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Mediation as an Early Intervention Tool

Mediation as an Early Intervention Tool

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Employees will experience personality clashes with other team members and leaders. Other factors such as role ambiguity, work pressures and demands, and organisational change will also at times bring out the worst in people. When people are stressed, they are not happy chappies, tending to be moody and on a short fuse.

In this moment in time, we also have quite different demographics apparent in the workplace – Gen X’s, Gen Y’s, Baby Boomers and a wide mix of cultural backgrounds. They all bring their own expectations and understandings into the equation. A veritable powder keg for tension and conflict! Throw into the mix that there are 1 in 5 Australians with diagnosed depression and you can see where it’s all heading.

A recent analysis of data from 155 cases of Early Intervention with a Queensland State Government Department showed that 37.4% of cases involved some form of conflict in the workplace; and 66% of these cases involved conflict which was ongoing for 6 months or more.

There are managers with very good conflict resolution skills and ability to identify the early warning signs in their team. They don’t bury their head in the sand and they are timely in addressing issues of conflict as they arise. Even these managers however, will put their hands up for additional assistance when they recognise that they may be perceived as not being objective enough or the mix of ingredients is too complex and beyond their capabilities.

There are many more managers who do not have the time to develop their skills in this area or are swamped with demands and feeling stressed themselves. And let’s be honest, it’s the rare human being that thrives on conflict! Most of us will do whatever it takes to avoid having to tackle these situations head on.

Amongst the cases mentioned above, there were a significant number that resulted in one party or the other going off on stress leave with a diagnosed psychological condition. Whilst the underlying cause was the conflict, the symptom was manifested in poor health – sometimes physical as well as psychological.

Left to fester, unresolved conflict can result in a prolonged and drawn out matter of return to work, consuming significant energies, time and money. Not to overlook, the immeasurable psycho-social impact on the employee’s life.

I have seen significant successes achieved where the conflict is identified and addressed through using mediation as a tool. Generally speaking, most people do seek to resolve conflict situations in their lives. Certainly they may have a vested interest in abrogating responsibility and blaming someone else for their woes but essentially they want to live with less stress.

Mediation can be utilised before the matter escalates out of hand; when a grievance is lodged; and, if the issue of conflict remains as a significant barrier to return to work.

Gen X & Baby Boomer in Workplace Conflict

This case involved a worker who completed his trade as an Electrician many years ago as a young bloke and more recently, joined the public service as a Technical Advisor (TA). He appeared to be experiencing significant issues with communicating with his Manager, a much younger man whose entire employment history was with the same organisation. Between them was a Supervisor on the verge of retirement.

Issues of miscommunication had escalated into high levels of mistrust between the two resulting in the older worker submitting a grievance against his Manager. One of the main issues involved a situation of reporting a priority case of unsatisfactory testing of electrical wiring in community housing. The TA considered the risk a high one that should be acted on urgently and sent his Manager an email to that effect. He also verbally advised his Supervisor who indicated that he would pass on the message to the Manager.

Apparently, the Supervisor later countered that the TA had not verbally advised him. The subsequent handling of the issue led the TA to suspect a cover up between his Supervisor and Manager potentially resulting in the TA appearing incompetent. Additionally, in terms of dynamics, the Supervisor was highly supportive of the Manager.

The concerns from the Manager’s perspective were that the TA tended to go off site on his own bat and not advise his Supervisor of his whereabouts and that he was not a team player. As a consequence, the Manager implemented a system of notification for all employees for when they left the workplace. This negated the need to address Manager’s concerns but had also contributed to earlier escalations of tension and subsequent mistrust between the parties.

The TA believed that the Manager was out to get him and that he could potentially lose his job. He was fearful and apprehensive and feeling that he would not be able to secure alternate work at his age. It was apparent to the Mediator that the TA was misinterpreting communications including at times those of the Mediator’s. It illustrated an employee experiencing a high level of paranoid thinking.

The Mediator addressed his fears by Reality Checking. For example, how likely was it that he would lose his job as firstly, there were significant skills shortages in the regional area for Electrical Advisors and secondly, he held permanent status as a public servant.

The Mediator also did Evidence Checking. Some examples were, was it possible that his Supervisor did not convey the verbal communication to the Manager as he should have or had forgotten to do so? How did he know that his Manager had read his email regarding the electrical wiring issue? How did he know that his Manager was trying to get rid of him?

Both these processes of Reality Checking and Evidence Checking assisted with challenging the level of paranoid thinking and allowed the Mediator opportunity to allow other perspectives to be considered to assist with widening the focus from the TA’s narrow one.

