Guest blog written by Clive Lewis (Globis Mediation Group)
It is inevitable that where there are people, differences will surface from time to time. Sometimes these differences can be nipped in the bud with the right set and form of words. On other occasions these words may never be uttered. Collaborative working relationships can morph overnight into a situation where colleagues become enemies.
Conflict can be both harmful and costly and arises in a school setting for a variety of reasons. These could include bullying and harassment, or concern about terms and conditions of employment. Of course, another dimension is that whilst teacher training may be excellent for equipping one with the technical skills of pedagogy, the training doesn’t always prepare one to take on the challenges of managing people.
Mediation is based on three core principles. These are that the process is confidential, parties attend on a voluntary basis and finally, the mediator is neutral. Mediation usually lasts for one day and that is normally long enough to find resolution even where disputes have been running on for years. Consistently, surveys show that the number one reason someone will leave employment is to get away from someone with whom they are in conflict. In mediation, parties are given the opportunity to express what they have wanted to say for a long time but have not had the right setting or environment in which to do so.
In a recent case, administrative colleagues in a school finance department fell out. Jan had accused Sarah of laziness which included perpetual lateness and a reluctance for Sarah to take her turn to make rounds of teas and coffees. The dispute got so bad that Jan asked a colleague in maintenance to erect a temporary partition wall between them. Both had also taken a number of days sick leave. An added feature of the conflict was that Jan had lost a son in a tragic car accident a year before and Sarah had also experienced the recent death of her dog. Both argued over which was more traumatic.
The enormity of the conflict only hit home with other colleagues when a pupil came to the office with some money to pay for an excursion. He was spoken to rudely by Sarah and told to return the next day when Jan was back in as she was responsible.
On the day of the mediation session, the role of the Bursar was called into question. Despite being aware of the conflict, he had buried his head in spreadsheets and had hoped that the conflict would blow over. It never did and got progressively worse. The mediation session lasted a whole day and concluded with an exchange of apologies, tears and forgiveness. The Headmaster commented that he could not believe that one day was all that was required to sort out a horrendous situation that had gone on for so long.
Unfortunately, unresolved conflict situations like that experienced by Jan and Sarah exist in schools all over the county. A tool exists to bring respite. It is called mediation.
Clive Lewis, OBE DL, is a Business Psychologist and CEO of Globis Mediation Group.