It's very rare you come across a mediation that doesn't involve communication as a major root cause - and this case is no exception.
In a small organisation, there was a great opportunity for promotion within the team. These opportunities didn't come up very often, and for the employee involved she would have jumped at the chance of a promotion - she was very ambitious, and her boss knew she was. So why did he recruit somebody else from outside the organisation? As usual, a grievance ensued - but thankfully on this occasion the HR professional involved asked for mediation ahead of a grievance - always a great call!
We did what we always do in mediations - we gave them both a safe space to have an honest and emotional conversation. She explained how she felt her boss was being racist, sexist and ageist - some of the accusations were incredibly serious, and the employee intended to take the issue "all the way". From her perspective it was absolutely unacceptable, and whilst she had agreed to mediation, she couldn't see how it would work - her manager needed to be accountable for his actions. Why should he keep his job after doing this to her?
The manager was very upset by the accusations - he saw it as defamation of his character, and he was considering raising his own grievance. How dare she attack his character like that? He wanted something doing about it - she hadn't even applied for the job and was now accusing him of all sorts.
I'll jump straight to the end of the mediation. The employee apologised for accusing the manager of such serious issues, and she described how she wouldn't have applied for the job. The manager apologised for his lack of communication. At the end of the mediation they were having a good chat with each other, laughing and joking. There was no way either was going to submit a grievance against the other.
The reason for the u-turn? Communication - nothing more complex than that. The manager had expected the employee to apply and was surprised when she didn't - he didn't see it as a conversation he needed to have - she'd decided not to apply. He didn't know there had been an error within the HR process, so the role wasn't advertised internally. He didn't know it was a complete shock when he announced somebody had been appointed externally.
Where did the discrimination claims come from? In the absence of any information, she had assumed because her boss was a middle-aged white man he didn't want a young, Asian female in the job - she could see no other reasons.
So why at the end of the mediation had she decided she wouldn't have applied anyway? The role wasn't just a promotion, it was a level above - it was part of the company's succession planning. Nobody internally was considered suitable - the employee herself may have been in a couple of years, but it was too early. She agreed once they talked about it. They discussed mentoring and coaching to help her develop towards such a role - they agreed a plan.
It's why I love mediating. Not many people are out to purposefully make life difficult for others - not many people mean to be unfair or biased. However, lots of people have communication issues! It's exactly why we train internal mediators - these issues don't need external mediators like us to come in - often they just need somebody from within to help them have these conversations and nip it in the bud.