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Bullying and harassment complaints
Is mediation the answer?

by Nora Doherty

Case Studies of Mediation for Harassment Complaints

There are two examples I have been involved with personally that will outline more clearly how mediation can be used. One is about a conflict situation between two people - where one person put in a complaint of bullying against their manager; and the second is about a complaint of harassment within a team.

Harassment Complaint: Mediation between two people

About a year ago, I was contacted by the Personnel Manager of a large charity who explained to me over the phone that one of their employees had put in a complaint of harassment against her manager. The complainant was saying that her manager was abrupt and aggressive in the way she spoke to her, had raised her voice and critised her in front of other colleagues in the office and was generally acting towards her in an unsupportive way - so much so that she was now suffering from stress, could not sleep at night and dreaded coming into work.

The Personnel manager had also spoken to the manager concerned who said that she had several issues with this particular person, the main one being that the manager felt that her directions concerning work and projects were not being accepted and, in her point of view, she felt that this person was deliberately undermining her authority. As mediation is written into their harassment policy as an informal first stage for resolution, the personnel manager decided to offer it to them as the fairest means of resolving the issues between them.

Even though they had some misgivings initially, both parties agreed to go ahead and have a mediation - as they both wanted the situation between them to be resolved as quickly as possible and neither wanted to go down the more formal route of investigation. They did see the merit in talking through their issues with the help and direction of an experienced mediator who did not take sides. As the external mediator chosen for this work, I arranged to meet with both of them the following week and set aside one day for the mediation. I spent almost two hours with each of them in individual meetings in the morning and brought them together in a face-to- face structured mediation meeting which took all afternoon.

By the end of this meeting, they both had had the chance to say what they needed to say to each other, they had identified the main issues and, with some help and encouragement, had come up with a number of practical agreements on changes for the future that would improve their working relationship (in this case mainly around how they communicated with each other). These voluntary agreements were written up by myself as mediator at the end and each were given a copy. A follow-up meeting has been arranged for three months time when I will go back and see how these voluntary agreements are working out between them.

Complaint of Bullying: Team Mediation

The second example was when a member of a team made an anonymous complaint of harassment against two senior managers of a department in a large insurance company. The complaint brought to light several areas of conflict and differences within a team of twelve people. While the complaint was investigated and no fault found, it was clear that something further had to be done. The Human Resources Director decided that the best way forward would be to offer the whole team a 'team mediation' and she contacted me and discussed it all over the phone.

A team mediation is very similar to a mediation between two individuals in that the principles and structure are the same but it does demand more skills and experience from the mediator because of the number of people involved and the group dynamics and emotions that may arise.

This particular team mediation was more complex than usual and took place over three days. The first day I spent seeing each person in the team in individual meetings (which means you can really get to know what is happening in total confidence) and from that I decided on the best way of setting up the team mediation which took place a few days later in a training venue nearby. There were several major issues that needed to be addressed - one person felt that he could not work with a colleague because of a personality clash between them, and the other was that two members of the team felt that there was a possible element of racial harassment going on in the team that was not being tackled by their managers. There is not the space to describe it all here but after a lot of hard work by everyone and a lot of useful communication, the mediation in the end proved beneficial for everyone. By the close of the mediation, the team had come up with eight agreements and clear strategies for addressing each of the main issues they had identified which would improve working relations within the team and would move things forwards in a very constructive way. I had a follow up meeting with them two months later and there was a definite improvement all round - people felt that their concerns had been addressed, that changes had taken place that improved working relations, and since the team mediation members of the team treated each other with more professionalism and respect.

Back to page 1 of this article

Page 3 - Who does the mediation?

Nora Doherty is Director of Professional Mediation Resolutions (PMR) Ltd, which offers independent mediation, and a six-day Certificate Workplace Mediation training accredited by the Open College Network, in London and Derbyshire every year.

All details and course bookings via their web site or e-mail Nora on:

PMR Ltd have also released an informational, promotional training video/or dvd on 'Workplace Mediation - Rebuilding Working Relationships' which gives an explanation of what workplace mediation is, with graphics of its six step structure, principles and uses within organisations, alongside unique footage of two workplace mediations of typical inter-employee disputes, including a complaint of bullying against a manager.

The video/or dvd can be purchased directly on-line via PMR's web site on

This video will be of particular interest to organisations and human resource personnel considering including 'mediation' into their dispute resolution policies and to managers/trainers who need such a resource for mediation or conflict management skills training.'

Copyright © 2004 Nora Doherty, all rights reserved


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