Tag Archives: Dispute resolution

Does Transformative Mediation ‘work’ in the Workplace?

The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ backed by evidence from scientific research:

The United States Postal Service chose transformative mediation REDRESS for the national model…  Since USPS implemented the mediation program, formal complaints of discrimination have dropped from a high of about 14,000 a year to under 10,000 a year. A statistical analysis demonstrated that the turning point in this trend and subsequent drop in formal complaints correlated with implementation of the program in each geographic district.  In other words, it is fair to conclude that the program caused the drop in complaint filings. This trend suggests that mediation has a positive impact in that these complaints are resolved through mediation at the informal complaint stage and do not reach the formal complaint stage; hence, there is a drop in formal complaint filings…

The participants in mediation may be learning conflict management skills to take back to the workplace. There is evidence of this ‘upstream effect’ from mediation.  Controlling for changes in the size of the workforce, informal EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity] complaint filings have dropped 30 percent since their peak before USPS implemented REDRESS.  There is also evidence of changes in the way that supervisors describe how they handle conflict at the workplace after REDRESS. There are reports of more listening, more openness to expressions of emotion, and less top-down hierarchical response to conflict. Finally, there has been a gradual increase in efforts by the parties to a dispute to resolve it after a request for mediation is made, but before they get to the table.    This too is evidence that conflict management skills are moving upstream.

Bingham, L.B. (2010). Mediation at work: transforming the USPS. In Folger, J., R.A.B. Bush,  D. Della Noce (Ed.), Transformative mediation: A sourcebook (pp. 321-337). New York: Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation; Association for Conflict Resolution.

So, where’s the evidence for other approaches to the mediation process?

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Mediation — It’s a Matter of Choice

There’s an editorial in the print version of the Globe and Mail of September 16th entitled “Divorce – Redundant coercion”.  In the online version, the header gets more to the point of the commentary, “Don’t tell us how to divorce”. Here are key excerpts:

Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler […] is proposing that divorcing couples be required to try an alternative dispute-solving mechanism before coming to court.

The coercion would be redundant. The justice system all but coerces people now into finding an alternative to the courts. The costs of a lawyer and legal filings are huge. The loser may be ordered to pay the winner’s legal costs, too. A family breakup whose details were private is suddenly quite public, in most provinces, once a court action begins. Legal battles have a way of spiralling into endless acrimony. With all these built-in disincentives, it’s a wonder that any couple insists on having a trial before a judge…

[…]

Alternative forms of dispute resolution are far from ideal. They can cost lots of money (and no little bitterness), too. Mediators usually charge $200 to $600 an hour. The mediator’s qualification may be as slight as a three-day course. On top of that, each party is supposed to have a lawyer “shadowing” the process, at $300 to $600 an hour. As an alternative, it’s a matter of personal choice. A non-alternative alternative is coercion gone too far.

The issues raised by the editorialist in the last paragraph relating to mediator’s fees, mediator competence and lawyer’s fees are all too real.  I will confine myself here, however, to making two additional points.

I can’t help but think it’s a pity that mediation is all to often seen as an alternative to litigation because of the latter’s shortcomings, inefficiencies, costs and psychological impacts.  There is an altogether more positive case to be made for mediation in relation to the promise it offers to people in conflict, namely an opportunity to create their own customized arrangements to handling the difficult situation they’re in rather than relying on a ‘default’ legal model of general application.

Choice or self-determination is central to all forms of mediation.  It is ironic that consideration may be given to mandating (i.e., removing the choice of) a dispute resolution process that holds choice and decision-making to be paramount