Mediators are often called upon by Managers to talk to individuals engaged in a conflict. The goals of mediation are generally to support an improved work relationship so that individuals can work effectively together. While we encourage mediation as a means to support better working relationships, particularly in the early phases of a conflict, the efficacy of mediation depends on a wide range of factors. It is so important to understand that mediation is not an easy fix, cure or simple solution.

Mediators are often called upon by Managers to talk to individuals engaged in a conflict. The goal of mediation is generally to support an improved professional relationship so that individuals can work effectively together. While we encourage mediation as a means to supporting better working relationships, particularly in the early phases of a conflict, the efficacy of mediation depends on a wide range of factors. It is so important to understand that mediation is not an easy fix, cure or simple solution.

Mediation is a process and there is no guarantee it will result in an immediate resolution. Relationships and trust take time to re-build. You may, therefore, wonder what to expect from mediation if resolutions, agreements and outcomes cannot be guaranteed. There can be amazing benefits to engaging in mediation if all participants are willing and committed to it. For example, employees can feel acknowledged and valued by engaging in a process that focuses on their specific situation and works to support them. Similarly, mediation participants have the opportunity to clarify misunderstandings, speak their truth and create positive pathways forward. The key is to know what to expect from mediation from the outset, as this can facilitate a more positive experience and ensure misunderstandings don’t lead to disappointments.

Here are five common expectations that can support mediation:

1. Don’t expect mediation to ‘fix’ a problem

Mediation is not a magic wand.  Problems are not intended to be magically fixed through the process of mediation or a facilitated discussion. There is often a misconception that a mediator will resolve issues quickly and after one session. Mediation may sometimes be seen as a key first step in restoring a relationship which will continue over time after the mediation, involving all participants and managers. When you engage in a mediation or facilitated discussion, there are a few steps. The mediator will need to speak with all participants, including referring managers, prior to beginning a conversation with all participants present. They will need to consider a wide range of complex factors and ensure a joint or group conversations is safe and supportive to all involved. Once a mediation or facilitated discussion is scheduled, it is important to remember that more than one session or conversation may be necessary and various factors can slow the process down. For example, individuals being on leave or requesting time to think about whether they would like to be involved. Mediators work at a considered pace, continuously reviewing the matter to ensure the process is appropriate 

TIP: Allow time for the mediation process and do not expect mediation to be a quick fix to a problem.

2. Expect to know if a mediation is suitable to proceed

Registered mediators are trained and highly skilled at identifying complex issues and nuanced dynamics between individuals. They are attuned to detect issues that might impede upon a positive outcome. After speaking with each potential participant to a mediation, a mediator will review and evaluate whether a mediation is suitable. As mentioned earlier, mediators will ensure a mediation is safe, supportive and likely to provide a benefit to all involved. After speaking with everyone individually, a mediator will advise whether or not a mediation is going to proceed. A mediator, however, is not obliged to provide reasons for their decision and will not disclose information that might be detrimental to an individual, a group or the process. 

TIP: If you are wanting detailed information, feedback, recommendations or understandings about team dynamics, it might be worth considering a team dynamics assessment. Mediation is intended to assist with resolving conflict between individuals, rather than provide detailed insight into team dynamics and workplace recommendations. 

3. Expect to discuss your expectations

If you have referred individuals to mediation or a facilitated discussion, the mediator will speak with you about the situation and why you are wanting to initiate the process. During this initial conversation, it is timely to discuss your expectations and ask questions. For example, if you would like to know themes that arise from conversations the mediator has with participants, receive feedback or understand what happens if mediation does not go ahead, discuss this prior to the process beginning.  In doing this, you will be clear about the process and what to expect from it.  

TIP: Be honest, open and transparent with the mediator from the outset about what you hope to achieve and what your goals are so that your mediator can work with you to achieve this.

4. Expect privacy, confidentiality and consent to trump all other expectations

Registered mediators are bound to adhere to strict standards of confidentiality, privacy and consent. Conversations between a mediator and a participant are confidential. Details of what is discussed with a mediator is not relayed to referring managers or employers. Similarly, if a participant to a mediation requests particular information remain private, as long as the individual is safe, the mediator is bound by this. A mediator can provide a helpful sounding board for a mediation participant in relation to sensitive information. Safety, privacy and confidentiality trumps all else. You may expect your mediator to share details of conversations had with participants or other information gained from their engagement with individuals, however, this information is confidential. Mediators have a unique perspective that differs from that of an HR professional, therapist, coach or any other professionals potentially involved in a workplace conflict. Their role is to assist with resolving a conflict. Their decisions and communications are deliberate and considered with this purpose in mind. It is important to trust their professional opinion and understand that privacy, confidentiality and consent is complex and a priority.  

TIP: Trust your mediator is working within strict guidelines around confidentiality and privacy and is bound to uphold such principles.

5. Do not expect your mediator to be an advocate

Registered mediators are impartial at all times and never take sides. As a result, they do not advocate for any participant to a mediation or the referring manager/employer. This can be confusing, particularly if a manager or employer engages a mediator. It might seem like the mediator is employed to act on behalf of an employer or provide an employer with particular information that will benefit them. This is a common fear for participants to a mediation, however, this is absolutely not the case. Regardless of who engages a mediator, they remain impartial at all times and committed to strict confidentiality and privacy guidelines.  

TIP: When speaking with your mediator, remember their perspective is neutral and impartial.

 

Mediation is often confused with counselling and conciliation processes, creating misunderstandings as to the purpose and process.  In clarifying expectations, a well-rounded understanding can infuse transparency and trust in the process. It is important to note that mediation is always recommended as an early intervention, engaging in the process prior to a conflict becoming entrenched. If mediation is not an option or potential participants do not wish to engage in mediation, perhaps consider conflict coaching. Conflict coaching can assist individuals broaden their perspective and gain skills to better manage conflict. Similarly, it is helpful to remember that EAP with Converge includes Conflict Assist. This coaching style service supports individuals manage and approach a personal or workplace conflict so that tools, strategies and options can be explored.  

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 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 Nation-wide private and Government organisations.

Follow Mishelle on LinkedIn.