It’s something of a puzzle that businesses embracing executive coaching can be reluctant to give a similar welcome to mediation. Coaching unlocks potential and is rightly seen as unambiguously positive for individual and employer alike. No business, however, can ensure that highly talented employees – even well coached ones – will always get on with each other. When workplace relationships break down, mediation could be the best option. Yet for some employers it carries with it a strong sense of risk – a fear that when employees in dispute get together the result will be explosive, rather than constructive.
This fear is misplaced, if understandable. Conflicts between warring employees often seem easier to ignore in the face of daily deadlines and targets and the inevitable pressures they bring. To solve a dispute internally may require an unattractively large amount of energy and effort, compounded by a discomforting sense of managerial failure. It may therefore seem better to hope the “problem” will somehow go away or that warring parties will change their behaviour.
Perhaps it’s time though for employers to look at mediation in a completely different way. Mediation affords the opportunity to transform the potential in a relationship in a wholly positive way, just as coaching unlocks the potential in an individual. It’s important to remember what it is to understand why: mediation is voluntary, confidential and less entrenched than formal legal processes. Let’s also remember what mediation brings: it is a flexible process, has a clear focus on solutions and allows a neutral person to assist parties towards a negotiated outcome – over 95% of our mediations lead to an agreement. And finally, it’s crucial to understand that it is the parties – and not the mediator – who are in control of the decision to settle and its terms. And because the solutions are agreed rather than imposed, the chances are that they will stick.
Even those reluctant to acknowledge the positive impact of mediation should consider the negative consequences of doing nothing. Conflict clearly impacts the bottom line – we all know that broken workplace relationships result in decreased rates of productivity, engagement and wellbeing, followed swiftly by damaging increases in workplace absence, recruitment costs and legal fees.
Too many businesses shy away from mediation through fear of what they could lose. Perhaps they should consider instead what they could gain.