Traditionally, mediations are conducted over one day–sometimes one very long day! This time-efficient approach, however, does not always lead to the best possible outcome. It may be appropriate when:
- Both parties to the conflict are aware of the issues
- Both parties are willing to resolve the conflict
- The conflict has not triggered a traumatic emotional response for one or both parties.
However, a two-phase approach to mediation may be preferable if:
- One or both parties feel ambushed–that is, they were not fully aware of the issues at stake, and/or have not had time to reflect on their role in the dispute.
- Any of the people involved are introverts. Introverts need time to take new information on board. They also need time to deal with strong unpleasant emotions that may arise.
- A traumatic emotional response becomes evident during the pre-mediation interviews. When we are in conflict, our emotions often run away with us. We may be following some deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour, which can damage us and damage others. It is also possible that our response is only minimally related to the conflict at hand. There may be deeper issues which we need to address before we can sit down to speak with the person who has triggered this emotional response.
In such cases, deferring the mediation to allow all parties time to compose themselves can be worthwhile. A mediation will not work if either party feels the need to compromise to accommodate the needs of the other. If we believe it is wiser to defer, several options arise:
- We can undertake some coaching with the affected people, to help them prepare for the mediation session
- We can refer them to your Employee Assistance Program provider
- We can refer them to an appropriate psychologist, to help them resolve those deeper issues.
One problem immediately comes to mind: in some quarters, there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues. Our view is simple. If a conflict has arisen, then some of those issues are already on public display. When people find themselves in dispute, they often behave in ways that can reinforce a sense of shame. Only their anger keeps them from seeing themselves clearly. In such cases, a discreet referral to a mental health professional can help them get their lives and their career back on track.
There is another occasion when deferral may be appropriate: when significant larger issues of organisational dysfunction surface during the pre-mediation interviews. For example, there may be other underlying conflicts within a team. In such cases, we would raise our concerns with the managers involved and with HR–not to allocate blame, but to look for possible solutions.