How bad does it have to be to make it worth calling a mediator? When to mediate

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2022/07/how-bad-does-it-have-to-be-to-make-it-worth-calling-a-mediator-when-to-mediate/

Many of us often face challenging and difficult situations.  We usually manage those as well as we can.  Most workplace tensions are not managed with the assistance of an external third party. So, how bad does a situation have to be to justify bringing in an external facilitator or mediator to help?  When is the situation officially a ‘conflict’?  

Workplace conflict is everywhere

ACAS estimate that workplace conflict costs British businesses just under £30bn a year.  That breaks down to roughly £1000 cost per employee.  These figures include the tangible costs, such as legal fees and the cost of management time spent. They also include other costs that may not be immediately apparent, such as lost productivity and retention/recruitment costs – 800,000 people of the 10 million involved in a workplace conflict will leave the organisation within years (resignations/dismissals).

The overt and the covert

‘Conflicts’ include issues that have escalated to a very visible dispute.  But they also include situations where latent conflict issues may not yet have overtly surfaced, but are present, bubbling away under the surface. The manager may be aware that there are issues that need to be addressed between two members of their team, but they are, perhaps, hoping that the issues will sort themselves out without them needing to be involved.

They usually don’t go away on their own.

When is it time to try mediation?

Here are some points to help consider when to mediate:

1. When the disagreement is starting to get in the way of your team working well and you need to rebuild the relationship

Conflict can be constructive – a well-functioning team needs to be able to air different perspectives and views to avoid group think. But we need teams that are ‘conflict competent’ to manage those discussions constructively. Mediation is particularly valuable to restore relationships – so when an ongoing relationship between yourself and the others is crucial, it can really help.

2. You’ve already had a go at resolving things informally, directly

You’ve raised that there is an issue and tried to get it resolved

But things are still difficult and it’s getting in the way of getting the job done.  This would be a good time to step it up – it’s time to get a bit more help.

3. Before the tensions escalate – and the costs

It is generally considered better to start mediation as soon as possible during the disagreement.  ACAS advice that the earlier the disagreement is dealt with, the less chance there is of things getting worse.

Prompt mediation will help reduce the amount of time and money spent on the dispute and open a dialogue with the other party before they become too fixed in their position.

It’s worth noting that some lawyers consider that bringing in mediation later in the conflict, once parties have had a chance to receive legal advice is preferable. Thisis so that they go into the discussions better informed.

4. The people involved want to resolve the issues quickly and discreetly

If the people involved want to resolve the situation but need some facilitation to do that, the situation is ripe for mediation. There are lots of benefits to this approach over other dispute resolution approaches – including speed, privacy and control. 

What is mediation anyway?

Mediation is a quick way to resolve disagreement at work and is:

  • Less formal
  • Flexible
  • Voluntary
  • Confidential 

Conclusion

If workplace tensions are getting in the way of your team delivering what they need to do – and there have already been efforts to resolve the issues that haven’t worked – then it may be time to consider mediation.  If this describes your situation, click here to arrange an informal, no-obligation call with Pip to consider whether mediation could help.

Mediation: When to Shuttle

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2022/05/mediation-when-to-shuttle/

If you’re keen to mediate but aren’t sure about having a face to face meeting, then you may be wondering what your options are.  You may have already heard of shuttle mediation.  Here is the low-down on the option of shuttle mediation.

What is shuttle?

Shuttle mediation is when your mediator meets each of the parties separately to discuss their issues and needs with them. The mediator will discuss what each side would like to raise and what requests they would like to make of the other side/s.  The big difference between shuttle and other mediation is that there isn’t a joint meeting for all the parties together.

Is that less effective?

Maybe a joint meeting isn’t going to be helpful

Not necessarily.  It depends.  It’s true that for many mediators there is a magic in that joint meeting.  It gives each of the parties involved in the dispute a chance to hear directly from each other about what the issues are that matter, what impact the conflict has had on them, and what they want to be different in the future.  You do still cover those points in a shuttle.  But it can be incredibly powerful to hear that directly from the other party themselves. There can often be a very tangible shift in the room once the parties have heard from each other.  It can be transformational in the parties’ understanding of the dispute.

