Some Reasons People Seek Help from the Mediation Program

Here are some examples of kinds of disputes, conflicts, or problems where the Mediation Program can help:

  • incivility
  • procedural irregularities
  • unprofessional conduct
  • workplace disputes
  • questions about professional or academic integrity
  • interpersonal conflicts
  • fights or disagreements that seem to have gone on for years
  • safety concerns
  • ethical dilemmas
  • cultural misunderstandings
  • somebody who never seems to listen
  • somebody who is "numb" to the effect they have on colleagues
  • personality conflicts

Even though most people think of arguments when they think of disputes, being in an argument or disagreement is not the most important reason to consider mediation. You can make a difference even if you're not stuck in a frustrating argument with someone. You might request mediation or other help from the Mediation Program with some colleagues for these reasons too:

  • You're tired of all the politics.
  • The factions and politics in the work unit seem to interfere with professional conduct.
  • You find yourself becoming a person you wouldn't like to work with.
  • You are being treated with less respect than your colleagues.
  • You are treated differently from your colleagues.
  • You've tried talking with your colleagues, and nothing seems to work.
  • You work in an adversarial culture, and nothing can be done about it.
  • You wish there was a greater sense of community in your work unit or between your unit and another.
  • You don't want somebody to come in and "fix things" -- you want to be heard. You want the environment to change.
  • A situation between you and another person seems to be spreading in the work unit and involving innocent bystanders, especially people who are less senior, untenured, or otherwise more vulnerable.
  • You're tired of having the same arguments with the same people over and over again.
  • You're having trouble getting somebody to listen to you.
  • You're wishing you could just get those people to sit down and talk and listen to each other.
  • You have this thought: Things don't have to be this way.

Dysfunctional Behaviors, Conflict, and Intervention

If we think realistically about our lives both at work and elsewhere, we have to acknowledge that conflict and the emotions that come with conflict are everywhere and are inevitable. Scholars of conflict even recognize that conflict that is well managed is a healthy source of creative energy in an organization. The goal of an institution like the SCSU Mediation Program, then, is not to achieve a conflict-free work environment. Rather, our goal is to help fellow employees who find themselves in conflict situations that are dysfunctional--that are degrading their quality of life at work and interfering with healthy functioning of their work units. We stand ready to help in assessing their circumstances and their own tactics and behavioral options, and in mediating their disputes or otherwise facilitating their communication with their colleagues.

Some people say that when hostility is openly expressed, especially unfairly, or when people are typically obstructionist, mediation might be able to help reduce the level of dysfunction. Anger and hostility are essential emotions, and oppositeness is an essential stance in some forms of discourse. Anger and distancing behaviors aren't necessarily bad and in fact can be healthy and productive. When they interfere with professional conduct, then they are dysfunctional. To make a blanket statement that those behaviors are inappropriate is in itself inappropriate. We do not hold that people should be condemned for anger or hostility in the face of unprofessional or misguided or damaging conduct. We do hold, however, that people are responsible for clear, respectful, constructive communication. In fact, this is a primary goal of mediation.

Workplace hostility, also sometimes called workplace bullying, is very much a matter of situation and context. Any of these behaviors can be misinterpreted and may not be in themselves be wrong or bullying, but here are some ways hostility is expressed in the workplace, some possible and perhaps common and not so common indicators of conflict, bullying, and hostility:

  • staring, giving dirty looks, or making other disrespectful eye contact
  • belittling someone's opinions to others
  • making ad hominem arguments and always constructing disagreements as personal
  • giving someone "the silent treatment"
  • making disrespectful or obscene gestures as a form of discourse in professional communications
  • talking behind someone's back, spreading rumors, or failing to deny false rumors or false accusations
  • interrupting
  • damning with faint praise
  • holding someone or their work up to ridicule
  • bullying; flaunting status or authority; acting in a condescending manner
  • sending unfairly negative information to higher levels in the university or to agencies outside the university
  • always refusing to work with or meet with someone
  • delivering unfair performance appraisals
  • harassing someone verbally or sexually

Obstructionism, the more passive form of workplace bullying, is another way incivility can become institutionalized. Most of us have experienced the frustration of being targets of these behaviors. And, if we're candid with ourselves, we may have to acknowledge that there have been times when we have engaged in these behaviors ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously. Here are some examples of obstructionism. In order to retaliate against or undermine someone (often a supervisor or someone in authority), a person may engage in several of these passive-aggressive tactics:

  • failing to return phone calls, reply to email, or respond to memos
  • failing to transmit information
  • dragging one's feet in matters important to others
  • failing to warn somebody of impending danger
  • consistently "forgetting" assignments or appointments
  • continually showing up late to meetings or missing deadlines
  • failing to defend an acceptable plan or activity
  • interfering with or blocking the reasonable or acceptable activities of someone
  • needlessly or dishonestly consuming resources needed by others
  • intentionally slowing down work or progress