Workplace and employment mediation is coming of age. More organisations are using it to resolve workplace conflict than ever before, an increase that is due to organisations’ desires to seek more effective, less time-consuming and less costly methods of conflict resolution within the workplace. The reason for this change in approach to conflict resolution, and the increase in conflict resolution methods per se, is the rise in workplace conflict. The causes of this, as we shall see in this book, are both multifaceted and complex, but what is very clear to the outside observer is that the current system of workplace conflict resolution in
this country is broken.
The employment tribunal, the mainstay of workplace conflict resolution, has been with us over half a century, and despite reforms along the way it is now recognised by many, myself included, as an analogue process in a digital world. It is too black and white in a world where complex grey areas exist, especially where human beings are at the centre. Workplace conflict is not always about wrong and right, about the innocent and the guilty, and certainly not about who can afford the best lawyer. Too often the ‘resolution’ aspect of conflict resolution is ignored, but this is something that forms the core of mediation. Mediation aims to resolve conflict quickly, fairly and cheaply, something that is of benefit to both the individual and any organisation that values its time, money and reputation.
Most organisations now recognise that conflict is a part of working life, but surprisingly few are equipped to deal with it quickly and effectively or even acknowledge its effect. In my book, Difficult Conversations – 10 Steps to Becoming a Tackler Not a Dodger, I liken difficult conversations to small fires that can burn out of control if not dealt with quickly, and the presence of an effective conflict management policy is similar to this—if conflict is not dealt with swiftly and effectively it can spread across teams and departments, causing damage that can only truly be realised when the fire is finally extinguished. Even then, embers of resentment can burn long afterwards. This is where mediation comes into its own, taking days or even on some occasions only hours to halt a conflict in its tracks and get all the parties concerned back to focusing on their jobs, not the conflict that has arisen because of them. Conflict can in fact be strategically managed fairly easily, and organisations that recognise this will benefit over organisations that have not, or will not, embrace the concept. We have seen similar developments in other fields, for example coaching, which reached maturity in the UK some years ago and has successfully ironed out issues associated with issues such as accreditation and supervision. It is my belief that mediation is likely to follow a similar path.
As mediation in the workplace matures, there will be a need to learn from our experiences with it and review how the profession develops in practice. Using mediation to resolve conflicts in the workplace is still a relatively new concept (despite mediation first being used by the ancient Greeks), and there is always an opportunity to improve the experience those involved in conflict situations undergo as they find their path to peace and reconciliation. I am very confident however that the future of conflict resolution in the workplace is through flexible practices such as mediation rather than one-dimensional tribunals.
Thousands of people have benefitted from being users of mediation services, but unlike employment tribunals they are confidential in nature, meaning that we are unlikely to hear of many successes. A book like this helps draw attention to the positivity of mediation and its advantages for both individual organisations and communities. Like other fields such as art and science, developments in mediation occur as a result of new discoveries, developments which are even more likely as its use grows and diversifies.
About the book
The book incorporates a number of themes and is split broadly into two parts, exploring a number of themes. First, I felt it important to set the book in some context in terms of the British workplace. To this end I look at the history of the British workplace and discuss how it has changed from the days of the industrial revolution to today’s multicultural, dynamic workplace, paying particular attention to how and why these changes have wrought a rise in workplace conflict.
Next I examine the business case for mediation in dealing with conflict in the workplace compared to the existing forms of conflict resolution. I realise that busy HR professionals and CEOs want evidence of how mediation can benefit their bottom line, and here I offer evidence from various sources to detail how conflict costs businesses more than they realise and why mediation is a sound economic platform on which to build an effective conflict resolution programme.
Following this I discuss the power of storytelling in mediation. Some of you reading this will already be well aware that storytelling is the premise upon which many a mediation session is based, as everyone involved within them has a story to tell (something that employment tribunals do not generally engage in). The mediation process flushes out many stories of hurt, disbelief, justification and clarification, stories that can be vital to understanding the core reasons behind a conflict and that may have otherwise gone unheard.
The second part of the book focuses on the practical application of mediation as a method of conflict resolution within a workplace, the different ways to go about implementing it and best practice in regards to running it, drawing on my extensive experience as a mediator. This includes, at the end, a toolkit containing advice, templates and other documents that I use daily within my mediation work, providing you with everything you need to get started with your own in-house mediation strategy.
Each chapter is followed by a case study drawn from real life experiences. This is something I believe is very important in getting across both the various turns a mediation session can take and the power inherent within it to not only resolve a conflict but also cleanse and heal emotional wounds, allowing previously combative individuals to work effectively with each other once more. These case studies are, of course, all anonymous, and in them I try to draw a balance between the dynamics of the parties, triggers that caused the conflict and eventually prompt a requirement mediation, the impact the cases had on me as mediator and the learning that can be drawn from those in the mediation industry. There are also a number of brief case studies interspersed throughout the remaining parts of the book to illustrate certain points. In providing these case studies I recognise that I make myself vulnerable as I write openly about my experiences, including my failures and points for learning. I do not suggest for a moment that I have all the knowledge or answers, partly because the thrill of mediation is that when you think you’ve seen everything something comes along that knocks you for six! We are, after all, dealing with human beings. Like others I seek to continue to learn throughout my life, something that applies very strongly to my work in this field. All I can do, as all any mediator can do, is simply reflect on my ten years of mediation experience and use this experience to assist those with a shared interest in this field.
If you have read this far I am going to assume that you have at least a passing interest in mediation and its suitability in dealing with workplace conflict. Perhaps you are an independent mediator, organisation, commentator or government official. I have written this book with the intention of making a small contribution to demystify the concept of mediation and highlight its advantage as a commercial, pragmatic tool. If I increase your awareness of mediation within the workplace and leave you viewing it in a more positive light than you had before reading, then I will have achieved my purpose. I hope you enjoy the book.
Clive Lewis is a Business Psychologist, specialising in employee and industrial relations. He is the UK’s most published writer on the topic of mediation in the workplace. He is the founding director of Globis Mediation Group.
Company: Globis Ltd
Name: Clive Lewis OBE DL
Web Address: www.globis.co.uk
Address: 1 Wheatstone Court, Waterwells Business Park, Quedgeley,
Gloucester GL2 2AQ.
Telephone: 0330 100 0809