But it doesn’t always work like that.  And there may be numerous reasons why it could be unhelpful to have the parties in the room together.  Maybe the power imbalance is very pronounced.  It may be too intense for one or all parties.  Maybe there is a concern whether the physical or psychological safety of the parties can be managed by the mediator.

It’s worth remembering that a joint session isn’t the only way to progress your mediation to an agreement.

Here are my top three reasons why you could consider a shuttle mediation approach:

  • Less pressure

You can progress your mediation in a way that is less confrontational, less challenging.  This could mean the difference between completing your mediation and not.  S

Shuttle mediation gives parties a chance to manage the pace themselves
  • More space to think and catch your breath

Shuttle is conducted in stages and the mediator alternates between private meetings with each of the parties.  While the mediator is not with the party, they have a chance for reflection and/or rest – mediation can be a draining experience.

  • Still scope to get an agreement

The mediator will still provide the parties with the space and support to resolve the issues that are in dispute.  

When wouldn’t you shuttle?

If you have a workplace conflict with parties who work together, want to resolve their dispute with a shuttle mediation and are unwilling to conduct a joint meeting together… then I would have some reservations.  If the objective for the mediation is to resolve the working relationship, then they are almost certainly going to need to be comfortable being in the same room with each other. But there may be other support that could help the parties work through their issues.

Workplace Mediation: What’s in it for me?

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2022/04/workplace-mediation-whats-in-it-for-me/

5 Reasons to Mediate

If you are facing a conflict situation at work, it may be that you have already considered mediation as one of the options available to you to resolve the conflict. But what are the factors to consider as you weigh up your options?

To help inform your decision, this blog outlines the top five benefits of the process.

It works.

Mediation is staggeringly effective.  CEDR estimate 93% of civil and commercial mediation cases achieve an agreement – 72% on the day of the mediation and a further 21% settle shortly afterwards.  That statistic is similar in the workplace. The TCM Group resolve 93% of their workplace mediations.  Other sectors differ somewhat but are still high – community mediation resolve over 80% of cases, in family mediation over 70% of cases resolve.

If you want to resolve the issue, why wouldn’t you try mediation? 

It is private.

A key attribute of mediation is that it is confidential, with rare exceptions (safeguarding, threats of harm).  This means that we can explore options without prejudice, i.e. without the concern that you are making concessions simply by discussing those options. If an agreement is reached, that agreement or action plan remains confidential between the parties unless they all agree that it may be shared, e.g. with an HR representative.  But if they don’t all agree, then the agreement is not shared and remains confidential.

That stands in stark contrast with other non-confidential dispute processes that can leave employees feeling exposed and under attack.  It’s hard to see how process that leave staff feeling defensive is setting anyone up well to resolve issues. See David Liddle’s Transformational Culture for more on this.

You are in control of the solution.

The parties decide what actions are needed to resolve the dispute. The mediator will support the parties to identify what is needed for them each to move on.  This means the parties are in control of the agreement.  Their actions are the actions they choose and agree; the actions that are relevant and important to them. That may include actions that could not be considered as part of the ‘settlement’ in other processes.

The parties are also not subject to the judgement of others. The whole process is focused on what needs to happen/change in order for the relations to be restored, e.g team relationships. It is not about determining who is right and wrong. This means that mediation works best when parties want to repair the working relationship: they want to resolve the situation. Putting aside the need to be right – and replacing that with a need to be understand and to understand.

It is quick – and relatively inexpensive

Mediation can be fast to arrange, which means that conflicts can be nipped in the bud before they escalate, causing stress and costing businesses more in lost productivity and staff time.  Once parties’ availability is confirmed and your mediator is appointed, the process can move very quickly. The whole mediation may be conducted over one day, whether that it online or in-person – with initial private meetings taking place in the morning and a joint meeting in the afternoon.  

