The Government's "employer's charter" seeks to reform the way that employers handle workplace disputes and to reduce the number of tribunals. Tania Coke, senior mediation consultant at workplace mediation specialists Consensio, considers how mediation can help resolve conflict by addressing emotional issues.
Conflict affects us at many levels. It evokes strong emotions, such as fear, guilt and anger. It expresses itself through the body, in the form of physical tension, headaches or insomnia. It muddles our reasoning and capacity for rational thought.
Tania Coke, senior mediation consultant at Consensio.
But how do organisations respond to this? The standard response to conflict tends to operate at the level of reasoning. Formal processes such as disciplinaries and grievance procedures work by extracting facts from each party to the conflict, and imposing a solution based on the principles of right or wrong, or how far these facts adhere to company policy. Mediation, by contrast, acknowledges and welcomes expression. It attends not only to what each party says, but the way they say it, the things left unsaid, the body language, the emotions, the inconsistencies revealed and the metaphors used.
Conflict evokes emotions. Whether these emotions are expressed or repressed, they are an undeniable part of the conflict experience. In their response to workplace conflict, most British organisations fail to address this. Mediation is the ideal forum to allow emotional expression for a number of reasons.
First, it is confidential. Only the parties to the conflict and the mediator(s) are present during mediation. This makes it a safer place for people to express what they feel.
Second, a mediator is trained to pay attention to the expression of emotion and to respond appropriately. One of the core skills of the mediator is the skill of reflecting back what the parties have expressed. For example, a mediator may respond to an emotional outburst by saying: "From what you've just said, it seems as if the situation is making you feel trapped and helpless. Is that right?" This enables the party involv