One of the recurring themes in workplace mediation is mediator bias and impartiality.
I am frequently asked the following questions when someone has been asked/offered to attend workplace mediation and the questions are more often than not related to the perceived neutrality of the mediator:
1. Do I have to attend?
My response is usually along the lines of ‘whether or not you have to attend workplace mediation depends on factors such as company policy, local laws, and the specific circumstances surrounding the mediation’.
Generally, if an employer has initiated mediation in order to resolve a conflict or dispute, it is advisable to participate in good faith. While attendance may not always be mandatory, refusing to attend could reflect negatively on you and may impede the resolution process. I’d recommended consulting with your supervisor or HR department to understand the specific requirements and implications related to workplace mediation in your situation.
2. Is there any point attending a workplace mediation?
I always say Yes! Attending a workplace mediation can be beneficial and can serve several purposes. There are a few reasons why attending a workplace mediation can be worthwhile:
· Conflict Resolution: Workplace mediation provides an opportunity for parties involved in a dispute or conflict to come together and resolve their differences in a neutral and facilitated environment. A skilled mediator can help facilitate open communication, active listening, and negotiation between the parties, fostering understanding and helping find common ground.
· Preserving Relationships: Mediation can help preserve relationships between employees or teams. By working through their issues in a constructive and respectful manner, parties can find mutually acceptable solutions that address their concerns while maintaining a positive working relationship. This can be particularly important when ongoing collaboration or teamwork is required.
· Confidentiality: Mediation generally provides a confidential setting, allowing participants to freely express their thoughts, concerns, and interests without fear of retaliation or negative consequences. This confidentiality can create a safe space for open dialogue and problem-solving.
· Empowerment and Ownership: Workplace mediation empowers the individuals involved in the conflict by giving them a voice in the resolution process. It allows them to actively participate in finding solutions that meet their needs and interests, rather than having decisions imposed upon them by superiors or external authorities. This sense of ownership can lead to more sustainable and satisfactory outcomes.
· Cost and Time Efficiency: Mediation is a more cost-effective and time-efficient method of resolving workplace conflicts compared to formal litigation or disciplinary procedures. Mediation sessions are typically scheduled promptly, and the process can be completed in a relatively short period. This can save both the organisation and the individuals involved valuable time, resources and stress.
However, it's important to note that the effectiveness of workplace mediation may depend on various factors, including the willingness of all parties to participate, the skill and neutrality of the mediator, and the nature and complexity of the conflict.
3. Can I guarantee the mediator isn't biased?
Ensuring the impartiality and neutrality of a mediator is crucial for the effectiveness of the mediation process. While it is not always possible to guarantee absolute bias-free mediation, there are several steps you can take to assess and promote the neutrality of a mediator:
· Research and Referrals: Seek recommendations from trusted sources, such as colleagues, HR professionals, or legal advisors, who have had positive experiences with a particular mediator. Conduct independent research to learn about the mediator's background, qualifications, and reputation, even if they are internal. Look for mediators who have a proven track record of impartiality and professionalism.
· Mediator's Qualifications and Training: Consider the mediator's qualifications and training in mediation. Look for mediators who have received formal training in mediation techniques, conflict resolution, and have relevant certifications. A well-trained mediator will have a deep understanding of the mediation process and ethical guidelines, which can help ensure their impartiality.
· Mediator's Experience: Assess the mediator's experience in handling disputes in your workplace. A mediator with experience in workplace mediation will have a better understanding of the dynamics and complexities of workplace conflicts but this does not always lead to impartiality. Ask about their specific experience in other mediations they have been involved in.
· Mediator's Approach: Inquire about the mediator's approach to mediation. A skilled mediator will emphasise their commitment to neutrality, impartiality, and creating a safe and inclusive environment for all parties involved. They should be able to articulate their process for managing bias and ensuring fairness during the mediation sessions.
· Pre-Mediation Discussions: Prior to committing to mediation, request a preliminary meeting or phone call with the mediator. Use this opportunity to discuss any concerns you may have regarding their potential biases. Ask about their strategies for managing conflicts of interest and ensuring impartiality. A competent mediator will be open and transparent about their approach and address your concerns.
· Mediation Agreement: Before beginning the mediation process, it is common to sign a mediation agreement or contract outlining the mediator's role, the parties' responsibilities, and the confidentiality and neutrality requirements. Review this agreement carefully and ensure that it explicitly states the mediator's commitment to impartiality and neutrality.
· Trust Your Instincts: Trust your instincts and intuition. During the preliminary discussions or initial interactions with the mediator, if you feel uncomfortable or sense any potential bias, it may be wise to explore alternative mediation options.
Remember, the mediator's role is to facilitate a fair and balanced process, ensuring that all parties have an opportunity to be heard and work towards a mutually acceptable resolution. Open communication, transparency, and a thorough selection process can help minimise the risk of bias and maximise the chances of a successful and unbiased mediation.
4. How do I confront the process if I feel it is biased during mediation?
If you feel that the mediation process is biased or unfair, it's important to address your concerns promptly and assertively. Here are some steps you can take to confront the situation during mediation:
1. Communicate your concerns: Raise your concerns with the mediator directly. Express your feelings and observations regarding the perceived bias or unfairness in the process. Be specific about the behaviours or actions that have led you to believe that the mediation is biased. Maintain a calm and constructive tone while communicating your concerns.
2. Request clarification: Ask the mediator to clarify their role and responsibilities in the mediation process. Seek clarification on how they plan to ensure neutrality and impartiality. You can also inquire about any guidelines or ethical standards that the mediator follows.
3. Provide supporting evidence: If you have specific instances or evidence that demonstrate bias or unfair treatment, present them to the mediator. This could include examples of unequal opportunities to speak, dismissive attitudes, or favouritism towards one party. Present your evidence objectively and clearly, without becoming confrontational or accusatory.
4. Involve a third party: If you feel that the mediator is not addressing your concerns adequately, you may consider involving a third party. This could be a supervisor, a higher-level manager, an HR representative, or a union representative within the organisation who can review the situation and provide guidance or intervention. They can assess the fairness of the process and help ensure that your concerns are taken seriously.
5. Seek legal advice: If the bias or unfairness persists and you believe it is impacting your rights or legal protections, consult with an employment lawyer or a union representative if you have one. They can provide guidance on the legality of the process and advise you on the best course of action to protect your interests.
Remember, it's important to approach the situation professionally and constructively. Focus on the specific concerns you have regarding bias and unfairness in the mediation process and seek resolution through open communication and engagement with the mediator and appropriate parties.
6. If I'm invited to mediation, can I insist on an independent mediator?
I would love to say yes, but the answer to this question can depend on several factors, including the policies of your employer, the nature of the dispute, and any relevant laws or regulations.
In many cases, if you feel that an in-house mediator would be biased or lack the necessary neutrality, you can certainly express your preference for an independent or external mediator. It can be helpful to articulate clearly why you believe an independent mediator would be more appropriate, focusing on concerns about neutrality, confidentiality, or expertise.
However, whether or not you can "insist" on an independent mediator may depend on the specific circumstances. Some organisations may have policies in place that require the use of an in-house mediator, or there may be a contractual or legal requirement to follow a certain process. In other cases, the decision may be left to the discretion of management or HR.
If you have concerns about the mediation process, it could be helpful to seek advice from a trusted advisor, mentor, or legal professional. They can help you understand your options and rights and guide you in navigating the process effectively.
If you do find yourself in need of an independent mediator I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org