Mediation Case Study: Franca and Leo

Posted on: April 22nd, 2024

EU Mediation's case studies aim to explore the types of disputes that mediation can work well for, particularly within multinational organisations based across mainland Europe. They are all based on real-life cases that our mediators have carried out.

This first entry looks at the conflict and subsequent mediation for Franca and Leo*.

* Names have been changed for confidentiality and privacy purposes.

The Backstory

Franca and Leo both worked in technical roles within a multinational company based in a European capital. Franca had been there for five years; Leo for two. Franca and Leo’s working relationship had deteriorated to the point where HR became involved, and mediation was proposed.

Leo came into the company on the graduate entry scheme, joining straight into a middle managerial grade. Franca had held various roles and worked as a team leader. The company underwent a restructure after the COVID pandemic, with around a third of personnel working remotely, and a number of teams having been reconfigured. Franca reported to Leo, and split her working hours 50/50 between the office and home.

Franca said that Leo checked up on her all the time and that he expected her to report to him about everything she was doing. When working remotely, Leo asked her to check in from time to time, which Franca resented. When she got back to the office each week, he again wanted to know what work she had done and what she was about to do. Franca was first to speak to HR because she felt micro-managed by Leo: this put her on edge and had caused her to be quite snappy with him.

Leo said that, since the restructure, Franca had been on a ‘work-to-rule’. He said that she refused to report to him properly and he never knew what she was working on. Leo was new to managing Franca and a few others, and he found that she and some of the longer-serving colleagues were very resistant to some of the new ideas he brought to the organisation. Leo also found Franca to be undermining: she tended to gossip about Leo and gave very negative accounts of their interactions.

The Mediation

In mediation, Franca was seen first by the mediator for her private initial session. She laid out everything about their history and about how their relationship had soured. She told the mediator that some of the problem was that Leo was in a managerial position over people who knew the job better than he did. She wished that he would just stop being so bossy, autocratic, and domineering, and that it was clear that he did not trust her.

Leo saw the mediator second. He also laid out his version of how he thought they arrived at this difficult point. From his point of view, he thought Franca was resentful at not getting a more senior job in the reshuffle. She was just trying to make his life difficult, despite his best efforts, and he needed her to 'get over’ the fact that she now reported to him.

In the joint mediation session, both Franca and Leo agreed some rules for how they would conduct themselves, and then both were given some uninterrupted time to speak. While their accounts of the conflict were very different, it was clear to the mediator that there was a lot of common ground around wanting to put this behind them and to have a much less tense atmosphere between them.

Both had a chance to let the other know about the impact of one another’s words and actions: Leo was particularly put out that Franca’s manner was making his job more difficult, at a time when he actually needed support from his reports. He wanted Franca to understand that he really does need her help. Franca let Leo know just how intrusive and upsetting it is to feel scrutinised and watched. She wanted Leo to ‘back off’ and to trust her more.

As the session progressed, Leo became more receptive to Franca’s view of the importance of her longer experience on the job, and her broader knowledge of how the company works. Franca began to appreciate more that Leo, new to a managerial role, wanted to introduce new and smarter ways of doing things, especially in the post-COVID hybrid working regime.

Towards the end of the afternoon, the two were ready to put down a few bullet points about how better they might run their working relationship. There were points about the amount and manner of reporting that Leo needed, and about how he could better demonstrate to Franca that he trusted her to work autonomously. Franca resolved that if she had anything to say about Leo, she would bring it to him directly, rather than talking about him to colleagues. There was an agreement as well about how Franca’s greater experience could be incorporated into Leo’s plans, and how he would include her and others more when planning to change any systems or working practices.

The Conclusion

The mediation ended on a positive note, and six weeks after the session, the mediator followed up privately with each of them. We heard that things had been progressing well, and that they were glad of the opportunity mediation had given to clear the air and to get a much better understanding of each other’s needs and wants. 

Get in touch

If you have a similar issue within your organisation, or if you would like some advice on whether mediation would be suitable, please get in touch with our team on Alternatively, you can submit a contact form here.


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