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Mediating ‘car-crash’ situations at work – if it can be resolved, we resolve it

prevent conflict

A blog by Liz McCaw.

We had one of those ‘lightbulb moments’ last week during our regular mediator development meeting. We were discussing our perception that more of the mediation cases we have been handling recently seem to have fallen into the ‘complex and intractable’ box, and we wondered why.

Are the issues faced by people at work getting more contentious?  Are people’s fuses getting shorter?  Are people waiting longer before they call in outside help?  Quite possibly, but that only explains the urgency, not the complexity.

And then it dawned.  Maybe our mediation clients are drinking in the Last Chance Saloon, and in fact, mediation, as it is commonly understood and operated, is no longer enough.  They need someone who has years of experience in handling convoluted disputes where the stakes are high, when the organisation itself is involved – perhaps the managers, or senior leaders, are not helping matters – and emotions are volatile all around.  They need someone who does this every day of the week, not once every couple of months, and who will not be fazed by emotion, status, complexity or any other derailers of less practised professionals.


We would even go as far as to say that, if a conflict can be resolved then we’ll resolve it.  In a number of cases, this may not be by applying the standard mediation process.  We look at the whole context for the dispute and ‘flex’ the process accordingly to ensure we apply the right solution for the problem.

With those ‘car-crash’ situations, it’s important to frame the conversation that takes place between the mediator and the parties in the mediation room as something that is happening in the workplace, and not an isolated event.  And sometimes mediation isn’t even the right process!  When you have thrown everything else at a conflict, it’s tempting to ‘call in the professional mediators’ as a last-ditch attempt at resolving matters. It may not be.  If the organisation’s real interest and need is to have a complex and nasty situation resolved, then we will work to arrive at that resolution – but if a formal process, or dismissal, is going to be the best result for the longer-term good of the organisation and the individuals, we’ll give you that view.

We assess the situation, discuss options with the parties who have been identified at the point of referral – and sometimes we identify others who are essential to the process if it is to have a lasting positive impact. Sometimes the commissioner or the line manager must be involved in the mediation, because dumping a problem on the mediator (and the parties!) won’t work if there are organisational issues that need to be addressed alongside the interpersonal conflict.  So we are not afraid to make recommendations for next steps – and if this isn’t mediation but some other process, we’ll tell you.

And we advise on the ongoing support that the organisation might need to provide if the parties are going to sustain any changes.  Positioning mediation as an isolated event is not going to fix things, we believe, because mediation, in some cases, may be part of a continuum of interactions and values that is symptomatic of the wider organisation’s health. Good managers want to know what happened in a mediation in order to be able to support their staff to sustain those agreements, so a default to total confidentiality isn’t right; we agree at the end of the mediation how to disclose and what.

This isn’t a standard mediation service. It’s a gold-plated one that we deliver because we know that our clients want a resolution, and one that endures, not an agreement that collapses when the parties return to the workplace.  And our results tell the story.

So when you’re out of options, or if you’ve tried ‘mediation’ and it didn’t work – call CMP, because if a situation can be resolved, we’ll resolve it.

So when you’re out of options, or if you’ve tried mediation and it didn’t work- call CMP, because if a situation can be resolved, we’ll resolve it.

The complete guide to referring a conflict to an independent mediator

Refer conflict to independent mediator