book online or in the Converge App (Android or iOS).

About the author:

Mishelle Zara, Senior Strategic Partnership Manager at Converge International

Mishelle Zara is an experienced dispute resolution practitioner, facilitator and Manager who began her career as a lawyer. Since becoming registered with the Attorney General’s Department as a Family Mediator in 2005, she has held State Manager positions in Dispute Resolution and Mental Health Services.

Mishelle’s passion is to support employees and leaders to thrive in the workplace by resolving issues and being equipped with tools and strategies to positively manage challenges. Informed by principals of Dialectical and Systems Thinking, Mishelle is a solution-focused coach and dispute resolution practitioner, who utilises facilitative and transformative dispute resolution approaches to in-person and e-mediation processes.

In addition, Mishelle is an experienced facilitator and trainer, specialising in safely engaging audiences in sensitive and complex mental health concepts. Mishelle has facilitated conflict resolution and clinical training workshops for organisations including the Queensland Law Society, The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and various Nationwide private and Government organisations.