The power of openness in workplace mediation

I have been reflecting on a recent workplace mediation I facilitated. The parties’ relationship was transformed through mediation, and I have been trying to work out how the mediation process helped.

Prior to mediation, the two parties were not able to talk to each other without the presence of a third person, and they were actively seeking ways to avoid bumping into the other at work! Both parties wanted to restore a professional working relationship through mediation, but were fearful about whether they would be able to reach an agreement.

The mediation followed the usual format, with individual meetings, followed by a joint mediation meeting to work through the issues that were causing conflict between the parties. Right from the opening comments, one party opened up about the impact of the conflict, and how it had affected them on a personal level. This willingness to be open and show vulnerability had a profound effect. The other party listened intently, acknowledging what they had heard, and also expressing their feelings about the situation. As mediation progressed, both parties gained a much deeper understanding of each other and were genuinely able to move beyond their conflict.

This theme of openness, and its centrality to the success of mediation, also came up in our recent research paper, Preparing to Mediate: A guide for first time users. We asked workplace mediators, mediation parties and mediation referrers at 40 client organisations to share their tips and advice for people who are new to workplace mediation. 50% of respondents encouraged users to be ‘open’ or ‘open-minded’ about the process. Opening yourself up can be hard at the best of times, and even harder when you are in conflict.

In this recent mediation case, it was a privilege for me to sit in a room with two parties who were able to talk with each other at such a deep level. I helped guide the mediation process, but the hard work was done by the parties themselves!


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