At the Intake Session, the Manager expressed genuine surprise that the TA had taken out a grievance against him. It became apparent that the Manager’s focus was on the big picture and not the detail. He had also assumed that the matter of the untested electrical wiring was addressed by the TA and nothing further was required of him. It was apparent the Manager was focused on big ticket items and skilled at managing upwards, leaving his supervisors largely unmonitored. In a nutshell, this Manager was fast tracking his career to the top of the ladder and the current grievance was a minor roadblock on the way to success.

The Manager also mentioned that the Supervisor had been on board since being a young bloke completing his electrical apprenticeship with the organisation. He was not long off retiring and was known for taking frequent breaks and could not be relied upon for sending critical information up the line. According to the Manager, the Supervisor was also known for passing the buck. The Manager had not been prepared to address these issues with his Supervisor due to his imminent retirement.

Through the Mediator’s use of Reflecting , he began to realise that the Supervisor’s actions and communications with the TA had contributed to a breakdown in trust and distortion of communication impacting upon the Manager’s relationship with the TA. The Manager realised he needed to take some responsibility for the current escalation of tension and the subsequent submission of a grievance, rather than simply express surprise that it had occurred.

The Manager had not twigged to the importance of the issue to the TA, and his subsequent worry about his reputation and job security. Furthermore, the Manager had not realised that there was a breakdown in procedure for notification of priority issues that if it resulted in an injury; it would then reflect very badly on him and become more than just a roadblock on his way to the top of the ladder.

The Manager also realised that he had allowed his Supervisor too much slack in the lead up to his retirement; allowing poor performance to slide by unaddressed.
Next ….. the Mediation Questions


Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts

When faced with complex problems, we typically respond in one of three ways. Often, our initial reaction is to feel overwhelmed. We may feel anxious and despair of our ability to respond effectively. This motivates our attempts to deny or avoid a problem. We might fail to recognize it altogether, or acknowledge the issues while simultaneously refusing to engage them. This characterized Anthony and Kasha’s initial approach to their divorce proceedings, when they chose to leave discussion about their vacation house until the end of the process. This strategy can have short-term benefits, such as the temporary management of anxiety, and long-term negative consequences, such as a missed opportunity to deescalate the conflict. It could even intensify the problem.
A second common response to complex problems is to prematurely simplify the problem. The demanding nature of these situations understandably attracts us to simplification: to thinking that circumscribes their intricacies by focusing on very few aspects. When situations offer contradictory information, simplification often involves a cursory comparison of different sides of the information, resulting in a polarized decision that one side is right and the others wrong. Such responses help alleviate our anxiety, cope, identify what to do, and begin to feel a sense of efficacy and control over the problem. But they can also lead to a misreading of the problem, resulting in what cognitive scientists label the revenge of the unjustly ignored.
In other words, premature oversimplification can lead us to actions that result in unintended negative consequences — consequences regarding important but neglected aspects of the problem. For example, some have argued that the Oslo Accords between the Israelis and Palestinians, despite their merits, failed because they neglected to address many of the key concerns of marginalized factions in the conflict and other serious issues voiced in the streets.
The third type of response to complex conflicts, much less common than the others, is to actively engage with complexity. This can take different forms but typically entails an iterative process of differentiation of the relevant aspects of and perspectives on the problem. And then an integration of this information within some coherent framework that makes it comprehensible and useful. This does not mean getting lost in the nuances and complexities of problems or prematurely simplifying them. It means doing both in an iterative, ongoing fashion. In other words, we break it down and then put it together before and after we decide.
Research on this type of information processing, called integrative complexity, has been conducted on the writings of a variety of effective decision makers, including diplomats, presidents, revolutionary leaders, and Supreme Court justices. Generally, higher complexity is associated with reaching mutually beneficial compromise agreements, successful diplomatic communications, employing cooperative tactics during negotiations, and increased managerial effectiveness. Additionally, leaders with high levels of complexity are more likely to be open minded, more effective in highly turbulent environments, and less likely to jump to conclusions too quickly when facing ambiguous situations. Although this manner of problem engagement can be demanding and requires certain skills, and is unnecessary with more mundane problems, the benefits of employing it with the 5 percent will greatly outweigh the consequences of denial, avoidance, or oversimplification.
Clearly, complex problems like the 5 percent present daunting challenges to our human capacity for comprehension and effective action. Determining the relevance or irrelevance of the countless aspects of such problems can overwhelm even the most careful, rational thinker. Under normal circumstances, we must locate the problem at an appropriate level and scope, mindful of how our point of view affects what we come to see as fact. We must struggle with limitations to our cognitive processing of information and remain open to how important unfolding changes may impact the situation. And if we face conditions of protracted threat, the demands on us are further exacerbated by anxiety, impaired cognitive functioning, a chronic concern for safety, and a context that provides contradictory and politically consequential forms of information. Like athletes who play extreme sports, we must be aware of the challenges the 5 percent present to our perception and judgment, and respond accordingly.
The above is an excerpt from the book The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts by Peter T. Coleman. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.


