Workplace mediation - bring someone in or do it yourself

HR is often the first port of call when a line manager has a ‘people problem’ they need resolving.  You’re probably familiar with the following scenario – Bob gives you a call to say two of his team, Jane and Jackie haven’t been getting on for a while and last week it blew up when they had a shouting match in the office.  Bob tried to resolve it by telling them to ‘sort it out or there’ll be consequences’ but there’s been no improvement and it’s starting to affect team performance.  So Bob’s out of ideas and needs you, his trusty HR Manager, to find a solution.

What’s your next step (apart from booking Bob onto the next People Management Skills course)?  My guess is you’ll have a quick chat with Jane and Jackie individually to find out what’s going on.  You hear they used to be friends but a couple of months back there was a disagreement and since then their relationship has gone downhill.  Jackie asks you about taking out a grievance against Jane for her behaviour during the shouting match.

Hopefully before firing off a copy of the grievance procedure to Jackie you’ll stop to think about the options open to you.  Is a formal process the best option here?  From what you can tell, this sounds like a relationship issue where it is not black and white as to who is at fault.  Jane and Jackie are valued employees and Bob wants to keep them both in the team but something needs to be done before the situation escalates and causes major team disruption.  This is the kind of case where you should be thinking about mediation to resolve things informally.

The next bit might surprise you.  You are probably thinking Marc, being a professional mediator, is now going to say this is an ideal case to get on the phone to him and bring him in to mediate between Jane and Jackie.  Actually I’m not going to say that.  Of course I’d be happy to help you if that’s what you wanted but really with this kind of situation I strongly believe that HR should be able to address this themselves.  It is mainly around a single issue and is a low level conflict ie. they are still talking to each other albeit with difficulty, others have not yet been drawn in etc.  With some careful handling it should be possible to nip it in the bud.  So do you really need to bring someone like me in?  Even with my incredibly cost effective mediation rates, you should be thinking about saving your company’s money for the trickier cases.

But would you know where to start?  This is where the problem lies.  Whilst many HR professionals are aware of mediation, few have been trained to practice it.  What is more, the training is out there is either a quick overview of the skills or full mediation training.  The latter is vast overkill for the typical HR Manager who needs the basics so they can handle the odd issue without mediating day in day out.  They do however need to know the fundamentals of the mediation approach or they could risk making the situation much worse.  I think of it as a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) approach.  Like replacing a plug for instance – if you’ve got some basic skills and knowledge and a process to follow from your DIY book (or YouTube video!) you’ll be perfectly safe.  Try it without these and you could put the wrong wires in the terminals with unfortunate consequences.1.7.3 iStock_000014421327_Large (2)

What you need is a Toolkit – a step by step process to follow and some key skills and knowledge.  I feel strongly this should be a standard part of the resources available to the HR Manager and in the next few months I can offer you exactly this.  For now though, let’s answer the question in my title.  Should you do it yourself?  Yes – provided that:

  • The situation is not complex
  • The conflict is still relatively low level
  • Those involved are willing to try an informal approach
  • You can take an impartial approach
  • And critically – you have the skills, knowledge and process to address it confidently and competently

If not, then by all means give me a call!