The University Record, September 10, 1996

Consultation/Conciliation Service completes one-year pilot program

The Consultation and Conciliation Service, established in April 1995 by former President Duderstadt, has completed its pilot period and is entering its first full year of providing confidential mediation services to help resolve disputes or misunderstandings in the workplace. Don Perigo and Sally Johnson, who lead the program, have worked on more than 100 cases, trying to find what they call "a workable resolution to an existing disagreement or dispute."

Johnson adds, "We have assisted faculty and staff with concerns regarding intra- and inter-department communication; work assignments; working relationships with supervisors, co-workers or supporting staff; concerns about fair treatment; concerns about rights and benefits, and the like."

Perigo and Johnson say that most of the cases they see are based on interpersonal conflicts that spill over to affect the work environment in the office. "Callers have asked us to help resolve a sour relationship that is affecting people's ability to get work done," Johnson says. She stresses that the most successful conciliations occur when both parties have a desire to mend the problem, and the supervisor or employee on the other end of the relationship has been receptive to the help.

"The formal grievance procedure can often lead to adversarial behavior," she adds. "This informal service allows each individual to be more of an equal partner in problem-solving situations."

The following fictional situation shows how the service can be used to mediate an interpersonal conflict:

Betty and Prudence are members of the management team in a research center. Betty, who has been on the staff for 18 years, manages business procedures for the center. Prudence joined the staff two years ago as a programmer analyst. Betty has created procedures that have evolved to fit University practices and to survive many technological changes over a number of years, and she and her staff work very hard to process business as quickly as possible. Prudence is accustomed to more streamlined procedures in a young, private sector company. She finds the existing procedures unbelievable, and during team meetings, she is apt to "get on a soap box" about how poor the old systems are.

Betty began to feel "beaten up" by these meetings and experienced Prudence's comments as personal attacks. She began to wonder if the message was that she, herself, had outlived her usefulness and wasn't wanted any more.

She made an appointment at the Consultation and Conciliation Service to discuss her concern. In her meeting with the consultant, she described her anger at being repeatedly "attacked" in team meetings. She and the consultant discussed having a mediated meeting with Prudence in the near future.

The mediator called Prudence to extend the request and explain the process. Prudence was startled, but quite willing to talk. The three met for part of one morning. Prudence was dismayed to hear that Betty felt attacked, and immediately asked how to make amends. The air cleared quickly, and with some assistance from the mediator, the two updated each other about problems in the procedures and how they may be overcome.

At last contact, Prudence was still frustrated by University procedures, and Betty was still overworked, but the two had open lines of communication.

As shown in the example, mediation will not necessarily eliminate all problems. But, Perigo says, "we can help people develop skills that will improve communication and minimize misunderstanding."

How can you find out more about conciliation/mediation?

Schedule an appointment by calling 936-4214 or in person at G250 Wolverine Tower.

 

The person bringing the concern will consult with Perigo or Johnson about how the conciliation may work in their situation and how to invite the other parties involved in the dispute to participate.

 

When needed, Perigo or Johnson will call the other party, explain the situation and the process of conciliation, and ask if the individual is willing to try it.

 

A mutually agreed upon mediator from a campus group of trained mediators will begin the mediation process. The mediator is neutral---he or she listens equally to both sides and assists the parties in honestly exploring each person's concerns. The mediator does not "decide the case," defend either party or provide an "answer."

 

Conciliation is available to any faculty or non-bargained-for staff member except for hospital employees. Bargained-for staff members may receive conciliation services when all parties agree that it is an appropriate method and when there is no conflict with contract provisions.

 

A full report of the pilot period is available on request. Call 936-4214 or e-mail the program secretary, Donna Weyher, at dweyher@umich.edu.