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Using Mediation to Facilitate Performance Expectations

In the workplace, mediation is useful for managing performance expectations and facilitating effective communication. In the case of Chirag and Claire (names and company changed for confidentiality), their story served as an example of how mediation facilitated a successful return-to-work and restored a valuable business relationship by separating professional concerns from personal friendships.

Chirag and Claire’s Situation

Claire’s Pharmacy, a 30-year-old family-owned business, grew from a single employee to a team of 20 under the diligent leadership of Claire.  

Chirag, the first employee and now the operational backbone of the pharmacy, became an indispensable part of the business. He was there during all the difficult times that the business faced and was treated like a loyal member of the family business. 

Claire had personally trained Chirag and gradually delegated responsibility based on trust. Claire took her time, checking Chirag's work to make sure there were no problems. 

Chirag oversaw staff development, day-to-day supplier relationships and payment of invoices. He also managed the operational side of the business and created processes and systems to effectively assist Claire in her function as Director. Chirag was the second in charge when Claire was absent, and every employee respected him. 

The Crisis

Claire’s personal tragedies forced her to step down temporarily, delegating her director’s responsibilities to Chirag. 

However, Chirag had difficulty handling the extra duties such as payroll (salaries, super, ATO, etc.) during Claire's six-month absence, which resulted in serious financial errors. These tasks were outside his comfort zone which he had to take on without preparation, training, or shadowing.  

Chirag’s experience was supported by the CPP Global Human Capital Report “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive”, which stated that 33% of workplace conflict is caused by heavy workloads. 

Upon her return, Claire faced a dilemma:

Balancing her disappointment as a business owner with her compassion for Chirag,  who had supported her through personal crises.

Claire discovered that Chirag’s errors and lack of attention to detail as acting director had resulted in heavy penalties and had cost the business a considerable amount of money. Some bills have been triple paid, some others not paid causing business cash flow issues.  

Claire was upset but did not know how to effectively communicate these business issues to Chirag without emotional conflict and reproach. 

Instead of providing honest feedback and having an effective performance discussion, Claire decided to modify the role of Chirag by reallocating some of his responsibilities without explanation. Chirag was a loyal friend, but she also had to reduce the business’ human-error liability. 

Here’s what the Forbes Advisor’s State of Workplace Communication In 2024 said about cases similar to Claire and Chirag's situation:  

86% of executives identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of failure in business.

The Downward Spiral

Claire’s attempt to reassign some of Chirag’s responsibilities without direct communication led to his growing sense of lack of recognition and high levels of stress and doubt. Some staff that used to report to Chirag began to ignore him and reported directly to Claire as a Director. He saw a pay slip of a new staff member with a massive salary increase and got upset that he did not receive an increase in salary after acting as a director for 6 months. He felt unrecognised for his dedication, loyalty, and commitment. 

Both Chirag and Claire started to avoid each other and struggled to collaborate effectively. 

Feeling hurt, depressed and undervalued, Chirag took a six-month leave, and upon return, found that his role had significantly changed. All the systems and processes in the pharmacy have changed, and tasks have been redistributed to new staff. Claire explained that the new system worked well and assigned Chirag different tasks. 

Chirag did not understand the changes happening, went to the doctor and took a stress leave that extended to a work compensation leave.  

This coincided with the CPP Global Human Capital Report which revealed that 25% of employees have seen conflict result in sickness or absence.” 

Chirag was frustrated that he could not work in the pharmacy with Claire and missed his job. Claire needed Chirag and refused to hire someone else since she did not want to replace him. No one was happy with the current situation. 

The Role of Mediation

Faced with an untenable situation, Chirag and Claire agreed to participate in a mediation process to facilitate Chirag’s return-to-work as soon as possible.  

Both parties chose the right path because according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) 2020 “Managing Conflict in the Modern Workplace” report:  

74% of workers who agreed to go through a mediation process have resolved their issues.

In fact, the Australian Mediation Association reported that:

Mediation statistically settled over 85% of initiated disputes.

As the mediator, I emphasised to both parties that mediation is a confidential process that provides the opportunity to speak freely in a safe controlled space. This allowed them to engage genuinely and to be in control of their agreed resolution outcomes.

Here’s what happens during the Mediation Process:
  1. Both parties join an exploratory discussion.

  2. Parties are encouraged to communicate effectively on issues raised.

  3. The mediator encourages parties to communicate directly with each other.

  4. The parties’ needs and interests are further clarified for both parties.

In this situation, the shift occurred when both parties raised their concerns and issues to each other and realised that they had no idea about the thoughts, feelings, and work expectations of each other. After 30 years of working together, the lack of ongoing feedback and communication mixed with loyalty, compassionate friendship, work expectations and business performance became an unhealthy professional relationship.

When it comes to employee engagement, regular feedback plays an important role as stated in a 2021 Workleap global study

96% of employees said they want to hear feedback regularly

Outcomes from Mediation

1. Enabled Effective Communication

Mediation allowed Claire and Chirag to engage in open dialogue, acknowledging their mutual dedication and the professional gaps that had developed over the years. They agreed to discuss issues before it reached the point of generating stress and damaging the business relationship.

2. Laid the Groundwork for Performance Expectations

By clearly defining performance expectations and responsibilities, the mediation helped prevent future misunderstandings and errors.

3. Rebuilt Valuable Collaboration

The process highlighted the importance of leveraging strengths as part of the return-to-work strategy. Claire and Chirag co-created a new job description for Chirag by using a strengths-based approach, focusing on Chirag’s capabilities that he had built over the last 30 years, and setting up fortnightly meetings to ensure ongoing alignment.

Research from Gallup’s Business Journal states that: 

Employees who work on their strengths are up to 7.8% more productive, and teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5% greater productivity.

This is why the strengths-based approach was adopted in the mediation.

Facing interpersonal conflicts at the workplace, Claire and Chirag engaged in mediation. Through open communication and structured expectations, they addressed underlying issues. The process not only resolved immediate conflicts but also laid the groundwork for a more collaborative work environment. That is the power of mediation.

Are you handling workplace issues and wondering how to best manage the situation? Consider mediation as an effective approach to help resolve workplace disputes before using the formal grievance process.

This article was written by Bruno Zadeh, an Accredited Mediation NMAS at PeopleSense by Altius.

If you would like to know more about Mediation solutions, please submit your enquiry here. Our Accredited NMAS experts will contact you.

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