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Will mediation work?

A four box tool analysing the drivers to mediate.

As a workplace mediator I spend a good deal of time discussing potential cases with HR managers and two questions frequently crop up:

  1. Do you think this case is suitable for mediation?

  2. What do you think are the chances of success?

How can I answer these questions? I can talk generically about the type of situations where mediation can be most beneficial. I can explore with them the stage of escalation the conflict has reached. We can discuss what ‘success’ might look like. Ultimately though potential suitability and possible outcome will be determined by the participants themselves and their own specific drivers. That’s all very well but it means that we have to rely on our experience and the ‘feel’ of the case when we speak to the participants in order to answer these two questions.

But what if you are not an experienced mediator? Is there a way of assessing a potential case without relying on that ‘feel’? Having given this some thought and based on my experience I’ve come up with a four box model which looks at what in my opinion are the two key drivers for people conflict resolution:

  • Why they should find a solution ie their NEED to resolve (as opposed to leaving it unresolved)

  • How they find resolution ie their WANT to mediate (as opposed to alternative resolution approaches or doing nothing)

Depending on whether their ‘NEED to resolve’ and their ‘WANT to mediate’ are low or high gives rise to four potential scenarios for the individuals involved. I show these in the four box model below. Identifying the relative NEED / WANT levels of each potential mediation participant enables us to understand better the options open to us. It also means that someone without that ‘feel’ based on experience should be able to determine the relative suitability and potential for a positive outcome.

The four box tool is explained in full, together with suggestions as to the options open to you to address participants in each quadrant, in my paper “Will mediation work? A four box tool analysing the drivers to mediate.” Contact us for a copy of the paper.


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