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Curran, D
Irish Academy of Management
Helping Talk Work: State-funded Workplace Mediation in Ireland
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Helping Talk Work: An exploration of State-funded mediation services in IrelandDr Deirdre Curran – NUI GalwayThe potential for conflict is a feature of all work organisations and resolving conflict effectively is one of the key people-management issues facing employers today. One means of resolving a dispute is to seek redress through formal legal channels, although this can be costly both financially and in terms of damaged relationships.  As a result Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms, including mediation, have become increasingly popular. ‘Mediation is a process whereby an independent, neutral Mediator(s) assists the parties to come to agreement through a collaborative process’. (extract from the Mediators Institute of Ireland definition)The Irish State provides two publicly accessible sources of mediation to help deal with disputes arising in the workplace. Under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, the Equality Tribunal offers a mandated mediation service as the default process in complaints of discrimination covered by the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011. A public mediation service is also offered, on a voluntary basis, by the Labour Relations Commission primarily dealing with cases of individual or small group disputes.This paper explores both services in detail focusing on; the organisational context within which the service is offered, the characteristics and goals of the mediators, the process and approach adopted by the mediators, and the outcomes sought. The actual behaviour of mediators in session is given particular emphasis along with the contextual determinants of variation in such behaviour.According to Charkoudian ‘an important contribution the research community can provide is an understanding of what mediators actually do and the impact of those actions.’ (2012:381) Brazil contends that ‘the single most important variable affecting how mediation works is the behaviour of the mediator.’ (2012:331) He also acknowledges that mediator behaviour may vary with both the environmental context and with the mediator’s goals and that the determinants of such variation require empirical investigation. Kolb (1983) also concluded that mediation styles and behaviours are a function of the organizational setting within which the mediator operates.Detailed structured interviews drawing on key themes from the literature were conducted with the mediators in each context. The data was then analysed to explore similarities and differences in mediation process, behaviour, and outcomes across each context.While much of the literature presents mediation as a homogenous process, this research establishes that while there are some unifying themes across the two contexts, considerable variation exists in both the process of mediation and the approach adopted by the mediator. The research provides evidence that mediators adapt their strategic approach to suit the exigencies of the situation and the organisational context.This research contributes to our understanding of State-funded mediation in Ireland. It challenges the assumption that there is a common understanding of, and approach to, mediation as a process of workplace dispute resolution. Finally, the paper presents recommendations on how State-funded mediation services in Ireland could be improved.     
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