Mediation is not theory but more of practice, and it really works when applied. This was how a deep rooted work related conflict between two senior workers who had until the last two years worked together for 23 years, was resolved. The two had avoided each other and it was being felt among their subordinates. Realizing that it was degenerating into other issues and adversely affecting the work environment, I stepped in and requested permission from our head to be given the opportunity to try mediation. I was given the go ahead and the necessary arrangements were made for the two to meet with me for the process to commence.
The pre-mediation conference started on Friday, April 6, 2018. I had my mediation checklist hidden from the view of the two involved. I set the tone, explained what ADR is about, its advantages and then I concentrated on mediation. Step by step we went through the pre-mediation successfully. It became clear both parties were willing to talk. I explained the need for them to talk to each other gently, honestly and be open and not withhold any information that was important. I emphasized the fact that our efforts would be fruitless if they did not abide by the principles in talking to each other. I also drummed home the need to open up and keep talking until they made a headway. They understood and expressed their willingness to follow the protocols. The confidential nature and importance of our deliberations being kept that way was emphasized. The fact that I could not be called as a witness on the issues discussed anywhere was made known to them. The various roles of each party as well as my role were well explained. I could read surprise on their faces when I told them I was not there to determine who was right or wrong but to serve as an impartial third party to guide them and facilitate their conversation for a settlement. The voluntary nature of the whole process was equally well explained and both parties were fully aware and ready to commence. I explained and gave out the Consent to Mediation Form, gave them some time to go through and sign if they no objections.
The senior most read first, asked about the fee and I said it was pro bono. He signed and gave it to the other party, who did same. Mediation was about to begin after a 10 minutes break.
When we reassembled, I asked the senior most of the two to talk to me directly about what was bothering him concerning the other party. For about 10 minutes he spoke to me. Meanwhile, I provided a sheet of paper and pen to the other party to note down any issue he might want to respond or react to. I asked a few questions for clarification as he spoke passionately and emotionally about what he perceived to be his worries and concerns. I took down some notes. After the first party had finished, the other party was given the same time and opportunity. He responded to the issues raised by the first party and was equally very emotional and passionate. I took a few notes and by the time he was done talking I saw the need for caucusing. I called for it. I started with the senior most.
During the caucusing, I did a lot of reality checks. I had to remind them of the code of service discipline pertaining to their work and emphasized the need for those rules and regulations to be followed all the time regardless of their personal idiosyncrasies. With this, the junior of the two realized he had overstepped his bounds as a result of anger. I asked what he was going to do about that, having realized a shortcoming. He told me he would apologize. They were a few other issues he discussed with me during the caucusing and he could not bring them out at the plenary but did not have any qualms if I brought them to the attention of the other. Then I met the second party for caucusing. I did a reality check with him too pertaining to work ethics. He also discussed some issues he wished could be discussed at the plenary but felt that as the senior, it should not come from him. I suggested I could table it for him if he would be ok with that which he was ok with.
When we met back at the plenary, these issues were discussed, an apology was rendered and the other party accepted. There was still so much tension and I could feel it between them. After about an hour and 15 minutes when both parties had spoken extensively on the first major issue identified as one of the causes of their misunderstanding, I called the session to a close – I felt progress could not be made with that tenses atmosphere. We were to reconvene at 1300 hrs but an important work schedule made it impossible, so I called both parties on phone and we adjourned to Monday, April 9, 2018 at 0730 hrs.
The session on Monday started well. I requested the parties to talk directly to each other and made them aware they could interject politely if the need arose. I reminded them about the importance of talking to each other in a polite manner without name-calling and insults. It went well and along the line I picked up conciliatory gestures and comments, noted them down and called for caucusing when they both had their turns in talking and interjecting. In the caucusing, they both admitted to having drawn some conclusions based on what they had then realized was ‘hear say’ and not facts. Both showed willingness to admit and withdraw certain conclusions and hard stance they had taken.
Back at the plenary, the junior most of the two started by not only withdrawing some negative comments he had made as a result of ‘hear say’ but sincerely apologized for same. I asked the senior most what he had to say. He accepted the apology and also made same admittance to some erroneous perceptions he had because of ‘hear say’ as well. On that score the first major issue was resolved. Both parties realized they were misinformed and miscommunicated on that issue. There were two other issues left to be resolved but I called the session to an end on that positive development. We adjourned to 1300 hrs of the same Monday (April 9, 2018).
The afternoon session started with the second major cause of the two year rift. They each spoke at length and I asked questions for clarifications. I called for a caucusing session and ended the session after one and half hours. There was no progress on the second issue and one of the parties, the senior most, had started showing signs of disinterest and unwillingness to talk or respond to issues raised. I ended the session, realizing that fatigue had set in and continuing would not help. The next session was scheduled for 0730 hours on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. By this time, I was not sure of how the mediation was going to end because of the strange stance of one party.
Tuesday morning (April 10, 2018), we reconvened and I reminded them about still observing the protocols I discussed with them at the beginning. We continued with the second unresolved issue. Just five minutes into the session, I had to call a caucus. One party had repeated his intention not to talk. I met with him first and reminded him of the importance of opening up and talking. I added that all our discussions are strictly confidential and assured him that I could not be ordered or compelled to divulge our discussions to anyone. I asked him to reflect over his stance since it would mean truncating the process. I met with the other party briefly in the interim. We reconvened and I asked if both parties were ready for continuity. The response was positive from both ends.
At the plenary, the senior most who had indicated he would not talk any further stated that he was willing to continue with the process by opening up and talking. I was relieved. Indeed he opened up and poured his heart out. I noted down conciliatory comments. The other party in responding admitted to the honesty of his superior and also made it clear that in all his actions towards his superior, he never intended to undermine him or his authority as his superior which was the main bone of contention. I did not allow the opportunity to pass by. I asked the junior rank that if he honestly never intended to undermine his boss, was there something he would want to say? Almost in tears, he sincerely apologized and asked for forgiveness. The boss accepted the apology and equally admitted his shortcomings. As the senior, he admitted he should not have taken things personally. He also apologized and at that moment I was overjoyed. There was this intrinsic happiness and fulfilment in me. I requested the two to shake hands for the first time in almost two years which they did and did more, they hugged and patted each other – which drove me almost in tears. Mediation had worked. After a short break I summarized the terms they had agreed to abide by in my Terms of Settlement Form. They both read and signed it and brought everything to a close. They were very happy with each other and thanked me for what I did to them. Glory to God.
By Wing Commander Frederick Bawa