Mediation does not suit every situation. It can feel all wrong like an ill-fitting jumper. It’s not always appropriate to mediate or facilitate a discussion or to create a forum for dialogue.
I’m an optimist: I probably couldn’t do my job if I wasn’t. But with optimism always comes the need to reality check. As a mediator that involves checking if the process suits the participants as well as the workplace.
Part of my role, during preparation and the separate intake sessions, is for me to assess the suitability of the participants and to see if they’re genuinely able to participate. In my experience 95% of participants are, even if some of them need some time to work into that. However, 5% don’t meet that threshold. In those cases, as a mediator, I deem them as not being suitable or genuine to participate.
Why that is can vary widely, and recently a client asked how I make that assessment of ‘suitable and genuine’. Some reasons are straightforward, like serious cases of sexual harassment or where further harm could eventuate to one party and there is sound research why these situations are not appropriate for mediation.
Some examples where I’ve deemed a participant not genuine for the process of joint dialogue include:
- Where a Senior Partner in a professional services firm made it clear that rebalancing the relationship with a junior colleague was not a priority. He displayed an avoidant and dismissive manner, being continuously unavailable and preparation remained incomplete. Whilst I initially gave him the benefit of the doubt, it became clear he was not engaged in the merits of this dialogue and was unable to embrace interests for himself and so found no meaningful reason to genuinely participate. It was particularly unusual and profoundly disappointing behaviour for a Senior Leader to display.
- Where an individual in the NFP sector was focused on having her colleague “punished” and only a public all staff apology would suffice. Again, there was no genuine desire to improve the relationship. This participant was unable to shift or be supported to recharacterize any previous interactions or consider her own contribution to the dynamic through self-reflection. Her ongoing heightened sensitivity prevented her from seeing any way of joint problem solving.
- An employee in the entertainment industry who was seeking a forum to lash out at the other parties with strong disproportionate language. I was concerned about the impact on others. Further, the team only had 3 weeks left on their contracts to be working together. However, given that they work in the industry, they were likely to work together again in the future and it was hoped we could bring the temperature down for any future engagements.
But don’t worry! Even when mediation isn’t appropriate there are still options. There is always a plan! Some successful ideas include:
- Individual coaching to allow willing participants to build up strategies.
- Articulation of clear behavioural expectations by the employer. Given that the employer is the third-party in any workplace relationship, this gives them an important and strong voice.
- Closer managerial oversight and involvement in the relationship. This can require a significant time and energy commitment by a manager.
Do you have a scenario you’d like to soundboard with us? Please get in touch.