Back to basics - The forgotten skill of listening, Training Journal (June 2013)
By Tania Coke
"Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realise that real communication goes in both directions.” Listening, as observed by Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler Corporation, is one of the most fundamental business skills but is hugely undervalued and rarely, if ever, taught. In this article, we go back to basics and ask why listening is so important, what it involves and how it can be learned.
For the purpose of this article, I define listening as simply the attempt to understand the speaker’s outlook. It is relevant to every interaction between two or more people in organisational life: from formal interactions such as performance reviews, AGMs, negotiations, sales meetings, team meetings and negotiations, all the way through to chance encounters in the corridor.
The fruits of listening
Why is listening so important? There are three fruits of genuine listening. Most tangibly, listening bears fruit in the form of more effective outcomes. By truly listening to the needs of all relevant stakeholders in any form of negotiation, we are far more likely to reach effective, collaborative decisions.
The vendor who waxes lyrical about his company’s cutting edge technology and unrivalled service, without pausing to ask the potential customer about their needs, will invariably end up with a sub-optimal sale (or none at all). The manager who, with the best will in the world, imposes an outcome on disputing team members without first listening to their ideas is far less likely to see a lasting resolution.
Secondly, listening bears fruit in the form of deeper relationships. Listening engenders trust and builds meaningful connections between people. To use the examples above, the potential customer is more likely to trust a vendor who makes the effort to understand their specific needs. The manager builds a deeper connection with, and between, the disputing parties by giving them an opportunity to express their unique perspectives on the situation.
What’s more, listening can be infectious. Through a kind of virtuous circle, if the manager listens deeply to the disputing parties, they are in turn more likely to listen to one another.
Thirdly, listening bears fruit in the area of personal development. When we truly listen, we open our minds to the worldview of another, however distasteful that worldview may be. By doing so, we expand our own worldview, gaining in self-awareness and compassion. Even if we ultimately disagree with the speaker, the attempt first simply to understand their perspective can open our eyes to new ways of thinking. This expansion of worldview can be deeply fulfilling.
So listening produces more mature, fulfilled workforces; healthier, collaborative relationships, and more effective decisions and outcomes.
Screaming into the wind
Listening has always been difficult but it seems to be getting ever more so. Three things may help explain this. Firstly, the exploding volumes of information that are thrown at us. Information is disseminated through an ever-expanding range of channels. The portals of information dissemination are everywhere: through laptop, iPhone, PA system, television, snail mail, magazines etc, we are bombarded with advertising, email, propaganda and news. And many of these portals never sleep: at any time of the day or night, the phone rings, the PA blares, the screens flicker. Acquiring relevant knowledge is often more a matter of filtering out than tuning in.
Secondly, we are confronted with an increasing diversity of opinions as social and ethnic groupings collide. For any opinion stated on the Internet, search hard enough and you are bound to find its opposite. This means that a huge amount of information we receive goes against our habitual way of thinking, making listening all the more difficult.
Thirdly, the speed of living and doing business seems to accelerate continuously. Time is money, we are told. Don’t waste time talking. Make that decision, clinch that sale, write that report. Little wonder, then, that, unless we are extremely vigilant, we block our ears, leap to assumptions or fall back on habitual solutions that perhaps served us well in the past but fail to take into account the uniqueness of the present situation.
The being and doing of listening
So the stakes are high in the listening game – and the challenges too. But what does it mean to listen, and how can we do it better? We can distinguish two dimensions to the art of listening: the state of listening (the being) and the act of listening (the doing).
Real listening requires a certain state. Being in this state does not require any tangible action (verbal or otherwise). As such, it is hard to define in concrete terms, but we can identify several characteristics of this state. It is a state of openness – a willingness to receive what is being expressed in its full force. For example, an employee who was passed over for a promotion may express her hurt by lashing out at her manager with accusations of unfairness and cronyism. Real listening on the part of the manager involves opening up and taking in the full force of the hurt, before trying to defend,discredit or sympathise. This is an immense challenge, requiring humility and respect.
Another quality of the state of listening is attentiveness. Listening is hard work – it requires concentration. We need ideally to engage all the faculties of perception, including the senses, the intellect and the emotions. Listening in our definition is not just about paying attention to the verbal message of the speaker, but also to the way the words are spoken, the emotions behind the words and the body language.
There is an excellent TED talk by the percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, called “How to Listen”, in which she talks of “using the body as a listening chamber”. For her, listening is an embodied state. And this applies as much in the business world as in the musical one. Even if we are not consciously able to ‘interpret’ non-verbal messages, simply paying attention to them is part of the being of listening. Learning to listen means learning to notice the vocal intonations, gestures and pauses that accompany a verbal message.
You might object that the speaker cannot even tell if the listener is in a state of listening – and, if so, why bother? Even if that is so, the speaker can probably tell that the listener is trying to listen. And this attempt is enough to produce the second fruit of listening mentioned above: improved relationships. Moreover, through this attempt to listen, the listener is far more likely to reap the fruits of personal development: to step into the world of another and beyond their limited worldview.
However, the listener can also take active steps to demonstrate his listening, and this is what we call the act of listening. A core component of this act of listening is reflecting back verbally what the speaker has expressed. This can take the form of a single word or a longer summary, to play back what seem to be key elements of the speaker’s message. It can be in the speaker’s own words, or paraphrased. It can include not just what the speaker has said, but observations as to his body language, the contradictions in what he says, the things he has left unsaid.
This skill is slowly gaining currency in some areas of business practice. For instance, a facilitator may well conclude a meeting with “let me summarise what we have agreed”. A vendor may recap the potential customer’s needs: “So your main criteria are speed, price and product range.” And a mentor may intervene during a coaching session with: “Your eyes seem to light up when you mention…”
These are all examples of the skill of reflection – a vital component of the act of listening. To do it well takes practice. We need to be sensitive to timing. We need to learn to vary our interventions so as not to sound like a parrot; sometimes making longer, sometimes shorter, interventions, sometimes reflecting back words, sometimes body language. It is also important to reflect with a suitably tentative tone, to indicate that the reflection is offered in the spirit of trying to understand, not to judge. The speaker will ideally feel free to reject the reflection or deny the listener’s interpretation, if he wishes.
Another listening skill is asking open questions: questions that are driven not by the listener’s own curiosity but by the intention of following the speaker’s flow of thought. An example might be: “I notice you’ve referred to the word ‘professional’ a couple of times – would you like to say more so I understand what that word means to you?”
For both reflection and questioning, the skill lies in trying to enter impartially into the world of the speaker without judging, offering opinions, filtering, sympathising, sharing one’s own experiences or trying to fix anything. Krishnamurti writes about the difference between listening with and without an agenda: “Our listening is always with a preconception or from a particular point of view… Most of us are after results, achieving goals; we are forever overcoming and conquering and so there is no listening.”
To be entirely free of agenda is probably beyond most of us. Hence the importance of selfawareness, so that we may at least be conscious of our personal motives and filters and how these are affecting our listening.
Of course judging, offering opinions and filtering have an important part to play in a professional’s work. But they do not constitute listening. Ideally, the listening happens first. Once a level of mutual understanding has been achieved, then the parties can move on to use that understanding as the basis for judgments, opinions, decisions, solutions, agreements and other outcomes.
Building a listening organisation
Listening as defined here is not an intuitive skill. The vast majority of us do it very badly, which is why it requires training. Listening training can be offered as a stand-alone module or as part of another training programme such as sales, management or especially conflict management – for all of which listening is a core skill. Whatever the scope of the training, it will ideally address both the being and the doing of listening, including the specific skills of reflection and open questioning described above. To have any profound impact, the training will need to be highly experiential. A good way to achieve this is through role play, in which participants experience the difference between listening and not listening, in the role of both speaker and listener.
In addition to training, listening can be promoted through example-setting. Good listening, as mentioned above, is infectious. If senior leadership consistently demonstrates attentive, open listening, they will raise the quality of listening among the rest of the workforce. Another way to embed the skill of listening is to introduce mediation as a means of conflict management in the organisation. Mediation is a discipline centred on listening. Mediators are trained to listen impartially to the disputing parties. Very often, by participating in mediation as a disputing party, people actually improve their listening skills
Another way that mediation can improve employees’ listening levels is if the organisation trains its own internal mediators, rather than using third party specialists. In this case, the trained mediators act as internal role models for listening, both in and out of their job as mediators, helping to set the tone for a listening organisation.
In truth, learning to listen is a life-long undertaking. Through training programmes and role models, we can get a glimpse into what it really means to listen. Beyond that, it is down to each one of us to find opportunities to learn and to practise. And those opportunities may lie in unexpected places.
Listening is the building block of all communication, a sine qua non of collaborative, engaged and productive workforces. Listening builds trusting relationships and promotes empathy and tolerance. It leads to more constructive, collaborative outcomes, decisions and solutions and it is relevant for everyone at all levels of the organisation in everything they do.
And, like any skill, it can be learned.
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Reasons why mediation could fail, Personnel Today (May 2013)
By Anna Shields
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to guarantee successful resolution of workplace conflict through mediation or any other conflict management tool. Anna Shields, director at Consensio sets out some realistic expectations for mediation users and sponsors by highlighting the common reasons why mediation might not work.
To begin, we need to clarify what we mean by "success" in mediation. According to the facilitative mediation model practiced by most workplace mediation providers, success is defined by the parties involved themselves. They need to feel something has shifted. They need to have found a way to make sense of their conflict and move on. Having a solution imposed from the outside or reluctantly signing a written agreement may look like closure, but can turn out to be a house of cards waiting to topple at the slightest disturbance. In other words, success requires some change in the mentality of both parties - a greater acceptance of the situation or understanding of the other party.
Reasons for failure
With this definition in mind, we can identify three main reasons why mediation fails.
The first cause of failure can occur when parties lack the necessary commitment to attend and engage in mediation. Everyone needs to enter willingly into the process and they need to be prepared to take responsibility for finding a way forward. It is said that in medicine, in order to be healed, the patient has to want to recover. In mediation, this holds equally true. No conflict can be successfully addressed unless the parties involved are themselves open to resolution and willing to work for it. If they enter the process passively, simply waiting for the mediator to "fix" the problem for them, success as defined above is a highly unlikely prospect.
To maximise the chances of party commitment, it is preferable to mediate as early as possible. The longer the conflict has been left unattended, the greater the likelihood that the parties have become so entrenched and so despairing of their situation that they are unable to believe in the possibility of resolution.
The second cause of failure happens when the parties do not feel as if the mediator is treating them impartially. If they feel the mediator is favouring one side over the other, mediation can simply fan the flames of conflict. The reason mediation works is that it offers everyone the opportunity to focus on understanding the situation better, rather than determining who is right and wrong.
The most effective and long-term resolutions are born out of this increased understanding, not out of considerations of right and wrong. Of course, it is difficult for a mediator not to betray any personal opinion as to right or wrong - but as any trained and experienced mediator knows, it is their role to act impartially in all circumstances.
Finally, mediation can fail if the parties involved do not trust that confidentiality will be honoured. Mediation is a strictly confidential process, designed to encourage parties to open up to one another and thus reach a deeper level of mutual understanding. Mediation typically involves discussing sensitive issues regarding past events, current feelings and hopes for the future.
If either party fears that what they say might be used outside the mediation context, either by the other party or the mediator, the conversation might never reach the depth required to build mutual understanding and mediation will fail. To help allay these fears, the parties and mediators are often asked to sign a confidentiality agreement at the beginning of the process. The confidentiality of mediation has to be honoured by the mediator and the parties involved as well as the organisation that referred the case for mediation.
To recap, the three main reasons why mediation might fail are when the parties are not fully committed, when they do not believe in the impartiality of the mediator or when they do not trust the confidentiality of the process. On the positive side, if these three issues are rigorously communicated to all stakeholders before the process begins, mediation stands a strong chance of success.
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Conflict and wellbeing: How one impacts the other, Training Zone (May 2013)
By Anna Shields
Conflict management is now often a standard component of HR’s training portfolio. But conflict can be managed in very different ways, so how should one choose between the alternatives available when designing your training programmes? The customary way to assess conflict management approaches is to consider their effectiveness in resolving disputes. But resolution is not the only measure of success in mediation. There is also the psychological impact on the parties involved, as discussed in my previous article for Training Zone. Following on from that article, in this piece we explore how your choice of conflict management training might impact employee wellbeing.
There are currently two predominant models of conflict management training. The first is arbitration, in which a third party, having listened to all parties to the dispute, decides an outcome on their behalf. Formal processes such as disciplinary and grievance procedures and employee tribunals are all based on arbitration. At the other end of the spectrum lies mediation in which a mediator facilitates direct communication between the parties and supports them in finding their own outcomes.
So how do these two models – arbitration and mediation – impact on the wellbeing of employees involved? Let’s consider both models from the point of view of the disputing parties. In both cases, we can identify three stages of the process: pre, during and post.
In arbitration-based approaches, the pre-stage takes the form of information gathering; interviews with witnesses and preparation of written reports on each of the disputing parties. This stage is typically characterised by suspicion and mistrust, since information is not being openly shared. It is often accompanied by faction-building as parties try to recruit colleagues to their side. This stage can be protracted over a number of weeks during which parties become increasingly entrenched in their positions and mistrusting of one another.
"As an adversarial process, arbitration tends to reinforce hostilities between parties and solidify victim/victor mindsets."
In mediation, on the other hand, there is no information-gathering from outside witnesses. Instead, the pre-stage takes the form of private meetings between the mediator and each of the parties separately. The purpose of these meetings is for the parties to talk through the situation in order for them to gain clarity on their own perspective and prepare themselves for the joint meeting. The parties are typically feeling anxious at the prospect of meeting the other party face-to-face, but the experience of being listened to by the mediator can help ease that anxiety. It is usually the first time since the conflict began that the party has been able to speak to someone without being judged (whether as right or wrong) or being given an opinion. As a result, this meeting typically has a positive effect on employees’ wellbeing, through the healing effect of being listened to.
The second stage, in the case of arbitration, is the hearing or investigation. This is a tightly-controlled process led by the arbitrator. At this stage, the parties are likely to feel a sense of powerlessness since the process and the decision-making is out of their hands. Moreover, the parties generally have no chance to communicate directly with one another. As an adversarial process, arbitration tends to reinforce hostilities between parties and solidify victim/victor mindsets.
In the case of mediation, the second stage is the joint meeting between the parties. This can be a highly challenging experience for the parties because they are exposing themselves directly to one another and sharing in the responsibility for addressing the conflict. And yet those who choose to accept the challenge often find that the discomfort gives way to a sense of greater self-empowerment. By expressing themselves to one another directly - and listening to one another - they can get a far clearer grasp of the situation, increase their sense of autonomy and begin to salvage their battered dignity.
Arbitration’s aim is to address the facts, not the feelings involved in conflict. There is typically no opportunity for the parties to express their feelings verbally to one another – whether positive or negative. As a result, in the aftermath of arbitration, parties often carry many unresolved feelings including guilt, regret and hurt pride. Whatever the outcome of the procedure – even if the ruling is vindicating – these psychological scars fade slowly.
By contrast, the post-mediation period is often characterised by deeper understanding of the self and of others as a result of direct communication with the other party. This deeper understanding often makes the situation easier to bear, even if no concrete solution has been identified. In fact, in mediation the parties are far more likely to reach satisfactory outcomes because they design these outcomes themselves. In addition, parties often come away from mediation with a better idea of how to handle conflict in the future by virtue of having participated in mediation and shared in the responsibility for resolving their dispute.
"mediation has the potential to transform the bitterness of conflict into the possibility of new understanding of self and other."
So far we have considered conflict from the point of view of the disputing parties. But those parties are not the only ones affected by conflict. We also need to consider the wellbeing of the people brought in to handle the conflict – the arbitrators and mediators. In fact, this is highly relevant from a training perspective as they are the ones receiving the conflict management training. The arbitrator’s responsibility of making decisions on behalf of parties can bring significant stress. By handing over the decision-making responsibility to the involved parties, the mediator avoids this particular stress. One of the key stresses for the mediator is the frequent sense of being ‘out of control’ and the obligation to refrain from expressing opinions or suggesting solutions. However, the role of mediator can also bring deep rewards – in particular those precious moments when disputing parties find glimmers of mutual understanding.
There are many other stakeholders in any dispute, including the HR staff involved, the witnesses, as well as the ‘bystanders’ to conflict – the team members, managers and other colleagues who will often suffer from the atmosphere of hostility and the pressure to take sides or find solutions. For these people, having the dispute handled through mediation will often be in their best interest since it is a faster process (typically lasting one day) and because mediation promotes transparency, collaboration and personal dignity.
