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Mediation is a voluntary process led by an impartial third party that organisations can use to resolve conflict. Conflict can occur in any employment relationship and is best dealt with early at source. If left unchecked, it can fester and escalate, potentially leading to grievance and discipline procedures or employment tribunals. Mediation, a form of alternative dispute resolution, avoids these more formal and costlier routes by guiding participants towards reaching mutual acceptable solutions.

Research shows that workplace conflict is most likely to be resolved when direct action, either informal or formal, is taken. Mediation isn’t the only course of action. In some cases, it may be most appropriate to go straight to a formal disciplinary procedure and in others, one party may refuse to take part in mediation. However, it is typically less costly – both in time, money and relationship fallout – than the more formal routes of grievance, discipline and tribunals.

The success of mediation lies partly in the fact that it’s voluntary and the parties enter the process as willing participants with a common goal of wanting to sort out their differences. It is an opportunity to find ‘win-win’ solutions that suit both parties.

The earlier that mediation is used in an employment dispute, the greater the chance of successfully resolving the conflict and re-establishing workable relationships. As conflict continues, people’s positions often become entrenched and it gets harder to find resolution. There’s a strong case for developing skills in relationship building and mediation throughout organisations and, rather like coaching skills, making them a core part of the people management skills set.