When can Mediation Help?

March 19, 2018

In this blog, Becky outlines the difference between mediation and facilitation and when mediation can help.

By Becky Mee

When people talk about mediation, there’s a sinking feeling, a rolling of eyes and some knowing looks. You know things have got out of hand and it’s the equivalent of the referee stepping into the boxing ring in the 11th round. It can also be the last-ditch attempt to put things right before someone has to resign or potentially even worse, a different type of conversation is had.

So, what is mediation?

It’s when a more structured conversation is needed to resolve a dispute and to prevent arbitration. It’s conducted by an independent third party, is voluntary and the aim is to help the disputing parties settle their disagreement. Mediation is without prejudice and can become legally binding depending on the outcome agreement.

What is facilitation?

Mediation’s cousin is facilitation and often the two get confused. Facilitation is when a third party needs to step in to help a conversation happen, making sure that all parties have a chance to put their points across and diffuse tension before the situation escalates further.  It’s also voluntary and facilitation done well, can be a timely intervention before mediation is needed. Whilst it is confidential, it’s not legally binding.

So what type of situations can facilitation help with? A well-structured conversation can be helpful where:

  • A group is struggling to come to a consensus about an appropriate course of action to take.
  • Different members of a group want different things and a fresh perspective is required to help them decide on a way forward.
  • A team need assistance working through a problem or a situation and a “fresh pair of eyes” to help them see alternatives.
  • Members of a team need an equal chance to put their ideas, suggestions or points across and they struggle to do this without support.
  • Teams need an open, honest conversation about the future and what it could look like.


All these conversations need to be structured and have ground rules, so all involved are aware of what is expected and how things will pan out. Confidentiality is key, as are being open, honest, willing to listen and open to new ideas.

So how can mediation help a situation?  In the workplace it can be used to:

  • Resolve conflict between people or teams.
  • Find common ground so trust and relationships can be rebuilt.
  • Settle grievances as part of the grievance procedure.
  • Resolve issues as a last-ditch attempt to make amends before one party resigns and potentially claims constructive dismissal.


What do you need to bear in mind with facilitation and mediation?

Being able to facilitate or mediate effectively is a skill, requiring an open mind, impartiality, patience and the ability to keep people on track. As impartiality is key, it’s often best if the facilitator or mediator is completely neutral and not involved in what has gone on before. This could mean bringing in someone from another department or someone external, such as a trained consultant or utilising ACAS’s services. All parties need to agree to ground rules before the session starts and be clear on both what the end goal could be, what ideally they would be willing to compromise on and how this could make the other parties involved feel.

What can you do in your organisation for more effective conversations?

There are a several quick wins here:

  • Look at your grievance policy – does it include facilitation and mediation as options for settling differences?
  • Review the skills of your management team – are they equipped to deal with these situations and handle conversations effectively? Do they know the difference between the two and when they might be useful?
  • Look at how difficult conversations in general are handled at work – often issues arise because of a clumsily held conversation, where people convey a message to get it out of the way without thinking of the implications. Impact vs intent is key here.
  • Is your management team trained on different ways to resolve issues at work? Training through a third party or ACAS could be a low cost but effective tool.
  • Take a more collaborative and facilitated approach to discussion and problem solving within your teams, ensuring everyone in your team has a chance to talk and ideas are valued.


Facilitated and mediated conversations are powerful tools when used well. However, facilitated conversations, if part of the everyday fabric of work life can save a lot of time and effort in the long run, meaning mediation may never be required.

If you require mediation, we can help! Just get in touch with the team.

Leeds based HR180 is a team of superheroes in HR Outsourcing, Projects and Consultancy committed to work in partnership with organisations of all sizes to establish working policies to go above and beyond Employment Law requirements, to protect both employees and employers alike. We love to hear from you, so call us on 0113 287 8150 or hit the Rescue Me button.

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