I have been extensively involved in the practice of conflict management and dispute resolution in both the statutory and private spheres for over 20 years, and have considerable experience in mediating collective and individual labour and employment conflict and disputes.

A key area of my mediation practice is in workplace mediation, also referred to as ‘interpersonal mediation’ which has a strong focus on building/restoring constructive workplace relationships.

I regularly mediate at executive and senior levels in organisations where sub-optimal relationships carry significant risk, and in conflicts that involve sensitive and complex issues of diversity and difference.

The scope of my mediation practice includes being a Regional Mediator for the World Bank, as well as training mediators and conciliators on behalf of the International Labour Organisation, an agency of the United Nations.

Approach to conflict management and dispute resolution

My approach to managing conflict and resolving disputes is to assist parties in conflict to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes which address their underlying needs and concerns. This includes turning a ‘two-way conflict’ into a ‘three-way conversation’ and supporting parties to move from positions based on assumptions and blame, into exploration and understanding of the role and contribution of their own interpretations and behaviours to the situation they are in. Using these insights, we jointly identify strategies and behaviours that can support a more productive future relationship.

Mediation | Sharon Wakeford
Mediation conflict path | Sharon Wakeford

What is workplace mediation (also referred to as “interpersonal mediation”)?

Workplace mediation is a voluntary and confidential process in which an impartial third party works with individuals who are in conflict or dispute to explore, understand and appreciate their differences with a view to re-establishing and/or improving their working relationship.

This type of mediation has a strong transformative quality in that the mediator works with the parties to help them articulate their perceptions and feelings and assists them to recognise the validity of each others’ needs and concerns so that they can shift from blame and negativity to a more constructive future relationship.

The parties determine the content of the discussion and decide the outcome, while the mediator controls the process, which is informal and flexible.

How does workplace mediation differ from traditional employment/labour mediation?

The key differences between employment mediation and workplace mediation are: the types of issues typically dealt with; the timing of the mediation; and the role of the mediator in relation to process, content and the engagement with and between the parties.

When is workplace mediation appropriate?

Workplace mediation is most appropriate early in the life of the conflict, where the people involved are committed to resolving the issues and are keen to pursue a different approach to the traditional approaches (such as lodging a grievance or using disciplinary processes).

What issues can workplace mediation address?

Performance, strained relationships, issues of diversity, discrimination and values (organisational and individual), bullying and harassment, organisational change, incompatibility or personality clashes, conflict arising from mergers and acquisitions, disputes between and within teams.

What does a workplace mediation process entail?

The process involves three stages which include:

  • Individual meetings between the mediator and each party to uncover the issues, needs and feelings and secure parties’ agreement to participate in the process.
  • A joint meeting between the mediator and both parties in which the parties have the opportunity to express their feelings and concerns directly to each other, to explore the issues giving rise to the conflict or dispute between them and work towards a mutually acceptable agreement.
  • Follow-up by the mediator with each party to see whether the agreement has held and establish whether any changes to the agreement or further support may be necessary.

What are the benefits of workplace mediation?

  • A positive way of managing conflict – the process addresses the underlying causes of the conflict and not just the manifestations
  • Restores relationships at work
  • Prevents conflict escalating into a dispute
    • Resolves disputes before they are determined by the CCMA
    • Saves actual costs and associated costs such as management time
    • Supports line management and HR
    • Improves morale and productivity
  • Models effective conflict management skills and capabilities