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As much as you try to hire for good culture fit, it’s hard to predict how workers will get along. Workplace conflict is inevitable, and can range from minor disputes to intense conflicts that disrupt entire departments.
Qualified social worker and mediator Sumien Symington shares her expert advice on the importance and relevance of mediation in conflict resolution, especially during these uncertain and confusing times.
Mediation: the less costly, yet effective, alternative
Mediation and negotiation are the less formal and less costly approaches to conflict resolution. In a nutshell, mediation is the intervention in a negotiation or conflict of an acceptable third party with limited or no authoritative decision-making power, but who assists the involved parties in voluntarily reaching a mutually acceptable settlement.
“Both parties must agree to the mediation process, immediately implying that both parties are flexible and open for negotiations to reach an agreement,” says Sumien. Negotiations usually take place without expert assistance, and there are little to no costs involved. The amount of time spent to solve the problem is the shortest, and parties involved have 100% control over the outcome.
“Mediation allows parties in a dispute to come together and find their own solutions. Mediation can be used in almost all disputes where both parties are willing to sit around a table and discuss their wants and needs, with a third party supporting and guiding them through the process,” she says.
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There are three stages to conflict resolution through mediation
Mediation consists of three stages: before mediation, during mediation and post-mediation.
Before mediation is the period when the parties concerned have come to a point where they need an external person to help them resolve a dispute stemming from a family problem. During this time, you can almost always assume there’s a breakdown of trust. The chances are that they are not communicating; if they are communicating, it will be limited and not very productive.
During the mediation, you can often pick up that the parties will display negative body language. This could be very subtle, but they will basically block each other out. If they verbalise this, it could be in the form of accusations. You’ll experience a rise and intensity in the tone of the person’s voice. Universally, we tend to find that men use stone-walling in mediation to shut the other person out. Interestingly, stone-walling is the body’s way of regulating its own stress hormones. If your stress hormones are high enough, you will shut the other person out completely.
After mediation, there could be a positive or negative outcome. If there’s a positive outcome, one or both parties will hopefully reflect and change how they handle conflict in the future to prevent the same situation from happening again. If the outcome is negative, there will be a continuation of pre-mediation reactions, or the situation may worsen.
The dos and dont’s of mediation
Mediation is not a quick-fix or guarantee to conflict resolution, and the correct processes need to be followed to assist with success. Mediation proceedings, while shorter than other more formal proceedings, can still be emotionally taxing. During mediation, parties are encouraged to listen to each other, remain as honest as possible, and be genuine and open to feedback. Parties should not lie, blame or point fingers at each other or ignore emotions. Disputes are about how people experience them, not just the substantive matter at hand. People need time to vent.
“While the outcome for mediation depends on the parties involved, mediation allows parties to take control of their own situation. It allows them to be actively involved in their own destiny and solutions. That said, while mediation is a great starting point, it can’t resolve situations that need the help of a third party to make decisions on their behalf. In these situations, litigation is the option to consider,” says Sumien.