In a business lifecycle there will always be disputes whether we like it or not, and often they can cost thousands of Euros (or any other currency) in court and legal fees. But there is a cheaper and faster alternative solution – namely “mediation”.
I first got introduced to “mediation” in South Africa in the middle 80’s, and although I am not a qualified legal person, I mediated many business and labour disputes successfully. Having been in Europe for the past 7 years, I was surprised that “mediation” is not used as extensively as in South Africa.
My “biased” view of Europe’s dispute process is based on that it appears that it is driven by adversarial systems of both government and justice, and strong cultural views of accountability in some countries and lack of accountability in others. But be that as it may be, the fact remains that it appears that the drive is to feed the dispute(s) rather than finding practical solutions to address the root cause of the disputes.
Where I have seen some form of mediation in action, it was rather a 'tick box' step approach leading to an escalated set of legal actions. I have noticed that often mediation is being used just as a “half-baked” attempt to apportion blame and punishment, rather than finding real resolutions. But this is just my opinion, I may be wrong.
The fact is that taking legal recourse via the courts is an expensive exercise, and often many of the disputes could easily be resolved successfully via mediation.
But many business leaders still do not understand what mediation is and how it can help them resolve issues quickly and cost effectively. Some see it as something which happens just between families (divorce), while other’s see it as a legal process where a lawyer or any other appointed person will act as a “judge and jury” in deciding what is the “wrong or right” judgment.
What leaders and employees need to understand is that a truly mediated solution is far from being a purely legal issue. Mediation takes into account the key concepts of people’s individual values and individual dignities, and is indeed an attractive alternative to legal action for companies and employees.
Mediation also highlights the fact that people do make mistakes, often unintentionally, and to punish them severely may not be the best solution for the company or for the other party.
For example, within a labour relations context, during the mediation process, it may become apparent that management coaching or team building is what is really required instead of just proceeding with a punitive disciplinary process. Often, introducing coaching, training or councelling can reduce conflict, booster employee confidence and result in a stronger organisation.
But denying the opportunity to explore issues which are often highlighted during a mediation process, business owners and managers, may miss out on discovering ways of potentially improving their businesses, and the people within them, which they may otherwise never have known about.
Next time you have a dispute in your hands, give serious consideration to follow the mediation root instead of expensive litigation.