How do you compare using a professional external mediator rather than an internal manager to mediate workplace disputes?
Have you used either or both and how do you think they compare?
Are you worried about conflicts of interest and power imbalances when using an internal person?
Dose the cost outweigh the benefit of using an external professional?
Have you never thought of it?
Bringing in a private mediator has distinct advantages.
1) The parties likely feel HR is biased in many situations, that a manager may be biased, either to a person or process. They wouldn't feel that way of a private mediator. More trust can be built.
2) A private mediator is a specialist meaning their width and depth of skills will aid in more complex disputes.
3) A private mediator is not distracted by other company duties that day. They are fully invested in the process.
Internal managers have a huge disadvantage simply because their paychecks are signed by the same person(s) who signs employees paychecks. In short, many of these managers are sometimes limited in the quality of service they render because of this close association with leadership/management. In most cases it is always beneficial to bring in an outsider. Generally, an outsider does not have a dog in the fight and can therefore offer a more pure perspective because of their spatial relationship.
This is really a great thought.
I recommend a professional external mediator or probe to resolve the workplace disputes. This including sexual harassment at workplace instead of internal grievances redress system. This will make the action impartial.
I see a lot of experience behind these great responses. I agree that the main issue is assuring a lack of bias. It can appear whether it is internal or external.
If we start with this premise, that confidence in the impartiality of the process and mediator is the most important issue that must be overcome, we can design that in to the process. However, how often is this question even asked, and addressed?
If it isn't, the mediation could be ineffective and the negative outcome blamed on the parties, when the real reason is that there was insufficient trust in the mediation process for it to work.
This a structure that can work:
1st- the selection of the mediator or facilitator must be done with both parties having a say in the selection.
2nd- Agree that the mediation is not binding
3rd - Make sure the mediator has a high stake in the outcome, as well as the two parties. This can be accomplished when all three agree: 1) that the ground rules can assure success if followed, 2) that each party sincerely wants to do the deal and desires a fair outcome, 3) each party helps shape the process, 4) all agree that the mediator's job is to: assure impartiality, keep the parties engaged productively, and employ processes that build rather than diminish trust. and 5) the mediator's compensation depends upon the outcome. He will get a base compensation, but he will not get bonuses if either party quits the mediation, or if they cannot arrrrive at the mutually agreed upon outcome.
This structure can ensure that all parties put in the effort nesessary for success to be reachable.
In a high stakes mediation, an external mediator would be preferred as an internal mediator would not be subject to the same stakes, (bonuses, reputation) as an external one would be.
In an internal situation, if the mediator was dependent upon his reputation for success within the organization, the model could work.
I’m going to show my bias here, but my belief is that an external mediator is a better bet because:
1. Less chance of perceived favoritism
a. With an internal mediator the perception may be that “management sticks together”
2. Less chance of actual favoritism
a. Sometimes “management sticks together”
3. If one party does not like the decision(s), the mediator is not available as a target
a. Kind of like having the doctor take the car keys from your elderly dad, not you mom, she still has to live with him the doctor doesn’t
4. An internal mediator may allow their own future plans within the organization to impact their decision making process
Just some thoughts.
I would rather work with an external one, since he has no place or invested interests or fears in the system he is collaborating with the mediation. Anyway his or her advises or sayings may be in conflict with existing authority or balance of power, and, in that case, it all depends on the internal authority openness to listen or reject them.
Related to the cost, what is in stake or blocked (now and the real impact in time) versus cost of mediation. I would consider too the learning of the team and the organization in solving problems, developing that as an internal competency and sum that benefit to the equation.
Simply put, internal managers could be seen by those not of management to be biased long before the conversation even begins. External mediator is not seen in that light in the beginning but if they tend to lean more toward one side or the other during conversations, they too could easily become tainted. For me, in that situation as coming in as an external professional, I ask for information from both sides separate of each other before sitting down. This gives me a brief overview of where I could take these talks for a quick and smooth conclusion. Also, I remind myself that few will ever tell a story from the other side so one need to take this to count. I love doing this task because it allows others to see that even though you disagree, you do not have to be enemies.
External Professional undoubtedly.
Impartiality, objectivity and outsider advantage. However , track record of the professional has to be scrutinized. I have come across incompetent mediators.
I am not in favor of using an internal manager for a workplace dispute. It is almost impossible to ensure that the individuals involved will feel comfortable and will feel that the process has been fair and impartial. There is no way to know this and you jeopardize the process. If the individuals do not feel comfortable being completely open and honest, the mediation is likely to fail. The cost of an external mediator will always pay for itself!
The biggest problem with internal personnel being used for conflict resolution is the appearance of a conflict of interest, as well as the possibility of being pressured to find in favor of the company at all costs.
An externally sourced mediator can have a similar problem, but is less likely, because they are hired to resolve the conflict without attachment to either side.
Using a truly and unquestioningly neutral party for conflict resolution can go a long way to maintaining morale where conflicts arise.
It doesn't matter whether or not an internal person is unbiased or not, the perception is always there that they have some sort of interest or ax to grind. If you can get people to overlook that perception, then an internal person can be effective.
The ability to mediate conflicts is a key competence of a manager. If the manager does not have the maturity required to conduct a conflict situation, marry the area of Human Resources to provide the necessary support to the manager. Levels and there are situations where domestic remedies does not have the autonomy to conduct these situations, in this case the external mediator can facilitate yet. But remember that whoever the mediator, 90% of the solution is the responsibility of those involved, and in these cases it is also necessary to have the maturity to bring up these issues. Programs internal coaching, assertive reviews, and transparency in communication, and help to reduce this problem internally. The mediator is an extreme and often palliative proposal.
