Workplace conflict - is ‘DIY Mediation’ possible?



In my last blog I asked ‘workplace mediation – bring someone in or do it yourself?’.  What should HR do when faced with this question?  You might have thought that as a professional mediator my automatic response would be to suggest you pick up the phone or drop me a line.  In fact, that’s not the case.  By all means call me if the situation is complex, you need someone with a lot of experience or you need true independence, but for many issues faced by the typical HR Manager this shouldn’t be necessary.  What you do need though are the skills, knowledge and process to be able to address the situation with confidence and competence.

Let me give you an example.  Recently on a course I met an impressive lady who was a HR Manager in a medium sized organisation, let’s call her Helen.  She had been asked to help resolve a relationship issue between two employees that their manager had tried and failed to address successfully.  Being an insightful and knowledgeable HR professional, Helen recognised that this was not the kind of issue that could be satisfactorily addressed using formal procedures.  There was no clear right / wrong, no obvious breach of policy.  It was simply that the two had fallen out, were not communicating and work was suffering.  Helen was aware of mediation but had not experienced it.  She knew she wouldn’t get sign off to bring someone in so she decided to attempt to mediate herself.  She did her homework, read up on the process to follow and went ahead.  I asked her how it went.  Helen thought it had gone OK and they did get to an agreement but fairly soon after the mediation it broke down and they were back to square one.

So where did Helen go wrong?  She’d made the same mistake that I see most people make when they come along to my training courses.  They don’t  explore what is going on underneath what they see on the surface.  Consequently they are too quick to jump into seeking solutions and coming up with an agreement.  The powerful underlying needs and concerns of the participants have not been aired so the real issues have not been identified and addressed.  It’s like putting a sticking plaster over a flesh wound without recognising that there is an infection underneath.  The plaster may cover the problem for a while but before long the infection will resurface and be more painful than ever.

DIY mediation pic1What should Helen have done?  To be fair, given the resources available to her she had done well.  She’d found what a mediation process looks like and followed that.  The trouble is that reading about the process is not sufficient to know how to implement it effectively.  You need to know how to remain impartial, how to question effectively, how to manage the process flexibly, how to facilitate without providing solutions, how to overcome impasses, how to keep focus on the future rather than the past and so on.  There are a host of skills and knowledge that you need to make you effective – but you can learn the basics to be able to ‘do it yourself’.  You are not going to be mediating day in day out so you don’t need the advanced skills that professional mediators have.  Think of DIY at home – you need to know enough to change a plug without electrocuting yourself but you don’t have to know how to rewire your house.  

I believe strongly that HR professionals have the capability to manage the kind of low level conflict that Helen faced.  What they are missing is training in an approach to mediation which is geared specifically towards their needs.  This is what I call ‘DIY Mediation’ – a structured practical approach combining four key skills and a simple step by step process, the AGREE model.  It gives you another option in your tool box.  Of course you won’t be using it all the time.  Sometimes only formal procedures will be the right choice or calling in a professional mediator is what is really needed.  But having DIY Mediation as an option means those tricky low level employee conflicts that need nipping in the bud can be addressed by you with confidence and competence.

In June 2016 we’ll be launching two new ways to learn DIY Mediation.  There is an online learning series – 20 bite sized videos giving you the essentials plus a range of additional online support tools.  If you prefer to learn from a book, ‘DIY Mediation. The conflict resolution toolkit for HR’ will be published at the end of June.  There will be more information on our website in June – in the meantime, if you’d like more information, drop me a line at enquiry@mediation4.co.uk.