You have the freedom to set out the actions you want to include.

Mediation is a responsive approach. The impact of conflict can be expressed, heard and understood by each side. This critical part of the process encourages empathy between the parties.  They have an opportunity to hear directly what the impact has been on each other.  This can often tangibly release the tension and – having been heard – frees the parties up to start talking about the future.

Would you like to talk more about how mediation and conflict resolution can help you?

How do you introduce yourself? Career changers and evolving professional identities

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/07/how-do-you-introduce-yourself-career-changers-and-evolving-professional-identities/
When do you change your ‘introduction label?

What do you do?

The first time I introduced myself as a mediator wasn’t at in a business setting, or a networking event.  It was to my new dentist.  He asked me what I do for work.  I paused, before replying “I’m a mediator and conflict coach”.  This was the first time that I had said described myself by the field I was moving into. It felt significant.

I’ve worked in conflict for a long time.  But after years working overseas, I trained as a mediator a couple of years ago.  Since then, I’ve been working on building a mediation business. My focus is on workplace and community disputes – and, more generally, disputes where emotions are running particularly high.

When to change your introduction label?

As a career changer/pivoter, I found it hard to identify the point when it’s ok to label myself by my new role, without being disingenuous.  It’s the same when you’re starting out in your career.  I’ve heard of career coaches advising that you should use your ‘new label’ when asked what you do, rather than continuing in a box that you’re moving on from.

There’s a whole discussion over whether these labels are really helpful or not – and what using your work as your primary identifier means for you.  But I’ll leave a discussion of labelling theory to the psychologists.

According to Second Breaks, it’s important to reflect your new professional identity:

When you fully accept the shift in your professional identity, you project a level of self-assuredness that people around you pick up on and respond to.

For me, this came after I’d been a qualified mediator for more than 18 months, with several mediations and conflict coaching calls under my belt.  I’m not entirely sure why it felt right to tell my dentist that I’m a mediator. But it felt good and I’ve continued to introduce myself as a mediator since.

What’s your experience of evolving your pitch and how you introduce yourself?

10 Insights into Mediation Mentoring

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/06/10-insights-into-mediation-mentoring/

“If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before”

J. Loren Norris

A common challenge faced by many newly qualified mediators is how to make the transition from training to working as a mediator. Discussions in mediation circles often focus on mentoring as one way to address this. Acknowledging that newly qualified mediators would benefit from mentors, and recognising their feedback, the CMC have recently launched a mentoring pilot. But what’s it really like to take part in mentoring? 

Roger Levitt is a Fellow of the CMC, solicitor for 37 years and has over 12 years’ experience of conducting property and commercial mediations. Philippa Brown (Pip), is a junior mediator who worked together with Roger as mentor/mentee. We’d like to share our top 10 insights about the arrangement and its benefits.

A mentor can help you navigate your early days as a mediator

Pip

1. Transition

Roger helped navigate the blue water between completing mediator training and starting to work as a mediator. Having made the most of CEDR’s webinars (including an excellent session from Andy Rogers on marketing yourself as a mediator), I made some initial steps but was stuck and unsure what to do next. Roger helped me with an action plan and gave me the advice and encouragement I needed to get going.

2. Applying my experience and skills

Having an external perspective was helpful to draw out and apply my relevant experience and skills to mediation; it can be easy to miss those when they are your own. Working across cultures is a core element of my international work, but I overlooked the practical point that I am accustomed to working with interpreters, which can also be useful in mediation. 

3. Mediation sector knowledge

A mentor can help you grow your skills and experience

Talking to Roger gave me a better understanding of the mediation sector and markets for mediators, which is not intuitive. Getting the ‘view from inside’ the sector was invaluable and allowed me to understand better where the opportunities lie for me to seek clients.