By comparing the psychology of arbitration and mediation we see a clear pattern. Arbitration can create antagonistic relationships between the parties instead of an environment in which parties, if they wish, can begin to build bridges. Arbitration often reinforces parties’ sense of helplessness whilst mediation can offer parties the opportunity to take control of the crisis to find their own solutions. And arbitration often leaves bitter memories whilst mediation has the potential to transform the bitterness of conflict into the possibility of new understanding of self and other. Those who have been effectively trained to help deliver this new understanding will be playing a key role in helping to create and maintain healthy workforces and workplaces.
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Would Mediation Work For You, HR Magazine (January 2013)
By Anna Shields & Tania Coke
Not many would disagree that the recent release of the Government’s Consultation on Workplace Disputes has put mediation at the forefront of organisational conflict management and, subsequently, right at the top of many senior HR professionals’ agenda.
And perhaps you've decided to make 2013 the year to introduce mediation into your organisation? But the question remains: where do you go from there? And should you consider developing your own in-house mediation expertise or outsource to specialists?
We have examined the experiences of leading private, public and third sector organisations and, with this user experience in mind, would suggest that there are four core models for the delivery of mediation. Of course, the approach that will work best for you depends on your organisation's size, mediation caseload and the extent to which you see conflict management as core to your organisation's culture. But essentially, whichever approach you adopt, it can be scaled up or down to suit your needs and resources.
We propose that the four core mediation models are: ad hoc mediation; outsourced mediation; an internal mediation scheme; and a mediation pilot. So, what's the difference and which one might work best for you?
The first option involves working on an ad hoc basis with an external mediation provider. This is most appropriate if your organisation is small, which may make it harder for users to trust in the impartiality of a mediator they know.
Debra Cadman, head of HR at consultancy firm, Capgemini., explains how she used ad hoc mediation: "The business has had cases where employees feel aggrieved at how they are treated, either by the company or someone they work with. We have tried, through all means possible, to correct the relationship and find a resolution to the conflict. In some cases, this has not worked. And it is in those cases that using an external mediation provider can be extremely useful."
If levels of conflict in your organisation are higher, a more structured approach may be needed. With the outsourced mediation service, the management, monitoring and implementation of mediation can be outsourced to an external partner. This ensures smoother and more efficient case management than the ad hoc model and preserves the benefits of using third party specialists.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) opted for this model, supplemented by an element of in-house expertise. Colin Woodward, director of HR, IPCC said: "Although some internal mediation capability exists, our preference is an outsourced mediation service as this is seen to bring greater impartiality to the process, and consequently, higher levels of trust from staff."
For large organisations with a high mediation caseload, the best solution might be an internal mediation scheme. The main difference between this and outsourced mediation lies in training needs as you will need a pool of accredited in-house mediators who undergo specialist training and on-going support and professional development. [An internal scheme also involves training mediation referrers able to explain mediation to potential mediation users and help them decide whether they wish to engage in mediation.]
Despite the cost, offering mediation-related training can bring significant benefits as trained employees will use their conflict management skills in their everyday work. This, in turn, can contribute to a healthier approach to conflict in the organisation at large. This is something that leisure and gaming company, Rank Group, found when, as well as formally mediating within the business, delegates found that the skills they learned on the accredited course were transferable to their day jobs. At Rank, trained mediators were able to use their new skills to nip conflict in the bud.
The fourth core model is the internal mediation pilot, a scaled-down version of the internal mediation scheme. This involves sending a handful of employees on a public training course, therefore avoiding the heavier cost of an in-house training scheme, whilst communicating a clear message to your employees that your organisation takes conflict seriously.
In 2010, Cancer Research UK expanded its previously ad hoc use of mediation based on an increased awareness of the usefulness of informal resolution. The reasons for piloting mediation were to allow flexibility and keep costs down whilst building valuable skills within the organisation.
As demonstrated by various companies, regardless of the size and culture of your organisation, mediation can be implemented to suit specific needs and requirements to support you in addressing conflict more effectively.
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Conflict resolution: Learning from the lessons of the Anglican Church, HR Zone (December 2012)
The concept of mediation has been splashed across the headlines lately due to a suitably high-profile conflict: the Anglican Church has been divided in two by the issue of women bishops.
But the Church is facing the same question as any conflict-stricken organisation does: what is the best approach to bring about a sustainable, long-term solution?
It is worth noting, however, that the question itself contains an inherent assumption that it is the long-term future of an organisation that is important rather than any short-term impact. Also do be aware that any specific conflict tends to be symptomatic of wider forces at play.
When caught in the cross-fire of acrimonious dispute, however, it is often hard to keep sight of the bigger picture and its longer-term context. It is instead much easier to look for a quick fix, an easy compromise or an outcome that satisfies the most powerful or noisiest of your stakeholders.
But, in the cold light of day, such short-termism is misguided. So what is the best way to approach the matter? Here are three key considerations:
1. Help warring factions to see common ground
Firstly, offer the parties concerned a chance to see that they are ultimately on the same side. The current Church schism demonstrates this idea clearly in that, if the crisis is not resolved, both sides stand to lose. Possible outcomes include:
- Loss of the Church’s official status (disestablishment)
- Splitting into two organisations
- Mass desertion by church-goers.
But if both parties can see themselves as working hand-in-hand to avoid such scenarios, there is a much higher chance of a positive outcome based on collaboration.
In the case of workplace conflict, the traditional response of most UK companies is to employ some form of arbitration. This involves an individual or panel being appointed to listen to everyone’s positions and make a decision as to the outcome.
Grievance and disciplinary procedures, as well as employment tribunals, all fall under this category. Unfortunately, however, such processes can polarise people even further if they become locked in their opposing positions.
Producing at best a ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ or, at worst, two ‘losers’, will fail to help either party see themselves as being on the same side.
Mediation, as an informal process in which an impartial third person facilitates conversations between opposing sides, can act as an alternative here, however.
Both parties are free to choose what it is they wish to talk about and how as well as what outcome (if any) they might be able to agree upon. They are also free to choose whether to engage in mediation at all.
2. Encourage mutual understanding
It is important that each party is given a chance to understand the other’s position as it makes a long-lasting resolution more likely. Mutual understanding leads to more creative and satisfactory outcomes as it is based on a deeper relationship than simply surface demands.
But more than this, mutual understanding is something to which every responsible organisation should aspire for its own good and the good of society (the idea is that the way we communicate in the workplace influences the way that we communicate in society).
This stance is something that many employers acknowledge in their corporate social responsibility manifestos, but the way in which they respond to conflict is one possible way to honour it.
To achieve mutual understanding, meanwhile, individuals must be able to communicate directly with one another. They need to be given the space to express themselves fully, and to be fully heard. But this takes time, whichever intervention is chosen.
3. Allow people to decide their own outcomes
Conflict intervention enables those involved to decide their own outcomes and also shows them respect. It demonstrates that their employer considers them to be responsible, mature adults, who are capable of determining their own destinies, if given the right support and encouragement.
Allowing individuals to resolve their own disputes also leads to a longer lasting settlement as, having chosen the solution, they are more motivated to honour it.
So it would seem that, if the Anglican Church can gain a few pointers from this approach, it will have learned a valuable lesson indeed.
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How to turn conflict-avoidant managers into conflict-competent managers, Training Zone (November 2012)
Given the ongoing economic uncertainty, it is no surprise that workplace conflict is on the increase. The threat of redundancy and restructuring, real or perceived, deeply unsettles and creates tension in the workplace. Issues become magnified and conflicts, big or small, take on much greater importance than they otherwise would if everything was going well.
This increasingly common scenario, if not effectively managed, can lead to disputes and conflict which are ultimately destructive. Managers may be spending increased time on trying to deal with conflict within and between teams, with less time to focus on their priorities and responsibilities.
Conflict drains the value of your best asset: your people. It is not just the time and energy taken up when people are embroiled in a workplace dispute, but also the reduction in motivation, productivity, loyalty and a loss of job satisfaction. Conflict creates feelings of hurt, anger and frustration, which adversely affect people's ability to fulfil their potential, enjoy their jobs and make a meaningful contribution.
In this article, we will explore the impact of unresolved workplace conflict on managers, employees and business. Specifically, we will examine the importance of differentiating between destructive and constructive conflict and how viewing conflict as merely destructive will result in patterns of conflict-avoidant behaviour. Finally, we will outline how conflict management training can transform conflict-avoidant managers into conflict-competent managers and why investing in such training makes good business sense.
Constructive versus destructive conflict
Conflict exists in every organisation, regardless of sector, size or region. Yet conflict per sedoes not have to be destructive. If issues are addressed efficiently, misunderstandings clarified and messages clearly and openly communicated within a team, topics of disagreement produce opportunity for learning, innovation, growth and change. However, when we speak about conflict, it is usually referred to as destructive, i.e. conflict that escalates miscommunication, relationship breakdowns, feelings of distrust and deep suspicion about other people's motives.
Destructive conflict tends to be more prevalent during times of economic uncertainty, especially if your managers have not been given the necessary skills and confidence to address issues before they escalate. In addition, in tough times, people may be more likely to avoid difficult issues because they fear that addressing these could mark them as a 'trouble-maker' and ultimately cost them their jobs.
Managers, like most other employees within an organisation, tend to be conflict-averse. Yet, rather than blaming managers for this tendency, we need to understand where it stems from. Might this tendency to avoid conflict penetrate the culture of the organisation as a whole? What internal capacity has been built to constructively manage conflict? Is there an over-reliance on formal process to deal with issues?
It is important for an organisation to look at ways in which it can support and empower managers to change this behaviour and to view conflict not as something to be avoided and swept under the carpet, but as something that needs to be addressed early on. Yet for this to happen, there needs to be a thorough understanding of the advantages of conflict management over conflict avoidance. This is where building internal capacity is crucial and training is a key component of this.
From conflict-avoidant to conflict-competent
Conflict management training can make a huge difference to the levels of conflict within your organisation for a number of reasons. Firstly, training will enable your managers to differentiate between destructive and constructive conflict. By gaining a new perspective on conflict, managers are less likely to avoid it as they will see its potential for increasing understanding, organisational learning and growth. Managers will also learn that conflict is a normal part of organisational life and how it is managed is paramount to issues of employee wellbeing, productivity and business success.
Conflict management training also helps managers to recognise the warning signs of conflict. By understanding that certain clues – erratic changes in behaviour, email communication and misinterpretation, not to mention copying other people in, avoiding face-to-face communication and higher than normal rates of absenteeism – are warning signs of conflict, managers will be able to use the new tools they learn to address issues before they become more serious and ultimately destructive.
Managers on a conflict management course will learn about the causes of conflict and how it may impact members of their team, themselves and the business. Whether the causes relate to different working styles, lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities, contradictory perceptions of what constitutes fair or unfair treatment or what is often labelled as 'personality clashes', conflict management training gives managers new insights and self-awareness that will ultimately allow them to manage conflict in a more sensitive, impartial and effective manner.
Lastly, through experiential training in conflict management skills, managers will be able to practice key techniques that they can employ in the workplace, increasing their interpersonal skills level and confidence to deal with issues that used to be perceived as overly daunting and difficult. The training will help to enhance the qualities that we know contribute to employee wellbeing and business success.
Your managers are at the forefront of conflict. Working towards supporting your managers to shift from conflict-avoidance to conflict-competence will reap enormous benefits to employee wellbeing and business success. You can support your managers to become conflict-competent by providing in-house conflict management training. This training empowers managers to address issues head-on, in a highly-skilled, sensitive and empathic manner. In turn, a shift in organisational culture toward more respectful and humane modes of interpersonal communication will ensue. The benefits that your employees, managers and the business as a whole will reap from this approach are vast.
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Mediate to alleviate: reducing workplace stress, HR Magazine (November 2012)
Yesterday was the 14th National Stress Awareness Day. The day was organised by the International Stress Management Association UK (ISMA-UK), a not-for-profit organisation which promotes wellbeing and stress prevention.
Workplace stress is on the increase. The ongoing economic uncertainty and constant change in many organisations means that people feel unsettled and unsure about their futures. Many people are scared that they may lose their jobs and that they will be unable to afford the higher cost of living or their mortgage repayments.
The Office of National Statistics (2012) states that last year alone, 131 million days were lost due to sickness absence. These statistics are staggering.
Stress has a huge impact on people's emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families. And if people are stressed and unable to work productively, this also has a huge impact on business.
There is a clear link between stress and conflict. ISMA-UK lists 10 tips for reducing stress. Unsurprisingly, one of these is: "Avoid unnecessary conflict... Look for win-win situations. Look for a resolution to a dispute where both parties can achieve a positive outcome. Find out what the real cause of the problem is and deal with it." This is a very good tip. But how can it be implemented in practice?
Stress and workplace conflict
There are many different reasons why people suffer from work-related stress, and these are often complex and inter-linked. Does stress cause conflict, or does conflict cause stress? The answer is both, depending on context and the personalities involved.
It is clear that many people identify their source of stress not as work per se, but as someone that they work with. Someone may feel bullied or harassed at work. Someone else may feel that they are not trusted, respected or treated fairly. A manager may feel that their stress stems from someone who is under-performing or resisting their management style.
Organisations deal with these conflicts in a myriad number of ways, though formal process is often the preferred route. But if we are to follow ISMA UK's advice to "look for win-win situations" and to seek "a resolution to a dispute where both parties can achieve a positive outcome", formal process will not reach either of these outcomes.
Therefore, more and more organisations are using mediation as an alternative form of dispute resolution, including in cases where one or both parties identifies 'stress' as the source of their conflict.
How mediation reduces stress at work
Mediation is a confidential, voluntary and informal process that involves two or more parties in conflict and an impartial mediator. The goal is for parties to speak with each other openly and honestly to try and reach a mutually acceptable resolution. The impartial and experienced mediator uses techniques to facilitate a conversation in a safe and constructive environment. The guiding principles of mediation - confidentiality, impartiality, self-determination and voluntarism - mean that mediation is a process of empowerment, not blame or punishment. In other words, it is a process that enables 'win-win situations' for both parties.
Many organisations respond to conflict by invoking formal process. Not only does this not resolve the issue of "stress", but it often exacerbates the stress felt by both parties. Unlike mediation, the concept behind formal process is to rely on 'facts' and 'evidence' which are investigated, and an 'outcome' is determined which is outside the parties' control. Formal process is based on principles of 'right' and 'wrong' - a black and white answer to what is usually a grey area.
In contrast, mediation allows parties to have control of the situation and to take responsibility for the outcome. Mediation parties often comment that the process allowed them to tell their story without being blamed or judged. This reduces stress by addressing, in a non-confrontational and impartial way, the cause of the conflict.
Benefits to both employees and the organisation
Mediation enables people to sit in a room together and talk honestly and openly about what is upsetting them and what they need from each other to make it possible for them to work together more constructively. Many of the companies we work with report reductions in levels of stress and sickness absence, as well as higher staff retention following mediation. Employees and employers, as well as organisations as a whole, can reap long-term benefits by having a less stressed, more productive, engaged and motivated workforce.
With heightened stress levels in the workplace, it is clear that organisations need to look at new and more reliable ways to increase the wellbeing of their people. Whilst factors such as work pressures and organisational change are difficult to control, stress related to relationships can be managed with a positive outcome. Mediation can bring many benefits. It is a fast and effective process where most cases result in a positive outcome for all involved. On National Stress Awareness Day, what better way to recognise that stress is causing unmentionable harm to your employees and your bottom line than to think about introducing a more conciliatory way of resolving conflict within your organisation?
Alex Efthymiades, director at Consensio
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Time to talk: the benefits of handling pay-related disputes through mediation, Pay and Benefits Magazine (November 2012)
Ever since the salary was invented, there have been pay-related tensions between employer and employee – and also between workers who are disgruntled at their relative payment levels. In times of economic hardship, these tensions intensify as the pot of money available for compensation shrinks. Without a doubt, 2012 is such a time.
A grim outlook
When hoped-for salary rises fail to materialise and personal dreams are dashed, the temptation is to look for someone or something to blame. Sometimes it is the company that is held responsible; in other instances it is a representative of the organisation; and it may be that a colleague appears to have received a raise that an individual thought should have been theirs. In many cases, the matter will eventually be referred to some form of arbitration, in which a third party looks at both perspectives and makes a decision as to the outcome. Hearings like this carry hefty costs in terms of time, money and stress, and everyone comes out of it with a bad taste in their mouth – even the “winner”. It’s guaranteed that at least one party will emerge feeling even more disgruntled than before – the “loser”, as it were.
In these times of budget-shrinking and pay freezes, is there anything that industry professionals can do to avoid this all too familiar nightmare?
