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Chapter 10. Monkey in the Middle: Mediat... > Hold Preliminary Meetings - Pg. 101

Monkey in the Middle: Mediation and Arbitration 101 Probably the most common mistake managers make when involving themselves in a conflict is attempting to force people to act differently. Sometimes it works. Often it masks the problem even if it appears to work. It's always best to exhaust other "gentler" options first. Each of these has pluses and minuses, although to be honest most of the power-based ones are likely to backfire or cause unexpected and undesirable consequences. For example, firing and re- placing employees can be costly. Or, threatening employees tends to turn both parties into an attack mode, with you being the victim. We also need to look at who is best positioned to mediate an employee-employee conflict. Some- times it's best to involve an independent third party, rather than attempt to mediate yourself. Here are some situations where you are better off going outside: · If you don't have a good relationship with both parties, or where one or both parties cannot trust your neutrality, fairness, or ethics, you are unlikely to succeed because mediation requires neu- trality. This Won't Work! If you have some form of vested interest in the outcome (someone winning or losing), definitely don't mediate. You need to be neutral. Anything less and you must disqualify yourself from the process. · If you actually do have a bias or an opinion about who is right or wrong, and can't step back from that, then it's best to retain someone who is more objective and distanced from the conflict. · If you lack the mediation skills, then look for outside help if the problem is a serious one. There's no shame in that. Let's face it. Few of us are trained in this area. Knowing your own limitations is important here. OK, so now that you have made the assessments regarding whether mediation is appropriate, let's look at the steps involved. Hold Preliminary Meetings In mediation you don't grab each person by an ear and sit them down and lecture them. There's a preliminary get-started stage that is absolutely critical. Preliminary meetings involve meeting separately with each party to the conflict before meeting as a threesome. Dr. Conflict defines the purpose of this meeting as follows: · To allow each party a chance to give his or her side of the story without interruption by the other party, and without argument. This has two purposes. It gets information into the hands of the mediator. It also allows each party to let off some steam. · To give each person an accurate perception of the mediation process, your role and theirs, and what the process will look like. One of the important things is to provide some assurances to each party that his or her interests will be addressed in a nonjudgmental way.