HI Joanne...I've read all of the responses and obviously, there is some great feedback here. Most companies are starting to realize the importance of preparing their managers in several areas like compliance and employee situations. Training should be a priority in these areas, and deciding as a team, when an outside mediator will be more effective than working things out internally. Either way, document everything that is said in every conversation, whether internally or externally and be sure all parties sign those forms so you have documentation that you, as a company, have done everything possible to address the employee's issue. It's protection for you and your company, and keeps all parties aware and on the same path. Good luck!
I've been involved in both situations.
A professional external mediator is always interesting because you have to explain the whole situation to them and although they appear to be unbiased, they quickly can become biased by some choice words by certain superiors in the company.
An internal manager already has their biases on the manner because either they were there or they heard about what happened through whatever sources.
I am worried about conflicts of interest when using an internal person, but I am also worried about conflicts of interest when using an external mediator. e.g. who brought in the mediator? who is paying the mediator? What was the mediator told before coming into mediate?
I don't think it is an easy answer and I think it depends on the situation on whether or not you should bring in an external professional or using someone internally.
I have thought about this a great deal. It is really difficult to bring in an "unbiased" opinion into work matters or any relationship matters. Sometimes the only move is to bring in a supervisor or a third party. I think if matters can be dealt with internally that is usually better, but I don't want to overgeneralize, some workplace disputes need an external mediator for legal reasons.
I don't think one person can ever fully comprehend the intricacies of the situation and make a judgement call. I think decisions have to be made as a team.
Usually an odd number of people such as 5 is a good way of deciding. But sometimes the decision doesn't go the way you want it to and that can cause some friction in your business because people remember how you voted on certain matters.
Ultimately it is up to the person in power that makes the decisions. That is when I start to really worry.
Check out the bylaws if they are open to the public and see if there is certain protocol for matters that you are dealing with.
Joanne, You ask a great question.
I have read the responses to date, Some of them I would agree with.
There are up and down sides to this question.
I have on a number of times acted as an internal mediator.
But not for my department.
The company decided that if something (anything) that requires mediation, should where possible handled internally. But not by the manager who manages the department.
The main reasons for this are.
Internal mediators understand the working of the company.
They understand the companies limitations, and general policies.
A department manager from a different but similar department, can still act independently and unbiased.
They can asset in reaching an agreement and a action plan.
They are also in a position to monitor the outcome, to make sure that what has been agreed to happens.
Also this provides a second step if required of using an external mediator if required.
From my experience, I have been able to resolve 100% each dispute to the satisfaction of both parties, providing with a win-win outcome in each case.
The points in engaging and external mediator are.
They may not know the working of the company. or it's limitations.
They may not be able to supervise the outcomes.
They end up as the last resort, If this breaks down, you have no where else to go. except to go legal.
It's more expensive.
Yes I think the internal person is definitely biased hence there is conflict of interest and power imbalances especially if he / she is feeling threatened by a subordinate who is already competitive or senior as in duration of work days. It also depends if the majority are already of his / her kind, and has special interest towards the majority. An external mediator may have challenges in obtaining the very piece of true information either from one party or both parties if they one or both are skeptical. Hence, misjudgement can usually occur due to not having sufficient information and proof of dispute. There is a high possibility an internal person of higher rank has better say or louder voice than the subordinate due to his already in position, hence they can say and do whatever they want even it is meant to be falsified. The external mediator must take effort, especially an unbiased effort in proving both the equal opportunity to voice out, so that proper piece of true information can be obtained so that proper judgement can be given out in a way both parties instinctively feels and believes within inner self that they deserve it rightfully although they put up a show outside during the grievances procedure.
External will cost you money unless they are promoting their services in which case you might get it for free.Internal is always an option unless the management has already been doing MBW.Management by walking around and if not use them.There is usually a learning experiencing for the existing People that is nice to get for free.
Having been a Vice President of Human Resources in several industries over many years I was in a position to successfully mediate a number of disputes. I needed to make sure I removed myself from the emotion of the parties however there were times that I was too close to the situation so I removed myself from the process.
Now, being an outside mediator I have the luxury of not getting emotionally involved since I do not work inside the company. I also feel that an outside mediator gains more respect since they are removed from any "politics" within the company, be it between management and the employee, or between the employees.
I would "vote" for the outside mediator.
An independent mediator, if acceptable to all of the parties involved in the dispute, has the power of objectivity, without any internal career-related potential conflicts of interest or any hidden agenda. This objectivity tends to eliminate a prolonged argument, suspicions about motives and, the semblance of favoritism, and usually brings the parties involved to a faster solution -- and this solution, brought to the parties by an impartial mediator, tends to stay in force and to eliminate wondering, re-opening of the topic and the rancor that can come from an internal (managerial) settlement where there may be a lingering suspicion of favoritism. Objectivity is a precious asset in getting to real answers to real problems. - Douglas E. Castle
Objectivity is key and and internal mediators may have a bias real or perceived and this could interfere with positive outcomes. Also, if there are negative/constructive outcomes that involve discipline, resentments towards internal mediators may have invisible rippling and long lasting counterproductive effects. Resentments and passive-aggressive behavior can be very destructive. For these reasons, external mediators may be warranted.