Meditating on Mediation
When the topic of organisational conflict arises one is remindedof the old fable of the two cats fighting for a piece of bread and the mediator monkey. Interest in organisational conflict, mediation and resolution has increasingly burgeoned in recent years. Every relationship has to deal with differences in attitudes, values, priorities and interests. Most often than not these day to day differences give rise to conflicts that can at times take an ugly turn. We like to believe that we can take care of our own problems and are loth to discuss them with a third person. Rarely are these conflicts brought to the table before a mediator. In the process we end up hurting our co-workers or our family. It may help us to realise that once in a while we need outside intervention to recognise the importance of working relationships and want to prevent petty differences from escalating into destructive conflicts.
Sometimes a neutral party mediation becomes necessary to act as a facilitator to resolve a dispute. Conflicts often act as a mirror of our attitudes. For making the workplaces work better, there are a few resources that managers can use to keep the peace. These tools are negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.
Of the three, mediation is a more structured process wherein the mediator helps the disputing parties to come to an agreement. The participants talk, share their ideas and experiences and generally thrash out their problems and try to come to an understanding so that a mutually satisfying agreement is reached. The goal of mediation must be to manage disputes and conflicts better so that warring individuals agree to do things differently in the future.
It is the responsibility of the mediator to put forth options and alternatives. He can lay the ground rules. He can ask for clarifications but he cannot make a decision that is binding. Also, having a mediator around is no guarantee of a resolution. Ultimately, it depends on the participants of the mediation.
You can ask for mediation when conventional strategies have not worked to settle a dispute. When a conflict arises the simpler way out is to live with it (unhappily) or hope that it will go away if ignored. In extreme cases you may be forced to remove yourself by quitting or attempt a transfer away from your department or location. You could also file a complaint with the HR department or try to sort out things on a one to one basis with the person you are in conflict. When faced with all these alternatives sometimes it does appear better to have mediation.
Mediation is not a process wherein one finds faults or assigns blame. It is not about awarding brownie points or punishments. It is not debating and there are no wrong or right points of view. It is all about arriving at a consensus voluntarily and willingly. The job of the mediator is to assist in the understanding of each other and reach an agreement.
During the initial talks the mediator would talk to one disputant at a time. This may be awkward for the other person present but it will give the mediator a chance to ask questions that will help him understand the perspectives of both the participants.
Honesty and tact are important qualities to have as a mediator. You can't be brutal and claim that you were being honest. One has to be `tactfully honest' to get the other person's cooperation. It is the job of the mediator to steer the discussion in such a way that the concerned participants get to hear the concerns of each other. Take care to see that you don't make destructive and judgemental statements (e.g. He is dishonest or lazy and such like). This will only make matters worse. Do not use strong and offensive language either.
Often the disputants will be eager to lash out at the other, or impute motives that may not be true. As a mediator try to keep these things at bay and the proceedings peaceful. You may also have to gently convince the disputants that instead of continuing with their animosity and hostility, it is better for everyone concerned to arrive at a mutually satisfying resolution. If the participants agree to your suggestions you can be sure that it has been a successful mediation. The monkey and the cats can still be friends!
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