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Mediation Managing Resistance to Change: The Definitive Guide

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Mediation can play a crucial role in successful Change Management helping to address conflicts that may arise, facilitate communication, promote understanding, and enable positive outcomes as to how agreements can be reached in an organisation, amongst

A group people working within an organisation's change management process

employees, executives, and stakeholders. In this guide you will learn what mediation is and how it can be effectively applied to address employee resistance to change within a business or organisation process which is involved in organisational, adaptive or transformational changes. Don’t get me wrong, this guide could easily be applied to LLPs, family businesses or enterprises, the principles will be the same. By providing a platform for involved parties to navigate change with confidence and collaboration, mediation can foster a positive and productive environment, ultimately contributing to the success of change initiatives

In this guide you will learn about:

  • Understanding Mediation

  • The role of the Mediator

  • How does a Mediator identify the challenge in the change management process?

  • Common resistance to change challenges found in change management.

  • What are the key methods and strategies used in change management mediation to address resistance to change?

  • Advantages of change management implementation

So let's dive in

a person looking through a magnifying glass analysing information

What is the meaning of mediation?

Mediation is an alternative way of resolving a conflict to that of a formal complaints, grievance procedure or litigation. It is a private, voluntary conflict management and resolution process, where it allows the employees involved to find their own way forward to communicate effectively about the issues, concerns, and their respective goals for repairing relationships, and better understand the initiatives being met within the change management process.

infographic plotting the range of processes within alternative dispute  resolution model

So when you look at the lower end of the spectrum for employees, the resolution can happen between them without any involvement. But when a conflict cannot be resolved on its own, the opportunity to bring in a mediator is introduced. However, if the conflict is not addressed at this point on the spectrum, and employees choose not to have their voices heard or not to participate in a mediation, that’s where the problem or conflict can escalate. The potential for the problem to move higher to litigation becomes greater and now becomes a Workplace dispute. The problem then becomes a grievance or a disciplinary or even a employment tribunal matter. Therefore, professionals from the outset should consider whether the case is suitable for mediation. Have a conversation with the mediator about what you are looking to achieve and the outcomes.

mediation meeting in progress with people sitting around a table

What is a Mediator?

Now let’s discuss the role of the Mediator. The Mediator:

  • is there to manage the process in an impartial way with the employees involved in the conflict within a confidential space.

  • will help each employee talk about the issues, to be heard and to hear each other.

  • will help focus on the concerns and issues and guide discussions so each person can better understand the other’s views.

  • assist in discussing difficult topics to the conversation so each person can develop their own solution and resolve the conflict. Any agreement will come from the employees themselves and not from the Mediator.

person in conflict

How can a Mediator identify the origins of a conflict during an organisational change?

As a first step, the Mediator will want to establish what is the organisation’s business change initiative. Mediation is there to assist the change management, help the employees align with not just to understand what the change is, why it is happening but also what it means and how to ensure that the human aspect of the organisation is being addressed.

The organisation will have tools and techniques that address processes in the change management. However, whatever the business initiative, people will still be involved inside of the change. In today’s emerging technologies and rapid pace, technology is changing faster than the human’s own ability to change, so that means there will be a hole, a difference or something that is missing from the process which has given rise to the employee’s resistance to the change.

Accordingly, this will include the Mediator understanding the objectives, advantages and obstacles, conflict analysis manifesting from the change as well as it's effects on the roles, duties and expectations of the employees involved.

woman holding her head down in her hands

Reasons for employee resistance to change.

During an organisation’s change management, the business maybe confronted with employees struggling with resistance to change. Resistance is very common and stems from the fear of the unknown, which creates anxiety and stress. Not knowing how an event is going to turn out can be very scary for employees going through a change at work. The best way to identify the root causes of resistance is through a personal and supportive conversation with a resistant employee to address objections, not simply how the resistance is manifesting itself.

A change in processes can impact the way employees carry out their jobs. They will feel or experience:

  • some level of loss in their daily lives

  • not understand what the changes are

  • lack of trust in the leadership

  • sense of the lack of control over their work environment, e.g. hours, duties, locations

  • fear of the threat to job security

  • change in workload, redesigned job description, responsibilities, who report to

  • being stretched too tightly

  • change in behavioural requirements

  • insufficient development

  • not being listened during the change process

  • exclusion or limited from the consultation and decision-making process.

  • change being destabilising, stressful, overwhelming

  • loss of control over work environment

  • improper planning or initiatives when the change was being introduced

  • role being eliminated or reduced.

