Disputes are a fact of organisational life and should be dealt with swiftly and constructively. They rarely are.
They do not disappear through some peculiar process of osmosis, as some might wish, because this process does not exist.
Typically disputes have a particular shape or architecture - a series of spikes that grow and are amplified as the dispute spins out of control and various procedures take over.
With a good working knowledge of employment law and extensive commercial experience, I have successfully mediated in the following areas:
- Commercial with a significant disagreement between a client and a supplier of IT services which was already the subject of litigation
- Company founders where company founders discover over time that their commercial and life objectives are markedly different or where the relationship has simply broken down
- Partnerships with the most recent example leading to a change of leadership and governance within the partnership
- Workplace typically focussing on the breakdown of working relationships. See my comments below
- Employment across a range of topics which include long term sickness and return to work, sexual assault, performance management and pending or failed grievances. See my comments below
- Shareholder including resolving concerns about business performance and strategy
- Boardroom where I have helped a number of leadership teams to have challenging but fruitful discussions about significant issues relating to performance, structure and strategy
I deliver workplace mediation services to the clients of a leading law firm, including:
- A mediation for a professional services firm regarding a long standing dispute between a partner and a member of staff
- A mediation for an iconic tech brand concerning a long term absence from work
- Delivering a training programme on mediation for the HR team of a major client
On occasion, I am not mediating, but facilitating a difficult discussion. The name attached to the activity is not that important, but the outcome is, typically mutual agreement on a potentially challenging subject.
When I am approached about a mediation, those involved are running out of any combination of patience, options, choices and energy. On occasion they are angry and frustrated. It is my responsibility to respond quickly to these approaches and to listen carefully to the anger and frustration.
A good mediator needs patience, insight, high levels of empathy, stamina by the bucketload and humility.
I’ve never been afraid to have difficult and challenging conversations and negotiations. I’m a bit of a change junkie and enjoy the challenge of developing and maintaining relationships in the most difficult of circumstances.
Good communication and listening skills are key to coaching negotiations; I like to combine a relaxed, good-humoured style with a well-disguised sense of urgency and drive, and am unafraid to try new, imaginative approaches to mediation if the situation calls for it.
Typically I will sit with those involved separately and confidentially to understand the dispute, its history and how it might be resolved. I will ask those involved to prepare for a joint meeting, where there may e.g. be legal advisers present, and bring a written statement along the following lines:
- An assessment of why we are where we are
- What I am prepared to do differently to resolve the dispute
- What I expect as a result of the dispute being resolved
- What I expect others to do differently to resolve the dispute
- What success looks and feels like
In the joint meeting, which can take place in the same room or separately, those involved will listen carefully to the statement, discuss and then agree a resolution and capture this in written form. This can be on one side of A4 or it can be in a legal agreement. It may also include agreement or protocol on how to deal with future disputes, if the relationship is to continue.
There will be occasions during the mediation when progress is felt and other occasions when it feels as though everything is in reverse - this is the dynamic of a mediation.
My role in A Mediation
I help those in a dispute resolve their differences by:
- Facilitating all discussions, whether separate or joint
- Keeping up a sense of momentum, even when it feels as though there is none
- Exploring assumptions and asking awkward questions, where appropriate
- Coaching negotiations
- Managing and concluding the process
- Ensuring all documentation is in place
workplace and employment disputes
Most employment disputes have a number of distinguishing features:
- An unwillingness or inability to deal with difficult situations in a timely and transparent manner
- Informal discussions quickly lead to formal discussions with little space for resolution
- Use of internal appeals or grievance procedures which rarely if ever result in a conclusion which is satisfactory to all involved and are increasingly legalistic
- A suspicion by employers that employees are being briefed by legal advisors, with the employees confused about how best to proceed
- An escalation of the discussions to HR and in-house lawyers with local management no longer leading discussions
- Typically happening at times of significant change e.g. economic downturn or during the company’s annual cycle e.g. bonus, pay and promotion announcements
- The process of managing litigation takes over immediately before or after a claim is made to the Tribunal or litigation is threatened, by which time attitudes have hardened and external advisors are involved