Mediation comes of age

Tomorrow a national workplace mediation summit takes place as the Government lays the ground for increasing the role of mediators in workplace disputes. spoke to a mediation expert taking part.



A summit will be held tomorrow with Government representatives, employers and employment law specialists to discuss what is being mooted as the biggest shake-up of dispute resolution in 20 years.

The summit is being organised by mediation specialists The TCM Group in partnership with the London Chamber of Commerce and those taking part include speakers from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Chartered Institute for Professional Development.

The summit follows the Government’s response to the recent dispute resolution consultation, Resolving Workplace Disputes, which arose after the Gibbons review of 2007. The Government’s response was published in November and states that problems in the workplace should be tackled as early as possible and that mediation should become a preferred mechanism for organisations to resolve disputes without the need to go to court.

HR experts say it represents a significant stepping up of the role of mediation in workplace dispute resolution.The response is part of the Employment Law Review instigated by the Coalition.David Liddle, Founder of The TCM Group and President of the Professional Mediators Association, told that the changes “mark a huge shift from an adversarial process to resolving disputes which has failed systematically and has driven people further apart when organisations should be bringing them together”.

He adds that “even the word grievance sounds confrontational. It forces people to take sides and dig their heels in. The grievance procedure reads like an employment law book – it’s a quasi judicial process which is applied to human relationships.”He says that when people take time off for stress they are “staring at a precipice”.

“Mediation,” he says, “offers real hope. It allows people to put down their weapons, take the tanks off the lawn and find out where it all began.”He adds that often the dispute has spun out of something quite mundane which may even have been forgotten. “It’s usually something that if they had been able to talk about it at the time would have been resolved, but it has snowballed.”

The mediation process

Mediation brings the people in dispute into a room together so they can explore what went wrong and the impact that had. Liddle says that in his experience the two parties sometimes end up giving each other a hug. “Usually they had a friendship before they came into conflict,” he says. “People do not just start working together and then fall out. They tend to forge strong relationships and then something happens that makes them question the other person’s motivation and that loss of connection drives the conflict. When they talk to each other they can see what they have been doing to each other.”

The mediation process, which is voluntary and confidential usually takes a day. Each party talks to the mediator separately about their dispute. They then meet the mediator for a second time to talk about what they will say to each other and how they will respond to each other. “It’s about coaching for a successful outcome,” says Liddle. “The emphasis is on talking and listening; about challenging each other but not in an adversarial way. It’s about de-escalating strong emotions.”

There is then a lunch break and then the afternoon is spent with both parties round a table together.

Liddle says the Government’s positive response on mediation is part of a growing awareness of its role by employers. He cites employers such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco who he says are setting up mediation schemes and training their own staff in mediation skills.

He called on anyone interested in workplace dispute resolution to make their views heard. “There has never been a better time to influence the future of workplace dispute resolution,” he says. “Significant and even seismic changes in the way disputes are handled are on the cards in a wide range of areas.”

Comments [1]

  • Anonymous says:

    As an independent mediator I deal regularly with complex hearings that require sensitive and careful preparation. This will often involve families who have been "at war" for a long time, trusts that have been broken, imbalance of power in terms of intelligence and intellect… I welcome all efforts to bring mediation to the general public. However, I do urge all those engaged and those interested, please do not give prospective mediators a few hours’ tuition and then expect them to deal with complex issues beyond their experience or skill base. Becoming a professional mediator takes much more than that.

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