Mediation can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues

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.

Bratislava_window_by_C_Munroe

A mediator can help open the window and shed light on difficult issues, empowering people to reach a resolution before a crisis.

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.

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Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace starts with the conversation. #workplaceMH

Learn about workplace mediation and how it is used to address workplace mental health issues. Space is limited. Register now!

When: Tuesday, Feb 4, 2014
Time: 7:30 am to 10:30 am (breakfast included)
Where: Kahanoff Centre (2nd floor, 105 – 12th Avenue SE), Room 201

Join Michelle Phaneuf (Reaching Enduring Agreements), Marjorie Munroe (Pulse Institute) and Morgan Craig-Broadwith (Workplace Mental Health, Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region) at a simulated mediation breakfast for Calgary employers and employees.

Mediation is a very private endeavour, only including those directly involved with the issue. Therefor, it is no surprise many employers and employees do not understand the mediation process.

Follow the conversation #workplaceMH

Due to the success and demand of last year’s event, the 2014 Mediation Breakfast we have increased the time of the event to allow for a more in depth question and answer period following the simulated mediation.

Participants will leave with an improved understanding of workplace mediation and how it can be utilized to address a workplace mental health issue.

Space is limited. Register now!

Did you know that up to 78% of Short Term Disability claims are related to mental health concerns? Working in the conflict business, I am becoming increasingly aware of the impact of mental health issues in the workplace.  So last fall, I signed up for Mental Health Works, a 2 day program put on by the Canadian Mental Health Association (Calgary region) targeted at managers and HR Professionals dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

I walked away impressed with their simple yet effective strategy for managers to enter into the accommodation or performance management conversation in a meaningful way.  It is based on 3 simple steps:  I notice; I’m concerned; Let’s focus on solutions at work.

Barndoors

It struck me immediately that it looks very similar to the structure we use in a mediated conversation, and that it is aimed at being preventative.   Mediation too, or a structured conversation with an impartial facilitator, can be preventative and will provide the safe space many need for full disclosure.

So my colleague Michelle Phaneuf and I approached Morgan Craig-Broadwith, the Manager of Workplace Wellness for the CMHA, Calgary Region, and we decided to put on a learning breakfast with a simulated mediation based on a mental health issue.  There were two purposes to the event:

  • To demonstrate a mediation with a simulated scenario.
  • To open a conversation about mental health in the workplace.

We conducted the role play live and unscripted in front of an audience of about 30 people, mostly from the HR community in Calgary.

As the role players became safer and more trustful the employee, played by Morgan, disclosed that she was dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Her manager’s reaction was shock, and fear: a genuine reaction born from surprise.  Similarly, the employee experienced the accusations and mistrust from her manager that many people in the workplace face.

While the parties did get up and over Conflict Mountain and began searching for options, we had to cut the mediation short before writing up a full agreement to allow time for questions.  I think if we do this again we need to allow at least ½ day for the entire event.

  • We got some excellent questions from the audience:
  • What should be considered when writing up an accommodations plan?
  • What do you do when one party does not seem to hear the apology of the other and they appear to be spiraling around the same issues?
  • What is important about the written agreement and how do you make sure it is specific enough and hold the parties accountable to it?
  • What do you do when participants get frustrated and are uncooperative?

As you can see by the questions, this made for a rich discussion, and each question merits a blog of its own. I have fodder for months, as you can’t do justice in a few sentences for any one of these questions.

ImageYesterday’s presentation and role play was absolutely excellent, likely one of the most beneficial ones I’ve been to in a long time. (Joellen Short, CHRP Candidate, Long View)

Thanks to everyone who participated. We would love to hear more of your feedback. If you were a participant at this event, I am very interested to know if it has influenced your perspective on using a neutral facilitator for those preventative facilitated dialogues.

A Simulated Mediation – mental health issues in the workplace