Find Mediators Near You:

Mediation -The Best Way To Work It Out

Why are so many businesses still dragging their heals about using mediation to resolve workplace disputes? CEO’s, Human Resource Directors, Managers and Business Owners all know that ignoring workplace conflicts can only keep matters at bay for so long; when the dam breaks, union grievances, animosities within and across teams, and expensive lawsuits result. For decades now, and especially in the past ten years, mediation has been used successfully in small, medium and large companies nationwide to resolve a wide array of disputes at very little cost to the business. So why aren’t more companies either contracting with outside mediators or implementing their own internal programs? The answer is a combination of both simple and complex factors:

  • People are generally resistant to taking preventative and/or early intervention measures, even though we know that they will save us money and spare us pain in the long-run. How many years did it take Americans to be convinced that regular visits to the dental hygienist would pay off over time? …

  • Our highly litigious society affects decision making at every level of a business and at every turning point in a conflict. Most of us believe that it is to our advantage in a dispute to have someone advocate on our behalf, argue the merits of our case in terms of “objective” legal interpretations, and render judgements which become the resolution or settlement of our dispute. It is rare to find disputants who are eager and confident about resolving their own conflicts through a non-adversarial process. In order to see mediation as a viable option, individuals, groups, and businesses in general must shift their belief systems concerning the ways in which fair and/or just outcomes are determined. Mediation is based on the premise and on the value system which says that parties to a dispute are the ones most capable of resolving that dispute, and that the parties themselves should play the central role in any efforts to work through their own conflicts.

  • To choose mediation, either as parties to a dispute or as a manager or employer with an awareness of the costly effects of a workplace conflict on morale and productivity, is to act against our natural impulses to avoid conflict. Most of us have an aversion to confronting conflicts head on; we hope it will just blow over, we don’t want to make waves or be seen as a trouble-maker, and we almost always characterize the other person as the “difficult one”, the “know-it-all”, the “insensitive brute”, the “tyrant”, “the control freak”, etc.

  • Finally, business people often hold the misconception that a mediator should be knowledgeable about or even an expert in the content of the dispute. This leads to a paradoxical situation wherein the services of an outside mediator may not be sought because that person does not have expertise in the field, while an inside mediator is seen as inappropriate because he or she is either too close to the parties (in the same company, department, etc.) or is a competitor who cannot be or is not perceived as neutral. This myth about the need for a content-expert-mediator is easily dispelled when one understands that it is not the mediator’s role or responsibility to make any suggestions about or determinations concerning the content of a dispute. In fact, it is often quite helpful in preserving neutrality and in assisting parties to reach their own agreements and/or settlements, if a mediator has no specific knowledge about the content of a dispute. And it has been demonstrated time and again, in every area of employment disputes, that the more ownership participants have in crafting their resolutions, the more durable the settlements will be.

According to the Justice Department, employment discrimination cases nearly tripled between the beginning and the end of the 1990’s. These cases involve claims of sexual harassment, racial bias, hostile work environment, wrongful termination, ADA violations, etc., etc. And yet, as the U.S. Postal Service discovered in the first 22 months of full operation of its “Redress” mediation program, from September 1998 through June 2000, 17,645 disputes were mediated and of those, 80 percent were resolved. During the same period, formal complaints dropped 30 percent and lawyers estimated that the program saved the agency millions of dollars. Ms. Cynthia J. Hallberlin, former chief counsel for the Postal Service stated: “We have found that companies are very interested in transformative mediation…because of its promise to not just solve the problem at hand, but to help the parties communicate more effectively in the future.” [NYTimes – business section, Sept. 6, 2000]

Transformative Mediation describes a particular orientation practiced by mediators who believe that small steps count in improving communication between parties, particularly when they will continue working together in some fashion. Mediators using the transformative approach are trained to work with parties toward resolutions which encompass the issues which are important to the disputants themselves, and in the process, to help strengthen their relationship so that it can withstand conflicts or differences in the future. The Postal Service chose to contract exclusively with mediators trained in the transformative approach, believing that, over time, these mediations would contribute to improving the overall workplace culture of the Postal Service.

While the Postal Service, the largest single employer in the U.S., developed a nationwide program using outside, contract mediators, many other large companies and organizations have created internal dispute resolution programs. A survey of Fortune 1,000 companies by the Cornell Institute on Conflict Resolution found that the majority have developed some form of what is known as ADR, (alternative dispute resolution) to avoid litigation.

Texaco’s settlement of a multimillion-dollar racial discrimination case included the creation of an Ombuds Program in February 1998; which later became part of a company-wide problem-resolution system, along with other mediation and arbitration programs. There are at least 22 workplace ombuds offices in 10 different federal agencies in the U.S. Federal ombuds offices deal with a wide range of workplace issues, including providing third party assistance (mediators) to resolve disputes between individuals as well as within work groups.

Smaller businesses have also discovered how cost effective mediation can be in resolving disputes which interfere with productivity or negatively effect employee morale. Even “mom & pop” type businesses have used mediation processes to keep owner-partnerships from dissolving, to help retain valued managers and to implement change and modernize systems without loosing the “heart” of their businesses due to employee conflicts.

The advantages for businesses in adopting mediation processes, either through outside contracts or internal programs, are multifaceted and immeasurable. The problem remains: how to dispel the myths, support attitudinal changes, and generally promote more openness among business people to using mediation services and implementing mediation programs.


Carol V. Bloom

Carol Bloom is a professional mediator, facilitator and trainer working nationally and internationally for over fifteen years. Carol specializes in workplace mediation, team development and organizational communication and change facilitation. Carol uses the Transformative Mediation model, focusing on assisting and supporting clients to improve their communication and work through conflicts… MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


Changing Your Direction in Conflict

Conflict Management Blog by Cinnie NobleAnother favourite quote of mine is by Lao Tzu: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Though this...

By Cinnie Noble

“Procedural” Apology

Business Conflict Blog by Peter Phillips Richard Nixon was responsible for many teaching moments.  One of my favorites is the advance in American appreciation of the difference between the passive...

By F. Peter Phillips

Wakeen, Terry: East Ten Years Behind West in Mediation – Video

Teresa Wakeen talks about why she believes that mediation on the East Coast is ten years behind mediation on the West Coast. East Coast more aggressive with litigation, sees mediation...

By Teresa Wakeen