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There are various options for dealing with a workplace bully, including coaching and disciplinary action. Some employers are considering mediation that involves  both the bully and the target.  This suggests a basic misconception of the problem. Bullying is not a form of conflict – it is a form of victimization. The target did nothing to deserve bullying and can do nothing to stop it. It’s  the employer’s responsibility to send a clear and firm message to the bully – STOP IT OR YOU’RE OUT OF HERE.  Research shows there are many potential  pitfalls and problems with using mediation in a bullying scenario.   These  include but are not limited to:

  • In mediation, there is traditionally a basic assumption that both parties are equally capable of negotiating with each other.  However, the parties in a bullying scenario are not in an equal position. The target is usually a subordinate. The target may fear escalation of the bullying or reprisals from the bully.
  • Mediation usually does not acknowledge or punish past behavior;  What about  justice and recognition of the harm done to the target?  It is well documented that workplace bullying can result in serious emotional and physical harm to the target.  By ignoring the harms that result from bullying, the employer diminishes the problem.
  • Mediation is often done behind closed doors. Confidentiality works against identifying systematic patterns of conflict in an organization associated with a particular party, a particular unit of the organization, or across the organization. Confidentiality in mediation may enable a bully to be a serial abuser.
  • There is often no follow-up intervention. Things might get better for a while but the bullying behaviors may resume, resulting in more or greater harm to the target, who now feels a sense of  futility and doom.
  • The conflict may have reached a level of escalation that only arbitration or power intervention can address. Mediation may only exhaust and further debilitate the target and increase the employer’s potential liability.



0 thoughts on “Mediation?”

  1. So basically, if you are the target and the next level supervisor says you should “work together” with the bully, should you refuse? In my mind, this approach means you are willing to “share blame” and try to work things out. There is no excuse for bullying, and its hugely detrimental to the organization. Mediation will not get to the heart of the issue – the bully needs their conduct corrected. Seems to me, mediation for bullying is a bit like telling a rape victim to change their clothes and work things out with the rapist, because if they weren’t dressing so provocatively, they wouldn’t have been raped. Thus, they must have deserved what they got. It’s twisted logic that protects a sociopath bully.

  2. I am a teacher, and the person who bullied me was a co-worker, the union president for our district. I did speak with an attorney (useless!) who recommended I go to mediation as requested by the district to “show good faith.” It was a horrendous experience – with me bringing a list of behaviors the bully was engaging in that prevented me from effectively completing the functions of my position, and her bringing a list of personal complaints that amounted to character assasination. We hammered out an agreement that basically lasted halfway through the school year, then she started up again. We ended up the year with the resignation of the principal, and I was involuntarily transferred. It seems that when nobody was looking, she had the contract rewritten so that the new language would have me losing my position, rather than her when they reduced teachers due to lower enrollment. I have tried to get a position in other districts, but due to the economy, and probably my age – I have not been successful. The job market is very tight where I live. This has been a horrible experience for me. My only saving grace is that I stuck up for myself. It cost me dearly – but I never backed down.

    1. The school system took the easy way out and it ended up costing the district dearly, as well as you and, ironically, the alleged bully. Thanks for your note; it may serve as a warning to others who are considering that route. Mediation is not well suited to the problem of workplace bullying. PGB


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