The conflict iceberg
Pay-related disputes are never going to disappear entirely. However, by handling them differently, there may be hope of a brighter future. There may even be a way to find opportunity amid the nightmare. To see this, it’s a good idea to first analyse the nature of the conflict.
A dispute is like an iceberg. What we generally see is just the tip – the conflicting positions which the parties tend to broadcast to the world: “I want a pay rise” versus “You can’t have a pay rise.” Yet, beneath these surface positions lie a host of other factors that the parties may not be so ready to publicise. This is the heart of the conflict: the underlying interests, needs and feelings of the parties, which explain why they hold the positions that they do and how they feel about the situation. For example, an employee may have been hoping for a pay rise in order to prove to her family how much her company values her (rather than for the money itself). This is one of her interests. Driving these interests are a number of basic human needs. Perhaps the individual’s need is “to be acknowledged” or “to be valued”. Then there are the feelings associated with the conflict. The other party, the employer, may have some strong feelings of guilt or sadness for the employee which generate stress and consume large amounts of emotional energy.
Arbitration addresses only the surfacelevel positions. As a structured, formal process that is witnessed by many and recorded in full, it tends to crystallise the dispute around these positions. The result is that the parties begin to identify themselves with those stances and find it almost impossible to back down or search for alternatives. The strength of arbitration is that it guarantees a clear outcome – a decision as to which party’s view will be upheld. However, it leaves a whole lot of unfinished business festering beneath the surface. It is this unfinished business that leaves the bitter taste in the mouths of all involved.
There is another approach, which is designed specifically to go beneath the tip of the conflict iceberg, to address the underlying issues.
Mediation is a voluntary, confidential, self determining process of conflict management facilitated by an impartial mediator. In simple terms, it’s an opportunity for the disputing parties to talk candidly, confidentially and freely about what has happened and to decide what they wish to do about it. The mediator will use a range of communication techniques to help the parties express themselves and hear one another, but will strictly not offer opinions or make suggestions.
This approach has already been tested in countless workplace disputes in the UK: between colleagues, between employee and manager, and across teams. It can be used for issues ranging from relationship breakdown to substantive issues such as payrelated disputes. In any conflict, beneath the surface there lies a mass of interests, needs and feelings. If explored, these can minimise the financial and human costs, yield more effective, lasting outcomes and even produce some surprising benefits at the personal and organisational level.
Nightmare to opportunity
So how can mediation produce such results out of the nightmare that is conflict?
This can initially be seen by considering the content of mediation: what the parties talk about. We have seen that arbitration typically addresses only the surface level of the conflict, the parties’ stated positions. Mediation, being a confidential, informal process, is an opportunity for the parties to communicate about the heart of the problem,the interests, needs and feelings associated with the conflict. This has two vital benefits.
First, it enables the parties to understand one another better. In conflict situations each party tends to demonise the other. They forget good things they know about them and focus only on the negative. Communicating about underlying interests, needs and feelings rehumanises the other party. By talking about needs, parties are able to find something that they can relate to. Every human being in anysituation has a need to be acknowledged. So communication at this level can help parties to make sense of one another’s behaviour, accept what has happened and even perhaps build a bridge to the other one.
In other words, by allowing the parties to communicate at a more personal level, mediation can reduce the anguish caused byconflict, enabling the parties to move on sooner.
Second, the exchange of interests and nedds can give rise to new, more creative solutions to the dispute. Using the earlier example, having heard theemployee’s desire to prove her worth to her family, the employer may be able to find some other way to meet that need without giving the pay rise. Perhaps it can offer a promotion to a more senior position with a commitment to an increase as soon as the budget allows. In other words, by exchanging information about interests and needs, mediation can be more effective than arbitration at finding solutions. It provides an opportunity for more creative problem-solving.
Another way to understand the power of mediation is to consider the process and principles of mediation. In other words, the way the conversation is held.
The hallmark of mediation is that the parties themselves are in control of the conversation and the outcome. They only attend mediation if they so wish. They choose what to talk about, and how, and they decide jointly what they wish to do going forward.
This means that the parties are more likely to see themselves as self-determining agents capable of making decisions and choosing their own future. Both parties can come out of mediation with their dignity intact. It also means that any agreement is far morelikely to stick, since the people required to put the agreement into practice (the parties themselves) are the people who design it in the first place.
The process of mediation also allows for quantifiable benefits in terms of time and cost savings. Mediation usually requires one mediator for a single day. There are no witnesses, no note-takers, no legal fees and no court costs. Moreover, the process requires far less administrative support relative to formal processes and employment tribunals.
The benefits do not stop there. Mediation gives rise to new opportunities for growthand learning at a personal and organisational level. By exchanging information about their interests, feelings and needs, the parties have a chance to gain awareness of themselves and one another. They are able to gain tools for handling conflict when it arises again in future. By putting these new skills and insights into practice in the workplace, they can increase the ability of the organisation to handle conflict constructively. Moreover, the vehicle of mediation can be used by the organisation to demonstrate a commitment to employee well being and trust in the individual. Over time, as more employees have experience of mediation or hear about it through word of mouth, it can contribute to a cultural shift – away from a hierarchical culture of command and control, towards one of empowerment, transparency and learning.
The current economic woes may be an opportunity in disguise. Given the prospect of escalating pay-related disputes, more organisations may choose to rethink their response to conflict. By introducing mediation, there is a chance to minimise human suffering and financial cost and create new opportunities for personal and organisational growth. It may seem ironic that such benefits can emerge out of the nightmare that is pay-related conflict but, as Einstein so succinctly put it: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
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Workplace disputes - the role of the mediator, Changeboard (September 2012)
In its recent consultation on workplace disputes, the government found that: “significant growth in mediation of workplace disputes has the potential to lead to a major and dramatic shift in the culture of employment relations.”*
The government has recently launched two regional mediation pilots for SMEs, which involve training up a number of mediators from SMEs in the pilot.
Candid two-way communication
Until recently, communication in the workplace was a one-way affair: people did what they were told by their superiors and kept their thoughts and feelings to themselves. But over the last 30 years or so, the tide has turned. Candid, two-way communication is acknowledged as far more productive, satisfying and respectful to all concerned.
But the ability to engage in this kind of adult-to-adult conversation is not a given. It takes courage to speak out honestly to one’s superiors and it requires trust to abdicate one’s decision-making power to one’s ‘subordinates’. It requires deep self-awareness to express one’s emotions honestly without laying blame.
It is not just courage, trust and self-awareness that are required: it takes skill. To succeed in the organisations of tomorrow, we need to acquire a new and highly sophisticated set of communication skills.
Advanced communication skills
These skills cannot be picked up overnight. They need to be studied, practiced and grasped, in the mind, the heart and in the belly. This raises a question for the aspiring leader: what is the surest way to acquire the advanced communication skills that will mark me out for leadership?
One way is through mediation training. Mediation is a form of conflict management that is grounded in the principles of two-way communication. Its purpose is to give the disputing parties the opportunity to speak to one another openly and honestly irrespective of their level in the hierarchy and to take shared responsibility for the outcome. An impartial mediator facilitates the conversation, but under no circumstance will they make a judgement or give an opinion. The expression of emotion is entirely welcome, so long as both parties are comfortable with it.
Communication essentials for success
The role of mediator requires the kind of advanced communication skills that leaders of tomorrow will need. These skills include:
- Listening: deep listening to what a person says, and reflecting back without attempting to colour what the speaker has said
- Impartiality: suspending judgment in order to give people freedom to express themselves honestly and without fear of criticism
- Delegation of decision-making power: fiercely resisting the urge to make suggestions or offer advice, thus encouraging the parties to take back responsibility for themselves
- Dealing with emotions: acknowledging and exploring emotions, without a desire to ‘make it better’ or ‘make it go away’.
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Crush Complexity: employment tribunals - mediate, or pay? HR Magazine (August 2012)
The old chestnut of tribunal reform has barely been out of the news, since HR called on HRDs last month (cover pictured right) to propose their agendas for change in the tribunal procedure, in our bid to minimise the great complexity in employment regulations.
The Ministry of Justice said it would introduce fees for users of an employment tribunal from the summer of 2013, in a bid to encourage employers and staff to mediate or settle disputes. Mediation by judge will cost £600.
The Government hopes the fees of people using employment tribunals will contribute a major part of the £84 million cost of the system. The aim is to reduce taxpayer subsidy of tribunals by transferring some of the cost to those using the service, while protecting access to justice for all.
The intention is to encourage people to look for alternatives - such as mediation - so tribunals remain a last resort, for the most complex cases. Taxpayers will continue to meet the full cost of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), which provides a free service to help settle disputes without a tribunal.
Justice minister, Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly, said: "It is in everyone's interest to avoid long drawn-out disputes, which emotionally damage workers and financially damage businesses."
Lib Dem employment relations minister Norman Lamb MP unveiled plans to increase mediation services, with the naming of a provider for the Regional Mediation Network pilot scheme: Consensio, a member of the Civil Mediation Council, has been appointed to develop a mediation training package for a group of SMEs in Cambridge and Manchester.
In the same week, law firm, EMW, reported that the tribunal system is "heading towards breaking point". The number of outstanding Tribunals Service cases almost quadrupled, from 144,900 cases in 2007 to 530,400 at the end of 2011, with new cases continuing to outstrip completed ones.
Louise Holder, employment principal at EMW, said: "The tribunal system is over-stretched. Longer case lead times mean more resources are used up that could be spent on something else. Businesses may end up spending prolonged periods of time with the threat of a financial penalty hanging over them."
You can see the initial thoughts of our employment law taskforce here. So far, responses to our panellists' thoughts on how best to reform employment tribunals have been mixed. This gives an opportunity to bring your arguments forward and help us to put a viable case to the employment relations minister, as HR's campaign to simplify the complexity in employment law continues.
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The tangible returns of mediation, Strategic HR Review (August 2012)
You’ve heard of mediation. You might even be aware that in the UK, the Government has recently placed mediation at the heart of its strategy of reducing the cost of conflict and improving workplace relations. And perhaps you are intuitively drawn to the idea of empowering people in conflict to determine their own resolution with the support of an expert mediator, instead of having a resolution imposed by a third party arbitrator or investigation panel. But in these times of budget cuts and redundancies, how can you justify the cost of introducing mediation in your organization?
The truth is that the cost savings of mediation can be reasonably estimated, and the results provide convincing evidence that mediation is a worthwhile investment. Consensio works with its clients to carry out such assessments, before and after the introduction of mediation. To illustrate how this can be done, we have constructed an anonymized case study, based on aggregated findings from the work we have done with some of our clients.
A formulaic approach to cost analysis
The case study concerns an organisation that we shall call ABC Company. One year after setting up a mediation scheme, ABC decided to carry out a study to estimate the financial impact of introducing mediation. Its methodology was as follows:
During the first 12 months of the scheme, 19 cases had been mediated, all but one of which were resolved with no need for further management action. To calculate the net financial impact, ABC estimated what it might have spent handling these cases if mediation were unavailable, and compared this with the actual cost of mediating the 19 cases. The formula used was:
Cost of formal processes for 19 cases MINUS cost of mediation for 19 cases EQUALS net financial impact of introducing mediation.
Cost of formal processes
ABC assumed that the 19 cases that were mediated would, in the absence of mediation, have gone straight to grievance/disciplinary. It assessed what those 19 formal processes might have cost, using assumptions based on historical data and CIPD research. It calculated the average number of days of management time and witness time involved per case, and multiplied this by the typical salary levels of these people.
Next, ABC assumed that of these 19 cases, two would have gone to Employment Tribunal (ET). It then estimated the cost of these two ETs, taking into account management and witness time, plus the legal costs of going to tribunal. Finally, it factored in the cost of sickness leave associated with these cases. These figures were again drawn from historical data and CIPD research.
This can be summarized in the formula below:
Cost of formal processes = cost of grievance/disciplinaries + cost of employment tribunals + cost of sickness leave
Cost of mediations
ABC had chosen to train a team of 12 internal mediators in order to build up in-house capacity and to lay the foundations for culture change. The cost of the 19 mediations was calculated by estimating the number of days of mediator and co-ordinator time per case at the average salary level of these people.
The formula used is as follows:
Cost of mediations = cost of mediator and co-ordinator time
Net financial impact of introducing mediation
The outcome of the calculations was that ABC had achieved cost savings equal to 14 times the cost of carrying out the mediations itself. Above and beyond this figure ABC felt that it had realized unquantifiable benefits in human terms (e.g. by avoiding the stress and suffering associated with prolonged formal processes), and in terms of organizational learning (e.g. through the gradual shift towards a culture of greater openness and responsibility in the face of conflict).
Finding the true cost of conflict
This case study is suggestive of the benefits any organization might achieve through introducing mediation. It also illustrates one possible methodology for carrying out such analysis. Clearly, the approach to such an analysis will need to be carefully tailored to each organization. This particular case relates to an organization that had already introduced mediation. When conducting the analysis prior to introducing mediation, further assumptions would need to be made about the likely take-up rate of mediation, which can vary significantly.
For all such analysis, the calculations must be carried out with sensitivity and common sense. And, like any cost-benefit analysis, assumptions will need to be made, based on extrapolations from historical data and research. But even if the final figure is open to debate, the process of delving into the true cost of conflict typically paints a vivid picture of mediation’s cost-saving potential. Add to this the intangible costs of ill-managed conflict, such as the reduced productivity of the parties and their wider team, effects on parties’ health and damage to company reputation, and the evidence starts to look conclusive.
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Regional mediation pilot schemes up and running as part of employment tribunal reforms, HR Magazine (June 2012)
The latest steps in reforms to the employment tribunal system were unveiled by Employment Relations Minister Norman Lamb (pictured) yesterday, with the appointment of the Regional Mediation Network pilot scheme provider.
Consensio, a member of the Civil Mediation Council, is to develop and provide a comprehensive mediation-training package for a group of SMEs in both Cambridge and Manchester over the coming months.
It was announced earlier this year that these are the first regions, where the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will fund mediation training for employees from a group of 24 SMEs to set up pilot networks of trained mediators.
These mediators will be available to provide mediation to other organisations in their respective network. It is anticipated that this will help resolve workplace disputes, at the earliest possible opportunity, before they reach the employment tribunal stage.
Lamb said: "We know that sometimes workplace disputes are unavoidable and that those involved see no alternative to the employment tribunal to resolve the issue. We want to promote alternative resolution options, and we are committed to encouraging parties to find other ways of resolving their problems. The use of mediation is one such way and this is why in January we announced the BIS Regional Mediation initiative.
"This initiative will give small businesses in Manchester and Cambridge the opportunity to experience mediation and discover the benefits it can bring for the first time. I am pleased to announce that Consensio will work with BIS to take forward this work, delivering accredited workplace mediation training to the members of each network."
Co-founder of Consensio, Anna Shields added: "We are delighted to be working in partnership with Government to deliver these pioneering pilot schemes. This will be an intensive programme across two commercially significant regions. We will work hand-in-hand with BIS from the outset on all aspects of the scheme to ensure this is a successful pilot."
Businesses can get involved in the pilot by attending one of the awareness raising seminars in Manchester on 26 June (Renaissance Manchester City Centre Hotel) and Cambridge on 2 July (Møller Centre).
The intention to pilot two regional mediation networks was published in the Government response to the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation in November 2011. The pilots will run for 12 months and, if successful, the Government will consider introducing them into other areas of England, Scotland and Wales.
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BIS gives dispute resolution pilot deals to Consensio, Recruiter Magazine (June 2012)
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has awarded its two regional mediation pilot schemes targeting small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to mediation and conflict management provider Consensio.
The year-long pilot will see the company train employees from 48 SMEs in either the Cambridge or the Manchester areas – the two regions involved in the pilot – to become accredited mediators.
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Why Mediation Matters, Personnel Today (May 2012)
The Government's "employer's charter" seeks to reform the way that employers handle workplace disputes and to reduce the number of tribunals. Tania Coke, senior mediation consultant at workplace mediation specialists Consensio, considers how mediation can help resolve conflict by addressing emotional issues.
Conflict affects us at many levels. It evokes strong emotions, such as fear, guilt and anger. It expresses itself through the body, in the form of physical tension, headaches or insomnia. It muddles our reasoning and capacity for rational thought.
But how do organisations respond to this? The standard response to conflict tends to operate at the level of reasoning. Formal processes such as disciplinaries and grievance procedures work by extracting facts from each party to the conflict, and imposing a solution based on the principles of right or wrong, or how far these facts adhere to company policy. Mediation, by contrast, acknowledges and welcomes expression. It attends not only to what each party says, but the way they say it, the things left unsaid, the body language, the emotions, the inconsistencies revealed and the metaphors used.
