Ditch your formal processes and choose mediation

Having been involved in a number of mediations in the work place as part of a larger mediation scheme I have noticed that there appears to be patterns in behaviour that are followed even with different staff involved in the session

Initially the observations are straight forward. The body language employed by each party generally does not require a psychology degree to work out. Staff will move their chair further away from the other party, fold their arms, avoid eye contact etc. The use of an uninterrupted opening statement from each party gives a momentary reprieve from the tension as each party is respectively required only to listen. Here is another interesting area. Each party is required to listen but only they fully know what they have chosen to hear. Thus as the mediator you are intent on gauging the reaction and impact to every aspect of the statement on the other person, analysing which statement have the real impact.

Following this there is the impact time as each party tries to digest what has been said. Bear in mind that there are cases where the parties may well not have spoken for several weeks and the build up of the tension would be considerable. Then comes the explosions as each part fires out with what they really wanted to put forward in the opening statement and now feel brave enough to do so. The reaction of each party to this is always difficult to gauge, some will want to run from the room (and do!) others will respond with counter argument and this section is the most emotive part of the session where the real feelings of anger, resentment and turmoil come out. This is where you can really learn to mediate dangerously, picking your key moments to intervene with the crucial questions, challenging each party to listen to the needs  and expressed emotion of the other party.

This is closely followed by a period of calm. It is almost impossible to stay highly emotive for a prolonged period of time, particularly where that emotion is anger. It uses up a lot of energy being angry with someone and each party quickly realises that this is not a sustainable way of engaging with the other party.

The next stage I feel is also dangerous for the mediator, a period of avoidance. Very often parties will effectively (and jointly) move away from the subject of their joint tension and conflict towards an area of work that they are both familiar and comfortable with talking about. I do not feel this is necessarily an issue to move to this type of dialogue as it opens up communication between parties and shows them that they are able to converse and interact in an acceptable way despite the conflict that exists between them and this is useful in bringing parties towards an agreement. The danger in this section is that the parties perceive this as the resolution to the conflict when in fact they are far and away from resolving the issue. The key for the mediator here is to know when to redirect the conversation back to the conflict in question. This could be done with a simple yet effective question such as ‘Do we feel that the issues are now resolved’ or perhaps ‘how useful do you feel the conversation is in helping you resolve the conflict?’ thus returning the parties back to the issue in question.

In some sessions I have been involved with I have found that the return to the conflict question at this point is much more structure and manageable, because the parties have re-established rapport and trust when discussing other points that they may have been in agreement about. They are much more conducive to problem solving and moving towards a final agreement at this point.

Having been a mediator for approximately 6 years I still feel that this is the most effective way to resolve work place conflict. When people come to me now to say do you think this issue could be resolved via mediation I instinctively say yes, any issue can be resolved using this process. The question really should be about whether we ever need formal processes to resolve conflict and could all issues not be directed through this route first.

Thanks for reading, I would be really interested in your views on mediation or any of the other articles on this page.


Mediating your way out of misery

One of the skills that I am required to draw on quite regularly is a course that I undertook about 6 years ago. Using mediation or conflict resolution as an alternative to following formal procedures is a difficult sell initially but the rewards can be huge. So what is mediation in the work place and how can it be practically implemented in large organisations.

In my organisation we use co mediation, that is working with a mediating partner to resolve issues between two individuals. The discussion initially with the line manager is something along the lines of:

Manager: I have an issue between two colleagues, I have tried resolving this myself but it did not seem to work

HR: Have you considered offering mediation

Manager: Erm, no, but I haven’t got a full day to spare two staff, its not very practical

I would then go on to talk to them about the formal processes, such as bullying and harassment, the various stages of the formal process, interviewing the staff, interviewing witnesses, preparing a statement of case, presenting this to a panel. Eventually this will be brought to a conclusion that is likely to be unsatisfactory to one of the employees and may even have lead to long term sickness absence. I would talk about the hours spent carrying out all this activity, the expense of the staff involved and then ask the question, are you sure that you can’t spare them for one day?

