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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  1. This post certainly gives “the ADR profession” something to think about. Understand, however, that there is no single, unitary “ADR profession” and the American Arbitration Association is not now, and has never been, the place where transformative people-centered mediation is conducted.

    Although I act as an arbitrator on expedited commercial cases for the AAA, I do not do mediation there. Nor do I mediate, professionally, with “people.” Professionally, I help attorneys settle their lawsuits for their clients. And because I do not do workplace mediation professionally, I do not see bullying disputes when I am busy making a living.

    I do, however, volunteer my time as a community mediator (free) and as a mediator in the Los Angeles Superior Court (also free) in civil harassment cases (which include family violence and workplace violence; and, lots of neighborhood violence as well).

    Mediators who do this work are highly trained and are not affiliated with any corporate entity or corporate interest. Though some people who experience being bullied are responding to sociopaths for whom mediation is just another opportunity to manipulate for self-advantage, most of the “bullying” I see arises from misunderstandings; historic resentments; broken relationships; and, unaddressed justice issues.

    In most of these cases, both sides report being bullied by the other and both sides tell credible, textured, detailed stories that move the mediator to pity. Transformative mediation, however, is not about pity.

    The fathers of transformative mediation practice are no corporate tools. They describe “conflict” (and bullying IS a conflict) conflict as “a crisis in interaction. In the midst of that crisis, all parties . . . experience confusion, fear, disorganization, vulnerability, uncertainty and indecisiveness. They also experience defensiveness and suspicion. http://www.mediate.com/articles/pynchonV1.cfm.

    Transformative mediation moves the parties from self-absorption to recognition and empowerment and, eventually, to accountability, forgiveness, amends and reconciliation.

    We mediators sometimes wish that there were a “mediation standard” or “ADR industry.” At the present time, well-intentioned people are engaged in educational and training activities in an effort to move from a rights/remedies/power over means of resolving conflict to an interest-based, collaborative, power with paradigm.

    We are doing so in prisons and in the community. We are doing so in the criminal justice system (through restorative justice practices). We are doing so in the legal system and outside of it. There are many organizations who would be happy to join with you in finding solutions to the problems you are addressing here.

    They include Mediators Beyond Borders(http://www.mediatorsbeyondborders.org) and other peace-making mediation groups, organizations and institutes, all of which are dedicated to the resolution of conflict that is people-centered and transformative.

    If you’d like more information on these “no-corporate” ADR resources, feel free to drop me a line.


    Vickie Pynchon

    • Dr. Gary Namie says:

      Vickie, Thank you for introducing us to “transformative mediation.” This may be something worth exploring. I know that forgiveness and reconciliation sound too undoable to bullied targets when in the throes of assault, however a new video “Coexist” suggests how groups on the opposite side of the Rwandan genocide (much like the South African Truth and Reconciliation initiative) might live together. On the heels of our latest gathering of workplace bullying experts in Wales, though, there is agreement that mediation can only work in the mildest forms of bullying, among equally-powered parties. Stallworth and the AAA are pushing an agenda that clearly is not part of the workplace bullying movement. Though Lamont is a good person. Thanks for your thoughtful contributions to improving society. G. Namie

  2. kay says:

    Mr. Namie, I am so very grateful for your continuous efforts, please do not give up on this extremely important battle. It is now 5:55am eastern and I have to prepare myself for the mental assault that I face every day at my place of employment. There is so much that I’ve been through, too much to post at this time, as I am currently experiencing the residual morning anxieties of facing another day in there. I am an excellent employee and an even better mom, spouse and person in general yet I have been through a horrible ordeal of degradation, threats of physical violence, indecent voyeurism and more all with full knowledge from my employer. I am now on antidepressants and suffering a post traumatic stress. I am praying for those in power for our country to sit up and take notice and enact laws……..NOW.

    • Dr. Gary Namie says:

      Kay, Don’t wait on a law. Your health is sending the message that immediate change is required. Have your physician put you on paid disability (not workers comp) leave. Then study up to discover what you can do. You have options. Get our book, find a powerful ally where you work who can pressure your tormentors. Do something. Rally your family to help you. PTSD is a war wound, an adaptation to the warlike workplace you endure. Make them stop. And if they refuse (which they will), get to safety. Maybe safety exists in another position at the same employer. GN

  3. Jay Jacobus says:

    The bully damages one victim at a time and goes about his business.

    He is not pressured to stop his actions.

    There are ideas to help correct toxic workplaces. Perhaps someday, through WBI’s efforts, some of those ideas will become useful.


  4. LB says:

    “Conflict resolution” ?

    This must be the biggest farce ever foisted on the human resources industry.

    Bullying is not conflict. Bullying is one abusing another.

    It makes it so much easier for HR to simply apply a legal term to bullying, thereby shifting the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

    The only “conflict” with bullying, is the bully.

    There is no way that someone other than the target, knows exactly how they feel, or how bullying effects them, and if you have experienced bullying, then you know exactly what I am refering to.

    “Consultants” or “Conflict resolution” specialists, are merely paid mediators in the employer’s interest, and the employer is only interested in the most results for the least of amount of their money.

    Don’t delude yourself, “conflict resolution” means, remove the complainer as neatly as possible, and move on, employer’s don’t tolerate being exposed.

  5. Rosinanadiagrignetti says:

    Kay, I understand your position completely. It is my sincere hope that you have found a resolution/safe haven of sorts to this cowardly behavior. I am currently on my third experience of bullyiing and finally, I have armed myself for victory.

    Wishing you all the best,

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