Workplace dispute? Try mediation

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(MoneyWatch)When salespeople wage war in the workplace, nobody wins. The worst-case scenario is when conflicts escalate into a lengthy ordeal of costly and destructive litigation. The cost is more than money: All parties suffer damage to their health, home life, and personal and professional relationships, not to mention the productivity of the business.

There is a better way. Professional mediator Amy Lieberman is on a mission to get all businesses to embrace mediation. In her great new book, "Mediation Success," she discusses how salespeople and clients (and employers and salespeople) can get conflicts out in the open, find resolutions both sides can live with, and get back to business.

"Mediation is a structured, confidential process where people in conflict seek to resolve their differences with the help of a neutral third party -- the mediator or conflict-resolver," Lieberman told me. "It is not a legal process in the sense that people who come to mediation are not sworn under oath, do not call witnesses, nor introduce exhibits. There is no written decision by the third party. Instead, it is the parties themselves who reach resolution, with the assistance of the mediator or conflict-resolver."

Lieberman developed the strategies outlined in her book after more than 10 years of working to resolve employment disputes, preserve capital resources, and restore productivity. Her approach focuses on the three critical aspects of conflict: the substance of the dispute, process of obtaining buy-in and agreement, and psychology of emotion that can prevent resolution.

People who are embroiled in litigation often seek what is called "alternative dispute resolution," a way of resolving the conflict as an alternative to a full-blown trial. In those instances, attorneys are typically involved. The outcome is a written, legally binding agreement. It is generally referred to as a "settlement agreement" and typically releases all legal claims against the company.

"Mediation allows everyone involved to get it out, get it over, and get back to business," Lieberman says. "Mediation is voluntary in the truest sense of the word. That's because no solution is imposed on anyone. A mediator is NOT the decision-maker."

She believes everyone can control their destiny and resolve the conflict. Her motto is "Get it out, get it over, and get back to business."

"Why am I so confident you can do this?" asks Lieberman. "Because mediation works. Mediation with an experienced mediator is almost always successful. In my experience, well over 90 percent of the time mediation resolves the conflict by settling the dispute or improving the relations. If you had a disease, and your doctor recommended a treatment that was 90 percent effective, would you take that treatment? Of course you would. If your financial planner recommended an investment with a 90 percent chance of a positive return, wouldn't you jump at it?"

In 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's private-sector national mediation program resolved over 9,800 disputes, the most in the program's history. The EEOC's goal is to resolve such conflicts within 180 days of filing.

From a salesperson's perspective, mediation makes sense as a strategic tool used to eliminate risk. It offers a great return on investment for a relatively small amount of time. Mediation also makes sense from a personal perspective. Overall, it helps sales professionals get over the problem and get back to selling.

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