Just as a meeting agenda keeps a meeting on track, a mediation meeting framework ensures that all important steps are covered and important discussion items are raised and addressed. This framework can provide structure and confidence for a less experienced mediator.
One of the most important tips I can offer you is not to rush the workplace mediation meeting. It is a common error to rush the meeting and this limits discussion and encourages the formation of quick or early agreements. But such agreements rarely address the full underlying conflict issues, and while you might be pleased that there have been outcomes achieved and the meeting didn’t go for too long (which is a relief because you might have been feeling uncomfortable), the parties will not be fully satisfied. Full conflict resolution will not have been achieved and the issues will again surface in the not too distant future.
To prevent forcing parties to reach early agreement, here are some tips for a mediation meeting framework:
1 – Set expectations
Firstly the mediator starts with an introduction. Remember to keep this short because the parties are here to listen to each other and not to the mediator. Thank the parties for being present and being prepared to mediate. Remind them of any time limits on the meeting, any safety issues they should be aware of, the expected behaviours within the meeting and the confidentiality restrictions placed on them.
2 – Opening statements
Next allow each person, one at a time, to give an opening statement. This should be short in length, perhaps 1-2 minutes only. This is an opportunity for each person to share with the other why they have agreed to attend mediation and what they are hoping to achieve. This is not an opportunity to express grievances, lay blame or go into specific detail about any of the incidents they may wish to discuss. The opportunity for that can happen during the body of the mediation.
3 – Set the agenda
From the opening statements an agenda of items for discussion can be listed. The mediator can help to ensure that every area of concern for each party is listed on that agenda. The agenda should be set in neutral language. That is, it should not be judgemental in its language or infer blame to either party.
4 – Work through the agenda
Now is the opportunity to work through each issue on the agenda and have discussion and debate around the concerns each person holds in regards to that agenda item. This part of the mediation can be caught up in parties disagreeing about fact. At some stage the mediator may have to intervene to move the discussion to cover areas of concern but not debate around fact because people’s interpretation of fact will always differ and it is rare to get agreement around facts on incidents on which people are in conflict.
5 – Break out privately
A private session can be helpful here because people appreciate having small breaks in a mediation that can be physically and mentally tiring. These breaks allow people to refresh and refuel. So always make sure there are light refreshments available. In the private meeting meet with each party one at a time (and their support person if they are present) to separately discuss how they are feeling and how things are going, any concerns they might have and any insights they may have already gained as to options for resolution. The mediator should never put forward their own ideas or suggestions for resolution but should coach each person to reflect and search for answers by themselves.
6 – Rejoin and set agreements
Bringing the parties back together again after a private session, now is the opportunity to start to generate options for solutions (but only do so if all the items on the agenda have been discussed). It’s like a brainstorming type of session where parties can each put forward their options for resolution. These options should be discussed, debated and re-modelled until both parties can agree and are satisfied on a particular way that each issue should be resolved. From these discussions, the mediator should be recording any agreements that have been made between the parties.
7 – Break out for review
Having a second set of private sessions allows the mediator to review and go over with each party separately, the agreements they have heard being made between the parties. Further coaching may need to occur if there has not been agreement reached on one or more agenda items.
8 – Finalise and document agreement
When each agenda item has been discussed and agreement reached around the way forward, bring the parties back together again, in the last part of the joint mediation meeting to review, finalise and capture in writing an agreement that each party should then sign.
If the parties cannot find agreement on all agenda items, one or both parties appear obstinate or there are behavioural concerns it may be necessary to discuss these issues with an external experienced workplace mediator. If you need some support in how to conduct a mediation or need to engage a mediator for these difficult complex situations, here is how you can contact us.