Overcoming Resistance to Mediation or Conflict Resolution

woman with folded arms

In my work I am frequently asked questions about how to overcome resistance to mediation or conflict resolution processes. Resistance can be displayed either by management or staff and is usually based in fear due to misunderstanding of the intent of offering/using mediation and the mediation process itself.
To be able to encourage participation in mediation, there needs to first be understanding around what fear or negative perception the person holds so that this can be addressed in a manner that is appropriate for them.

Some common concerns I have worked through are:

– Mediation is an opportunity for the other party to blame me
– I will be accused of bullying during the mediation discussion
– The discussion will be one sided
– I must have done something wrong to have to be involved in mediation
– I don’t have a problem – the other person does
– It won’t make any difference because there are never any consequences

Good culture reduces resistance

A good starting point is to ensure that the organisation’s culture conveys mediation as the constructive, supportive and fair resolution of interpersonal, communication or workplace relations issues, and not formal or misconduct issues.

Mediation is a process whereby both/all parties bring their concerns to the table. Even though it may be one party that raises a mediation issue, it should be viewed as beneficial for all rather than just for the instigator of the process.

Managerial responsibility for early conflict resolution

A manager has a responsibility to build a constructive workplace relationship with all staff in their team. Mediation supports a manager to be able to develop this.

It might be appropriate to point out to the manager that there is a risk that if the situation continues without resolution, the staff member concerned may put in a formal complaint. This adds a layer of complexity and formality and time that may not be necessary to go through if mediation is successful.

In other words, it may be better to ‘nip it in the bud’ with a less formal mediation process than to see an issue escalate to a formal grievance.

Mediation is about facilitating communication, building trust and understanding, improving workplace interactions and productivity. Even if the manager believes they are a very good communicator, there will be an element or elements to their communication and interactions that are missing if workplace relationships are deteriorating.

Actions for willing participation

Some specific actions that can be taken to reduce resistance include:

  • Be professional as opposed to ‘serious’ in relation to a proposed mediation. A serious and directive tone is more likely to create a feeling of mistrust for the process due to a lack of empathy and transparency and will put parties on edge.
  • Reassure the parties that a mediation process is not disciplinary action and that all parties are treated equally.
  • Remind the parties that workplace issues often stem from misunderstandings and it is important that they as a person are heard and understood. Mediation allows for this to happen as well as help the parties to fully explore the issues and misunderstandings to a depth that will support sustained resolution.

Remember to conclude the mediation meeting with a signed agreement – formed only by agreement and with contents that are reasonable, achievable and set for success and not failure. This provides a vehicle for reminding parties of their discussions and obligations.

We would be happy to speak with your organisation about offering prospective mediation participants some pre mediation coaching – this will allow us to gain insight into any resistance so that we can then constructively address the prospective participant’s concerns about the mediation process. Please see the contact page for our details.

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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.