In many organisations, mediation can play a limited part as an activity to resolve a specific conflict. But mediation has more to offer than this: it is a set of tools designed to help people let go of their anger and pain and arrive at win-win outcomes; it is a collection of values and beliefs which determine how we go about responding to conflict.
Some organisations have recognized this and use mediation in its wider sense.
Mediation as a preventative tool
The ER Team at Hampshire Fire and Rescue developed with CMP a programme of bespoke learning for their managers at all levels that focussed on mediation tools/skills, and the underpinning mindset. Their goal was that managers would stop escalating disputes up the management line, or out to ER, and the learning is now part of their core leadership training. Fewer disputes escalate, managers feel more confident about managing awkward situations and team strife, and staff feel more listened to and valued.
Mediation as a support for HR
Cambridge University has a mediation service, but was aware that their HR team still regularly got involved in trying to sort out conflict. So CMP ran courses for the HR team, focussing on conflict management and mediation skills. The HR officers did not need to learn how to mediate – they had trained mediators for that. But they did want to improve how they worked with upset, complaining employees so that they could use their conflict experience to learn about themselves. So HR now understand when to refer to mediation, how to adopt a mediation mind-set to conflict, and how to use mediation-type skills to respond to distressed employees and to move them towards win-win outcomes, before they even get to the ‘mediation table’.
Mediation as part of turning around a conflict culture
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was aware that it took a long time to manage its grievances, complaints and disputes; many situations escalated quickly and then needed to be addressed by formal process. They set up a team of Dispute Resolution Specialists to play the leading role in reducing the cost of conflict at the FCO and improving the effectiveness of their dispute resolution and conflict management processes. CMP designed and delivered a unique 8-day course which trained the same people to act as Harassment Advisors, Mediators, and Investigators. By understanding the continuum of dispute resolution options, and by having an integrated process, fewer disputes go to formal investigation as they are resolved by mediation first. The Dispute resolution specialists also work to advise and support managers in turning the conflict culture around, so that managers feel more supported, staff know the process and access the right solution at the right point, and fewer cases ‘go formal’.
NHS Grampian had an internal mediation service to manage conflicts that could not be handled locally, but they were convinced by CMP’s “Close, Manage, Prevent” model and wanted to prevent negative conflict. So we developed a course ‘train the trainers’ programme for their inhouse trainers. The learning was to enhance mediation skills such as enhanced listening, win/win problem-solving, self-awareness around conflict issues, and moving from argument to dialogue. The Trust rolled out a communication programme to promote the values and processes for constructive conflict management – not for mediation. Serious escalated conflicts are down, staff confidence is growing and slowly but surely a more joined-up cost-effective approach to conflict is emerging.
So don’t just think ‘mediators’ or ‘mediation service’ when you want to get the best from mediation. To get the most of mediation, think of it as:
- A set of skills
- An approach to people and their conflicts
- A process for arriving at win-win outcomes