Veterinary Client Mediation
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News-Mediation-Nov16

Using Mediation to Resolve Disputes

Nov 23, 2016
The Chinese philosopher, Confucius, (551-479 BCE) established that it is best to resolve disputes through mutual agreement rather than coercion. In China and parts of Asia, modern businesses strongly favour mediation over litigation. People throughout Asia regard litigation as a ‘loss of face’, a huge difference in opinion to the western world. In other non-western countries, mediation is seen as a preferable method to resolving disputes because they fear judges may make the wrong decisions and litigation involves disclosing private matters in public.

Despite our best efforts tension arises in all areas of our society, which may lead to discord and negative conflict. If this conflict is not managed properly it can fester and escalate into complaints. 

Complaints are an inherent part of all business sectors. Fear, anxiety, bereavement and upset are often factors in complaints faced by all business professionals. Organisations are under increasing pressure to be productive and to deliver quality service to clients. Modern organisations are dynamic and complex, made up of people with increasingly diverse backgrounds, opinions, values and expectations. The same is true of their clients and no business sector is an exception. People are the key to any successful business. Negative conflict can severely impede an organisation's drive for competitive advantage and damage employee and client wellbeing.

Mediation is rapidly becoming the most popular forms of complaint resolution, particularly those complaints that involve high levels of emotion. It is especially effective when used at the initial phase of any disagreement before the conflict escalates and both parties have become entrenched in their positions.

Mediation is a swift, confidential, cost-effective, voluntary process in which individuals change the quality of their conflict interaction from negative and destructive to positive and constructive. In the process of mediation, parties are assisted in reaching a resolution together rather than under an imposed arbitration or adjudication based system which can further aggravate clients and have a detrimental impact on the reputation of a business. Litigation has no regard for the casualties of the battlefield; whether you win or lose the pain of conflict remains.

Mediation offers the opportunity for both parties to clarify misunderstandings and misperceptions and to restore trust and respect. A good mediator will use active listening skills in order to hear, understand and remember what the party is saying. The mediator will use questions to clarify the issues and to explore the underlying issues and needs of each party. As the mediation process develops it encourages joint problem solving, assessing whether the solutions are realistic and workable.
Fear of mediation can be attributed to lack of understanding of the process, but as the process unravels both parties begin to open up, relax and realise that they are part of the resolution.

The VCMS process is very much focused on addressing the highly emotive state of the client. A common factor in veterinary complaints is the bereavement or upset felt by the owner due to the loss or the illness of their animal. Some may consider the emotional reactions to be drastic; however, these feelings are the fuel behind the complaint and will motivate a client to pursue a complaint to the highest and most intense level. This can include referral to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), social media posts or personal local campaigns against a practice. A highly motivated and emotional complainant can cause significant social, commercial and personal impact even when the grounds of their complaint are unfounded and are highly unlikely to have any legal standing. 

Whilst the VCMS is able to refer clients for bereavement counselling, it is not a counselling service. Mediation is a very effective method of dispute resolution involving high levels of emotion. It allows a party to express those emotions and for them to be acknowledged and recognised by the other party and an impartial mediator. This active listening and acknowledgement can be the first tentative steps to diffusing the emotion, rather than escalating. While many veterinary professionals will spend significant amounts of time with upset clients, the involvement of an impartial third party can be the catalyst and can also ensure the well-meaning explanations provided by the practice are seen in the light intended, rather than in any way defensive. The mediators do not judge either party and the VCMS does not give findings, but rather looks to focus on resolution and moving on in a way that is least damaging to both client and practice.

Independent mediation for veterinary professionals and their clients