I never ask HR for a detailed briefing of whatever grievance / disciplinary process / argument that got out of hand (delete as appropriate) that I have been asked to mediate. It’s not that I don’t care but in all honesty I don’t need someone else’s filter on the situation before I get to it. Generally my lack of specific knowledge about their situation proves to be positive for the protagonists. It allows them to tell their own story in their own way. Also because of the way a day’s mediation is set up they have to boil it down to a clear and (relatively) short synopsis.
You do hear some horror stories but in my experience a lot of the cases revolve around simple issues which could so easily have been put right by local management in a fraction of the time and without the subsequent loss of goodwill. Sometimes it’s deeply inappropriate behaviour / misconduct but generally that gets dealt with by disciplinary action. More usually I’m left with two or more people deeply confused about what they did “wrong” and really unable to relate to each other. It often mystifies me as to what led what seem like perfectly rational people to be at each other’s throats.
Unusually there were three people in the mediation and it quickly became apparent that there were at least two more in the system that had been “moved on” and were actually a good part of the problem we were discussing. The manager felt the staff had been “led astray” by a ringleader and the staff felt the manager had wilfully marginalised them because of their positions within the team. A single grievance affecting 5 people.
As we went through the day I realised that the investigating manager and HR had unwittingly contributed to this impasse. The investigation itself was robust enough but the administration of it and advice given (and at times lack of it) had left everyone confused. We had to spend a good piece of time unpacking what had happened during the investigation rather than the presenting issue. I’d go so far as to say that the organisational process had made the situation worse and left the parties far more opposed than before any complaint was raised. Once we clarified the situation the mediation positively sailed along. We worked out a few cultural differences, cleared up some indistinct communication, organised some further training and had one of the parties ask the manager to mentor them. (Not for nothing is the Chinese pictogram for conflict a mix of the symbols for danger and opportunity)
I really enjoy mediation work, it’s varied, interesting and challenging and I really feel that it makes a difference. However I’d be happy to go out of business in this area and see people understand each other, get in to dialogue much sooner and heck, just be nice to their fellow humans. As the blog title says, what is so funny about that?