Can workplace bullying situations be mediated?
This is a recurring question that came up again in the aftermath of a talk I gave yesterday on workplace bullying at the annual workshop on Humiliation and Violent Conflict, sponsored by the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Network and hosted by Columbia University in New York City. I have meant to post about this question in more detail, incorporating the many discussions that have taken place over it among experts in workplace bullying and dispute resolution, but for now let me give you my short answer:
I think it’s necessary, in this context, to distinguish between workplace bullying and lesser forms of workplace incivility.
Workplace bullying typically involves an abuse of power accompanied by malicious intent, enabled by differences in organizational rank and privilege, dint of personalities, or some combination. Attempts to mediate such situations subject targets to even more abuse, and wrongly suggest that somehow we can split the differences between the parties and arrive at a fair resolution. Just as we would not attempt to mediate child abuse or spousal abuse, we should not attempt to mediate work abuse.
However, lesser forms of incivility, where power imbalances are not as pronounced and intentions are not malicious, may well benefit by a mediation approach. It can mend fences, reduce stress, smooth over working relationships, and perhaps even keep parties out of court.
Of course, it’s not always easy to differentiate between abusive bullying and other forms of employee discord. Drawing those lines in an academic, definitional sense is hard enough; applying those distinguishing characteristics in real life is even harder. I won’t attempt to tackle that subject here.
I’ll have more to say about the excellent workshop itself in a later post. For now, suffice it to say that I am heartened by the work of so many change agents in endeavors related to human dignity.
Link to Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Network: http://www.humiliationstudies.org/