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How to use ‘nudge’ to encourage more parties into mediation

The nudge approach encourages focused practical consideration of small steps which have a rapid and observable impact.  Nudge gets the mind out of neutral so that the journey forward has momentum. So why ‘nudge’ mediation at work?  Successive UK governments have backed mediation in the workplace as both a sensible, humane response to workplace conflict and as a cost-efficient measure. Policy makers and HR professionals are positive about mediation and the mediation ‘profession’ has mobilised much credible evidence about the benefits of mediation to employees, employers and business.

The question remains, why is mediation not more widely used in the workplace?

These “nudges” can help to increase understanding and uptake. Most are either free or resource neutral, or will utilise existing resources in a more organised way. These nudges will cut the cost of conflict at work and unlock many of the benefits of mediation.

People are more likely to use something if it is the first, the most visible, and the most often selected choice

People are powerfully attached to the status quo and inclined to conform, particularly if they feel the eyes of their peer group upon them. Mediation has not yet built up the critical mass of usage in the UK needed to encourage people to opt for it from ‘conformity’.  And the main alternative – grievances – has centuries of famous examples, and a body of fiction and film in which the complainant is the star.  So naturally the majority of distressed, hurt, disappointed people choose to put in a grievance because this option feels more familiar and conventional.  Mediation is not the norm, and many complaints which would be resolved by mediation never even get to the mediation table.

Try these nudges to deflect people from the idea that a grievance is the natural choice.

1. Abandon the term ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution)

By positioning mediation as an Alternative Dispute Resolution process, you relegate it to a secondary place, reinforce the ‘status-quo bias’ and emphasise mediation’s lack of primacy. The term “alternative” evokes negative connotations: not for your ‘average’ person.  Mediation should be repositioned as concept and term in its own right. So talk about ‘mediation’ and not ADR.

2. Rebrand grievance procedures as resolution procedures

Re-brand your grievance procedure as a ‘grievance resolution procedure’ or ‘resolution procedure’ will emphasise resolution over grievance. A grievance procedure invites parties to grieve; a resolution procedure encourages parties to resolve. This shifts the status quo away from ‘just’ grievances, towards resolution.

3. Replace the concepts and terms ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ in resolution procedures

Mediation is generally located under the ‘informal’ section of a grievance policy. ‘Formal’ sounds serious, credible, legitimate and powerful, and by implication ‘informal’ process are perceived as casual, relaxed, and ‘soft’.  Renaming the processes available within a grievance procedure as ‘resolution options’ or ‘resolution pathways’ will identify each option by what it is, and the circumstances in which each is best used.  Rather than an informal and formal section, describe a range of options each with their own characteristics and benefits.


[1] ‘Nudge – Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness’; Thaler, Richard H and Sunstein, Carl R; Penguin 2009

One Comment

  • alison graham says:

    Found this very instructive, and shall try to remember it if I find myself in a situation!

    However, is grievance actually related to the verb to grieve?

    Alison Felix isn’t up for mediation, says I must stop. Now.

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