Conflict evokes emotions. Whether these emotions are expressed or repressed, they are an undeniable part of the conflict experience. In their response to workplace conflict, most British organisations fail to address this. Mediation is the ideal forum to allow emotional expression for a number of reasons.
First, it is confidential. Only the parties to the conflict and the mediator(s) are present during mediation. This makes it a safer place for people to express what they feel.
Second, a mediator is trained to pay attention to the expression of emotion and to respond appropriately. One of the core skills of the mediator is the skill of reflecting back what the parties have expressed. For example, a mediator may respond to an emotional outburst by saying: "From what you've just said, it seems as if the situation is making you feel trapped and helpless. Is that right?" This enables the party involved to have their feelings acknowledged, to say more about those feelings, to correct the mediator if necessary, or to move on.
It is rare for conflict not to have an effect on the physical health of the parties. During mediation, the parties often express how the conflict has affected them physically. Neck and back problems, headaches, weakened immune systems and lack of sleep are common complaints.
A mediator does not brush over these statements, or try to rush the parties into solving their dispute. Instead, they will listen carefully, and if appropriate, reflect back, perhaps by saying: "You've been explaining how the situation has affected your health, to the point where you're sometimes unable to sleep at night. Do you want to say more?"
This lets the speaker know they have been heard, and provides the opportunity for them to share more information of this kind, if they so wish. Another physical dimension is the parties' body language during the mediation. For example, the mediator might say: "You look as if you're feeling uncomfortable. Is there something troubling you?" Again, this lets the parties know that the mediator is paying attention to them, and gives them an opportunity to express orally what they might otherwise have suppressed.
People involved in conflict often make extreme, apparently irrational statements. Sometimes what they say is plainly contradictory. An untrained third party might be tempted to brush over such expressions of irrationality. But a trained mediator sees such statements as keys to unlocking a deeper level of self-expression and communication. They may respond by reflecting a statement back to the speaker, enabling them to see it from the outside, as it were. The party may then reply "no, of course, I don't really mean that", or, on the contrary, they may confirm it. Either way, the mediator's intervention can help the party to gain a sense of clarity and the sense of being acknowledged.
Or perhaps a mediator may choose to highlight an inconsistency. The speaker then has the choice of whether to try to resolve the contradiction or simply to accept it and live with it. Crucially, the mediator needs to find a way to reflect back such statements without judgment or implying that the inconsistency needs to be resolved.
Another way that parties may express themselves is through metaphor or imagery. "It's as if he's trying to dig the knife in deeper" or "she makes me feel as if I'm five years old". Such metaphors would most likely be ignored in the context of an investigation or tribunal, being beyond the domain of reasoning and irrelevant to the principles of justice. But mediation is about enabling people to get to the root of their misunderstanding and see one another as human beings. As such, metaphors can be precious clues, to be highlighted by the mediator, with the aim of building mutual understanding between the parties.
Why does all this matter?
By working with these dimensions of self-expression, mediation can achieve a number of goals. First, it can enable the parties to feel that someone is actually listening to them. A mediator can help parties overcome a sense of isolation by playing back what they have expressed. Second, by acknowledging and highlighting the full range of their self-expression, mediators are inviting the parties to express themselves further. When stuck in conflict, we often feel incapable of, and even prohibited from, expressing ourselves. Mediation can help to alleviate this frustration.
Formal conflict procedures typically close down the possibilities for those involved to express themselves (and in doing so, most likely increases the chances of vindictive behaviour). Finally, by picking up on the speaker's full range of expressions, mediators can increase the chances for the other party to hear and respond. This mutual sharing of information is perhaps the holy grail of mediation and a vital stage in the thawing of frosty relationships.
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Boost participative leadership, employee empowerment and engagement, Recruiter Magazine (May 2012)
By Tania Coke
There is a strong argument in favour of mediation as a means of handling workplace conflict because of the obvious cost-savings and the fact that mediation can bypass the need for lengthy formal processes and significantly reduce human stress and suffering in the process.
These are genuine and important considerations but there is another driver for workplace mediation which is less documented: the underlying principles of facilitative mediation complement the general trend towards a more participative style of management used in many organisations today. Facilitative mediation reinforces current management trends towards employee empowerment and engagement, as well as devolved decision-making.
The shift to participative leadership
Leadership theory distinguishes two main styles of leadership: autocratic and participative1. The former is associated with hierarchical structures in which decision-making is the preserve of the leader; the job of junior employees is to implement orders passed down from above. Participative leadership, on the other hand, is associated with flatter organisational structures, in which team members participate in the decision-making process and are given greater autonomy within their specific areas of expertise. Whilst autocratic leadership held sway for much of the last century, today the prevailing trend is towards more participative styles of leadership.
One of the predominant reasons is the clear benefit in terms of increased motivation, creativity and personal development. When employees are given autonomy - within appropriate boundaries and with adequate coaching and support - they are more likely to put more of themselves into their work and to reach for more creative solutions. Meanwhile, the greater level of responsibility generally results in deeper learning and faster personal development. A similar trend can be seen in the field of education theory. The job of the teacher is no longer a matter of handing out set answers for students to memorise. Instead, the teacher’s challenge is increasingly to ask questions and support students in finding their own answers. So the emerging model, in both schools and workplaces, is that of empowerment and participation. The old paradigm of ‘command and control’ is losing its iron grip.2
However, many organisations wishing to make the transition to more participative leadership are struggling to do so. It is hard for managers to unlearn habits developed over years. It can also feel threatening for someone accustomed to ‘being in charge’ to hand over decision-making power to their team members. It may feel like a loss of control, leading to a sense of powerlessness, even a crisis in self-confidence. It can be hard for team members too, if they are used to being told what to do and unaccustomed to taking responsibility for their own decisions and actions.
How mediation can support this shift
But help is at hand from an unlikely source. Mediation began to emerge in British workplaces towards the end of the last century as an alternative to formal processes such as grievances, disciplinary procedures and employment tribunals. Its benefits in terms of cost savings and reduced suffering are well-documented. What is also emerging, through feedback from training programmes, is that mediation training enables delegates to become better managers.
Facilitative mediation is based on the principles of mediator impartiality and party self-determination. As such, the mediator does not judge who is right or wrong and does not impose a solution on the parties. Instead, the mediator pushes responsibility back to the parties to take control of their own dispute and jointly design their own way forward. The approach is similar to that of the participative leader, who knows how to restrain the decision-making impulse and focus first on eliciting team members’ viewpoints.
How the final decision is made will depend on the situation. But before that decision is made, the leader’s job is to facilitate an open exchange of opinions in what is often an emotionally charged environment. It requires impeccable listening skills, knowing how to construct timely and even-handed summaries and the ability to handle extreme emotions. These are sophisticated skills, rarely taught to an adequate level as part of general management training.
An accredited workplace mediation training programme focuses on precisely these skills. In particular, it involves intensive mediation role play in which delegates play not only the role of the mediator, but also the parties to the dispute. This provides a powerful, 360 degree experience of the benefits of not making decisions on behalf of the parties or urging them towards a specific outcome, but instead supporting them in finding their own way forward.
Trainee mediators are frequently astonished to discover that the parties to the dispute, when empowered in this way, often come up with far better solutions of their own, and in the process gain valuable skills for handing conflict better in the future. Attending mediation training is a transformative experience for managers and instills the confidence needed to experiment with more participative styles of leadership once back in the workplace.
In conclusion, not only does mediation bring cost and time savings, but it can also support organisations in shifting towards a more participative management style which is fast emerging as the model of the future.
1.Lewin, K., Lippitt, R., & White, R. K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates. Journal of Social Psychology.
2.Ira Schor (1992). “Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change”, University Of Chicago Press.
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In praise of mediation: keeping the peace in the workplace, The Guardian (March 2012)
A government consultation has concluded that the benefits of resolving disputes through mediation are not only financial
Public sector organisations are increasingly looking towards mediation as an alternative to traditional processes such as grievances, investigations and employment tribunals. A Consensio survey into how and why the public sector is using mediation has shed light on how other organisations can embed mediation into their policies and procedures.
The respondents reported a wide range of mediation-related activity. Although external mediators are an option for complex cases, many public sector organisations prefer to train up internal mediators and reap the benefits of having access to a pool of trained volunteers. An interesting development is reflected in respondents' innovative ideas of using mediation across organisations. This is the case, for example, with an NHS North West funded initiative, where 240 mediators are being trained to become internal accredited mediators. They will work across every hospital, community service and back-office function in the North West, supporting a quarter of a million staff. This ground-breaking initiative will support a united workforce, directly benefiting the seven million people they serve.
Introducing mediation requires internal communication, as Stephanie Bell, senior HR manager of Westminster city council explains: "We raised awareness through participation in an HR open day, sent a joint communication from the chief executive and union branch secretary to all staff introducing and supporting the scheme, published updated frequently asked questions on mediation, and included an article in our staff newsletter on mediation."
Work is also required on organisational policy, as Colin Woodward, head of HR at the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), reports: "Whilst we recognise that not all problems are suited to resolution through mediation, we are currently revising our grievance policy to encourage employees who are in conflict or dispute to seek informal resolution, using tools such as mediation or conflict coaching, prior to resorting to raising a formal grievance."
So what is driving this revolution? The benefits of mediation occur at several levels. There are clear financial savings to be achieved by addressing conflict through mediation as opposed to formal processes. NHS East Lancashire calculated over £200,000 of savings in the first 18 months of introducing mediation. This can be readily understood if we consider that a mediation typically lasts one day and requires one, possibly two, mediators, plus basic administrative support. Compare this with the average grievance process which can last months and involves strings of witnesses, hours of HR time and high levels of stress-related sick leave. Employment tribunals, meanwhile, are even more time-consuming on all these fronts and can additionally incur hefty legal costs.
Secondly, mediation is widely found to be more effective at achieving long-lasting resolution of workplace disputes. This has been the experience at IPCC, as Colin Woodward explains: "We introduced mediation because our formal processes, such as the grievance process, fail to take conflict problems through to resolution. In the great majority of cases, we find that parties to mediation are able to move on from the conflict, whereas after formal processes, one or other of the parties tends to maintain ill feeling to the other party."
Perhaps most compelling are the human benefits of mediation. In the words of Natalie Dixon, policy and partnership manager at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust: "Mediation is the best way to demonstrate a commitment to our staff and their wellbeing ... Our staff are integral to the success of our organisation, and facilitating the use of mediation provides the opportunity to reduce potential stress in the workplace, improve communication and allow staff to focus on delivering high quality services."
Similary, the IPCC has found mediation to be a more humane approach, according to Colin Woodward: "Feedback from parties who have been through mediation has been wholly positive; rarely, if ever, have we had such feedback from parties involved in formal grievances."
The government's endorsement of mediation – as announced this February in its response to the consultation on resolving workplace disputes – is adding further fuel to the revolutionary fires. Stephanie Bell of Westminster city council reports that the government's recent interest in mediation has "encouraged us to continue with our plan to embed mediation across the organisation".
A shift is clearly taking place in the public sector philosophy of conflict management. Mediation, with its potential for employee empowerment and self-determination, is gaining ground at the expense of the more adversarial third party adjudication. Given the wealth of economic and human benefits that mediation can bring, this is an opportunity that no public sector organisation can afford to ignore.
Tania Coke is senior mediation consultant at Consensio
Click here to view the original article.
Promoting a Principled Approach to Mediation in the Public Sector, Opportunities (March 2012)
By Tania Coke, Senior Mediation Consultant, Consensio
The Government recently published its response to the consultation on Resolving Workplace Disputes, placing mediation centre-stage in its strategy of reducing the cost of workplace conflict and improving the culture of employment relations in both the private and public sectors. It outlined plans for a long-term programme to make mediation a more accepted and trusted part of workplace dispute resolution. Included in these plans are two government-funded pilot mediation schemes. One is a regional, cross-sector scheme aimed at SMEs. This scheme will offer mediation training to one employee from each of a regional group of 24 SMEs. These trained mediators will then be available to offer mediation to any other members of that group. The scheme is to be trialled in Cambridge and Manchester later this year. The other scheme, to be conducted within one industry sector, will enable large businesses to share their mediation expertise with smaller organisations in their supply chains.
One of the most important outcomes of the Government response will be its effect in raising awareness of mediation, and legitimising it as an accepted, mainstream form of conflict management. One of the greatest barriers to the use of mediation until now has been the reluctance both of organisations and individual employees to try out this relatively little known approach, instead favouring the more established grievance, disciplinary and employment tribunal procedures. With HM Government’s official seal of approval, this can be expected to change. Already, the demand for mediation training and services has been seen to rise, notably among NHS Trusts and Local Councils.
This is cause for celebration amongst those who believe in mediation as a humane, time- and cost-effective alternative to more formal processes, which often disempower the parties to conflict by imposing solutions from above. However, organisations must take great care not to promote the use of mediation at the cost of compromising the fundamental mediation principles, in particular voluntarism and self-determination.
Voluntarism is the principle that mediation should only take place if all parties to the conflict choose willingly to engage. This principle lays the foundations for a candid and committed conversation to take place. Therefore, promoting mediation must not translate into pressure on individuals to participate in mediation against their will. If voluntarism is compromised, mediation can turn into a tick-boxing exercise which may paper over the cracks of conflict, but fail to produce genuine understanding or long-lasting resolution.
Self-determination is the principle that the parties to the conflict have control over what they discuss during the mediation and what action they will take once the mediation is over. Again, it is vital that in the desire to avoid employment tribunals, employers do not try to influence either the parties or the mediators, but continue to respect the parties’ right to make their own decisions and choose their own outcomes.
The Government’s response may prove to be a turning point in the history of UK workplace relations. The hope is that more people suffering from workplace conflict will, through mediation, be empowered to have the difficult conversations that address the root cause of their dispute, and jointly find constructive, realistic ways forward. For this to happen, government, employers and the mediation industry must remain extremely vigilant in upholding the fundamental principles of mediation. As long as these principles are intact, the stage is set for mediation to flourish as a cost-effective, humane tool for managing workplace conflict, within the public sector and beyond.
For further information on mediation, visit: www.consensiopartners.co.uk
Click here to view the original article.
Finding Harmony..., HR Director (December 2011)
In recession, the volume and intensity of organisational disputes inevitably soars. What can an organisation do to protect itself from this tide of destructive conflict? Asks Tania Coke, Senior Mediation Consultant, Consensio
Interpersonal disagreement and difference are inevitable, even healthy features of organisational life. At best, they can foster constructive debate, healthy competition, innovation, and personal growth. At worst, they can degenerate into bickering, resentment, de-motivation and illness. The external environment has a major influence in determining which way it goes. During recession, it is usually the latter, degenerative pattern that wins out. The additional stresses of job and salary uncertainty that accompany recession typically serve to exacerbate the downward spiral of hostility and self-defensiveness. But is there anything an organisation can do to prevent the surge of destructive conflict that recession seems inevitably to bring? What are the personal qualities that can enable employees to defy the destructive tendency of conflict, even in a recessionary environment? And how can organisations best promote these qualities within the workplace?
Two qualities can help employees to resist the degenerative forces of conflict. The first is a sense of personal empowerment. Conflict generally brings out a sense of powerlessness in the affected parties. Each party sees themselves as the helpless victim, and the other as the evil perpetrator with sole responsibility for the conflict situation. Until the individual is able to accept some degree of responsibility, take decisive action to improve the situation, and accept the consequences, the conflict will remain festering under the surface. A second quality needed for constructive handling of conflict is the ability to take perspectives. In conflict we usually lose this ability, becoming increasingly entrenched in our own position. We also lose the desire to listen to the other party, to try to understand what that person feels, and why they acted as they did. For conflict to have constructive potential, the individuals concerned need to regain the ability to see perspectives other than their own.
But these two qualities, which may come naturally when times are good, are hard to access in times of conflict, let alone in the paranoiac atmosphere that recession usually brings. Nevertheless, there are ways to influence the culture of an organisation, and to promote desired qualities and behaviours that perpetuate constructive rather than destructive conflict from occuring. In order to foster the desired qualities of personal empowerment and perspective-taking, the organisation needs to have the right culture and processes in place. In particular, it needs to pay careful attention to the style of its leadership, as well as available conflict management processes.
These qualities are more likely to flourish in an organisation when they are clearly evident in its role models. In order to encourage perspective-taking, those in positions of authority need to clearly demonstrate behaviours such as eliciting opinions, listening impartially, and encouraging open debate – both in everyday dealings and in times of conflict. To promote empowerment and personal responsibility among employees, leaders need to be visibly putting trust in their people, giving them appropriate autonomy, and, if the situation demands it, accepting personal responsibility for failure. All these desired behaviours can be reinforced through recruitment, training and evaluation. But the living example set by leaders and managers is arguably the number one determinant of organisational behaviour.
