Mediation, Workplace Conflict and Brexit – Some unlikely parallels

Should we stay or should we go? You can’t open a newspaper or turn on the news this week without hearing about Brexit, and the various voices of the ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ camp. Don’t worry, at Consensio we are not about to voice our political views, because we are (of course) impartial workplace mediators!

However, I have started thinking about some of the parallels between the political discussions regarding a potential Brexit, and how this relates to parties in conflict who sometimes end up in workplace mediation.

It’s only a few days since the Brexit campaigns have kicked off, and already senior politicians and business leaders have started coming off the fence and putting their weight behind their preferred outcome. It reminds me of the cliques that start forming when conflict arises in the workplace; how teams that have previously worked well together fall out, and how each side tries to recruit people to ‘their camp’ to validate arguments and develop a sense of camaraderie.

The declaration from Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, this week that he will back Brexit and that this decision came “after a huge amount of heartache” is interesting. This is not because of which we way he will vote, but because he found it to be a difficult decision. People in conflict, who come to us for workplace mediation, often describe the agony of having to make decisions about complex issues that will affect their lives.

During mediation, I am always fascinated by how two parties approach the same issue from two different angles. Sometimes they are able to empathise with the other person’s point of view to move beyond their conflict. At other times, they can’t do this, and they remain stuck in the conflict. And there is often a third way, when, for the sake of the future working relationship, they have to agree to disagree.

We don’t yet know what is going to happen in the referendum, and what that means for the UK, but both sides of the campaign should start to think about the courageous conversations they will need to have to rebuild bridges after June 23, regardless of the result of the referendum.

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