Can mediation help to stop bullying?

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Mon, 01/28/2013 - 23:50

Workplace bullying is similar to bullying that takes place in subsidized housing developments. Mediation is not appropriate in either situation.

In the workplace, senior management alone can set policies and procedures to prevent bullying by managers of workers, or among workers. In a housing development, only the owner or senior management can set policies and procedures to prevent bullying by staff of residents, or among residents.

In housing developments, management may see bullying as a problem that arises among residents, including between elders and younger people living with a disability, and invoke mediation as a solution. In both the workplace and the residential development, the target of bullying is at a disadvantage and can not negotiate from a position of equality in a mediation.

Does mediation work effectively in the workplace? No, it is not effective nor is it designed to work where there is violence or disparities in power. So writes Esque Walker, Ph.D. (a Texas certified distinguished mediator) for the Workplace Bullying Institute.

Mediation is an inappropriate alternative in cases involving any type of abuse or violence such as domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, school or workplace bullying.

The victims or targets in these situations are at a disadvantage and are subjected to further abuse. Mediation is a process in which disputing parties with the assistance of a third party, the mediator, come together in an attempt to resolve their differences in an acceptable manner (win/win) to both parties.---Esque Walker, 2013…

Walker presents a very perceptive analysis. And the conclusion that is drawn by David Yamada, author of the proposed bill on workplace bullying, is that there must be legal protections against bullying: bullying must be stopped before mediation can be effective and fair.

Before we even consider introducing mediation or restorative justice into workplace bullying situations, we need to enact legal protections such as the Healthy Workplace Bill. ---David Yamada 2013…

In a case of bullying of residents in subsidized elderly HUD housing, management introduced mediation. This was presented by management as an effort to resolve conflict between two groups of residents---one group consisted of people using bullying as a tactic to control life in the residence and get rid of people they didn't like, the other group was a legitimate, representative tenants' association. The tenants' association was being attacked by people (both staff and residents) using bullying as a means of inappropriate social control. The association refused to participate in the mediation. First, they considered that the problem stemmed from the failure of management to prevent bullying, a fundamental resposibility to assure normal life in the residence. Second, they saw it as an effort by management to attack the association and to evade responsibility by framing the problem as normal competition among two social groups.

In another case, management directed the mediation process, which seemed to put a burden of blame on one party, people living with disabilities, and to support the efforts of elders to get rid of the younger people living with disabilities.

Unless management is part of the mediation---and not standing aloof and seeing the problems as normal group conflict among residents---then mediation would be a sham. More basic is that power in such a situation is asymmetrical: management has means of coercion and influence; bullying is an unfair method of gaining control; and the targets are vulnerable in many ways. Unfortunately, mediation is often invoked instead of getting at the root of the problem---the failure of management to provide trained staff and to enforce strict policies against bullying.

The Healthy Workplace Bill would be a step forward for workplace equity in Massachusetts, and I am working with the STOP BULLYING COMMITTEE to pass legislation against bullying in subsidized multi-family residences. SD01635 A bill to protect residents of subsidized housing developments from bullying; bullying prevention policies and plans; research and demonstration program.


I feel mediation would be useful IF and only if the mediator recognizes, believes in, and disapproves of the power imbalance created by the bully. If so, then a mediator (a good one) could be able to level the playing field (partly by protecting the interest of the target and partly by helping the bully find a personal sense of power in order to deal with the loss of power over another)
---from a lady living with disabilities and bullying in subsidized HUD housing