4. Coaching approach

There are similarities between the mentoring approach and that of coaching. It’s not a case of being told ‘the answers’ to the challenges of starting out as a mediator. And it’s crucial to have the space to develop one’s own personal style and approach. Also, being able to observe different mediators has been difficult during the pandemic but is valuable as a complement to mentoring.

5. Where to start

Roger’s practical support and advice helped me get my action plan off the ground. I developed a training plan as a requirement for my CEDR training, but working out how to put it into practice was the challenge. Roger and I worked on our own action plan, which I have followed up over the last 12 months. I am pleased with the results I’ve achieved so far, in a relatively short space of time – entirely during the COVID restrictions. And, as in other coaching style arrangements, the sense of accountability to work through the actions made a difference.

Roger

1. Identifying the need

When I qualified as a civil and commercial mediator over 12 years ago, there was no programme for mentoring. Once I had been qualified for 10 years, I decided the time was right to provide a one-to-one mentoring service to satisfy the need that I saw.

It’s important to be practical in your early career

2. Passing on what I’d learnt

I wanted to pass on the knowledge I’d gained, in many cases through tough experience, in a practical way that the mentees could appreciate and work with. 


3. Mentoring Style

My mentoring style is collaborative and consensual rather than didactic. So I hope that this enables the information to be passed on more easily. 

4. Establishing Rapport

I chose to work on a one-to-one basis rather than in a group as I felt this would help me to establish rapport quicker. I’m pleased to say that I have maintained long term relationships with nearly all of the mentees I’ve worked with. 

5. Being Practical

I devised an action plan which I felt covered the key areas that needed to be worked on in the early years of the mediator’s career. It contained steps that I’d taken, but over a longer period than I would now advocate if full time and attention can be given (for the first 9 years of my mediation career I continued with my commercial property work as a solicitor, alongside developing my mediation practice).

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself”.

Oprah Winfrey

The Authors

Roger is a CMC Fellow, and member of the CMC Board. Roger has also been the Lead working with the CMC to develop their approach to mentoring. He is available at . www.rogerlevittmediation.co.uk

Pip continues to build her mediation experience. She provides mediation, facilitation and conflict coaching services to a London housing association and works as a voluntary mediation with the Brighton and Hove Independent Mediation Service. She also consults on international conflict issues.  Pip would be happy to talk to any newbie mediators considering working with a mentor. www.ConflictInsights.co.uk

Neighbour Disputes: When Your Home is Anything but a Sanctuary

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/05/neighbour-disputes-when-your-home-is-anything-but-a-sanctuary/

Have you been experiencing issues with your neighbours?  With so much time spent at home, it’s not unusual to find that issues are becoming more challenging.  

6 Top Areas of Dispute

Noisy neighbours can be a significant source of stress

The Times recently covered Britain’s top six areas of disputes (according to a survey of six law firms:

  1. Fences and boundaries
  2. Noise/nuisance
  3. Pets
  4. Shared driveways – right of way
  5. Trespass (mostly involving boundary disputes)
  6. Trees and hedges

Options to resolve the issues without going to focused on practical ideas: “Far better to find practical solutions than legal ones.  If a neighbour is invading your privacy, buy specialist tinted glass… if the washing line is bothering you, erect a higher fence.”

But there are more ways to resolve neighbour disputes than going to court or putting up a big fence.  

Managing Disagreements

The Brighton and Hove Independent Mediation Service share these 5 excellent tips to improve difficult relations between neighbours:

  1. The more understanding the better – it may seem hard, but if you can show understanding towards them, they are much more likely to show understanding to you.
  2. Take a moment – take time to calm down and reflect before contacting the other person
  3. Explain your concerns – explain why you are finding it difficult and request a change that would help (eg “I finish work at midnight so when I get woken up because you put the TV on at 6am, it means I don’t get enough sleep. Please keep things quiet until after 8am.”)
  4. Offer to listen to the other person’s point of view – people are more willing to compromise when they feel their point of view has been heard and understood.
  5. See if it’s possible to agree a plan – or some changes – that would work for you both.

