December 09, 2010

Can Bullying be Mediated?

Tom Sebok, the Ombuds for University of Colorado at Boulder, has written an essay for the Workplace Bullying Institute Blog. Sebok is wary of mediation for alleged bullies. “I believe mediation can be a useful tool in very limited cases involving bullying. I am much less sanguine about its use more broadly as a tool to reduce or eliminate workplace bullying on college campuses or anywhere else.” For those Ombuds willing to take the risk, he offers some advice.

Sebok believes the principles of restorative justice offer the best guidance for a mediation about bullying.
Under what conditions might one of these restorative practices be useful for addressing workplace bullying? Following the model we used at the University of Colorado at Boulder, first, the person engaging in bullying behavior would have to acknowledge she or he did it and agree not continue to do it. Second, for everyone involved in either process participation would be completely voluntary. Third, the restorative option would be established as an alternative to formal procedures and made available only when the above conditions were met. Therefore, if the mediation or conference did not occur, if it ended with no agreement, or if an agreement were broken, a mechanism would have to be in place to refer the matter to someone with the administrative authority to conduct an investigation and issue sanctions.
Sebok also asserts that laws and policies defining and prohibiting workplace bullying would make mediation a more robust tool for bullying. (WBI Blog.)


    Workplace bullying has to be stopped and in order to do this we must look at how our children are being bullied in school.

  2. As an employment mediator I find the concept interesting but impractical. Mediation a form of alternative dispute resolution model is predicated on the "win" "win" between conflicting parties.

    This concept acknowledges both sides as having credible points of opposing views. To use mediation "justifies" and lends credibility to the bullies point of view and behavior.

    Sending a message to America business that "corporate bullying", "mobbing" and other workplace bully forms are appropriate and if there's a conflict let's just use mediation as a "win" by perpetuating the bullying environment.

    Bullying is a form of discrimination and should never be tolerated or "justified" by means of mediation, in my opinion.

  3. This is a very interesting and important conversation. Here's what I'm wondering about:

    Sexual Harassment policy has only been somewhat sucessful in reducing blantant and quid pro quo type harassment. The subtle SH behaviors are still pervasive in many organizational settings. I would argue that is because SH is not an issue between two individuals, but rather it is an organizational culture issue. It seems reasonable that bullying is a similar phenomena. I wonder what types of organizational practices reinforce bullying behaviors (is aggression valued or tolerated, for example?).
    I also wonder if blame and shame behind closed doors is an effective approach.
    There is a book called The No Asshole Rule that calls upon organizational members to call out and reject 'assholes'. First of all, I think the term 'asshole' is probably much more salient to people than bully. However, I think it is important to think about how we can bring bullies back into the fold. Could peer pressure (concerntive control) be an effective tool, perhaps?
    Sorry for such a rambling comment...there is just so much to discuss!