In the past few years, we have seen a huge increase in the number of organisations that use workplace mediation to resolve organisational conflict. This is a very important and positive development. However, too many organisations still offer mediation after rather than before a formal process has started. This is a situation that needs to be changed.
Mediation works best if it is offered at an early stage, rather than waiting for the situation to become formal. That isn’t to say that grievance and disciplinary processes don’t have a place within organisational policies and procedures. However, when things have become formal, parties are much more likely to be entrenched, in victim mode, and looking for a win-lose outcome rather than a collaborative, win-win resolution.
Interestingly, mediation parties are acutely aware of this. As a workplace mediator, I have heard many parties say to me that mediation should have been offered to them earlier, and that this would have saved a lot of time and emotional energy.
Mediation is not an easy option for people in conflict – it takes a lot of courage to sit face-to-face with the person that you are in conflict with – but its success rate is significant. Even if they don’t come to a mutually acceptable resolution, parties value the opportunity to be heard, and to have a difficult conversation informally in the presence of an impartial mediator.
Nipping issues in the bud is critical. By not offering mediation at an earlier stage, organisations are missing out on the opportunity to allow their workforce to have open and honest conversations with each other before issues become formal and relationships are irreparable. Although mediation can work if offered after a formal process, its success rate and uptake are lower.
When organisations offer mediation as soon as they are aware of conflict, they start to change the organisational culture to one where conflicts are dealt with quickly and effectively rather than allowing them to become toxic, time-intensive and difficult to resolve.