Peter T. Coleman is the Director of ICCCR and Professor of Psychology and Education. He holds a Ph.D. and M.Phil. in Social / Organizational Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University and a B.A. in Communications from the University of Iowa. He has conducted research on social entitivity processes (ingroup/outgroup formation), gender discrimination in organizations, the mediation of inter-ethnic conflict, ripeness in intractable conflict, conflict resolution & difference, and on the conditions which foster the constructive use of social power. Professor Coleman recently co-edited a book entitled The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice (2000), published by Jossey-Bass and The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts.

Facing Conflict

When a conversation starts to heat up, many of us will react by walking away. However, new research suggests that it may well be healthier to face the conflict and deal with it head-on.

This year’s annual meeting of American Psychological Association saw data presented that found dealing with problems directly is better for your overall health than avoiding conflict. Nearly 1850 adult volunteers were interviewed by researchers for eight days. They were asked about arguments, disagreements and situations where they could have argued but instead avoided.

Researchers tested participants’ cortisol levels four days across each day of the study, along with participants keeping a journal and recording their wellbeing and symptoms they experienced due to daily tensions. Approximately 60% of participants avoided conflicts and the rest faced it head-on. While negative wellbeing was reported more commonly on arguing days than on avoidance days, physical symptoms and negative wellbeing were higher in the avoiders the day after a potential conflict.

“Avoiding conflict may be beneficial in the short term but have longer-term negative effects on health, perhaps because the problem is not resolved,” says study author Kira S. Birditt, PhD, a research assistant professor at the University of Michigan.

That said, there are right and wrong ways to argue. Your goals shouldn’t be to “win” but to find solutions and reach a better understanding. It also helps to use “we” instead of “I” statements. These are skills that can be learnt by Supervisors, Team Leaders and Managers to assist with resolving conflicts in a timely manner in the workplace and contribute to a healthier workplace.

Brisbane Mediation Better Alternative to Lawyers and Court

Workplace mediation is an ADR process (alternative dispute resolution), and plays an integral part in the resolution of many workplace disputes. Workplace mediation is an option more often used over its alternative which involves attorneys and courts. The process of workplace mediation is usually much faster than taking a case through the legal process. Additionally, it is a completely confidential process and avoids many of the expensive costs that accompany hiring attorneys and lawyers.

Here at 3DMind Solutions, we provide workplace mediation throughout Brisbane and South East Queensland. Our goal is to provide professional mediation services for your business in the Brisbane and the South East Queensland region. Our team has multiple years of experience in the field of business mediation and are eager to help solve any internal problems you may be facing. Some problems we come across on a day-to-day basis are cases of discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination and often arguments that can be resolved within one or two conflict resolution sessions.

3DMind Solutions is a very well established company, and we owe many thanks to the successful partnerships and businesses that we have acquired over the years. We are committed to our goals and we always strive to help you reach yours, that is why we promise to provide you with the service you expect. We wish to help as many businesses as we can and look forward to expanding our mediation services in Brisbane and South East Queensland.

At the end of the day, your business is our business, so get in touch with us via phone – 1300 116 022 – or send through an enquiry. We will get back to you as soon as possible and look forward to helping resolve your workplace conflict situation.

Resolving Workplace Conflicts with Brisbane Mediation Queensland

Workplace conflicts and disputes are a challenge for any company manager or director. Sensitive or personal issues between staff members can sometimes seem to be a never-ending spiral of confusion, and more often than not, lead to an unproductive workplace filled with tension. If you are experiencing problems with how your staff members interact or conduct their duties, our professional experts at 3DMind Solutions can help get you and your business back on track.

3DMind Solutions, a reputable company based in Queensland, offers a wide range of services to companies and businesses much like yours. One of the services we perform includes workplace mediation throughout Brisbane and South East Queensland. Mediation is a useful practice designed to mend broken or strained ties with staff members, allowing the parties to successfully resolve their issues in a very honest and open environment via the guidance of our professional mediators.

At 3Mind Solutions Workplace Mediation Brisbane, we understand that the employer has an interest in the outcome of any conducted mediation sessions with their staff members. We always make sure that the parties involved know that we conduct mediation under confidential circumstances, however, as the employer, you are entitled to request that any arrangements made between the parties are done so in writing in order to ensure the ongoing success of the mediation process. We are committed to providing you with the service you expect; we always strive to resolve the issues that are presented in the most professional, respectful and civil way, no matter how difficult the task may seem. We are here to help your business grow!

Get in touch with us today to see how we can help you relieve the burden of workplace conflict via our workplace mediation services, available in Brisbane and throughout South East Queensland. You can contact us via phone – 1300 116 022 – or send through an enquiry. We will get back to you as soon as possible and will endeavour to resolve your workplace conflict situation.