Many people see mediation only as a formal process that occurs outside of the workplace once a problem is deemed irresolvable from the inside. I believe, however, there is something quite interesting to say about the value of mediation and conflict resolution skills in the day-to-day, in any given workplace.
One way to use mediation as a manager is to hold “mediated conversations” with the goal of resolving a wide range of issues. What often appears to be a blooming disciplinary problem can be sorted out and resolved through a mediated conversation – where disciplinary action is explicitly put aside to see if the people involved can come to terms. Managers who can learn to see issues developing in their departments from multiple perspectives become better managers. One manager who graduated from a mediation training had used his new found mediation skills to negotiate with a new hire, resolve a payroll issue, and structure and exit strategy. He feels that the ability to think about the problem or issue from the other person’s perspective and to listen leads his employees to feel like his is collaborating with them to meet their needs and the solutions tend to stick.
A mediation approach to resolving conflicts takes more time than many managers think they should take – it’s faster to make an executive decision. But what the repeat users have learned is that the executive decision often doesn’t stick if the real issues haven’t been aired and staff’s concerns taken into account to some degree in the solution. If you find that many of the executive decisions in your organization don’t stick, try “mediating” one or two. If that works, you may want to consider mediating more, and developing the mediation skills of your front line managers. More in-house capability may lead to fewer “irresolvable” conflicts that require outside help.