Co mediated days consist of 3 separate meetings. In the morning we would plan two hour long sessions, one hour each dedicated to each of the parties. This gives the individual  the opportunity to explain what has happened from their perspective. They are asked to consider what they expect to get out of the mediation session and to think about what they would like to say to the other party, how they might express this to them and to some degree preparing them for the meeting that will take place in the afternoon.

In the afternoon we will set aside at least 4 hours for the joint mediation meeting. This is the opportunity for the individuals to discuss the issues that have brought them to the table in a safe and facilitated way. I use the word facilitated because the discussion should be owned, directed and concluded by the individuals themselves. The discussion is only guided by the mediators to ensure that the issues that have previously been raised are brought out into the open and discussed with a view to gaining an amicable solution. It cannot be underestimated how powerful an outcome that is owned by the individual and not the organisation can be.

Arriving at a final agreement is also owned by the individuals. I would also normally ask not only do they make the agreement but also consider how they might agree to deal with issues in the future and what steps they would take. Much of conflict resolution is also about re-establishing the communication channels and ensuring that they remain open in the future.

Setting up an internal mediation scheme can be a challenge however the benefits to this can be significant in establishing long term lasting solutions which enable staff to work together and build the business.

How Karl Marx taught me a lesson part 2

In an earlier blog I talked about how my friends history exam got me thinking what I can learn from his actions. Details of his exam response are in the first posting.

The second lesson I gained from this was the sheer simplicity and audacity of what he had done. He had basically told the examiner something factual, easy to understand and to the point. Is this not what your boss is generally looking for? Some professional organisations will ask as part of their assessment for a management report and will give a suggested word count of say 7000 words. Can you imagine your bosses face if you presented an assignment like this to him or her and how quickly you would be asked to go away and summarise to one page of A4?

There is something about keeping your responses simple and easy to understand that allows a number of freedoms in the workplace. Firstly it gives you more time, a commodity that is always in short supply. By keeping your responses to a minimum you reduce the amount of time you spend on other peoples work and increase the amount of time you can dedicate to your own activities. It may seem selfish to do this, but hold on a second, what about the person who just asked you that question? Rather than try and find out the answer themselves they have thought it better to interrupt you and steal some of you time while they discuss a case they have been working on in great detail. Of course you should be polite (after all you may want to encroach on their time tomorrow) but keeping your response to the point will give you more time.

This can also be about modifying other people behaviour. If they can see that you are managing your work well and give them the minimum responses but the answers they need they may also start working in a similar way, increased productivity is then on the distant horizon.

Then there is the way in which the message was delivered, in summary – this is how it is, followed by yes, this is how it is.

Karl Marx was a Marxist, indeed he was…

Very often in business you can find that matters get over complicated, indeed whole industries spring up around the need to generate complexity. Nobody really benefits but it takes a straight talking person to cut through that complexity and state very simply that this is how it could b done better, quicker faster, easier. The latter of these is generally the most popular. Any way to make your life easier is worth the effort, and actually it should be less effort to implement. Think about some of the processes you se in your work place. I recently simplified a system regarding developing job descriptions. The team were creating the job description, recording the request and saving the documents in 3 separate systems, sending it to a panel to check, sending it to another panel to verify and eventually sending it out to advert. Clearly this was about he breaking down of an industry, which took some time to tackle and although not all the objectives were achieved my main objective of only using one system was. Outcome being that a 50% improvement rate in meeting targets for delivery has been achieved.

So next time you are looking at a system failing or maybe just feel a bit stuck in a rut with work, perhaps if you remember my colleague and his exam paper answer it might spur you on to simplify, or at least make you smile.

Stopping the Bullies in their tracks

Stopping the bullies in their tracks

What you can do to protect yourself at work

The information in this page is aimed at helping staff to deal with work place bullying and harassment in a constructive way.

How do I know I am being bullied?

