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How to make mediation accessible to people who are suspicious

Mediation is not an easy option; it is far easier for humans to tolerate the status quo or seek someone else to fix things for them.  Mediation must be the workplace equivalent of root canal work at the dentist.

So in our 2o years’ experience, we’ve found the most effective way to make mediation accessible is to offer four things from the start.  Build these into your mediation case management and you should see more cases going to the round table.

1. Clarity about what is going to happen

It’s essential to avoid confusing mediation with ‘meditation’, counselling, or arms’ reach management telling-off.   Use language that’s appropriate for them, and give them time to understand and commit to taking part.

2. Listen to their anxieties without judging or rescuing

Spend time with suspicious parties and talk them through the process. Explore their concerns and show understanding. Once they have got their views and suspicions out in the open they are able to make an informed choice not one based on anxiety or distrust.

3.  Focus on the longer term benefit for them

Help them see how their specific situation may be improved by taking part. Compare mediation against other options and explore the worst case scenario. Coach and guide them through anticipated ‘what if’s…’.

4. Back up your statements with visible signs

Ensure meeting venues are private and do not feel as though they reinforce existing power dynamics, and offer co-working teams that match the disputants to reduce the fear of bias (make sure you don’t have a lead/support mediation pair!).

Make it a matter of routine to check in early about any particular needs people may have and do what you can to tailor the sessions around these needs.

If you are human, empathetic and patient, you’ll find people more willing to engage with mediation – remember it’s about THEM not about the ‘process’!