Workplace mediation is essentially a meeting between two or more parties who are experiencing conflict, with the aim of the meeting to lead discussions to find resolution. The chair of the meeting should be somebody independent to the issues being discussed and preferably independent to the parties in the mediation.
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Workplace mediation is not about finding fault
This is not a process designed to determine facts and make findings on exactly what happened and make a ruling on who is right or wrong. Sometimes the parties in a workplace mediation want for someone to be labelled right and the other person to be labelled wrong.
If one or more parties is looking for a process that clears their name and labels the other person as wrong or at fault, then a workplace investigation should be conducted rather than a mediation. However, an investigation should only be conducted where there is reasonable grounds to believe a workplace policy may have been breached. So in light of this workplace mediators should not be trying to uncover the truth about actions and behaviours that occurred before, during and after the incidents in question.
Rather the mediator should understand that in a conflict situation each person has a different perspective and the facts will be distorted by these perspectives. So trying to hold the discussion to find agreement on the facts is going to be very difficult and often leads to the conversation coming to a halt.
This blog post from Thornton Mason expands on the notion of right and wrong in mediation.
The role of the mediator
Conflict occurs not only because these parties have different perspectives but because they also haven’t been able to communicate and resolve the conflict for themselves. So the workplace mediator’s role is to encourage each party to share their views but not to gain agreement around these views.
The mediator’s role is also to help the parties find agreement about future workplace interactions and not past interactions. The mediator’s role is to lead the parties to identify what changes in their interactions and behaviours are required that will support them to work safely, respectfully, professionally, and productively going forward together in the future.
The workplace mediation process
Because these parties in the mediation haven’t been able to resolve the conflict and communicate well with each other, the mediator may do well to hold pre-mediation phone call meetings with each person to be able to coach them around improved communication techniques and to coach them to see beyond their own perspectives and start to vision realistic, possible outcomes that they can put forward for discussion in the mediation.
Its best that any agreement reached is recorded and documented and signed off by both parties. This process may be held in the one meeting room with both parties sitting together opposite each other talking. Or it could be held in two separate rooms in a shuttle mediation with the mediator moving backward and forward between the parties delivering information from one to the other.
Importantly, mediation in the workplace is a voluntary process. Parties may choose not to participate or may start the process and then withdraw at any time. In addition, each party in this process is entitled to have a support person present. Where participation in a facilitated discussion is the only reasonable & non adversarial process for resolution (for example to ensure parties are safe to work with each other, or to manage a low level bullying complaint or a performance management issue) then parties can be directed to attend a facilitated meeting and the process should not be referred to as 'mediation'.
If you would like to know more about successful workplace mediations techniques or would like one conducted at your workplace, please see our workplace mediation services page or call us on 1300 227 901.