If you feel:

· The working relationship feels different from any you have previously experienced

· There is a persistent feeling that you are being targeted

· Your work or behaviour is being criticised even though you feel that your standards have not slipped

· You are targeted for physical or verbal abuse of any description which you feel upset, threatened or intimidated by.

It is important to understand that anyone can be a target of bullying. There is no detriment to you as a person by admitting that this is going on. It is the bully who has a problem and not you. The important thing is to recognise what is happening and doing something about it.


‘You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there’

Edwin Louis Cole

Why me?

This could be for a number of reasons. People are usually selected by a bully because they feel threatened by their targets’ ability. It is commonly the case that a target is an above average performer, highly efficient and often better at what they do than the bully. Bullies can be line managers, peers, your own staff and clients.

By their nature bullies can feel entitled to special treatment, seek attention, lack empathy, are envious, exploitative and consummate liars. These characteristics lead them to behave in this anti-social way.

Other reasons for being targeted may include:

· Standing up for a colleague who is being bullied

· Being highly qualified or experienced

· Perceived inability to fight back

· Vulnerability

· Low assertiveness

· Whistle blowing

· Being perceived as different in any way


‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’

Eleanor Roosevelt

What can I do?

Before taking action through official channels, it is worth considering informal options.

Bullying at work very often affects more than one person. The more people who experience that same type of behaviour the less likely the complaint can be attributed to a personality clash on your part.

Check to see if any colleagues are experiencing the same treatment as you.


‘Courage is mastery of fear, not absence of fear’

Mark Twain


· Stand firm, remain confident and keep calm.

· If you feel it is possible, confront the bully and make it clear to them that their behaviour is not acceptable and that you want it to stop. You may prefer to have a trusted colleague or friend with you when you do this.

· Assert yourself by keeping a detailed record including times, dates, witnesses etc of every single encounter. This will provide sound evidence to confront the bully with at a later stage. The need for proof is essential.

· Where possible avoid situations where you are isolated with the bully. It is more difficult for them to use this type of behaviour when others are present.

· Discuss with a trusted colleague, friend or relative. Being able to talk about the issues you face will help you to feel less isolated and more able to cope.

· Consider whether this is a problem that can be handled informally or whether it requires use of the formal bullying and harassment procedure.

· If you feel the formal procedure is your only option, you should approach your line manager to discuss. If the bully is your line manager you should either speak to their manager directly or Human Resources.


‘Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be a victim. Accept no ones definition of your life; define yourself’

Harvey Fierstein

HR jobs aren’t easy to get

There is nothing more tricky that trying to establish yourself in a new profession. Even in HR there a several routes in to get the position you want but it is not easy. The difficulty in getting HR experience can be the foot in the door approach. Sometimes you may find you have to set your sights lower in the first stages just to get that confidence you need to instill in someone else to get the step up you require.

Like many HR people I started my career in recruitment which is a good a place to start as any and probably much easier to get an entry level job than some of the other specialties. It is also important not to neglect your education as you pursue your career. The CIPD or your equivalent HR professional organisation can be an excellent source of support and advice in planning how you might take the next steps educationally. Most entry level roles do not require CIPD registration however you will find that as you move up the career ladder this becomes more often than not an essential criteria.

If you are already in an entry level job and have been struggling to get the experience for generalist HR jobs or organisational development (whichever is your poison!) then see if you can speak to a colleague who works in that department. All industries are different but in general the person who shows they are interested in learning and development and continues to sell themselves to the organisation may well find opportunities coming their way. Take the opportunity to shadow colleagues or gain some work experience if it becomes available. On some occasions you may not feel that the job vacancy is exactly what you are looking for but it may be that you need to see this as a stop gap, it may well be the stepping stone you need for that dream job. Career paths should be fluid and progressive, so if it gives you access to the opportunity you need then go for it.

Competition can be fierce for the best jobs, but be resilient, continue to learn and the opportunity will present itself. Good luck with your careers!!