Meditation: Resolving Interpersonal Conflicts in the Workplace

A well organized and structured mediation can be a beneficial mechanism for resolving interpersonal conflict in the workplace. URI/AAUP Executive Director Jay Walsh recently completed The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School Mediating Disputes course with the aim of helping faculty resolve professional interpersonal disputes. Disputes with the employer, or administrative representative of the employer, can use the grievance and arbitration provisions of the collective bargaining agreement to resolve conflicts. The grievance process, however, cannot be used when there is a dispute between two members of the same bargaining unit. Interpersonal disputes outside of the collective bargaining agreement can be successfully mediated.

Interpersonal disputes in higher education can range from scholarly disagreements, contests over access to graduate students, quarrels about teaching effectiveness or pedagogy, animosity related to peer reviews, controversy over course assignments, hostility during department meetings, tension about resources, divisions about program direction, misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities, debate over hiring colleagues, and more. The traditions of shared governance and departmental democracy do not always allow for civil resolution of disputes. Allowed to fester, conflict in the workplace can have significant detrimental effects on teaching, scholarship, job satisfaction, physical health, mental health, work-life balance, and overall happiness. URI/AAUP is now offering mediation for union members who are interested in resolving disputes that occur in the workplace.

What type of dispute is appropriate for mediation? Almost any dispute can be successfully mediated. Successful mediation requires both parties to voluntarily agree to mediation, to work together with the mediator, and to be willing to consider a mutually satisfactory resolution. The mediator can not impose a result on the parties. The mediator facilitates a voluntary process that assists the parties in the process of resolving their own dispute. The mediation process used by Jay enables participants to develop a deeper understanding of the conflict, understanding of the other person’s perspectives, understanding of themselves, and an understanding of a mutually beneficial resolution to the dispute.

Under the law, the union owes a duty of fair representation to both members in a workplace dispute. Jay, acting as the mediator, will remain impartial and keep all mediation sessions confidential. Rhode Island General Law § 9-19-44 ensures confidentiality by protecting the mediator’s work product from disclosure in future judicial or administrative proceedings involving the parties and prevents the mediator from being compelled to disclose the discussions related to the mediation. Mediation can be an effective tool for resolving disputes that keeps the process of resolution within the control of the parties. The process is confidential and protected. When both parties are committed to finding a mutually satisfactory resolution, mediation can be a good choice for dispute resolution that calms tensions rather than escalating tension.

If you are interested in resolving a workplace dispute, please contact Jay Walsh at 401-874-2534 or [email protected] and he will be able to explain the process used to help restore a meaningful and rewarding work environment.