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Listening to Conflict (Mediation Case Study)

FEB mediators recently conducted a mediation session that provided a space for the parties to engage in a greater depth of communication. The mediation involved two employees of a government agency, the office manager and his administrative assistant. Mary, the administrative assistant, requested the mediation. She wanted Bob, the office manager, to rescind a letter of reprimand that she received for insubordination.

The mediation began with Mary talking about the importance of her job to the agency and to her family. She was fearful that she would be terminated from employment if the letter of reprimand remained in her employment file. Mary was the sole support for her family and the possibility of losing her job weighed heavily upon her. She talked about how she took pride in her ability to support Bob despite what she felt to be his unprofessional style of managing the office. She was issued the letter of reprimand following an incident when she stormed out of Bob’s office and proceeded to go home after a heated argument over the completion of an assignment. She stated that Bob would use inappropriate language when he was mad and she no longer could accept his unprofessional behavior.

Bob voiced his frustration with supervising Mary. He struggled to find the best way to supervise Mary because he perceived her to be moody. Some days she would be fine, but other days she would “fly off the handle” and challenge his authority. Bob felt that their working relationship had deteriorated to a breaking point. He issued the letter of reprimand when Mary walked off the job without permission. Bob stated that the letter of reprimand was issued because of her attitude and was not related to her work products. Bob also disclosed his frustration in his role as a supervisor. He was trained as a technician and he never anticipated the position would carry so much stress, especially dealing with employees. He told Mary that he appreciated and admired her attention to detail.

When Mary and Bob listened to each, they were able to transform the conflict into constructive change. Bob told Mary that he would rescind the letter of reprimand after six months if her work attitude improved. Mary accepted the offer. She asked Bob if he would approve her taking a class in conflict resolution. She hoped that taking the class would provide some skills that would help her deal with tense situations in a more constructive manner. Bob agreed to grant her leave and tuition to take the class.

Mary and Bob were pleased that they could open a dialogue and communicate with each other. By listening without the emotions of anger, they created a win-win solution. They felt empowered by the mediation process because it created a safe place for them to voice Their concerns and come to a mutually agreed upon solution.


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