Case studies can give you a practical idea of how mediation can help.
Research technicians Fred and Bally are on the same pay grade. Bally has been in her post for two years, has two children and a degree.
Fred is close to retirement and has worked his way up to his post after gaining an HNC.
Bally spends a lot of time with the students, which means Fred has to undertake more of the experimental work.
Their manager John, a principal investigator, has not had a discussion with Bally and Fred regarding their work to see if there are any issues, but sees a lack of teamwork between them.
Fred is thoroughly irritated with covering for Bally's work. He feels shes always taking time off work to look after her children or away from the lab gossiping with students.
Bally feels Fred is just working uncommittedly until he can retire. She doesnt like his language (calling her love all the time) and thinks hes far too familiar and gets closer to her than shes comfortable with.
Fred overhears some gossip in the tea room regarding the quality of his work and guesses it was started by Bally. What little trust there was between them has now been lost. To make matters worse, Bally and Fred were supposed to set up an experiment for a senior academic - this wasnt done and the experiment couldnt go ahead.
The principal investigator calls them both into his office after the senior academic put in a complaint. John tells them that this was the last straw (following some similar incidents over the previous months) and strongly recommends mediation.
Both Fred and Bally wanted to avoid more formal procedures and agreed to try mediation. They attended their individual sessions with the mediators, and at the end of these sessions the mediators suggested a joint meeting might be appropriate.
They agreed that they would be prepared to try a joint meeting, although both were still a little concerned that what was said would get back to John about what was said. After the mediators assured them that this wouldn't happen and anything said in the meeting would be treated confidentially, they felt happier to try the next step.
The mediators explained the ground rules to Bally and Fred for the joint session, which included reaffirming that they would be get:
- Equal time with no interruptions while they were speaking
- A chance to hear the other persons point of view
- Reassurance that any notes taken during the session would be destroyed after the session and that a written agreement would be produced if requested by both parties at the end
- Reaffirmation of the confidentiality of mediation
- During the joint session Fred and Bally had an equal opportunity to explain their concerns and to raise issues they felt were causing them anxiety. The meeting was quite intense at first but with the mediators direction both Fred and Bally began to relax and openly discuss their difficulties, making suggestions on how they could work together in the future.
The behaviour contract is voluntary but it helps to reinforce what has been agreed. Fred and Bally agreed to:
- Use less familiarity when speaking to one another and be aware of personal space
- Have more understanding of flexibility around childcare situations at short notice
- Have better communication and raise concerns directly with the other person, and have a no gossip rule
- Respect each other's skills and experience
- Improve understanding about sharing the setting up of experiments
- Bally and Fred also agreed to contact the mediators if anything went wrong in the future. The mediators agreed to be available if needed and to follow up the joint meeting after a couple of months to see how things were progressing.
The case studies you will find below are drawn from mediation cases, but all names have been changed to preserve the anonymity of the parties involved.