Building Dialogue in Diverse Organisations: Why is Mediation So Effective?

Posted on: March 8th, 2019

It goes without saying that diversity is celebrated more than ever within the workplace. And it’s for good reason: whether it be the varied selection of talent and ideas, the morale-boosting effect of having an inclusive workplace, or the organisation’s progressive reputation, there can be some major benefits for everyone involved.

However, as with any other workplace, unresolved conflict can become an issue. Not only will diverse organisations suffer just the same from the costs, stresses, and decreased productivity, they can also be more susceptible to the dispute getting much, much worse.

For example, there may be a number of cultural aspects than can either exacerbate the dispute, or prevent any chance of resolution, even if it is attempted locally.

Let’s look at what these differences could be:

First languages

With misunderstandings being a common cause of workplace disputes (largely thanks to the likes of emails and phones), it’s easy to see how a difference in preferred languages could have a similar effect. This could take the shape of mispronunciations, simply not understanding somebody, or not having a grasp of the deeper meanings. And, of course, this lack of dialogue could either trigger a falling-out or make an existing dispute ten times worse!

Religious beliefs

Religion can be somewhat of a controversial topic and is often completely avoided in many workplaces. On top of this, faith is a very personal thing, often encompassing all aspects of a person’s life. And, when it comes to work, this could include extra holidays, breaks during the day, or religious dress. Other employees may feel this is unfair, or be outspoken in disagreeing with their beliefs, potentially causing further conflict.

Cultural opinions

Cultural backgrounds, upbringing, and even generational differences, can all alter our opinion or belief on topics. And, if we work in close proximity to someone else with different “variables”, this could quite easily cause disagreements. And, if those involved aren’t accommodating, or are particularly stubborn in their own beliefs, this could lead to entrenched disputes.

This has often shown up in the news recently, especially with stories regarding gender and sexuality. In these cases, regardless of who is right or wrong, both sides refuse to budge and end up locked in a bitter dispute.

Expected behaviour in work

Cultural and religious beliefs could also play into how we view our own role in the workplace too, including how we talk to colleagues, our effort and attitude, and our opinions on authority. This could not only lead to conflict at all levels of the organisation, but also performance-related issues that could put jobs into jeopardy.

And, even when organisations do attempt to resolve it in-house, this could cause further issues.

For example, the third party, who may be a team leader or HR employee, will undoubtedly have their own views, perhaps involving some of the above factors. And, if these are subconsciously bought into the mediation or meeting, an agreement could be reached that isn’t entirely impartial or without prejudice.

This is where mediation can prove to be especially beneficial, in that it is:

Confidential

The whole process takes place behind closed doors, meaning everything shared in the meeting stays there (unless requested otherwise by the participants). This helps to build trust, establish rapport, and create a comfortable environment, one where the participants can share their thoughts without any fear of repercussions after.

Voluntary

Individuals can’t be told to attend, instead deciding themselves whether they want to participate or not. They can also leave at any point during the mediation, as well as take any necessary breaks, and the agreement is formed in all of their own words. This makes it much easier for them to “buy-in” and stick to any agreement formed.

Time- and cost-effective

The usual grievance and disciplinary procedure can drag on for several weeks, if not months, and can often turn out to be very expensive. Mediation is usually carried out in just a single day at a fixed one-off price, meaning it isn’t such a big drain on resources.

Impartial

Most importantly when it comes to diverse organisations, the mediator is a truly impartial third party. Unlike another employee, who may bring in their own views, the mediator is trained to completely remove themselves from the dispute. This way, they can facilitate the building of dialogue and allow both parties to have their say, without any influence from others.

Because of these reasons, we are seeing more and more diverse organisations, from local authorities to NHS Trusts, as well as several mainland European organisations, turning towards mediation.

Not only is it effective at resolving workplace conflict, it also takes into account the various differences that make us human, meaning that we can find a mutually-beneficial outcome for everyone involved.

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