Shall we mediate or eat fungus?

Posted on October 7, 2011 by


In our 6th guest blog, employment lawyer and mediator Lili Hunter of Lili Hunter Consulting takes to the stage to disuss mediation.

Om mani padme hum, om mani padme hum……oops no that’s meditation. 

Mediation, thankfully for those of us in our advancing years, does not involve sitting cross-legged on the floor and chanting!  

There is a lot of misunderstanding about what mediation is and what it is not.  It is a source of much dismay for those of us who are practicing mediators to hear someone who has not been trained, say that they were ‘mediating’ or that a ‘mediation’ took place ….and that it didn’t work. 

We all know that penicillin is made from fungus, however scraping mould from the dishes in a student flat and eating it will, unsurprisingly, not have the same therapeutic effect as ingesting a prescribed antibiotic.  Therefore it would be incorrect to say in such a case that ‘antibiotics’ have not worked.  What has actually not worked is the botched attempt to replicate the real thing.  In the same vein an untrained individual cannot expect to be able to effectively and successfully mediate a dispute and in fact they risk doing more harm than good.

There are different models of mediation.  In the workplace, facilitative mediation can work best as the mediator uses techniques to assist the parties to negotiate their own settlement.  The process not only addresses past conflict, but helps the parties learn and understand each other better and to develop techniques to help them resolve future conflict on their own. 

Mediation is a form of negotiation, but it has a particular dynamic and format that makes it unique.  The process is private, confidential and without prejudice.  Often a confidentiality agreement is put in place to ensure that parties feel ‘safe’ to have a full and frank discussion, something that would not be encouraged or possible in most formal proceedings within a company.

A mediator will use techniques to help the parties ‘separate the people from the problem’.  Negative emotions towards a colleague often come from the fact that we have a tendency as humans to wrongly interpret the intent behind the way others are behaving.  “I don’t like you!” is a personal statement and it is difficult to overcome or change.  “I don’t like the way you ignore me” is a statement about a behaviour.  This is something that can be explored, discussed and understood, if not changed.  At the very least the behaviour can be defused of its perceived emotive intent.  A mediator will use reframing and other techniques to help parties better define the conflict issues so that resolution is possible.

A huge factor in the mediation process is the mediator themselves!  He or she must be impartial as it is critical that the parties trust that what they say and do will not be judged or discussed outwith the mediation.   Mediation success rates are quoted as being anywhere between 85% – 95%, so the next time you hear someone say that they mediated and it didn’t work, be sceptical about what actually took place!  They may just have been eating fungus.

Finally a question: How many mediators does it take to change a light bulb?

Trick question: Mediators must not make decisions about whether the bulb needs changing.

A little about Lili

After undertaking an honours degree in psychology Lili studied HR, then gained a Law Degree (LLB) and also completed a post graduate Masters Degree in Employment Law and Practice whilst undertaking her legal traineeship. 

She practiced as an employment lawyer in Aberdeen until March 2009. During her time in private practice she won the accolade of “Rising Star of the Year” at the 2004 Legal Awards.  She then became a partner and headed up the employment law team within a large local legal firm.  Lili trained as a mediator in 2006 and now combines her interest in law and human dynamics in both fields of her work.

Lili now heads up her own employment law legal practice and consultancy company which specialises in workplace mediation, HR, employment law consultancy and training services.  She is currently working towards a doctorate in HR and mediation as well as serving on the committee of the local branch of the CIArb and teaching part-time at the Robert Gordon University.