Is there a need for some self-reflection before mediation?

While I have no solid research to support this assertion, my experience over the last six years seems to show a positive correlation between a person’s ability or interest in self-reflection and better outcomes for the conflict situation they are involved in.

An obvious indicator of a person having taken time to reflect on themselves is if they attend some form of one-to-one intervention such as counselling or conflict coaching. A couple of recent mediation cases illustrated this.

The first was a situation following an investigation of a bullying complaint that was put in by two people against one person. Mediation was proposed as a means of rebuilding the working relationship. At the pre-mediation meetings with both of the complainants, they both spoke about their fear of the person and there was also lot of anger towards her. At the time, I had suggested that they consider attending the company’s Employee Assistance Counselling service.

One of them did and the other ‘couldn’t find the time’. Notwithstanding the fact that both had different issues, personalities etc. there was a clear difference in how each of them presented and dealt with the mediation meetings that they then had with the person they complained about.

The person who had attended counselling was much calmer, accepting and although still somewhat fearful, was able to see the situation from a broader viewpoint, not just one of ‘victim’ and ‘offender’. They reached an agreement about how to restart working together.

The other person was still palpably angry and predictably, the mediation was more about how little contact they would want from each other and how best to manage that, in the future working relationship.

A second interesting case was one where an organisational glitch in moving people and departments resulted in one employee being quite hurt and traumatised.

The organisation recognised and acknowledged their faults and her line manager actually met with her in a facilitated meeting and apologised profusely for what had happened. Yet almost a year later, the employee requested an independent mediator to facilitate a meeting with her and her manager, telling me in pre-mediation that the manager had never actually apologised to her!

She had in the meantime attended counselling and the mediation worked well, her manager reiterated the apology. The client said later that she had been so angry and upset she hadn’t actually heard the apology that had come in the first meeting!

In my view and experience, mediation will only work to the extent that parties are willing and able to engage in some sort of process (and it might just be taking the time to think it through themselves) that causes them to work on themselves internally rather as simply turning up on the day and hoping that the other person has done all the changing!