There are four informal conflict resolution processes—consultation, facilitated dialogue, ombuds services, and mediation. These do not have to be pursued in sequential order. Regardless of whether a third party functions in the role of confidential coach, ombudsperson, facilitator, or mediator, the simple step of bringing an unbiased, skilled third person into the discussion can be very effective. However, this third person is not a decision maker; the parties themselves decide about acceptable processes and outcomes.
The purpose of a consultation may be to brainstorm, to get appropriate referrals to University resources, to get information about policies and practices, or to get the perspective of a neutral person not connected to the dispute. Conflict resolution staff are knowledgeable about University employment policy and resources and are skilled in conflict resolution. Individual consultations with staff can help employees clarify their interests and identify and evaluate options.
The Office for Conflict Resolution is not an advocate for faculty, staff, administrators, or student workers. Conflict resolution staff do not provide legal advice; they are not trained as therapists nor are they arbiters of policy disputes. Their role is to serve as third-party, skilled neutrals to help employees express differences, evaluate interests, and reach resolution.
Many employees find that consultations are all that they need or want. They appreciate the confidential nature of the consultation process and the fact that they decide what the next steps will be.
In an ombuds role, conflict resolution staff receive complaints and questions from employees concerning employment issues. Employees decide which initiatives, if any, conflict resolution staff should take to process the conflict. Conflict resolution staff may contact other involved employees to gather, and to convey, information. Through dialogue with involved individuals, the ombuds helps the parties understand each other’s perspectives and identify workable resolution options. Options are identified and evaluated. Ombuds services are very flexible. They can be structured to meet the needs of each individual matter.
When an employee requests a facilitated dialogue, conflict resolution staff asks that a Request for Informal Assistance be completed (download PDF). Staff then contact the other involved employees to convey the request and to schedule a facilitated dialogue. University employees are strongly encouraged to participate in facilitated dialogue, when requested.
A facilitated dialogue is a face-to-face discussion between the disputing parties with a third-party neutral facilitator. Usually the facilitator asks the employee raising the issue to explain the issue from his/her perspective. Other employees are then invited to participate. Each participant has the opportunity to ask questions for information. The facilitator may ask questions. All participants are involved in discussions to identify their respective interests, brainstorm possible options for resolutions, and evaluate the options against the interests to reach accords.
Conflict resolution staff are trained mediators. The parties usually participate together in general discussions and in separate caucus meetings with the mediator. Mediation is usually a more structured process than a facilitated meeting and includes a written agreement to mediate that assures the confidentiality of the mediation process.
General rules for informal processes (as defined in the UWide Policy Library web site)