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  • Giles Woolfson


Updated: Apr 1, 2020

Are you an employee who is being asked to take part in mediation? Are you very sceptical of the idea? Can you think of nothing worse than being in the same room as your colleague?

Mediation is difficult, there's no doubt about it. A workplace mediation might be taking place in the context of a grievance procedure which is either about to start, in the process of being carried out or been completed. The problem often is that a grievance process usually doesn't lead to any sort of "fix" of the severely damaged relationship.

Mediation is hard precisely because you are asked to tell the other person exactly what you think. You may say to yourself: "I've already done that. I raised a grievance. Everybody knows what the problem is." However, by its very nature a grievance only provides a particular view of the situation, expressed at a particular time, when the person was in a particular state of mind.

The mediation is an opportunity to say things a little differently, and even more honestly. It provides an opportunity to clarify issues which are up until that point misunderstood or simply unclear and need more explanation. It gives you the chance to focus on the issues of real importance. I've experienced mediations where grievances have been raised covering a whole host of issues, extending to multiple points in multiple pages of grievance text. During the mediation, the person who has raised the grievance manages to identify what really matters and, most importantly of all, what needs to change in the workplace.

This is what you need to think about prior to the mediation. What needs to change? Think of it in a practical sense. Look more to what lies ahead, rather than what has happened in the past. During the mediation, the past will be extremely important. You will provide to the mediator detailed information about what has happened. However, the mediation is not a grievance hearing. The mediator will not make any sort of ruling as to who's right and who's wrong. What the mediator will do is help you to focus on what really matters to enable change and a sustainable working relationship.

Perhaps the most surprising element of workplace mediation is the extent to which the two people involved are able to actually sit down, face to face and engage professionally with each other. The reason is, they both want the next day to be better.

Therefore, think about what needs to happen to make tomorrow better. Even if you believe you are the victim of bullying, harassment or even discrimination - what can be done differently to ensure that your experience at work is a positive one?

I'm thinking about a situation where your employer believes that the internal process is not necessarily going to provide a resolution. It is unlikely to satisfy your needs, and will most likely lead to further deterioration in the relationship, or has already done so. Therefore, your employer is asking you to engage in an alternative process. If mediation doesn't work, you can always revert to the grievance process. If you do, you will be back to a place of setting out your position (not to the other person direct) and leaving it for somebody else to decide what has happened and who is right and who is wrong. However, for as long as you are being given the opportunity to engage in mediation, you should think about the way in which things need to change. Even try to think about whether the other person has truly understood the situation. Do they really know how their behaviour is affecting you? Have you properly understood what their perception of events is?

Think about these things prior to mediation. The mediator will also help you. You will then be able to engage in a professional and constructive discussion, and you may be very surprised at the outcome which this provides.

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