Updated: Nov 10, 2021
By Dr. Robyn Short, CEO of Workplace Peace Institute
When most people think about mediation, they think “laws suits and litigation.” And while mediation is an excellent alternative to resolving disputes that have escalated to this level, it is also a very effective approach for de-escalating conflict and preventing a dispute from reaching the legal system.
In order to maintain a productive and engaging workplace, managers should seek to resolve disputes immediately when they surface. Maintaining productive peer relationships is paramount to maintaining a productive work environment. Mediation offers a formal process in which individuals involved in a workplace conflict can express their opinions and perspectives via a solutions-oriented, collaborative process in which all parties have influence on the outcome.
Resolving workplace conflict with mediation has numerous benefits.
Less expensive than litigation. Mediation is generally less expensive when contrasted to the expense of litigation or other forms of dispute resolution, especially when mediation is implemented immediately when conflict surfaces.
Mutually satisfactory outcomes. Because mediation invites all parties involved in a dispute to participate in the resolution of it, parties tend to be more resolved and more compliant with the outcome.
Personal empowerment. When individuals are given the opportunity to negotiate resolutions to their own problems in the workplace, they are empowered to take what was learned in the mediation process and apply those learnings in future conflicts. They learn the value of de-escalating conflict, which benefits the individual and the organization.
Preservation of relationships. Workplace conflict can be very disruptive to the individuals involved as well as the individuals who are indirectly affected. Coworkers are often in a position to work with someone for years, perhaps even decades. Because the process of mediation addresses all parties' interests, it can be a powerful resource for preserving working relationships in ways that would not be possible in zero-sum (win/lose) decision-making procedures.
Lasting resolutions. Resolving workplace conflict via mediation tends to bring about resolutions that can stand the test of time, and if a dispute occurs in the future, the parties are more likely to utilize a cooperative forum of problem-solving to resolve their differences rather than pursue an adversarial approach.
So, when should managers start thinking about mediation? As soon as a complaint or conflict surfaces to their attention. Implementing mediation at the earliest stage demonstrates to employees that their complaints are taken seriously and that how they experience their role in the organization matters. Early implementation minimizes the negative ripple effect that can quickly manifest within the organization while also minimizing the negative impact on those involved in the conflict. Most importantly, early implementation of mediation has the potential to not just resolve conflict but actually heal the divide that allowed the conflict to surface.
An international speaker, peace-building trainer and mediator with expertise in restorative justice and transformative mediation models, Dr. Robyn Short works with individuals, corporations, and nonprofit organizations in discovering the root causes of their conflicts, so they may transform their relationships and create new and productive paths forward individually and as teams. In addition to her mediation and conflict training practice through Workplace Peace Institute, Dr. Short is an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University in the Master of Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution program, the Master of Leadership and Negotiation at Bay Path University, and Lipscomb University's Master in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution. She has guest lectured at Pepperdine University and Creighton University. Dr. Short has authored four books on peace building.