Bringing in a third party to facilitate a discussion can also be helpful and give you and your neighbour a chance to put the stress behind you and move on. Get in touch to talk through the options – you don’t have to do this alone.

“I get so emotional, baby”: Working with emotion in conflict

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/04/i-get-so-emotional-baby-working-with-emotion-in-conflict/

Emotional response to conflict

An uncommon response to conflict

Lots of us have an emotional reaction to being in conflict.  The heart starts to race, breathing shallows and blood rushes to the head.  For some, the red mist descends, and they are in fight mode. This is often seen as a negative and they are told not to be ‘so emotional’.  There’s a perception that when someone is considered to be controlled by their emotions, they are not rational.

But is it such a bad thing to be emotional? What happens if we accept emotions are a natural part of conflict?  

It’s natural to experience an emotional reaction when dealing with an issue where you are in conflict with someone else.  Surely, it would get easier to talk about the difficult issues without the added stress of feeling ashamed about our reactions?

Working with your emotions

In a great talk recently for the Harvard Programme on Negotiation on leadership, Professor Rob Wilkinson discussed emotions.  He acknowledges that it’s understandable to take challenge personally, especially when you feel committed to what you’re doing. That challenge may trigger an emotional reaction.  Beating yourself up about that is unlikely to help.

His advice – it’s ok to recognise that you are experiencing emotional response; human beings have survived because we have emotions.  So, after accepting this is normal, what next?  

There are lots of techniques that can help you to regulate your emotions – simply shifting your focus to your breath is often recommended and can be very helpful. Thinking about managing your inner chimp works for many.

Conflict Coaching

If you find that your emotions are getting in the way of managing a conflict, perhaps it’s time to try something different.  Conflict coaching can help you to manage your emotions and even use them to your advantage.

3 Conflict Insights: from war-zones to mediation

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2021/01/3-conflict-insights-from-war-zones-to-mediation/

Working in Helmand or Mogadishu looks very different to working in London or Hove, where I’m now based. But conflicts often have much in common. Here are three insights from my time working in international conflict environments that are relevant to mediation, and more broadly.

Conflict and crisis can be useful.

This needs a nuance before starting – it isn’t always the case. Not for the millions of people worldwide who suffer the consequences of violent conflicts. But often, to quote Einstein, in the midst of every crisis, opportunity. 

A delay in delivery of critical farming supplies for the programme that I worked on in Helmand meant that it looked like we would miss the planting window. That could have meant a significant loss of credibility for the local government, who we worked with. Being that close to failing was useful. It opened up an opportunity to be bolder, braver and more creative as we worked in different ways and considered ideas that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We came out stronger.

I strongly believe that conflict can be an opportunity. It can lead to fresh thinking, flushing out issues and making changes that could have otherwise taken years to work through iteratively. Obviously, the challenge is having the skills to manage that conflict constructively. That’s where mediation and conflict coaching can help.

Clarity about what really matters is crucial.

Conflict can feel dramatic; the he/she/they said accounts can be very compelling. But that the drama may make it difficult to lose perspective and/or what really matters. 

The pace and pressure made it hard to prioritise when I worked in Helmand. It often felt as though everything was important, because so much really was. To focus on the core mission, my military colleagues defined their ‘main effort’. That means that, of all the actions that are taking place within a command, main effort is applied to the single one that is recognised as the most critical to success at that moment. It’s logical, if really challenging to step back and consider what is the most important objective. It’s worth it because the clarity this gives is invaluable.

Skilled mediators have an ability to flush out what really matters to the parties. It may not be the first issue presented. But it needs to be at least acknowledged and, most likely, addressed for an agreement to be reached. An external actor to a conflict has a different perspective and can help to identify what really matters to each party.

Understanding whose conflict this is – and my role.

There may be (many) more people involved in a conflict that those at its core, who ultimately have the power to reach an agreement.

