June 11th, 2010

WBI's position on mediation and workplace bullying

Bullying is rarely just conflict. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on an  American Arbitration Association (AAA) initiative to address workplace bullying in the academe. The WBI position is clear. When there is a power/status difference, mediation is the wrong tool. We do not mediate domestic violence cases. When there is clearly a perpetrator-initiator and an involuntary target, mediation further compromises the compromised. When the organization believes the target finally attempting to fight back makes him or her equally wrong, mediation doesn’t work.

Read the several wise comments at the Chronicle site to see how few support this notion. The Conflict Resolution industry completely missed opportunities to report and address workplace bullying before the bullying movement appeared on the scene. They have had decades to develop systemic solutions and to educate leaders in their organizations. They have done none of these things.

In other words, if ADR proponents had recognized workplace bullying for the destructive phenomenon it is, they could/would/should have acted. Instead they were blinded by their ambition to sit at the right of CEOs and be taken seriously. When the focus is up the hierarchical chain, the needs of real workers are ignored. It’s an industry in serious need of justifying itself to survive, given its relative invisibility in the C-suite.

Now conflict resolution types are trying to claim part of the solution to bullying simply because bullying is  a “hot topic.” Why has the AAA never contacted WBI to discuss collaborations or to send representatives to WBI University Training for Professionals to learn the fundamentals from us? Because they have no interest.

To ADR practitioners, we say you had your chance to help but blew it. There is ample historical proof that you don’t understand either the impact of bullying on people or don’t care. Both groups are apologists for bullies in the workplace providing institutional cover by making it appear that “something” is being done. ADR solutions are illusory band-aids that accomplish no long-term success. Bullying exists because of explicit or tacit approval of executives. Executives and ADR do not communicate on a regular basis. They are not on the executive team. CEOs do not seek counsel from ADR before acting. Bullying is outside the ADR pay grade.

Solutions should be left to those of us who have championed the value of bullied targets, not hyperaggressive bullies, from the start. Organizations win secondarily when bullying stops. But to make the only goal the appearance of a conflict-free workplace is delusional. Put injured workers first. ADR never did that in their management support functions.

All the workers who have been re-traumatized and betrayed by ADR know where mediators stand on bullying. Too late to change stripes now. The American Arbitration Association’s wandering into the workplace bullying arena is a disingenuous, opportunistic endeavor. For the sake of bullied staff and faculty in American colleges and universities, please stay out. Stick to what you know; it’s certainly not bullying.

Read the many astute comments by veterans of the bullying wars in the academe and David Yamada and Loraleigh Keashly as they tell exactly how mediation produced further injuries. The comments are linked to the Chronicle article.

Finally, our position reflects an opinion about the ADR role in organizations. Roles are separate, in our mind, from the individuals trying to reduce destructive conflict. We have met several well-intentioned professionals who just happen to be ADR proponents. Lamont Stallworth is one such person. However, individual integrity notwithstanding, mediation is an inappropriate tool to mitigate bullying in the academic (or any) workplace.


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This entry was posted on Friday, June 11th, 2010 at 5:05 am and is filed under Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Tutorials About Bullying. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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