Vail Daily column: Mediation makes business sense
As a vehement proponent of the magic of mediation, I frequently feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. While there are an increasing number of people embracing the potential of mediation, there are many who regard the process with contempt. This group is disproportionately comprised of high-powered business people and old-school litigators. In their misguided view, talking through their issues is too touchy-feely, the domain of hippies and mystics. They see mediation as the coward’s way out of a conflict. I find that perspective to be a massive pile of equine excrement. But their perception of mediation as “new-age” is at least partially correct: there is no doubt that mediation is the future of dispute resolution. Not only can it meet the needs of families in crisis or neighbors at each other’s throat, but it is a boon to the bottom-line.
Friction within Companies
Companies are built on the sweat and dreams of their founders and employees. In addition to the daily pressure of keeping afloat, business owners come across conflicts of all types on a regular basis. These may be inter-departmental squabbles, problems with suppliers or dirty dealings by competitors. The friction of disputes siphons off energy from the company, robs it of efficiency, and ends up costing hard-earned dollars. A business that avoids dealing with these issues can put itself in real jeopardy. Allowed to fester, these matters may bring down the company, particularly if they result in litigation.
Decades of toil and hope can be undone by one lawsuit. In the legal profession, this is referred to as “bet-the-company” litigation and it is prestigious for a lawyer to claim that area as a specialty. These lawyers are incentivized to push their clients to the brink, so as to potentially bring the attorney higher glory.
Protecting Integrity, Solvency
The business owner’s incentives are far different. While entrepreneurs may be very comfortable with risk, only a very select few take a gambler’s attitude to their business. Maximizing profits is important, but protecting the integrity and solvency of the company is an even higher priority.
Goaded on by their attorney, who may adept at stoking the fire of outrage, the business owner may lose sight of their goal and get bogged down in the quagmire of a lawsuit. Legal fees will be become a significant line item on the balance sheet, crowding out the R&D or marketing budget that the business had hoped to bolster. Even if the business emerges victorious, the distraction, stress and expense of litigation may throw the company off-kilter. It will certainly dampen morale, which is at the heart of any team-based endeavor.
Deal with issues Right Away
Mediation can be a powerful prophylactic to these ills. At the first sign of trouble, internecine or otherwise, a smart business owner will recognize that the conflict needs to be assessed and addressed. For internal problems in a larger operation, there may be one or more persons trained in the mediation process who can provide assistance. Otherwise, the company can bring in a professional mediator or use the mediator to facilitate a resolution with an external disputant. There is no need to wait until a formal complaint or lawsuit is filed: the earlier that the warring parties can sit across from each other and formulate solutions, the better. Even if they are not able to reach an agreement, the simple act of discussing the problem in a safe, confidential environment can lead to the needed detente.
Mediators are trained to hone in on the roots of conflict, bring them to the fore, and use that catharsis to allow the parties themselves to come to a suitable resolution. A voluntary process, it may not always work, but the chances for success are heightened if the parties buy into the method. This starts at the top: if the boss thinks it is a good idea, then the lower echelons are likely to agree. Creating a company culture that faces its challenges instead of sweeping them under the rug instills confidence in the employees and may have lasting effects on retention and productivity.
Create An Open Exchange
To engage in mediation is to open oneself up. This can be daunting because it is not easy to predict which buttons may be pushed. But the modern workplace must be increasingly comfortable with an open exchange of ideas and emotions.
For an employer to learn about its employees in this context will allow for the creation of strategies that maximizes everyone’s success. Imagine what can be learned from an open dialogue with a competitor: not trade secrets, but only the best practices and opportunities for collaboration. Welcome to doing business in 2015.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.