I worked in Somalia on the agreements for the shape of the security sector and extent of donor support. One significant risk was that the interests of the donors and imminent timing of a big international conference would drive the agreement. But sustainability depended more on the agreements between myriad Somalia stakeholder, plus the popular support from affected communities. They were the main protagonists in the conflict.

Thinking about whose conflict is it really is also more relevant broadly. A mediator creates the space for discussion, manages the mediation process and listens out for the issues that really matter. They don’t ‘own’ the dispute, nor are they responsible for reaching an agreement. The parties are responsible. But, as in international conflicts, it can be beneficial to have that external actor present. They can provide a framework for the discussion and help the parties reach an agreement.

If you’re affected by a conflict and would like to explore your options then I’d love to talk to you.

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10 Top Tips From a Multi-party Zoom Mediation

https://conflictinsights.co.uk/2020/10/10-top-tips-from-a-multi-party-zoom-mediation/

A recent online Zoom mediation with three parties and 12 participants gave us a chance to reconsider some best practice when dealing with multi-party, multi-participant mediations.  

Roger’s mediation didn’t have quite so many participants, but yours might. 

(Photos: Shutterstock)

These are our 10 top tips:

In preparation

1. Supporting the parties from well before the mediation date to prepare in detail for the mediation can set up a more productive session on the day. This could include a briefing note to set the scene, explain how the process works and ask the parties to consider in advance different potential scenarios for settlement, including their WATNAs (worst alternative to a negotiated agreement) and BATNAs (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)  

2. Ideally, the parties feel comfortable with the Zoom technology; but it’s still useful to avoid making assumptions about Zoom skills and instead we suggest arranging a pre-mediation Zoom meeting with each party. This gives a chance to practice using the Zoom technology and you can share some practical guidance in advance. (https://rogerlevittmediation.co.uk/online-mediation/) This session can also be used to answer any questions on the briefing note and to help prepare the approach for the mediation date

3. Pre-allocating the breakout rooms can save hassle and time on the day, including a separate breakout room for the mediator and observer. It’s also worth considering setting up a couple of spare rooms to give you flexibility, e.g. a separate discussion with lawyers from each side. If everyone knows in advance which breakout room they’ll be in, that gives them the comfort of knowing where they’ll be, which is an advantage you’re unlikely to have in advance of a face to face mediation meeting. 

4. It’s important that everyone knows in advance who will be attending so there are no surprises, and so that the break out rooms can be allocated with certainty. This means that each party should also confirm there is no-one with them, off-camera

5. Checking your own IT is crucial – sound, position of camera, background (most people choose bookshelves or pictures – not a bright window), WIFI strength, and whether your laptop has an overnight software update scheduled that needs 60 minutes to conclude on the morning of the mediation.

On the day

6. Working collaboratively is crucial and the mediator has the scope to set the tone of the mediation with this principle (also helped in the preparation above). This takes some time, but can make a huge difference throughout the day.

7. Patience is also needed – the mediator has the challenge of managing expectations both in advance and during the mediation. Checking in with all parties periodically while discussions are ongoing to provide updates is particularly important with multi-party mediation, where the time spent waiting for the mediator may feel extensive.  Even where negotiations may be progressing slowly, parties really appreciate an update on the process to let them know what is happening.

8. Resilience – online mediation, as with face-to-face, aims to conclude on the day of mediation and it’s not unusual to continue working until late to achieve a settlement agreement.  Roger’s recent mediation lasted 12 hours, which is a long time to be on Zoom. Regular breaks are advised, but not always taken.

9. Travel worries disappear. For multi-party mediations in particular, Roger has found it is hugely beneficial to meet by Zoom compared with face to face. The pain of juggling the travel /location logistics disappears in an instant. It is also often easier for people to share the same screen remotely, when they would not share a room

10. Last and definitely least – don’t conduct a mediation on your birthday! Roger was fortunate: he was able to get away in the nick of time at 8pm. Others might not be so lucky.