Another factor which will directly affect the organisation’s ability to handle conflict, is its conflict management processes. In most organisations, the typical response to a workplace dispute (other than ignoring it in the hope that it will go away) is to resort to grievance or disciplinary procedures. And yet, few would disagree that these simply fan the flames of destructive conflict. But there is a less formal process for handling conflicts that does the opposite, and which the government is increasingly promoting for this very reason: mediation. Mediation arguably provides the best opportunity for parties to regain a sense of personal empowerment and perspective-taking. From the outset, it is made clear to the parties that the mediator will not be making decisions on their behalf, or making judgements about the rights and wrongs of the case. Only the parties have this right. Secondly, by allowing the parties to have a free conversation with one another, as opposed to pleading their case to an arbitrator, the parties have a far better chance of being open to one another’s perspectives.
Click here to view the PDF version of this article.
Mediation: Part Four - How to deal with the outcome, HR Zone (November 2011)
Tania Coke, Consensio
When destructive workplace conflict rears its ugly head, it will typically be an HR professional who suggests mediation as an option to try and resolve the situation
By the time the case gets to mediation, this ‘referrer’ will probably have invested significant time and emotion in it and will most likely have expectations about the outcome, both personally and in an organisational sense.
But because of the principles of confidentiality and self-determination that were talked about in the last article, referrers cannot take part in mediation meetings, even as an observer, nor can they attempt to influence the outcome. They have to let go of the reins and trust both the participants and mediator as they step into that mediation room.
Once the session has concluded, referrers are likely to have a role to play before the case can be completely closed, however. This is because there are a number of outcomes that HR professionals can expect to see as well as a range of support and follow-up activities that they may need to provide subsequently.
Mediation outcomes tend to fall into one of five categories:
1. In the best case scenario, participants will leave the session with their conflict having been fully resolved. Everyone will have a clear understanding of each other’s perspective, goodwill will be restored and they will begin working together collaboratively, possibly in accordance with a written agreement that was jointly designed during the meeting.
2. The parties concerned may leave mediation with an improved understanding of what went wrong in their relationship, but trust has not been restored fully. In the weeks following mediation, they may be able to determine whether they can work together effectively and whether the good intentions expressed during the session can be borne out over time.
3. In some cases, people leave mediation still feeling raw and angry but, as time passes, they come to realise that the intervention enabled them to understand each other better and the relationship subsequently improves.
4. Each individual leaves mediation thinking that the conflict has been resolved, only to find that they failed to address the core issues and, as a result, relations begin to sour again over time. In such instances, it can be particularly valuable for mediators to follow up the original meeting and identify whether there are opportunities for further discussion in order to give things a second chance.
5. It may be that, having listened to one another during mediation, participants decide that they cannot or will not work together constructively in future. They may subsequently choose to proceed with formal processes such as disciplinary hearings or see if there are options for working in separate teams.
In extreme cases, one of the individuals concerned may even decide to leave the organisation. But even in those situations where mediation does not result in agreement, people will often report that they appreciated the opportunity to speak to one other and that it helped them move on from the conflict and find closure.
Since mediation is a confidential process, referrers cannot expect to hear the details of any conversations that took place or of any agreement that was reached, unless both parties agree to share the information. Mediators are bound by confidentiality principles so they cannnot pass on any insights regarding mediation to either HR or management.
As for the parties involved, the level of detail they chose to report back to others is a matter for them to jointly decide. In some cases, having successfully devised a written agreement, they may wish to share this document with the referrer or a trusted third party.
In other cases, particpants may reach a decision that requires action or support from HR – for instance, if a particular training need is identified, it will need to be communicated to HR so that action can be taken. In other cases, however, the people concerned may choose to disclose nothing other than whether or not a written agreement was signed.
The latter scenario can be deeply frustrating for referrers, who may have been deeply involved in the case prior to mediation, because they can find it difficult to detach emotionally after having invested so much. But if mediation as an informal dispute resolution technique is to succeed, everyone concerned has to know that confidentiality is taken seriously.
Breaching this principle could ruin mediation’s reputation within the organisation and, therefore, ruin any chance of being able to use it successfully again in the future.
Follow-up and support from HR
For quality control and service improvement purposes, it is common for mediators or HR departments to carry out post-mediation satisfaction surveys. These provide valuable information on issues such as: Was the mediator impartial? Was the process useful? How satisfied was everyone with the outcome? What could have been done to improve the service?
It can also be helpful for HR to touch base with participants in person after mediation in order to check whether there is any further support that can be provided and to gather informal feedback about the process and the mediator – but always within the bounds of confidentiality.
Follow-up and support from mediators
After the session, mediators will also usually follow-up with all parties concerned either because they have requested it or because the mediator has offered to do so. Such follow-up typically takes the form of telephone conversations, which occur at agreed intervals.
In some instances, participants will ask for a follow-up meeting in order to review progress and clarify any outstanding issues. If a written agreement was produced, the follow-up session may require the document to be revisited in order to see how it has worked in practice and to make amendments if necessary.
Human relationships are complex, constantly shifting phenomena and the road to recovery from a relationship breakdown can be rocky and unpredictable. But mediation, when carried out with appropriate integrity and diligence at every stage, can prove an effective tool to support people on this journey.
Tania Coke is a consultant at mediation consultancy, Consensio.
Link to the article: http://www.hrzone.co.uk/topic/managing-people/mediation-part-four-how-deal-outcome/115515
Mediation: Part Three -How to prepare participants effectively, HR Zone (November 2011)
Tania Coke, Consensio
The prospect of attending a mediation session in order to try and settle a workplace dispute can be very daunting for everyone concerned.
So what can HR professionals do to support people and help prepare them for the big day?
1. Clarify the mediation process
Most providers supply all parties with a written document that gives a detailed outline of the mediation process, including the fact that the average duration of a session, if two people are involved, is a full day.
This full day typically starts with each of the individuals concerned getting together with the mediator for a confidential meeting that usually lasts about an hour. Once these sessions have taken place, a joint meeting can then begin and each person is given an initial opportunity to speak without interruption.
These monologues are followed by an open exchange of views about what has taken place and how the situation has affected all parties concerned. The mediator supports the participants through this process, giving them the freedom to choose what they want to discuss and how.
Once they have had sufficient time to explore these issues, it is usual for people to start evaluating the kind of relationship that they wish to establish going forwards. This discussion may involve negotiating a specific set of actions that each party agrees to undertake or it may lead to a verbal commitment or expression of intent.
Participants next decide if and how to record the outcome and whether they want to show it to third parties. Most mediators are also happy to offer each individual follow-up calls at agreed intervals in order to provide them with a sense of ongoing support.
2. Explain the principles of mediation
The aim of the written document, which is sent to both participants and the HR department before mediation day, is to explain the principles under which mediators conduct meetings. Most professionals will make telephone contact with the inviduals concerned prior to the session in order to introduce themselves, answer any questions and talk through any concerns.
The four key principles on which mediation is based are: confidentiality, impartiality, voluntarism and self-determination.
Confidentiality is often formally captured in an agreement that is signed by everyone before the meeting begins. The mediator commits not to pass on anything said during the session to anyone else, including HR, without the explicit approval of all parties.
Moreover, anything that any individual said to the mediator during their initial one-to-one meeting will not be raised during the joint session. Likewise, all parties commit to keep the contents of mediation discussions to themselves, with the exception of anything that they jointly agree should be communicated to third parties.
The principle of impartiality assures everyone concerned that the mediator will not take sides or decisions about who is right or wrong in the dispute. Instead they will provide each participant with an equal opportunity to speak and to be heard, and will reflect back what was said without bias or judgement.
According to the principle of voluntarism, mediation only proceeds if all parties engage willingly in the process. Self-determination, meanwhile, ensures that the content and outcomes of all discussions are mutually agreed upon.
These last two principles encourage each individual to take responsibility for their situation and to own the resolution, making it more likely that any agreement will be adhered to.
3. Establish goals and expectations
Before mediation day, providers typically send participants a short questionnaire to help them evaluate how they wish to use the session and what they hope to gain. The questionnaire may also prompt them to think about their expectations and what the best, worst and most likely outcomes of mediation would be.
This preparatory exercise is intended to help people understand what is required, what they stand to gain and what options they have if the process is not successful. It also reinforces the principle of self-determination by helping them gain a sense of ownership over the situation and its outcome.
But HR will also have its own goals and expectations around such activity. While mediators will make it clear that participants are in complete control of the outcome, HR professionals may wish to clarify their position, for instance, their hopes that working relations will be restored or their commitment to providing further support to help both parties move on, if required.
4. Get the basics right
Because everyone concerned is likely to feel vulnerable in the run-up to a mediation session, it is all the more important that HR ensures nothing goes wrong in terms of planning and logistics. Such activity includes booking appropriate rooms, making arrangements for lunch and refreshments and clarifying arrival and finishing times.
The choice of rooms is very important, for example, as it sets the tone. But ideally, three rooms should be set aside for the whole day - one for the private meetings; one for the joint session and one as a break-out room, if required, later in the day.
These rooms should be away from participants’ usual work spaces – and ideally be located in a different building – in order to guard against people having to pass colleagues in the corridor.
But it is also worth thinking about what to tell other team members and colleagues about the situation. Sensitivity will be required here to avoid creating any additional anxiety for participants.
Finally, everyone concerned will need to prepare themselves mentally for what is to come. Mediation is a demanding process as it often involves confronting painful memories and discussing highly emotional issues.
This means that people will need to psych themselves up in order to summon enough energy and concentration to make the most of it. They should also be prepared to dedicate an entire day to the process without feeling that they need to return to their desks or become distracted by other matters.
As a result, one of the best bits of advice that HR can give to participants is simply to get a good night’s sleep the night before so that they are more likely to come to the session with a clear head and an open mind.
In the last article of the series, however, we will explore what the likely outcomes of mediation are and how HR professionals can go about supporting participants going forward.
Link to article: http://www.hrzone.co.uk/topic/managing-people/mediation-part-three-how-prepare-participants-effectively/115301
Mediation: Part Two -How to find the right provider, HR Zone (October 2011)
Anna Shields & Tania Coke, Consensio
The mediation industry has no single regulatory body.
The Civil Mediation Council runs a workplace mediation provider registration scheme, which provides a register of mediation suppliers.
Although this is a positive step forward, as yet there is no single code of good practice for workplace mediators and the scheme relies on self-certification. As a result, after having decided to engage the services of a mediation specialist, how do HR directors set about choosing the right provider to partner with?
How can you be sure that you have selected the best mediator for a given case? What are the key differentiators between available suppliers and what questions do you need to ask in order to give the approach the best chance of success?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What type of mediator am I looking for?
Mediation is a generic concept that is frequently used to describe an independent third party (the mediator), who helps parties in dispute to come to a mutually acceptable agreement.
In an organisational setting, however, it is important to distinguish between employment mediation and workplace mediation. An employment mediator is usually brought in to handle the ending of a contractual relationship between an employee and employer.
In contrast, workplace mediation tends to refer to an ongoing working relationship between two or more members of staff who are in dispute. These cases often include relationship breakdowns; personality clashes; communication problems; sickness absence due to work-related stress; allegations of bullying and harassment and discrimination.
What style of mediation am I seeking?
Different providers practise different styles of mediation. The most common distinction is between evaluative mediation and facilitative mediation. In evaluative mediation, the mediator plays a much more directive role in structuring the conversation and steering participants towards a certain outcome.
In facilitative mediation, on the other hand, the mediator does not make judgements and does not offer advice. Instead they help the different parties to communicate directly with one another and agree a way forward without the need for external influences or input – an approach that is common in workplace mediation.
In choosing a provider, therefore, you will need to consider which approach best matches the corporate values and management style of your organisation as well as the needs of the particular case.
The choice of mediation style can, in fact, be used to reinforce or influence your organisational culture. By committing to facilitative mediation, for instance, you can actively support an organisational commitment to employee empowerment, devolved decision-making and the open exchange of views and feelings.
What experience does the mediator have?
Whether you are engaged in a long-term strategic partnership with a mediation provider or are using them on an ad hoc basis, you will need to be comfortable with their suitability for any given case.
As a result, it is important to consider the following questions:
- Do the mediators have appropriate training, accreditation and qualifications?
- Do they work to a recognised code of practice such as the European Code of Conduct for Mediators?
- What is their case experience and how regularly do they conduct mediations?
A mediator is commonly considered experienced if they have completed more than 50 cases on a diverse range of issues of varying levels of complexity. You may prefer them to have specialist expertise in your industry or in the area of the particular dispute you are currently dealing with.
Technically, such specialist knowledge is only really necessary in the case of evaluative mediation, when the mediator is authorised to influence the outcome. In the case of facilitative mediation, their role is not to make judgements so specialist expertise is not required and may even be a hindrance.
What relationship do I want with a mediation provider?
It is also necessary to consider what kind of relationship you wish to establish with your mediation provider. Do you need a provider to work for you on an ad hoc basis? Or are you looking for a strategic partner to help you manage your overall approach to organisational conflict?
Different mediation providers can offer varying levels of support and specialism. You will need to consider whether you are currently, or in the future, likely to need support in any of the following areas:
- Training and developing in-house mediators
- Setting up and administering an internal mediation scheme
- Keeping abreast of relevant regulatory developments
- Measuring the cost of organisational conflict over time and so forth.
For additional services of this type, you would do best to partner with an organisation that has an acknowledged specialism and expertise in the field. You can get a sense of this from their market reputation as well as their level of industry involvement.
Ask youself whether they demonstrate thought-leadership by having had articles and/or research published, for example. Find out what types of clients they work with. Get references so that you can speak to someone who has worked with them and can give you an honest and impartial appraisal.
What should I do next?
Having identified a potential provider, either yourself or someone appropriate from your organisation should attend a meeting with them or take part in one of their mediation seminars or training courses. Such activity is especially important if you are seeking a long-term partnership.
Meeting the supplier face-to-face will also give you the clearest insight into their mediation style and approach. It is also the best way to ensure you fully understand their role and know what to expect from mediation.
For example, attending a training class will help you see the importance of mediator confidentiality – such professionals never pass on information about what was discussed during a mediation session to HR or any other third party without the explicit consent of all parties involved in the dispute.
This confidentiality makes it all the more important to choose the right mediation provider. Since you cannot observe them in real life cases, you need to be able to trust in their integrity and skill.
In the next article, we will review what HR can do to help participants prepare for the daunting prospect of mediation.
Anna Shields is co-founder and joint director, and Tania Coke is a consultant at mediation consultancy, Consensio.
Link to article: http://www.hrzone.co.uk/topic/managing-people/mediation-part-two-how-find-right-provider/115118
Mediation: Part One - When to use it and why, HR Zone (October 2011)
Alex Efthymiades & Tania Coke, Consensio
Mediation is increasingly gaining prominence as an effective means of resolving workplace disputes.
Yet for many organisations, it is still a relatively untested approach compared to more formal processes such as disciplinary and grievance procedures.
In the first of a four part series on the subject, we provide guidance on how to ensure that a case is suitable for mediation and explore the most common questions that arise when considering whether it is suitable as a dispute resolution option.
1. What is mediation?
In short, mediation comprises a conversation, facilitated by an impartial mediator, between two or more people who are in conflict. The conversation is confidential in order to enable open and honest dialogue.
The various parties determine the outcome of the conversation themselves and may or may not want it recorded in a written agreement. Importantly though, mediation is a voluntary process, which means that participants cannot be forced to attend.
In this sense, the responsibility for deciding whether a given case is suitable for mediation lies with the parties concerned. But HR can play an important role in helping them to evaluate whether such a course of action is appropriate for them.
2. Why choose mediation over more formal procedures?
In comparison to more formal processes such as disciplinary procedures, mediation brings individuals together with the aim of having an open and honest conversation with each other. This face-to-face dialogue enables each person to see the situation from the other’s perspective.
Although participants generally speak ‘factually’ about what has happened to them, mediators understand that conflict and subsequent relationship breakdowns are often due to differing perceptions and misunderstandings rather than facts.
But mediation, unlike more formal processes, does not look for a victim and a perpetrator. Instead the focus is on allowing both parties to understand each other better in order to move on from the conflict towards a healthier and more constructive working relationship.
Being a flexible process, however, mediation can be used instead, alongside or following more formal procedures, although experience shows that it is most effective when used at the earliest stages of a conflict before individuals’ positions become too entrenched.
3. What kinds of cases are suitable for mediation?
Mediation can be used to resolve a surprisingly wide range of workplace issues. These include relationship breakdowns; personality clashes; communication problems; sickness absence due to work-related stress; bullying allegations and harassment and discrimination.
