Workplace conflicts often yield to mediation
You don't have to be friends with the people you work with. You don't even have to like them. But you do need to work with them, and sometimes that's hard.
Managers are experts in the businesses they run. However, according to Louisa Williams, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Mediation Program (MVMP), they are not usually experts in resolving conflicts with or between employees. Conflicts in the workplace, whether petty annoyances or open feuding, are like sand in a well-oiled machine. They can cause excess stress on the business, wear out the people who work there, and sometimes cause major problems in productivity. MVMP will offer a workshop on May 11 to any manager who would like to acquire the tools to resolve workplace conflicts.
Ms. Williams says that the all-day workshop will be a safe, confidential, and even fun environment to learn workplace-oriented communication skills, such as listening and problem-analysis, in order to get clashing employees in agreement about how to move forward.
In a general way, everyone knows how to hear what people say, but not everyone has the active listening skills needed to understand. Sometimes a flare-up in the workplace over something petty is not at all the real problem. Probing skills get the manager to the bottom of the conflict and to an accommodation everyone can be satisfied with.
Activities in next week's workshop will include demonstrations of common situations. Managers will get a chance to hypothetically try out their skills in discussions and role-plays, coached by Ms. Williams and trainers Judy Salosky, Sheila Shapiro, and Ron Mechur. Participants will receive a communication manual and other handouts, but Ms. Williams promises that there will be a minimum of lecturing.
How does mediation work?
The workshop on May 11 will equip managers to better deal with workplace conflicts, but it will not train them to be mediators. According to an MVMP press release, that is a much more extensive process, involving over 30 hours of training in communication skills, ethics, and the relevant parts of the Massachusetts General Laws. At present there are 24 trained mediators, including a Portuguese translator, in the MVMP. Some have advanced training in areas such as housing, family conflict, divorce, land use, and legal disputes.
Mediation helps people involved in a dispute reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Mediators are not lawyers, judges, or arbitrators. Mediators do not decide who is right or wrong, but they provide respectful ground rules to help the parties focus on the issues, and if the parties reach an agreement, the mediators help write it up. According to an MVMP flier, most mediations end in agreement. When they do, the solution is always the creative product of the disputants themselves.
Mediation is completely confidential. In fact, the disputants must sign an agreement that prevents either party from asking the mediators to disclose the content of the conversations in any forum.
MVMP was founded in 1984 as the Edgartown District Court Mediation Program and was intended to be an alternative that disputants could try before taking a case to trial. MVMP is still approved (and paid for) by the state as a court-annexed mediation program in cases referred by Edgartown District Court, Dukes County Probate and Family Court, and, recently, Edgartown Superior Court. However, the services of the MVMP, a non-profit organization, are available to anyone who would like to resolve a conflict. In addition to judges and magistrates, lawyers and professional counselors also refer clients to MVMP. Or a person may simply call MVMP to initiate a process which can lead, if the other party agrees, to mediation. If the case is not referred by a court, there is a fee for each party in each mediation session, but adjustments are made according to each person's ability to pay, and the service could even be free. An initial (and free) half-hour evaluation determines whether the mediators think the problem might be resolved through mediation and whether the disputants want to try it.
Typical cases involve disputes between landlords and tenants, businesses and customers, parties in divorce, neighbors, co-owners of businesses, even parents and children. Mediation is for anyone who has locked horns with someone and feels frustrated and unable to get to a solution to the problem.
Contact the Martha's Vineyard Mediation Program at mvmediation.org or call 508-693-2999.