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How can a mediator deal with Power Differences in Labour Conflicts? Meriem Kalter, PhD student University of Leuven, Belgium.

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Presentation on theme: "How can a mediator deal with Power Differences in Labour Conflicts? Meriem Kalter, PhD student University of Leuven, Belgium."— Presentation transcript:

1 How can a mediator deal with Power Differences in Labour Conflicts? Meriem Kalter, PhD student University of Leuven, Belgium

2 Research Project Mediation ( , the Netherlands) n Consortium of Dutch Mediation Institute, DAS Legal Services, FNV Trade Union, Legal Aid Office the Netherlands, LCR, University of Leuven and HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. Ambition: Contribute to the development of the appropriate use and quality of mediation in the Netherlands. Focus on labour conflicts.

3 Goals (what questions were important to the field?) 1. The development and validation of an instrument measuring quality and satisfaction with labour mediation; 2.The development of a conflict indicator resolving conflict for legal advisors (www.conflictwijzer.eu) 3. Making ‘best practices’ available for mediators who have to deal with power differences in labour conflicts. More than 150 people participating; mediators, students, organizations

4 How can a mediator deal with Power Differences? ‘The intervention into a dispute or negotiation by an acceptable, impartial and neutral third party who has no authoritative decision-making power, to assist disputing parties in voluntarily reaching their own mutually acceptable settlement of issues in dispute’ (Moore, 1986) This implies that all parties have an opportunity to express their wishes and interests to get to a mutual agreement.

5 A mediator promotes equal and full participation of parties, flattened lines of communication and democratic decision making. This can be a challenge if a mediator has to mediate an hierarchical conflict within a workplace setting. To what extend is equal participation in mediation possible between employer and employee when such parties hold structurally different positions?

6 Method Development of a six-hour ‘knowledge’ workshop with a core theme of ‘Power Relationships within Labour Conflicts’. Focus group; questions were asked in an interactive group setting and participants could talk about power in labour conflicts and how they would mediate in such conflicts.

7 Mixed method study Before and during the workshops data were collected: n Questionnaire n Interview n Group discussion n Observation by means of role-plays. A total of 52 experienced (labour) mediators participated in 4 workshops. Data were analyzed using the qualitative method of observer impression. A master student and one of the researcher made observations, examined and interpreted said data and reported their findings.

8 Results 1 What mediators say about ‘power’ n All mediators believe power dynamics are at the heart of the mediation process. n When asked if a mediator has a role in restoring power balance, they say: ‘a mediator should not have a role in that as such, but should be able to handle an asymmetry in power in such a way that both parties can influence the mediation process and outcome. n Mediators in the Netherlands consider ‘power’ a biased and negative word and preferred to use other words like ‘force field’ or ‘empowering’

9 Results 2; techniques to handle asymmetry n Giving parties seperate interviews before the start of the mediation; n Listening with care to each individual’s story (allowing both parties to express their point of view); n Paying attention to emotions and naming them; n Asking future-oriented questions; n Reformulating demanding terms in a positive manner; n Emphasising common interests; n Setting up a caucus; n Being transparant and naming any power imbalances you perceive at the table, ask parties for their view; n Asking how parties would react if roles were reversed.

10 Results 3; What mediators show; role-plays n In role-plays most of the above power- balancing techniques were used, with the exception of transparancy/naming of power imbalances and caucus. n Although mediators stated in advance that they would give both parties the same amount of time and attention (due to their ‘neutrality’, remarkably in the role-plays almost none of them did.

11 Results 4; Most of the time and attention was given to the seemingly powerless party. A great deal of attention was paid to the emotions of the powerless party, and a lot of empowering questions were asked.

12 Follow up study Because the study was a pilot-study (qualitative, focusgroup, role plays), further research is needed in what mediator’s actually do in ‘real-life’ mediations. Next study; Observation of mediators in mediations (structured).

13 Discussion The question rises if balancing power is a good thing and necessary for a mediator to do in such hierarchical conflicts. For example, does this lead to valuable outcomes for both parties in the mediation? What do you think?


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