The common thread running through these issues is that they are generally based on people’s differing perceptions, experiences and expectations. This means that allowing someone to talk about the impact that their colleague’s behaviour has had on them and to hear how and why they acted in a particular way helps each party to understand one another better.
Such communication can, in turn, contribute to creating a more constructive, collaborative relationship.
4. Will mediation resolve all types of conflicts?
Mediation may seem like a riskier option than instituting more formal processes because the idea of two conflicting parties coming together in a room and being given the space to talk freely about their feelings may seem alarming.
But the fact that they have willingly chosen to engage in the process usually suggests that their intention is positive. Moreover, venting emotions is often an essential stage in enabling everyone concerned to let go of the past and move on.
Having a solution imposed on people via a more formal grievance or disciplinary procedure may seem like a resolution on the face of it. But, for many, the issues remain festering below the surface until they have had a chance to let the other person know how they really feel or can ask them why they did what they did.
A trained mediator knows how to support both parties as they express their honest feelings towards one another, which is one of the unique advantages of the approach. Even if a conversation gets heated, as long as the parties choose to continue, the process is serving its purpose.
5. What if there is an extreme power imbalance between the parties concerned?
It is all too easy to assume that an individual of lower rank has less power but, in a mediation situation, everyone’s view point is valid. The mediator will not pander to power imbalances based on any participant’s position or behaviour.
More often than not, both parties perceive themselves to be a victim in some way anyway. A good mediator will, therefore, treat everybody with impartiality and as equals, regardless of their status.
6. What if there are more than two parties involved in the conflict?
The process of mediation is flexible and can be adapted to handle any number of people. This is often referred to as multi-party or team mediation. As in a two-party mediation, the mediator will typically meet each individual separately before facilitating a joint meeting between all concerned.
If the number of participants is high, it will inevitably be a lengthier process. But it is time well spent when compared with the potential months of bickering, stress and reduced productivity that can result when conflict is not appropriately addressed.
Although a team mediation is often a more challenging experience than a two party one given the complexity of having multiple viewpoints being expressed together, it can be a golden opportunity. Teams frequently come out of such a scenario with a far greater understanding of one another than they did before the conflict began.
In conclusion, mediation is appropriate whenever all parties in a dispute are willing to enter into a conversation with each another, supported by a trained, impartial mediator. While the approach can be used in a number of scenarios, it is the warring parties themselves who are best placed to decide whether they are willing and able to get involved.
In the next article, we will evaluate how to choose the most appropriate mediation provider and look at what questions you need to ask in order to have confidence in them.
Alex Efthymiades is co-founder and joint director, and Tania Coke is a consultant at mediation consultancy, Consensio.
Link to article: http://www.hrzone.co.uk/topic/managing-people/mediation-part-one-when-use-it-and-why/114894
Success and sustainability in mediation, HR Magazine (August 2011)
Tania Coke, Consensio
In January this year, the UK Government announced details of a consultation on workplace disputes, directly aimed at achieving earlier resolution of conflict for all parties involved. The Government is considering how organisations can make more use of dispute resolution tools such as mediation and is seeking further information on its use, costs, benefits and barriers.
Many HR departments are now turning to mediation instead of formal processes when it comes to resolving conflict between their staff. Some have invested heavily in training and supporting in-house mediators, embedding mediation in existing processes and promoting the scheme internally. But at what point can these schemes claim success? How can an organisation assess the pay off of its investment, both in the immediate aftermath of a mediation, and further down the line?
This article will explore the concepts of success and sustainability in mediation and propose that success should be tracked through a combination of measurements and indicators.
Challenges of Defining and Measuring Success
There are many potential stumbling blocks involved in defining and measuring the success of mediation; but they can be avoided. We recommend the organisation begins by addressing three questions about what success would look like for them.
Firstly, should an organisation track the quantitative, objective measures or the less tangible effects on human relationships and organisational growth, or some combination of both? Secondly, what is the appropriate time frame for measuring success? Human relationships are complex issues that evolve over years. Whilst parties may leave mediation feeling that their issues have not been fully resolved, after a few days or weeks of reflection, they may come to realise that the mediation significantly helped them to understand one other, and opened the door to a more collaborative relationship. Conversely, the parties may leave the mediation room feeling euphoric, only to see their newly-restored relationship deteriorate as time goes by. Thirdly, there are many stakeholders involved in any conflict situation, including the parties themselves, team-members and colleagues, managers, HR and Unions. Measuring success in mediation begs the question: success for whom? It may be that as a result of mediation, the issue is resolved from the point of view of HR, whilst the parties are left feeling just as frustrated as before. Or, the parties may feel that the conflict has been resolved but HR is not satisfied with the outcome. Ideally, all stakeholders will view the mediation as successful. But reality may differ.
Common Definitions of Success
After considering these questions, the organisation must then select from a range of possible options to measure the success of mediation. One of the most commonly used metrics is the settlement rate, namely the percentage of mediations that result in a signed agreement or action plan (within a given time frame). A slightly broader version of this is theclosure rate, which is the percentage of mediations that settle plus those cases in which the complaining party drops the formal complaints. These measures are clear, easy ways to quantify time and cost savings. But the evidence they provide is limited, for how can we prove that an outcome is directly attributable to mediation, when there are so many variables at play?
Many organisations also track the number and cost of formal processes (Employment Tribunals, Grievances and Disciplinary Procedures) and measure the extent to which these decline following the introducing of a mediation scheme. This can certainly provide an indication of cost savings at an organisational level, and help to justify the expense of introducing mediation. The tricky part is knowing how to measure these costs. Typically, organisations fail to take into account the hidden costs of conflict, e.g. sickness leave and cost of temporary replacements. And what about the costs that are more complicated to measure such as the effects on staff morale or company reputation?
Another interesting measure is the participation rate: the percentage of employees offered mediation who agree to participate. The assumption underlying the use of this measure is that any conversation held in a mediation context has value, because it promotes direct communication. This in itself is important, as for most parties in conflict, face-to-face communication has completely broken down. The mere fact that parties are talking to each other again can be seen as a sign of success.
All of the above definitions, in focusing on the tangible evidence of success, fail to quantify the human benefits of mediation, in particular its ability to reduce suffering and thus improve working relationships. To address this concern, many organisations use some form of post-mediation satisfaction survey. The questions can vary from overall satisfaction to more specific factors such as 'being listened to' or 'getting a chance to hear the other person'. Satisfaction surveys can yield statistical data as well as quotes and testimonies. Whilst these can powerfully convey the human benefits and intuitively demonstrate success, they cannot yield quantifiable financial indicators. Moreover, for practical reasons, satisfaction surveys are generally carried out shortly after the mediation takes place and therefore fail to reflect how the relationship fares in the longer term.
Another way to define success is by referring to the effects on personal and organisational growth. Parties who have attended mediation are often better placed to handle conflict when it next crops up. Training internal mediators can have clear upstream benefits, as the mediators' skills spill out into the wider workforce. And simply by investing in a mediation scheme, an organisation is sending out a message that it takes its people seriously. Through all these effects, introducing mediation can help to build a culture of openness, empowerment and personal responsibility. But measuring these upstream effects is necessarily challenging since the benefits are incremental and occur over a period of years. Evidence will be largely anecdotal and intuitive; although employee surveys can also provide useful indicators.
In conclusion, an organisation introducing mediation needs to be very clear from the outset what it defines as success. With the support of a conflict management specialist it can then design a practical but comprehensive framework to measure that success through a tailor-made combination of metrics. Through careful planning of this kind, the organisation stands a far greater chance of gauging the pay-offs of introducing mediation and recognising success when it comes.
Link to article: http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hro/features/1019918/success-sustainability-mediation
How mediation helps Camden council reduce grievances, The Guardian (July 2011)
Sue Rice explains why the borough has developed an in-house mediation service for its staff.
Mediation has been used in Camden to address a range of different issues including relationship breakdowns, personality clashes, communication problems and allegations of bullying and harassment. This has been a challenging time across the public sector and I am pleased that we are able to continue to offer this service to our employees despite budget cuts across the council.
We launched our own internal mediation service last summer. We were already successfully using external mediators on an ad hoc basis and we were keen to develop capacity in-house to offer our employees an alternative to using formal channels. We hoped that mediation would reduce the reliance on grievance procedures, which can have a long-term negative effect on all parties involved. Through setting up an in-house scheme, we wanted to encourage individuals to work through their difficult situations together and to provide a more streamlined approach to resolving disputes.
To develop our mediation scheme we used Consensio, a specialist workplace mediation provider. Consensio assisted us throughout the difference stages of developing our service, including training our mediators on an accredited mediation course. The council employs approximately 4,900 staff (excluding schools) and we wanted the service to reflect our diverse employee base and to be accessible to all.
We used multiple channels to raise awareness of mediation, both in the recruitment of the mediators and in the subsequent launching of the service. After advertising for mediators on our intranet, we had a huge response. It was great to see the wide range of skills from applicants and after an extensive selection process, 12 mediators were selected for training in May last year.
The accredited course took place over six days and was highly experiential, challenging and fun. There was a real focus on developing practical techniques through group discussions, activities and practice. Each role play was tailor-made to reflect conflict situations that we were likely to face once we started mediating within Camden. The trainers on the course, who were all experienced mediators, gave us a lot of detailed feedback on our mediation practice. The training equipped us with the tools to go out and mediate, and we were all excited (and somewhat nervous) about mediating in real life.
Our mediation service is free to Camden employees and can be accessed directly at the request of a manager or may be recommended by a member of HR who is involved in a case. Mediation forms part of our grievance policy and we have also developed a range of documentation to provide all parties with relevant information before agreeing to go ahead with mediation.
As a trained mediator and mediation coordinator, I oversee the whole service. I work in human resources and, at times, it has been hard to juggle my day job with the mediation co-ordination role. However, the mediators have been great at helping out and taking the initiative once a mediation case is referred to them.
We have established an internal mediation network to support our mediators and facilitate the sharing of learning and experiences while ensuring confidentiality around specific cases. This has also been important to help keep skills active as some of our newly-qualified mediators don't have the opportunity to apply and practice their mediation skills on a regular basis. However, we all find that the skills we learned on the course are transferable and therefore useful to us in our day jobs as well as at home!
As I reflect on the first year of the scheme, I am proud of what we have achieved so far. The service has been used across our directorates, and it has received wide support throughout the council, including from senior management and staff. We will continue to evaluate our mediation service, and we are confident that the costs of running the service are far outweighed by the costs of unresolved conflict. I have really enjoyed working with different people across the council and we have had some real success stories. Although not every case can be resolved through mediation, when mediation parties and managers feed back to me that mediation has made a real difference to them it makes my job worthwhile.
Sue Rice is the mediation coordinator for Camden council
Link to article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/public-leaders-network/2011/jul/22/mediation-camden-council-grievances
Workplace wellbeing: essential for CPD, Training Zone (June 2011)
By Anna Shields
Mediation offers an informal and flexible way to deal with conflict. Most employees and employers report positive outcomes from mediation. Managers trained in how to handle difficult conversations can significantly improve wellbeing in the workplace.
Workplace conflict can seriously impact on training managers' continuing professional development. Fear not though, Anna Shields has a few pointers to navigate those murky waters.
Avoiding conflict may seem like the least stressful route for all involved. However, issues that are ignored or not handled effectively often lead to the escalation of conflict which, in turn, leaves staff members feeling more stressed and demoralised. The financial and human cost of conflict seen through absenteeism, formal processes and staff turnover is a serious issue that organisations need to address.
Indeed, the recent Government consultation on workplace disputes, launched in January this year, is directly aimed at achieving earlier resolution for all parties without having to go to an employment tribunal.
The UK National Work-Stress Network lists bullying, no opportunity to voice complaints and prolonged conflict between individuals as some of the main causes of stress in the workplace. With one in five Britons claiming to suffer from workplace stress and half a million stating that they have become ill as a result, it is essential that organisations have a wellness scheme which includes methods to resolve conflict in the workplace.
Employers have a responsibility to provide a healthy environment for their employees. Mediation offers an informal and flexible way to deal with conflict and can form an important part of a company’s wellbeing strategy. "With one in five Britons claiming to suffer from workplace stress and half a million stating that they have become ill as a result, it is essential that organisations have a wellness scheme and one that includes methods to resolve conflict in the workplace. " The process enables staff members to talk with each other in an open and confidential space to find a mutually acceptable resolution to their issues.
Most employees and employers report positive outcomes from mediation. Individuals who have gone through the experience often report that the issue with their colleague or manager has been resolved. They also note that they felt listened to, supported and back in control.
Employers often comment that mediation is not only cost and time-effective compared to other processes, but that they observe increased productivity and staff morale post-mediation.
There are a number of options available for organisations that are looking to embed mediation as part of a wellbeing initiative. Managers are often tasked with workplace duties that directly impact their team’s health and wellbeing. These can include dealing with disciplinary issues, staff conduct and poor relationships between colleagues.
In other words, situations that can give rise to workplace conflict. Yet, the majority of managers have not received any training in mediation or conflict management skills. As the first port of call for finding out about issues, managers should also be the first port of call for resolving issues. Managers trained in how to handle difficult conversations, can help open the lines of communication and significantly improve wellbeing in the workplace.
HR teams play a key part in implementing a wellbeing development plan into their organisations. Many of these HR professionals have also trained in mediation skills. However, HR often feels unable to formally utilise these skills back in the workplace as they believe parties in conflict will not see them as impartial. This can be particularly acute in smaller organisations. It is a personal choice for both HR and the parties involved as to whether HR are the most appropriate people to mediate.
Where HR can definitely play a key role is in advising parties in conflict about their options. Short training courses for HR, and others engaged in an advisory capacity, can enable HR to identify when mediation might be appropriate and offer support to key stakeholders in the process.
For many organisations with a sizeable workforce, setting up an internal mediation service (IMS) is the most efficient way to deal with organisational conflict. An IMS gives organisations the facility to address and resolve conflicts internally at an early stage, it develops employee skills and it can create an organisational culture of conflict resolution.
The service generally consists of a number of trained and accredited mediators who volunteer to mediate a few cases a year, in addition to their work duties. An IMS can sit within many areas of an organisation, for example, in HR or Occupational Health. Increasingly, a number of organisations have chosen to locate their IMS specifically in wellbeing.
Many workplace disputes can be resolved by using an internal mediator. However, an external mediator is sometimes required in more serious cases or where requested by one of the parties. An external mediator not only brings impartiality to any case but also has the experience of dealing with complex issues. Using external mediators directly supports the wellbeing of all parties involved in conflict.
"Mediation offers the opportunity for individuals and organisations to create constructive and healthy work environments."
With heightened stress levels in the workplace, it is clear that organisations need to look at new and reliable methods to increase the wellbeing of their workforce. While factors such as work demands and organisational changes are difficult to control, workplace relationships can be managed with a positive outcome.
Whatever the right approach is for your organisation, it is clear that mediation can bring many benefits. It is a fast and effective process where most cases result in a positive outcome for all involved. Mediation also offers the opportunity for individuals and organisations to create constructive and healthy work environments. Staff members trained in mediation skills will be able to nip conflict in the bud and learn communication strategies to help employees feel listened to, motivated and valued at work.
Up for discussion: Mediation, People Management (June 2011)
Mediation can solve workplace disputes long before they reach employment tribunal at a much lower financial and emotional cost. So why don’t more organisations adopt this technique?
Workplace disagreements are expensive; last year, employment tribunal claims cost British businesses £1.6 billion in fees, awards and out-of-court settlements, according to recruitment consultancy Ambition. The average cost of defending a claim, it says, is £8,500, while the average settlement is £5,400. And that’s even before you factor in the cost of management time, sickness absence, lost productivity and damage to reputation. Five years ago, the Centre for Dispute Resolution, a not-for-profit organisation, estimated the total annual cost to the country at £33 billion.
So it’s no surprise that the government wants to find out how disputes can be resolved earlier and at less cost. “We believe that there are too many tribunal claims and that many of these could probably have been dealt with at an earlier stage,” says Edward Davey, minister for employment relations. “This is why we launched our consultation in January. We wanted to identify ways to encourage earlier resolution of workplace disputes and – where parties do end up in tribunals – to ultimately streamline the system.”
The consultation, which closed on 20 April and is now awaiting a response from the government, sought views on how more workplace disputes could be resolved fairly without going to tribunal, and how tribunals could be as fast and effective as possible if they were used.
