When communication breaks down between parties in conflict, progress towards a resolution suffers. Misunderstanding and miscommunications can go awry and even result in litigation.
Facilitated dialogues offer parties an opportunity to talk through issues in an informal setting that is guided by a neutral facilitator, who can assist parties in exploring ideas for resolution.
In an employment setting, facilitated dialogues often take place as part of a workplace investigation, frequently when the complainant involved is a current employee.
In lieu of the employer (or neutral investigator) rendering determination about whether certain factual allegations were substantiated, a facilitated dialogue may be used when the parties wish to repair an ongoing relationship (unlike in a mediation where often parties may resolve to “go their separate ways,” if they have not already).
In a facilitated dialogue, a neutral’s role may include speaking with relevant witnesses to gather factual information and documenting the information received (as would be done in an investigation). With this information, the neutral may then lead a facilitated dialogue with decisionmakers (or coworkers) and the complainant to determine if there are opportunities for mutual resolution (similar to an informal mediation process). However, unlike a mediation process, a facilitated dialogue typically does not result in obtaining a settlement agreement.
Can a Facilitated Dialogue Proceed in Tandem of a Workplace Investigation?
If a facilitated dialogue is commenced as part of a neutral investigation, the employer may elect to proceed with a completed investigation in tandem (which may satisfy an employer’s obligation to investigate, especially if the complainant changes their mind at a later date or there is a subsequent claim that the employer did not adequately address the allegations). The neutral facilitator may use the information gathered during the investigation for the facilitated dialogue, especially from the complainant, to ensure that all issues are resolved during the discussion. If the employer’s decision is to complete the investigation and then engage in a facilitated dialogue in lieu of an investigative conclusion, it is important to obtain agreement in writing from both parties (the complainant and employer or other individuals involved in the complaint) to memorialize the decision.
What Happens at a Facilitated Dialogue?
At the heart of a facilitated dialogue is an agreement by all parties involved to participate. Most often, a facilitated dialogue proceeds with a joint session where the majority of the conversation is led by the participants, rather than the neutral facilitator. During the process, the neutral facilitator’s role involves managing emotion by all parties involved and initiating breaks during the discussion if the conversation escalates Prior to commencing the facilitated dialogue, the parties should decide and agree whether the session will be confidential. An agreement of confidentiality may encourage more candid conversations and, in turn, build trust in the process.
Why Choose Facilitated Discussion?
Choosing to proceed with a facilitated dialogue first requires agreement from all individuals involved. But the benefits can be immense. For example, in a situation where two employees (or a manager and an employee) are expected to continue to work together, making a determination about whether a complaint was substantiated (or unsubstantiated) may not resolve the underlying issues that led to the complaint or minimize the likelihood for future conflict. If a complainant’s (current employee) complaints are determined unsubstantiated without resolution, it may lead to feelings of animosity and exacerbation of further conflict (and potentially litigation). A facilitated dialogue allows the parties involved to be part of the solution. While it may not work for every complaint, it can be a powerful tool for employers to use to bolster employees’ trust in the organization as well as boost employee morale.
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Moxie Mediation is not a law firm. To the extent legal services are necessary and/or anticipated, Attorney Lindsey Wagner provides legal services through Wagner Legal, P.C.