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When to Bring a Mediator into Critical Conversations

Deciding to bring a mediator into a critical conversation is often a judgment call. A mediator can make your job in a critical conversation easier, and prevent workplace concerns from turning into crises.

The choice to involve mediation in a critical conversation is often based on the history of resolving issues between the parties and the state of the relationship before the issue happened. Mediation may be useful in situations like these:

  • Emotions are at an all-time high: High emotions are part of critical conversations, but if one person gets defensive or cries when the other speaks forcefully, and the parties can’t move past this behavior, a mediator may be a good option. Whenever emotions prevent either party from focusing on the real problems, a mediator may be necessary.

  • When the conversation is at an impasse: You can use mediators not only for workplace or ethical concerns but also when a conversation is at an impasse, when multiple and complex issues continue to surface, or when multiple parties are involved in the conflict.

  • The boss is in question: A critical conversation with a boss who’s behaving poorly may need to involve a third party to solve the issue. Critical conversations are tough enough when the concern isn’t about your boss or another superior in the organization. If your boss is the one in question, a critical conversation isn’t necessarily futile, but you may need to take a different approach.

    In some organizational cultures, questioning the boss and giving feedback is acceptable and encouraged. In these organizations, you may feel comfortable examining behaviors or actions with your boss.

    For example, you may mention that you didn’t understand a certain accounting change or agreement with a customer. If you come to the table with a genuine desire to help and understand, the ethical or workplace issue may simply be a misunderstanding.

    But not all cultures are this open, and it does take a tremendous amount of nerve and self-confidence to talk about workplace issues with leaders. Therefore, it may make sense to go to your human resources manager to talk through the issue. If you’re still uncertain whether or not the issue can be resolved after speaking with HR, you may consider talking with a mediator to solve the problem.

In these situations, having a conversation mediated by a third party can help resolve a seemingly irresolvable issue.

If no legal precedent is set, mediation is a cost-effective alternative to a lengthy lawsuit. Of course, if legal issues are at stake or one party is screaming “I want my lawyer,” a mediator may need to step aside and allow for an even more formal legal process.

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