Crucial Conversations. Difficult Conversations. Dreaded Conversations. Whatever we call them, there comes a time in the workplace when emotions run high and the going gets tough, and despite all the training and all the practice, conversations break down before they get to where they need to go. In the workplace, when it comes to issues around diversity, around mental health, illness and bereavement for example, emotions, fear of doing more harm, or fear of invading privacy and fear of lack of skills in dealing with the outcome may prevent the conversation from even beginning. Unfortunately, often in these situations, a crisis will ensue before a productive action step is taken.
My colleague Michelle Phaneuf and I collaborated with Morgan Craig-Broadwith of the Canadian Mental Health Association (Calgary Chapter) to demonstrate in front of a live audience a workplace mediation around a mental health issue. In our simulated workplace environment, a Vice President has offered the opportunity to two vital workplace players to settle their differences with the help of a mediator. Performance has suffered, communication has broken down, rumours are circulating — in short the entire workplace is impacted by the behaviour of two key people.
Mount Royal University Continuing Studies videotaped the session, and we will post that when it is edited and polished.
The audience asked some good questions.
When is it appropriate to call a mediator? In the workplace, it can be particularly helpful to call a mediator when poor or no communication between two people in an interdependent working relationship has an impact on others around them and work productivity.
How often is a mediation successful? The earlier the intervention, the more likely the success. Mediation is most successful when the process is voluntary; when the participants have the skills and wherewithal to speak and advocate for themselves; and are well informed about their rights. Mediation can be mandated by an employer, and still a mediator can invite people to participate. In fact, when mandated into a room, people have an opportunity to save face with colleagues.
What role does the mediator have to hold people to account who choose not to participate? The mediator’s role is only to facilitate the process, and to ask the difficult questions, not to provide or suggest solutions. A combination of conflict coaching and mediation ensures that participants have the opportunity to explore all their options both inside and outside the mediation process.
What information from the mediation does the mediator share with their client? At a minimum, the mediator will share information about the process and the timing. The mediator will discuss information to be shared with the participants, and together they will agree on wording and who, if anyone, will receive the information.
What is the benefit of having two mediators? Two mediators have a greater opportunity to work together to hear all concerns. It is particularly helpful to hire two facilitators when dealing with a group larger than two.