One of the most interesting tools being used to solve problems before they reach tribunal is mediation. This is an informal technique whereby the parties to a dispute work out their own solution, with guidance from a trained mediator either from within the company or brought in from outside. It’s a voluntary approach that stops people hiding behind process and gets them talking, says Alex Efthymiades, co-founder of Consensio, a mediation provision and training company. “What we are trying to do is re-humanise people, to allow them to sit in a room together and talk about what’s bothering them about their behaviour or their relationship, without blaming anyone or jumping to conclusions.” This approach leads to longer-lasting solutions and is more sensitive to the feelings of people involved, she says.
It’s also considerably cheaper. Acas figures suggest that the average cost of an internal mediation is £700, rising to £2,000-£2,500 where external mediators are used – still considerably lower than the estimated £4,000 cost of formal procedures. East Lancashire Primary Care Trust claimed direct cost savings of £213,753 in the first 18 months of implementing an internal mediation scheme. This was calculated by comparing the cost of a typical three-day mediation with the cost of management, staff and union time taken up by formal processes, including employment tribunals, plus the cost of settlements, legal advice and any related sickness absence. These calculations may be over-optimistic, according to an Acas study of the case, which suggests that mediation costs a little over half the amount of a formal process, rather than a fifth, as the earlier figure suggests. But there are definitely savings to be made.
However, the main advantages are not simply financial, according to Gill Catlow, HR business partner at East Lancashire NHS Trust. “Benefits include improved relationships between staff, a reduction in sickness absence and stress and better staff retention,” she says. Changing from a system that relied on a formal grievance process to one that encouraged mediation cut out a lot of bureaucracy and allowed many disputes to be solved much faster, she says. Most mediations were successful and those involved found the experience positive.
Despite evidence that mediation can have very real benefits, only 5 per cent of businesses studied by Acas have actually used it to resolve workplace disputes. So why isn’t it embraced more widely? “That is the question that gets asked about every good management practice and the answer is elusive,” says Mike Emmott, CIPD employment relations adviser. “One aspect is that you need an investment of imagination, effort and resource to change the way that organisations behave. Although those of us who have looked at these issues believe that it is a no-brainer, we have to persuade people who have many other distractions to adjust their mindset,” he says.
Unions, too, can be disinclined to support it, perhaps because they see it as undermining their role in negotiating on members’ behalf, says Richard Saundry, reader in international employment relations at the University of Central Lancashire.
Any attempt to win people over needs to start with ensuring they know what mediation is – and what it isn’t. “There is a lack of clarity and understanding about what we mean when we say a case has been mediated,” Efthymiades says. “People think that it is part of a formal process, and it’s not. For example, sometimes we work on cases where parties do not understand that it is voluntary, that it is supposed to be outside the formal process or that it does not mean that a case won’t then go to a grievance or disciplinary hearing.”
Mediation does have its limitations. It can be very useful in some types of disputes, such as those stemming from interpersonal conflict or relationship breakdown, but it is less likely to be appropriate for dealing with contractual disputes. Acas believes that it may even be counterproductive if used where the problem is only one aspect of wider bad behaviour, such as harassment.
John Crawley, founder and chairman of CMP Resolutions, does not think forcing people down a particular route, through legislation or other approaches, is a good idea. Instead, he’d like to see more work done to “nudge” people towards mediation. This is an approach often associated with public health: not telling people what to do, but subtly reframing issues to steer them in a particular direction. “We should start by renaming grievance procedures as grievance resolution procedures,” he says.
And there’s a lot to be said for training all managers – not in mediation per se – but in how to deal with disputes as soon as they arise, rather than letting them grow and fester. The government certainly likes this idea: “We support the view that workplace problems could be prevented from escalating into disputes if line managers were better able to manage conflict when it first arises,” Davey says. “This could be achieved through the ability to have what are often termed ‘difficult conversations’.”
Crawley agrees that the ultimate goal should be creating a culture that supports effective conversations between people. “Helping people to think ‘I can have that difficult conversation’ is the place where mediation can have a major impact and can avoid things going to any sort of procedure, let alone a formal one,” he says.
The move to mediation had a clear effect on the culture of East Lancashire PCT, according to Richard Saundry, who studied the case. “The introduction of the scheme had a significant impact on the way employee relations were managed,” he says. Previously, distrust between management and unions had meant that disputes tended to go along a formal path because no one felt able to pick up the phone to try to nip it in the bud. However, as the scheme was introduced and union representatives, managers and HR staff trained together as mediators, this started to change.
“The mediation scheme and the way it was introduced provided a mechanism through which these key individuals started to trust each other a bit,” Saundry says. “It changed the focus of these individuals from a dispute being something that you fight to being something that you try to solve.”
A force for good – mediation and the met
Police officers and their civilian colleagues don’t generally want to waste time fighting among themselves when they have a community to protect, which makes them good candidates for mediation, according to Superintendent Chas Bailey, who runs the Metropolitan Police Force’s internal mediation service.
“People don’t like to [raise formal grievances] if they can help it, as they don’t want to risk getting their colleagues in trouble, but they do want disputes resolved,” he says. Mediation gives them a way of doing that without going down the grievance route.
The Met’s success rate is good, at 70 per cent, but not all cases can go to mediation. “We look at the attitude of both parties… and if it isn’t going to work, we don’t do it,” Bailey says.
Even mediations that do not result in agreement can still have a positive effect. “If you put anybody through a process like this, they go away and reflect on their behaviour,” Bailey says, adding that he’s changed his own management style and become a better listener since training as a mediator.
Conciliation or mediation?
The main difference between statutory conciliation and mediation is not so much in the techniques involved – both use an independent third party to help disputants find their own answer to their problem – as in the framework underpinning them.
Acas offers conciliation once all internal efforts to solve the problem have failed and where a claim has been or could be made; if a solution is reached this way, the parties cannot continue on to the tribunal. Mediation, however, should happen as early as possible, and any solution reached will not legally prevent the party from continuing to an employment tribunal hearing, although the hope of course is that it will stop everyone wanting to do so.
Mediation and wellbeing: An all-weather strategy, HR Zone (March 2011)
Anna Shields, Director, Consensio
Conflict in the workplace is as common as a rainy day in the UK. And, like a miserable wet day, workplace disputes have a negative effect on our wellbeing in the workplace. Whilst we can prepare for rain, with stylish wellies and colourful umbrellas, most HR professionals and line managers feel ill-equipped and lack the confidence to deal with issues that arise from difficult working relationships.
Avoiding conflict may seem like the least stressful route for all involved. However, issues that are ignored or not handled effectively often lead to the escalation of conflict which, in turn, leaves staff members feeling more stressed and demoralised. The financial and human cost of conflict seen through absenteeism, formal processes and staff turnover is a serious issue that organisations need to address. Indeed, the recent Government consultation on workplace disputes, launched in January this year, is directly aimed at achieving earlier resolution for all parties without having to go to an employment tribunal.
The UK National Work-Stress Network lists bullying, no opportunity to voice complaints and prolonged conflict between individuals as some of the main causes of stress in the workplace. With one in five Britons claiming to suffer from workplace stress and half a million stating that they have become ill as a result, it is essential that organisations have a wellness scheme and one that include methods to resolve conflict in the workplace.
Employers have a responsibility to provide a healthy environment for their employees. Mediation offers an informal and flexible way to deal with conflict and can form an important part of a company’s wellbeing strategy. The process enables staff members to talk with each other in an open and confidential space to find a mutually acceptable resolution to their issues. Most employees and employers report positive outcomes from mediation.
Individuals who have gone through the experience often report that the issue with their colleague or manager has been resolved. They also note that they felt listened to, supported and back in control. Employers often comment that mediation is not only cost and time-effective compared to other processes, but that they observe increased productivity and staff morale post-mediation. There are a number of options available for organisations that are looking to embed mediation as part of a wellbeing initiative.
Managers are often tasked with workplace duties that directly impact their team’s health and wellbeing. These can include dealing with disciplinary issues, staff conduct and poor relationships between colleagues. In other words, situations that can give rise to workplace conflict. Yet, the majority of managers have not received any training in mediation or conflict management skills. As the first port of call for finding out about issues, managers should also be the first port of call for resolving issues. Managers trained in how to handle difficult conversations, can help open the lines of communication and significantly improve wellbeing in the workplace.
HR teams play a key part in implementing a wellbeing development plan into their organisations. Many of these HR professionals have also trained in mediation skills. However, HR often feels unable to formally utilise these skills back in the workplace as they believe parties in conflict will not see them as impartial. This can be particularly acute in smaller organisations. It is a personal choice for both HR and the parties involved as to whether HR are the most appropriate people to mediate. Where HR can definitely play a key role is in advising parties in conflict about their options. Short training courses for HR, and others engaged in an advisory capacity, can enable HR to identify when mediation might be appropriate and offer support to key stakeholders in the process.
For many organisations with a sizeable workforce, setting up an internal mediation service (IMS) is the most efficient way to deal with organisational conflict. An IMS gives organisations the facility to address and resolve conflicts internally at an early stage, it develops employee skills and it can create an organisational culture of conflict resolution. The service generally consists of a number of trained and accredited mediators who volunteer to mediate a few cases a year, in addition to their work duties. An IMS can sit within many areas of an organisation, for example, in HR or Occupational Health. Increasingly, a number of organisations have chosen to locate their IMS specifically in wellbeing.
Many workplace disputes can be resolved by using an internal mediator. However, an external mediator is sometimes required in more serious cases or where requested by one of the parties. An external mediator not only brings impartiality to any case but also has the experience of dealing with complex issues. Using external mediators directly supports the wellbeing of all parties involved in conflict.
With heightened stress levels in the workplace, it is clear that organisations need to look at new and reliable methods to increase the wellbeing of its workforce. While factors such as work demands and organisational changes are difficult to control, workplace relationships can be managed with a positive outcome. Whatever the right approach is for your organisation, it is clear that mediation can bring many benefits. It is a fast and effective process where most cases result in a positive outcome for all involved. Mediation also offers the opportunity for individuals and organisations to create constructive and healthy work environments. Staff members trained in mediation skills will be able to nip conflict in the bud and learn communication strategies to help employees feel listened to, motivated and valued at work.
Link to article: http://www.hrzone.co.uk/topic/mediation-and-wellbeing-all-weather-strategy/110326
Problem Solver, Executive Grapevine (January 2011)
"A member of my team has personal issues and this is affecting their productivity. How do I respond to this sympathetically?"
The Mediator...Alex Efthymiades, Director, Consensio
This is an issue that a lot of managers have to deal with on an ongoing basis. The key here is to communicate openly and honestly with your employee. Rather than ignoring the issue, it needs to be addressed with empathy in a private and confidential setting where both you and your employee feel comfortable speaking about it.
Ask your employee how they are and allow them to tell you what is going on for them personally, if they are comfortable disclosing this. Listen to them in a non-judgemental way and give them your full attention. It is important for your employee to know that you care about their wellbeing and they may welcome the opportunity to speak with you about what is going on for them.
Remember that it is acceptable for you to tell your employee that you have noticed a drop in their productivity. Allow them to respond to this. They may not be aware that you noticed, they may not be aware that their productivity has been affected, or they may have wanted to address this with you anyway.
Ask the employee what you and/or the team can do to support them, making it clear that you are there to help and that the issue relating to productivity needs to be resolved. Rather than imposing a solution on your employee, ask them what they can do to ensure that they are able to work effectively and productively as part of the team.
Link to article on P.43:
Growth in workplace conflict sparks extra demand for mediation training, Personnel Today (January 2011)
“Workplace conflict is on the increase” – so says Alex Efthymiades, Director at mediation and conflict resolution services provider Consensio.
“We’ve noticed a surge in people over the past few months coming to us asking about how best to manage conflict and deal with the issues that arise from problems between people at work,”says Alex. “It’s no real surprise given the current turmoil organisations are in as they may have been through one round of redundancy and restructuring and may be looking at another. In times of uncertainty, issues between people can get magnified and assume greater perceived importance than they would have during more settled times – and that then leads to disputes or conflict.”
Consensio has added a new range of courses to its training programme for 2011 to meet the increased demand and need of conflict resolution and mediation training.
“Some organisations are ready to introduce mediation as an integrated part of their policies and procedures. Others want to upskill their managers by training them in mediation skills so that they are able to resolve conflict in their teams more effectively. We offer courses to meet all of these different needs.”
Consensio’s courses are experiential and delegates practice the skills that will enable them to constructively manage conflict whilst getting detailed feedback from the trainers. “We find that when delegates understand why mediation works and some of the psychological aspects behind conflict and the way people behave, putting it into practice becomes easier and more real,” comments Alex.
For more information on mediation and conflict resolution courses, visit: www.consensiopartners.co.uk
Link to article:
We Just Need to Talk it Over, The Sunday Times (December 2010)
Most business disputes can be settled through mediation in a matter of days – and so can rows at work, writes Carly Chynoweth
Conflict resolution has become big business. The number of disagreements settled through arbitration or mediation rose 78% between 2007 and 2009.
The cost of mediation cases alone is more than £5 billion a year. But while companies are increasingly likely to use this method to resolve problems with other businesses, they are slow to use it for conflict within the ranks of their own staff.
The business case for mediation in arguments with other businesses is straightforward: 70% to 80% can be resolved in two days, according to Karl Mackie, chief executive of the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR). Also, it costs far less than litigation and the contractual relationship is more likely to continue afterward, he said.
“The earlier parties come to mediation, the more we can do and the better the results we can achieve,” Mackie added. “If you leave it too late, things can get so soured by the conflict that people can’t imagine working together.”
Mediation and arbitration are both confidential and can lead to a binding agreement without going to court. In mediation, a neutral third party helps the two sides negotiate a settlement between themselves; in arbitration, the third party imposes a decision.
GE Oil & Gas calculated that it avoided millions in legal fees and other costs within two or three years of starting an early dispute resolution scheme that promoted mediation. Michael McIlwrath, senior litigation counsel for the technology and service provider, said: “We are out to make better products and provide better services at the lowest possible costs. “Disputes come at a cost…and if you can take those costs out, you have a competitive advantage.
“One area where mediation is very useful to us, and where we have tried to help it grow, is in emerging markets. They do not have the same sort of legal infrastrucutre in place.” Here, mediaiotn helps protect agianst falling into what could be seen as a risky court or legal sysyem.
Some compaines invite suppliers to join their staff at workshops to talk through how they will deal with conflict should it arise, Mackie said. “They recognise that they are trying to build a long-term relationship with suppliers so that it is in everyone’s intersts that they not only get things right from the outset, but that they have mechanisms for managing it when there is conflict. There is always conflict in business so why not think about how you will deall with it?”
GE Oil & Gas provides conflict management training for future leaders from its customers, who attend its own “university”.
“A lot of the training (on the course) is technical, so they learn about things such as processing sour gas, say…but one of my colleagues and I also teach a component on negotiation, which includes conflict management,” McIlwarth said. “The hope is that if we can embed these things into our relationships with customers, then should there ever be disputes in the future, the communication will be better between us.”
Within the workplace however, communication has been getting worse, according to a CEDR survey. It found that nearly 60% of the 1,000 employees surveyed listed management and co-workers as a significant source of “challenging conversations”. Alongside this, only 44% of managers were confident about their own ability to manage conflict.
Alex Efthymiades, co-founder of Consensio Partners, a conflict resolution consultancy, blames inadequate training. “This is a real blind spot for managers and organisations, who do not realise that part of being able to manage people is having the skills and confidence needed to have difficult conversations. Because they feel unable to do so, the conflict escalates, the human resource department gets involved and it is a huge waste of time for everyone,” she said.
A typical conflict starts when an attempt to improve performance leads to an allegation of bullying Efthymiades said. Neither side feels able to have a calm and clear conversation to resolve the matter, and the next stage often sees increasingly hostile emails being exchanged, with other people copies in. “It very quickly becomes a formal process in which things are documented in case a grievance or counter-grievance is taken out, even though most of the time things could have been resolved very early through an informal discussion, Efthymiades said.
This is not something that happens only at junior or middle management level – Efthymiades has dealt with conflict between board members that have turned into time-consuming vendettas.
“It can end up in gang warfare where it is not just about two individuals, and people and teams are forced to take sides,” she said. “When things completely break down you can end up with people behaving vengefully, for example by withholding information from the other person or otherwise undermining them because they are out to hurt them.”
Their aim may be to make the other individual look incompetent, but it will be the business that suffers. “And if you are the chief executive, you will be the one who wears that damage in the end,” Efthymiades said.
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Mediation: an essential skill for today's leaders, HR Zone (December 2010)
HR professionals and line managers who have been trained in mediation skills report a greater understanding and self-awareness of their own conflict management styles, as well as a significant increase in their confidence and skill levels which enable them to address conflict.
mportantly, HR and line managers also report that after undertaking mediation skills training, they no longer feel overwhelmed by workplace conflict, but able to deal with it effectively. The benefits of this, especially in today’s economic climate, can be priceless.