  • lack of support and resources for employees to successfully navigate the change.

two people in conversation

How does mediation address the challenge to resistance to change?

By supporting open and constructive conversations with each employee involved, in a neutral environment, the Mediator will:

  • explore issues and concerns

Mediation will explore the individual issues and concerns of the employees for the reasons for the emotional reactivity to exist. The employee is free to explain the impact of the change, by exploring their experience, feelings, relationships within the organisation before and after the change process. The Mediator will explore whether the implementation of the change management process in the organisation’s business initiative has been right with the employees. If not, the Mediator will explore why hasn’t the employee been bought in by the change?

  • receptive to the needs and interests of the employee involved

Having identified the impact of the change of the organisation’s processes to the employee, the Mediator will look at their needs and interests by meeting with each employee individually. From a mediation point of view, each employee will need a good listening to. The Mediator will be given a chance to hear it out and it will be a chance to hear the employee offload, actively listening from an impartial point of view.

  • Truly listening

Actively listening on the part of the Mediator will be about being present to facts and the emotional aspect of the employee. Encouraging open and engaging discussion and input. Considering the party's perspectives, asking questions about what the change means to them. The Mediator will be given a chance to hear it out and it will be a chance to hear the employee offload, listening from an impartial point of view.

The element of the good listening is the principle of neutrality. For the mediator it will be important to take everything on board, not only what is being said, but not necessarily to agree with the employees as to whose to blame or who’s right or wrong. The Mediator will be looking ahead at the appropriate stage in the meeting to gather what is needed for the employees to start to look forward by coming up with an action or behavioural plan to make the change management to be managed in a positive way.

As part of the individual meeting with the employees, the Mediator will have a conversation to move each employee from their current positions to find what their needs are. Quite often where there are positions, there is a mindset of a winner and a loser. The Mediator will try to get the employees away from that mindset to have a productive conversation about moving from a place of competition to a place of collaboration by holding a joint meeting. In competition there will be winners and losers.

Collaborative talks can help repair and preserve ongoing relationships with the employees in the conflict to facilitate the change that is needed. It can help alleviate the feelings of loss associated with the change management and help them to think differently about the conflict and contributing to the success of the change initiatives. With collaboration it becomes an all win-win situation, mediation can serve as that driver to moving the employees away from the past of resistance to a place in the future. There will be a move away for the employees from being in a place of feeling either a winner or loser within the process.

In summary, change management can learn from mediation by incorporating reframing techniques to present change in a way that encourages a more open and non judgemental reaction which makes it more positive, constructive or acceptable to the involved employees

  • Action plan with mutually acceptable solutions

Following from a place of reflection, the Mediator will want to put in place a plan to be productive for what each of the employees are going to do differently for change to be implemented. The output from these conversations rest on the behaviours of not only what employees are going to do but also what they say. Behaviours relate to the structures of the departments, definition of duties, the degree of collaboration that they can improve upon.

The action plan will be something that will be entered into voluntarily, something that is created by the employees from their own choice and own volition, and more likely to take ownership of the plan and make it work. The Mediator will want to assist the employees in looking at opportunities which will allow them to create practicable solutions. Any action plan is smartened up by the employees adding equal weight and equal contribution. By coming up with a plan with their own choices, employees behave more differently which plays a positive part for strategic success for acceptance of the change management.

The last thing is that the action plan can be disclosed to the organization with the employee’s consent. It can be helpful for management to know what has been agreed but ultimately it will be up to the employees.

employee collaboration within the organisation's process

Benefits of change management mediation

Overall, by identifying the origins or potential pockets of resistance to change, mediation can be a valuable tool for managing conflict by addressing the people side of things. It can lead to more positive behavioural change within the process of change management.

What employees need is a good listening to and understanding to address objections, better conversation and collaboration to come up with a plan to structure how the employees move forward to better interact, take ownership, and from there accountability will grow. A plan will identify new opportunities as the real benefit is to transform the organisation and help employees feel comfortable and supported during the change management and ensure its successful implementation.

Finally, in my experience, while executives are looking around to see who is adapting, to the process of change, it is important to recognise the early adopters, people who are changing and adapting quickly are deserving of support or praise, benefits realisation, continued engagement or recognition. If you can, find a credible way of rewarding their positive approach, it could act as an inspiration for others to follow.

author  against a pink background

Winnie Onyekwere LLB LLM

Accredited Mediator

If you require help, we would be happy to provide you with support for your mediation matter. Just connect with me below or if you know someone who might be interested share this with them


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