With the growing recognition that mediation is an important element in an effective conflict management system, many corporations are training in-house mediators who are then available to provide mediation to fellow staff who are involved in a dispute.
There are benefits and problems with this approach. On the positive side, training internal mediators increases the level of conflict management and conflict resolution skills in the organization. Further, there are some disputes that can be satisfactorily mediated by a fellow-staff-member mediator.
However, there are three major problems associated with this approach:
Finally, these three problems may lead to the unfortunate result of staff not choosing to use the mediation option as often as they otherwise might. This, of course, defeats the original purpose for establishing and investing in the program.
One of the justifications for training internal mediators is cost related, the idea being that internal mediators will be less expensive than external mediators. However, the cost of the internal mediator’s time may be not much less than the fee charged by an external mediator, especially if the internal mediator is being brought from another division and geographic location within the company. If, indeed, staff choose not to use the program because of the problems associated with internal mediators, then the significant training investment is lost.
Mediation training for managers and staff will help them better deal with the minor conflicts that occur in the workplace. Many disputes can be resolved with the informal intervention of a fellow staff member or manager. However, for a mediation program to be successful in the corporate setting, access to an external mediator is critical. If an internal mediator program is instituted, it should include the option for staff to request an external mediator. The more serious the conflict, the more important it is that the parties have access to an external mediator.
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