Many of us are in a role to support mediation for our agencies or organizations. There is empirical data that demonstrates the most successful mediations occur when both parties come to the session prepared. Yet, there are many instances where the parties participating in the mediation don’t have a basic understanding of what to expect or how to leverage mediation. As professionals in this field, we all have an opportunity to improve the quality of mediation sessions by helping participants prepare. Here are some strategies we have found valuable when preparing parties for mediation:
- Encourage the parties to ask questions before mediation to gain an understanding of what to expect. Of course, they can always ask questions during the mediation, but it can be helpful to be in a better frame of mind if they know what to expect prior to the actual session.
- Parties should discuss what they see as the root causes of the dispute, not just the specific concerns raised in the complaint or grievance. For example, even if the complaint centers on discrimination, ask the parties to think whether issues of trust, respect, or work styles are important root causes.
- Parties should be prepared to discuss these underlying issues and bring them to the awareness of the other person. For example, in a complaint involving harassment the root cause may be how one party feels the other person communicates with them.
- From both parties’ perspectives, encourage them to think about how resolving the dispute can improve the relationship now, rather than waiting for final adjudication, which can take years.
- Both parties should keep an open mind and be prepared to listen to each other.
- The parties should think beyond the mediation session. If some resolution is reached, think about how they will maintain the agreement so they’re not in the same place six months from now. It’s best to find a way to resolve the issue long term so everyone can move forward.
- Encourage the parties to think outside the box as it relates to resolving the dispute. Let’s say it’s mediation about an employee not getting promoted. Both the employee and the manager may think the only resolution is the actual promotion. In most cases, that may not be a feasible outcome, but there are several other things that could be viewed as potential terms to a settlement. Encourage each of the parties to think about the following in preparation:
- For the manager: Be prepared to offer specifics on where the employee fell short? If it was at the application review step, maybe offer some coaching from HR on putting together an application. A similar offer could be made for interviewing tips, if the employee did poorly during the interview.
- For the employee: Be prepared to consider that maybe you weren’t the best candidate, but find out why, and be open to a plan to address any deficiencies. If your goal is to be promoted in the future, use this as an opportunity to get some advice and/or resources to be more competitive in the future.
It is key to get the parties thinking beyond the obvious, but it is important to encourage them to start thinking before the mediation. We have found it made a huge difference in their attitude about the mediation, and ultimately led to more positive results.