Why Workplace Mediation Works

Posted in : Workplace Mediation on 21 December 2017
Dorcas Crawford
Edwards & Co
Issues covered:

In the first of a series of four videos on workplace mediation, Scott Alexander, Head of Learning & Development at Legal-Island, interviews mediator Dorcas Crawford about mediation and how it works. Other videos in this series focus on:

In this interview, Dorcas:

  1. Defines what is meant by successful mediation
  2. Defines the mediation process


Defining successful mediations

Scott: Welcome everybody to a series of short videos on the component parts of mediation and why it works. I'm here with Dorcas Crawford from Edwards & Co. She also has a business in mediation called The Better Way. So Dorcas, you've said that mediation is the most successful way to resolve workplace disputes. Define successful.

Dorcas: Well, successful can mean a number of things, but in the context that I've used it and I find where it's most successful is in terms of the parties coming to a resolution that maybe not everybody likes but they can certainly live with. And it's certainly a much better way than the way things have been going in the past and what has led to the conflict in the first place.

Scott: Okay, and it generally works. So what statistics do you have to back that up?

Dorcas: Well, the statistics still bear out what's been said over the last 20 years in mediation in any audits that are carried out. They still seem to indicate that around 85 to 90% of cases, workplace conflict scenarios that are mediated, end up with a successful outcome.

Defining mediation

Scott: Okay, now I was a conciliator for many years with the Labour Relations Agency. And it was one way to resolve disputes if you like. But it had a separate definition. How would you define mediation?

Dorcas: Mediation has a classic definition that's been around for many years and I think still holds true with the essential component parts. And that is that it's a flexible, confidential process, where a third party, a neutral mediator, and it's the neutrality that's important, helps the parties to find a solution. And there are a number of issues there that are what makes it successful.

Scott: Okay. And the parties own the solution. And I think that's one of maybe the differences with conciliation. Conciliation was an attempt to get rid of a claim and the parties took the money and went, but there's much more emphasis in mediation on putting people together with agreements that they've come up with themselves. 

Dorcas: That's right and there's plenty of research that shows that when people find their own answer or their own solution that they're much more inclined to stick to it. So because mediation is very future focused and solution focused, it means that people are trying to find a way with the assistance of a skilled mediator, and that is important, to work differently in the future if they are going to both remain the parties, two or more, are going to remain in the job that they're in and they want to work things out. 

Whereas, in arbitration and particularly and obviously in litigation and a tribunal, a solution or an answer or a decision is imposed on them by the judge or the arbitrator or the chair of the tribunal. And that means that people have not bought into it but when they work together, the process itself helps them to look at the future and work together. But the fact that they have come up with their own version of how things could be done better means that they're more inclined to stick to it and again, that's part of why I say I believe it's the most successful means of resolving conflict in the workplace. 

Scott: Moving forward with resolution as opposed to breaking them apart?

Dorcas: Yes, exactly. And also the other aspect of a decision imposed by somebody else in a scenario like arbitration or tribunal situation is that those are very focused. By nature they are trying to find what went wrong and who was at fault. And because of that, they therefore have to look at the past and they have to pick over what went wrong and they have to try and allocate fault. So that it can be determined should somebody be compensated as a result of that fault. The whole system is based on finding fault.

Mediation is much more about looking to the future and it may be necessary of course to acknowledge if something's gone wrong and to acknowledge if somebody was at fault, but the whole focus is on looking at what could happen from here on in. How could this be changed? How could we do it the better way, to use my phrase.

Scott: There's also mindset in the way that the parties come at it, because you talked about fault. If there's fault, I want to win, you want to win. We're trying to beat each other, but in mediation it's about trying to move forward, so it's about putting the past in the past. . . How can we make sure it doesn't happen again?

Dorcas: That's exactly right, and sometimes I find in mediations you do have to allow people to talk about the past because they won't be ready to move on until they have had the opportunity to do that. But you get to a point where they have to be willing to draw a line and then look at how things could be better in the future. That's right.

Scott: Thanks, Dorcas. You mentioned neutrality. In our next video, we're going to be looking at why the mediator has to be neutral and how that manifests itself.

This article is correct at 21/12/2017

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Dorcas Crawford
Edwards & Co

The main content of this article was provided by Dorcas Crawford. Contact telephone number is 028 9032 1863 or email dorcas.crawford@edwardsandcompany.co.uk

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