2020: Mediation Review of the Year

Dr Mike Talbot Articles, Dr Mike Talbot

The word of the year? ‘Unprecedented’. You said it.

Oh, and the phrase of the year? It has to be, ‘You’re on mute!’

But how about some of our conflict and mediation moments of the year? Here we go with our annual round-up of the stand-out conflict stories of the year!


Rise in neighbour conflicts because of people working from home


So, back in March we were told firstly not to go to the pub, and secondly, that the pubs would be closed anyway and that we had to all go and work from home.

Those of us used to going into the office every day discovered a whole new world: what our flats, houses and neighbourhoods look, and sound, like between 9.00 and 5.00 on weekdays. There’s the upstairs neighbour’s dog barking, the other neighbour doing a bit of DIY, someone blasting music out at 2.00 in the afternoon, and worst of all, people having gatherings in their houses & gardens in clear breach of the lockdown restrictions.

Unsurprisingly, here at UK Mediation we got an uptick in the number of calls about neighbourhood conflict: not least because people calling their council, local police or CAB tended to get directed our way. A lot of conversations were had with callers irate at their neighbours: we would be sympathetic, of course, and at the same time needed to reinforce with people that no, we can’t just go round and tell your neighbour to shut up!

This was quite a media-friendly topic, as you can imagine, and I did a radio interview about this back in June, especially thinking about how to speak to your neighbours if they disturb you or if you think they are breaching lockdown rules. This led into a contribution to a newspaper piece, including (inevitably) some top tips for communicating assertively with your neighbours when things get shaky.


Increase in online mediation cases and online mediation training

If you had asked me in February what I thought about online mediation and training, I would have at least raised an eyebrow. But with necessity being the mother of invention and all that, we knuckled down in March and, like more providers, are now almost exclusively working on Zoom (or MS Teams, if needs be).

Interestingly, some mediation cases have come our way since lockdown because we are working online: situations where the disputing parties would not entertain getting in a room together, but who are happy enough to meet on a screen. Also, people are realising that because we can get good results this way, team mediations are taking place where team members are all over the country (or other countries) and can engage with mediation without having to leave their desks.

We have made our main accredited qualification into a blended course: three days online and three days face-to-face, and this is proving really popular. And we are sticking to our guns that you do need the face-to-face element of the course: learning interactional skills, dialogue-building, empathic responding, conversation management etc, etc, all do really require that the trainees and the mediator-trainer are in the room together.


Return to Work disputes

And then, around August time, we started going back to work. We had a flurry of contacts here about return-to-work disputes: from fallouts over who was furloughed and who wasn’t, to issues due to home working, office disagreements where some people were more COVID-careful than others, etc, etc.

So much so, in fact, that we put our ideas together in a webinar, which you can find in our webinar archive.

One of the things that we were reminded of, through these times, is how much that conflict can be exacerbated when people only communicate by email. So many of the disputes we have worked with this year are where people who normally sit by side and actually talk have been dispersed to their own kitchen (or home-office) tables where they sit alone for hours on end. Talking to colleagues just by email, having a lot of quiet time to stew over interpersonal issues, lacking the in-the-corridor or at-the-kettle conversations, even the smallest misunderstanding can mushroom into something much bigger.


Oh, no. Not again: Bullying

This time last year, I wrote disappointedly about how bullying and harassment were no less an issue than ever. And this year, I could quite easily do the same. But let’s just pull out two things.

The first relates to Priti Patel, who was accused of bullying to such a degree that Sir Philip Rutnam could not tolerate the atmosphere that he alleged she had created, and he resigned. Our taxpayer-funded elected representatives (ahem!) then engaged in several rounds of wordplay about the outcomes of an enquiry and a report that didn’t get published, including some outrageous (IMHO) comments about a ‘…man’s world’, ‘…a little bit of bullying’, and that Ms Patel’s claim that ‘…no-one told me my behaviour was a problem.’

And the second, yet again, is to do with bullying in the NHS. While all and sundry were supposedly praising the nurses (and other care workers, of course), poor pay and bullying were reported as still being major issues for them. Nurses are leaving in record numbers, with one reported in this article as saying, “Enough is enough. The pandemic saw us risking our own lives for not much more than minimum wage and claps.”

One of these years, I will delightedly write here that instances of bullying and harassment in UK workplaces are coming down, organisations are taking seriously both the need to stamp it out and the need to use more constructive and positive measures to improve people’s working relationships, and our nurses are finally getting the conditions and the genuine, tangible recognition that they deserve. Maybe next year.

And maybe next year (quite likely if the vaccine good news all come to fruition) we will have all this behind us. It will be good riddance to lockdown, furlough, ‘unprecedented’, R-numbers and all the rest, and hello again to us being able to rub shoulders, interact, have conflict, and have fun with all of those who we have the joy, delight, and challenge to live and work with.


Happy New Year!