What If Mediation Hearing Doesn’t Stop Bullying

Question: to Ask the Workplace Doctors 

There is an upcoming mediation hearing to resolve bullying issue in my workplace. I am concerned that this will be ineffective. If it doesn’t help, then what to do? Courts settle issues with a financial settlement, but that will not stop the behavior. Any recommendations?

Signed, Worried


Dear Worried:

In most cases a mediation hearing is held to try to bring about reconciliation, not to find fault or to make a judgment about right or wrong. I’m not clear on if this mediation hearing is at the level of organizational complaint or is the first step in a lawsuit you have filed.We aren’t experts in the area of mediation or related issues, but I have participated in many such hearings and can provide you with some insights that might be helpful.My first advice is that if you can get the help of an attorney who specializes in workplace bullying issues, you would find that to be very useful to you. You may be working with one right now, but I didn’t get that impression. He or she could review documents you receive and could advise you about approaches to take. You may find that just one meeting with an attorney would be very worthwhile.You mention your concern that the mediation hearing won’t be effective and that the actions will continue. That may be the case. A mediation hearing is designed to encourage compromise. “If you stop doing this, she will stop doing that.” “I agree that I can change in this way if the other person will change in this way.”The mediator is just a person hired to bring both people to a sense of agreement. He or she has no control over disciplinary proceedings and is supposed to not have an opinion about the degree that one person is right or wrong. So, pleading a case doesn’t help, only working toward an agreement.If the other person doesn’t feel she has behaved wrongly, she won’t agree to change. If you don’t feel you have behaved in ways that contributed to the situation, you won’t agree to change.

So, without a compromise of some kind or agreements about the source of problems and how to improve things, mediation hearings end without a resolution.The good thing to come out of such hearings, even if they fail in that sense, is that you have documentation of what you have tried to achieve and why it failed. The mediator’s notes are part of an official record as well.If the mediation hearing doesn’t stop the action you consider to be bullying, you can make other complaints formally or you can talk to an attorney about other actions. You can also quit that job and find another one where you are treated better. I realize that sounds punishing to you, but it may be the only resolution if your organization doesn’t feel you have shown a reason for them to intervene on your behalf. You didn’t ask for advice about the mediation hearing and you may have an attorney who is already helping you with this, but I’ll offer a few suggestion as well.One way to prepare for your hearing is to know what behavior, actions, words, tone, facial expression or other manifestations of bullying behavior you will never accept again, so you can be adamant that the other person must stop that permanently or you will not agree to anything else. That allows the mediator to know clearly what you perceive as wrong and unacceptable or what you will need from the other person to feel that you are being treated in the right way. The more specific you can be, the better.

I suggest that you have the statements in writing, so you can read them or paraphrase them.You may find that you are stopped by the mediator to clarify something or to suggest another way to word it or a different approach to take, but that isn’t a negative factor for you, so don’t let it bother you.For example, it doesn’t help much to say, “I want Jan to treat me with respect.” That could mean a lot of things. It would be better to be specific:”When Jan thinks I’ve made a mistake, she sends me a text or email that’s written using a terse tone and without any professional courtesies such as please or thank you. They’re written as though she’s angry or dislikes me. And, often her idea of a mistake is an unreasonable personal preference. For example, that although a sentence was written correctly and without error, she would have preferred I use a different word. When she writes to me about it she uses a reprimanding tone, as though a better employee would have known what word she preferred. I end up feeling as though no matter what word I would have used she would have said she wanted another one.I want that to change. I want her to use courtesy phrases to me and write or talk in a way that sounds courteous and respectful of my work and my tenure. I also want her to reduce the number of minor changes that are not corrections. She can make the changes herself if she wants to, but I don’t want to have my work interrupted over and over for minor changes that were not in error to begin with.” You will also need to be prepared to hear that the other person finds something you have done to be unacceptable and she wants you to change that. The mediator’s job is to give you the chance to say if you can make that change or if you cannot or if you refuse to change. Some employees want to immediately argue that they were NOT doing those things anyway. The better way is to say something like, “I would like to state for our record here that I deny having done those things.

Because I’ve never done them I can agree that I won’t do them in the future either.”Or, “The things she mentions are things I corrected when they were brought to my attention. I haven’t done those things since I realized they were in error and I can agree that I won’t do them in the future.” My experience with mediation hearings is that both people tend to feel they are being falsely accused. After all, it’s unlikely the other person will say, “She’s right and I’ve been all wrong.” So, be prepared to hear what you might find to be insulting or even what you feel are lies. They probably will feel the same way or at least partially that way. Even people who behave badly usually have a lot of self-justification; we all do! A final thought: You mention that judicial settlements award money but don’t necessarily stop the bullying. If you and your attorney file a lawsuit and you receive a monetary settlement in your favor, you probably won’t be working there or with that same person anyway, when it’s over. So, I don’t think that will be an issue.I don’t know what stage you are at in trying to resolve this, but I do think it seems you could use some legal advice if you think you are going to have to take it much further. At least it would be helpful for you to fully understand the process, what steps are involved and what to expect.Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.************************* Follow up from “Worried”Thank you so much you have definitely helped with how to proceed!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.