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Workplace Mediation – A Distressed Purchase

Workplace Mediation: A distressed purchase

I started my career in the retail industry selling brown and white goods. In our sales training we were taught the phrase ‘distressed purchase’. To explain, the phrase was applied to a consumer who was in desperate need to purchase a particular product quickly. For example, a working man wants to do the family’s laundry on a Saturday morning but, upon attempting to use it, finds that the machine is faulty. The machine, being out of warranty and beyond repair, needs to be replaced before the weekend is out. The man in question would likely take a trip to his local electrical store and explain to the sales assistant that he was in need of a replacement washing machine and that it had to be delivered and installed on the same day, as well as being a reliable and quality machine. His voice and body language, combined with his reason for being there, indicate his distress – hence the term ‘distressed purchase’.

Recently I have made a correlation between a distressed consumer seeking an essential product purchase and commissioning mediation. Two of the reasons why people buy are to be happy and to avoid pain. Both of these would apply to the washing machine shopper. He would have been happy to have a replacement machine to do the washing and wanted to avoid the pain of going through another week without a washing machine, going to a launderette or having to buy a new set of clothes for the whole family.

When people are in conflict and showing no signs of reconciliation the effects can be significant. The line manager or Human Resources professional with a close link to those involved are likely to feel powerless, weary, exhausted, drained and worn out as they look on. It is often these feelings of helplessness that prompt for a mediator to be commissioned.

The distress purchase in mediation is derived from the dysfunctional relationship that is preventing essential work to be carried out. In the call to try and get the matter resolved the organisation will seek to find a competent mediator to help the parties get their relationship back on track. They are also likely to want this person to be engaged quickly.

I recall one of my colleagues taking a call from an organisation recently who were seeking to appoint a mediator. The caller came close to tears as she outlined the conflict situation to my colleague, talking of the abhorrence and revulsion the colleagues concerned felt towards each other and how their hate was being played out day after day. Her distress had prompted her to call for a rescuer who would be able to help the individuals face up to their differences and try to focus on a future where they could work collaboratively again. The caller simply wanted her colleagues to get on with each other again and put a stop to the pain of seeing them at war but being powerless to do anything about it, whilst also spending hours on the administration that accompanies such situations.


Clive Lewis

Clive Lewis OBE DL is one of the UK's leading dispute resolution specialists. He is an accredited commercial mediator specialising in helping to solve complex one on one, team, organisational, multi-party and collective disputes. He has mediated hundreds of disputes. He was an advisor to the Department for Business and… MORE >

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