The professional HR practitioner is acutely aware of the negative impact uncertainty and instability can have on their workforce. It is understandable that employees, many of whom are bruised and disgruntled, allow niggles, tension and conflict in the workplace to take on exaggerated importance. Whilst in easier times issues may have been brushed aside, in the current environment, relationships between co-workers are more likely to deteriorate to the point of break down. Leaders at all levels need to be aware of this and to take a proactive approach to ensure productivity and efficiency are not affected. This means stepping in and dealing with issues quickly so that they don’t spiral out of control.
As an HR professional, it is impossible to be aware of every set of dynamics between each and every individual within your organisation. However, you can and indeed you should take a hands-on role to effectively resolve workplace conflict. You can do this either by becoming a trained mediator yourself or by up-skilling your managers and leaders in mediation skills so that they are able to take positive action when conflict occurs. The message is clear: nipping conflict in the bud has benefits for the whole organisation.
Yet traditionally, when conflict occurs within an organisation, most people either avoid the issue, or try to deal with it in a heavy-handed and potentially unconstructive manner, for example through a formal grievance process. Besides often being unhelpful, these approaches do not actually deal with the underlying reasons as to why the conflict occurred and what led to the relationship break down. Mediation offers an alternative to these traditional processes and enables people to discuss a mutually acceptable resolution to the conflict that is conciliatory and non-judgemental.
Mediation skills and the ability to nip conflict in the bud are not an innate attribute – they need to be learned. A leader trained in mediation skills is able to confidently and effectively deal with conflict between their staff. Importantly, a leader equipped with mediation skills manages conflict at the first sign, rather than letting conflict fester and potentially result in a formal grievance.
We are all well aware that formal processes incur a lot of management and HR time and cost and they very seldom result in a resolution that is beneficial to all parties involved. Mediation, unlike a formal grievance process, allows parties to speak about the issues that have led to the conflict, try to understand the breakdown in their relationship and discuss ways forward that are acceptable to everyone involved.
A mediating HR professional or manager, for example, will work with staff members in conflict to help them to understand the issues that have led to the problems, facilitate a dialogue relating to how these issues can be resolved and then plan for an outcome that will restore the working relationship. This will not only result in a more productive environment, but it will show the team that the organisation is taking their issues seriously. In these times of economic uncertainty and instability, staff members want to feel that their issues are recognised and addressed, and that a constructive solution is being sought. In short, they want to be supported through their conflict.
In today’s workplace, people look for greater honesty, understanding and openness from their employer. By introducing mediation services or a mediated approach to conflict resolution into your organisation, you will be demonstrating your commitment to recognising and efficiently resolving issues that arise between your employees. This will also help to rebuild any trust which may have been lost during the turbulent times of conflict.
Consensio has seen a significant growth in the number of HR professionals looking to add mediation skills to both their own and their management level staff through either in-house or public training courses. It’s essential that you look for courses that are highly experiential and allow each delegate to practice mediation skills by using tailor-made case studies that reflect the conflict situations they are likely to encounter in their specific workplaces. By practicing mediation skills in a safe learning environment, and getting detailed feedback from experienced mediators, HR professionals and line managers will be able to take a more proactive and even-handed role when conflict occurs in their team.
Alex Efthymiades, Consensio Partners
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Mediation Skills Can Decrease the Harmful Effects of Redundancy in the Public Sector, Opportunities (November 2010)
By Alex Efthymiades and Anna Shields, Directors of Consensio
With the prediction that anything up to half a million public sector jobs will be lost as a result of the Government’s spending cuts, a large part of the UK public sector workforce is faced with an uncertain future. Redundancy raises a number of challenging issues to employers and employees alike and quite often leads to workplace conflict, which in times of economic uncertainty can become protracted and difficult. The stress and anxiety of departing employees faced with a challenging job market, together with the impact upon morale and wellbeing of those whose jobs remain, creates heightened episodes of workplace conflict. Whilst the outlook seems bleak, on a positive note, redundancy can be effectively managed through the use of mediation.
Although the intention of the Government cost-savings are obvious, ironically, the inherent conflict and distress caused by redundancies may end up costing organisations far more than intended.
During the first phase of redundancy, employees often feel insecure and demoralised, which can be exacerbated by the secrecy of discussions surrounding the redundancy selection process. Productivity is affected and the potential for conflict and possible employee initiated litigation is increased. The best way to nip this conflict in the bud is to effectively communicate with employees and take on board employee feedback. By training line management and HR professionals in mediation and conflict resolution skills, they will be able to consult with staff and, where possible in the public sector, negotiate alternatives to redundancy. Through employee engagement, the likelihood of conflict decreases and ‘win-win’ alternatives may be found including sabbaticals, part-time employment, salary decreases and job sharing. These solutions will not only save organisations time and money, they may also decrease the number of necessary redundancies or, at the very least, smooth the process for all concerned.
Where redundancy is the only option, the resulting conflicts are generally the most challenging as they are driven by employees’ loss of self-esteem, fear and insecurity. Although dismissal may be unrelated to performance, departing employees may feel demoralised, hurt and betrayed. Once again, it is essential that line managers and HR staff are trained in how to handle redundancy conversations in order to limit claims of unfair dismissal. Managers and HR need to communicate openly about redundancy and, in difficult situations, appoint an external mediator to help employees deal with unresolved conflict.
Once the redundancies are complete, the final phase deals with resulting issues, such as impact on team morale, survivors’ guilt and new work responsibilities. Again, mediation skills can be used by managers and HR to resolve ensuing conflicts, to boost employee morale and to embed learning from the process.
Whilst reducing the budget deficit is at the top of the Government’s agenda, an appropriate plan needs to put in place to deal with the damage caused by redundancy. The ACAS Code of Practice, published last year, encourages and recommends the use of mediation as an effective means of resolving disputes informally and at an early stage.
Mediation is an effective tool in any public sector organisation’s dispute resolution portfolio, serving to reduce not only the emotional stress of workplace conflict due to redundancy, but also the economic and cost implications to public sector organisations throughout the UK.
Tip #1 Make time to listen
When redundancy is being considered, there is a greater demand on management time. Although redundancy procedures need to be followed, it is still vital to make yourself available to your team to answer questions and hear concerns. This can help resolve issues or reassure people at this difficult time – and may help to head off later unrest.
Tip #2 Consider the needs of your staff
There are likely to be feelings of anger and resentment amongst those selected for redundancy and this may bring about conflicts with others. Keep the lines of communication open, so that issues can be talked about and resolved for all parties involved.
Tip #3 Up-skill your managers with mediation training
Train your managers in mediation and conflict resolution skills to give them the practical tools and the confidence to manage workplace conflict.
Tip #4 Communicate the mediation approach across your organisation
Mediation means different things to different people. Let staff within your organisation know that managers are being trained in mediation skills to support employees in conflict. Position this message positively and focus on the benefits this will create for employees.
Tip #5 Appoint an external mediator for more complicated disputes
In certain situations where the conflict has escalated and the parties require further support, an independent, external mediator may be the best person to call upon.
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How to Develop a Business Case for Mediation - A Helping Hand, Personnel Today (November 2010)
Mediation and alternative dispute resolution have seen a surge of interest since they were first mentioned as recommendations in the ACAS Code of Practice.
Consensio, a mediation and conflict resolution services provider, has noticed a marked increase in the demand for these services as organisations understand what mediation can and cannot do for their business and the impact this has on their bottom line.
“We have been hosting complimentary seminars for some time which explore the benefits of mediation and have always found them well attended by HR practitioners and business managers alike,” comments Alex Efthymiades, co-founder and Director of Consensio. “The difference we’ve noticed in the past six months is the demand from our delegates to understand and learn how best to present a business case for introducing mediation into the day-to-day practice of an organisation. As a result, we have revamped our seminars to focus more strongly on helping delegates make a solid business case for mediation.” It’s a sign of the economic times that such a spotlight is placed on the business case for what is clearly a beneficial and much needed intervention. A lot of people are currently feeling very uncertain at work, and this can lead to more tension and conflict within businesses.”
Consensio’s next complimentary seminar is being held on Wednesday 8 December in central London. For more information or to reserve a place, visit www.consensiopartners.co.uk
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The Case for Mediation, The Guardian (September 2010)
Getting employees and managers to talk before formal grievance procedures begin can save time, money and long-term negativity
By Karl Cockerill
We first set up our in-house mediation scheme at NHS East Lancashire in 2008. I remember that our interim HR director tried to convince me that the way forward was to bring in mediation and to move away from a reliance on formal processes to resolve workplace conflict.
In addition to creating a shift in how the trust dealt with conflict, it was anticipated that mediation would reap some real benefits to the organisation in terms of time and cost savings.
As an active shop steward I had previously been known as "the grievance king". I did not understand that formal processes had a long-term negative effect, which would breed negativity towards partnership. Grievances are personal so they always cause more conflict. I thought that mediation would be a way for managers to stop grievance procedures.
The interim director of HR became an internal 'change consultant' within the trust and focused on creating the right environment for implementing the mediation scheme.
The trust appointed conflict management and mediation specialists, Consensio, to deliver accredited training for a pool of mediators. The change consultant worked very closely with Consensio to ensure that they understood local issues and could personalise the course to meet our very specific needs.
I personally took their accredited mediation training course and, since becoming one of the co-ordinators of the scheme, I can truly say that things have changed a lot for me. I can't go into any meeting relating to potential bullying or negative behaviour towards staff without thinking that mediation might resolve the issue.
We now have a team of 15 internal mediators who have completed 34 internal mediation cases – 33 of these cases have resulted in a written agreement. As mediation co-ordinator, I promote the service with frontline staff and co-ordinate the set up of mediations, including the sensitive discussions with parties prior to mediation.
We hold regular mediator network meetings and continuing professional development events to ensure that we are maintaining best practice and have also created an evaluation framework to examine the effectiveness and sustainability of the scheme.
Within the first 18 months of our scheme, we saw a 60% reduction in formal processes (grievances and fair treatment cases), a 96% success rate measured by written mediation agreements, and over £200,000 in cost savings. There has also been a shift in culture change within the trust. The significant cost-savings have already far outweighed the initial cost of setting up and resourcing the scheme.
Our scheme has reaped quantitative and qualitative benefits for the trust at a rapid pace, and will continue to do so into the future. This is an important consideration for other organisations that are thinking about implementing mediation into their policies and practices: firstly, results can be and have been achieved very quickly; and secondly, the initial costs of setting up an in-house scheme are quickly outweighed by future cost and time savings.
I strongly believe that if you can get people around a table, you can resolve anything and I have never been so committed to anything before. This is due to the positive things that have happened since our scheme was set up and which have taught me so much.
A much fuller white paper regarding this particular scheme examines key milestones and the lessons to be learned for other organisations that want to implement or further develop their own in-house mediation scheme.
Karl Cockerill, alternative dispute resolution lead and mediation coordinator for NHS East Lancashire
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Use Mediation to Retain Talent, Executive Grapevine (July 2010)
People don’t like conflict in the workplace. People want to work where, should they have a problem, there’s a process in place to reach a speedy resolution. They want to work in an organisation which supports them should difficulties occur. So, when you’re looking at how best to retain your talent – and not just your top talent – look to embed a system to deal with conflict effectively as and when it arises.
As one of the UK’s leading providers of conflict resolution and mediation services, Consensio has seen a marked increase in the demand for mediation services – whether facilitated in-house or by external independent mediators.
Alex Efthymiades, Director of Consensio, comments: “Mediation and conflict resolution processes are becoming an essential part of an organisation’s people infrastructure. Whilst the initial driving force for our clients may be to empower employees to resolve issues themselves rather than through formal processes, the cost savings and the positive impact mediation has on making the workplace more attractive, becomes clear.”
NHS East Lancashire is one such organisation. Its mediation scheme not only demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to its staff, but, since the creation of the mediation scheme, there has been a 60% reduction in formal process and staggering cost savings of over £200k to the organisation. Importantly, the mediation scheme has resulted in a culture shift within the organisation.
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Mediate your way through the redundancy process, Daily Telegraph (September 2009)
Anna Shields and Alex Efthymiades, Directors of Consensio, explain how to manage conflict in the workplace before, during and after redundancy.
In difficult economic times, “redundancy” and “conflict” are sadly, common themes. Redundancy is challenging for all concerned, not just the distress and difficulty for departing employees, but also the negative impact upon the wider team, business management and clients. The good news is that conflict can be effectively managed and, in some cases, completely avoided through the use of mediation and conflict resolution techniques.
The redundancy process for most organisations is a drastic measure designed to improve the financial “bottom line”. Whilst the cost savings are obvious, ironically, the inherent conflict caused by redundancy ends up costing business far more than they expected and indeed, bargained for. The reason behind the paradox is that HR and managers are often not suitably equipped to conduct the difficult conversations which occur, resulting in lost morale and productivity. Training in mediation and conflict resolution skills can help organisations before, during and after the redundancy period.
The first phase of redundancy includes numerous meetings held behind closed doors which make employees feel stressed, insecure and often demoralised. This decreases productivity and massively increases the potential for conflict and possibly employee initiated litigation. The best way to nip conflict in the bud is to effectively communicate with employees and to take on board employee feedback. Managers and HR trained in mediation and conflict resolution skills will be able to consult with staff, and, where possible, negotiate alternatives to redundancy. By engaging with employees in a procedure that affects the whole organisation, the likelihood of conflict decreases and “win-win” alternatives may be found, including sabbaticals, part-time employment, salary decreases and job sharing. These solutions not only save time and money, but they may also decrease the number of necessary redundancies or, at the very least, smooth the process for all concerned.
If redundancy is the only option, resulting conflicts tend to be the most challenging as they are driven by loss of self-esteem, fear and insecurity. Although dismissal is often unrelated to performance, departing employees may feel demoralised, hurt and betrayed. Again, it is critical that managers and HR are trained in how to handle redundancy conversations in order to limit claims of unfair dismissal. Managers and HR need to communicate openly about redundancy and, in difficult situations, appoint an external mediator to help employees deal with unresolved conflict.
Once redundancies are complete, the final phase deals with resulting issues, such as impact on team morale, survivors’ guilt and new work responsibilities. Again, mediation and conflict resolution skills can be used by managers and HR to resolve ensuing conflicts, to boost employee morale and to embed learning from the process.
With the UK unemployment rate hitting peaks not seen in recent memory, so are Employment Tribunal claims citing unfair dismissals. The new ACAS Code of Practice calls for disputes to be solved at an early stage and recommends mediation as part of every organisation’s dispute resolution portfolio. An appropriate plan, which includes training management in mediation and conflict resolution skills, means redundancy can be managed more effectively at every phase. for further information, visit: www.consensiopartners.co.uk
Mediation puts a halt to grievance cases, People Management (September 2009)
PCT reduces number of formal processes by training staff in dispute resolution
An in-house mediation service at East Lancashire NHS Teaching Primary Care Trust has reduced formal dispute cases by 60 per cent in its first year, PM has learnt.
Karen Bailey, a change consultant at the trust, said she set up the service in April last year after being “struck by the number of formal processes” going on, particularly grievance and fair treatment cases.
The trust trained 15 members of staff, including front-line workers, managers and union stewards, as mediators and appointed a dispute resolution lead to work alongside HR to coordinate the service.
Bailey said the most common dispute issues were around perceptions of bullying, harassment and racial issues, but now any member of staff who approached a union or the HR department with a problem was asked to consider mediation.
A mediator would spend time with each of the parties to “allow them to express their version of events” before a joint meeting was arranged, facilitated by the mediators, to “encourage honest dialogue and help the parties to move towards their goals”.
“Seeing the stories from each perspective often generates empathy and from empathy you will have a magic moment where, more often than not you, will have an apology of some kind. From there on the language changes and they begin to build bridges,” Bailey said.
The trust, which employs 3,000 people, is still working hard at embedding the service but Bailey is now also working with a neighbouring trust to help them to introduce a similar scheme.
An interim review of the health and well-being of NHS staff, conducted by occupational health expert Steve Boorman, recently cited mediation as a key way of solving deep-rooted cultural problems around bullying and harassment in the health service. Bailey agreed with the findings, saying that mediation was “not just about reducing formal processes”.
“Formal processes don’t do people any good. They are time-consuming and energy-draining. Mediation is better for staff – it’s quicker and puts them in control,” she said.
Conflict management training provider Consensio recently reported a 420 per cent increase in demand for its services during the first half of 2009, following changes to the Employment Act in April. Statutory dispute resolution procedures were repealed and replaced by the voluntary Acas code of practice, which encourages organisations to resolve disputes in-house and at an early stage.
By Lucy Phillips
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