When you spend nearly your entire life working within a certain company, group or business, that working environment eventually turns to become your family. This is what Tom Girling feels with regards to law enforcement upon his 37 years spent as an officer with the Ontario Provincial Police. Most importantly, the desire “to give back” to the police is what motivates him towards bringing mediation into law enforcement workplaces as a fundamental tool for improving the internal overall cohesion and synergy of the officers and civilians that work there. “Law enforcement made me who I am today, they are like family to me these police organizations do so much good for the people, they are out there helping us all the time. My workplace mediation work began when I started wondering how I could help them, how I could give back to them”.
Currently, Tom has more than 5 years of experience as a qualified mediator specialized in conflict resolution, assessment, investigation and restoration services. Through his personal mediation company (Blue Mediation), Tom provides conflict mediation and workplace investigations to law enforcement and regulatory bodies, as well as other businesses across Ontario and Canada.
From the undercover operations to the mediation room.
Tom’s background is fairly unique. Born and growing up in Ontario, not far from the spectacular Niagara Falls, he decided to follow his father’s footsteps, joining the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). His choice was not conditioned by familial expectations, rather it was driven by the craving desire to build up a solid career into something and dedicate his life to it. Tom ended up spending 37 years in the service of the OPP, specializing in drug enforcement and undercover operations, dealing also with other fields such as human trafficking, weapons smuggling and organized crime-related work. “Until the last minute of my career, which ended five years ago, I did not want to go; I really enjoyed what I was doing. This feeling is still maintained and helps me in my current endeavours”. Indeed, Tom did not completely abandon law enforcement. His current commitment to mediation is particularly focused on helping both police and other law enforcement officers to work through their conflict positively and proactively. All in all, we could say that he really never left the badge.
Being a police officer and moving up in the ranks along his decennial career, Tom was able to detect that even the law enforcement working environment was not exempt from workplace conflict. Challenges, misunderstandings and issues could arise at any time among officers, impacting their overall effectiveness. Particularly, Tom defines the mentality adopted across law enforcement ranks as very much “ordering” or “power-based” options, thus leaving little space for an explanation about why things are required. “There is a lack of information about why officers are asked to do something, this builds up resentment in people, and starts to create negative sentiments within co-workers, who in turn start to add invisible “body armour” to protect themselves”. In all this, officers receive little training on how to deal with these kinds of interpersonal issues, which remain latent and eventually have the potential to burst into conflict. Tom started to feel that communication and conflict transformation skills were lacking in this environment. Mediation offered an extremely powerful alternative.
This is what convinced him to become a Qualify Mediator through the ADR Institute of Ontario. After earning the Executive Certificate in Conflict Management and Workplace Mediation from the University of Windsor, “I got very passionate about mediation because I could see some tangible results; people that had not been talking with each other for years ending the mediation session by hugging each other”, Tom states, placing emphasis on the fact that it is the mediation itself as an organic process which is deeply effective, even beyond the actual role of the mediator. “It takes courage and is challenging to commit and sit across from someone you are having conflict with, but if you let the process work and you have an open heart, it is amazing to see the results. I feel so inspired after every single mediation session”.
Workplace mediation: one firm, several lines of action.
According to many researchers, humans spend as much as 60% of their waking time at work or doing work-related activities. Which makes it fundamental to spend this amount of time in a stimulating environment and positive mood. This consideration lies at the heart of Tom’s decision to specialize in workplace mediation, using his ‘insider’ experience of the culture with the OPP. Given this past and his affection towards the police sector, his main engagement area concerns mediation with law enforcement. Notably, workplace conflict turns out to be an even bigger problem within law enforcement teams, where lives are constantly on the line. “If I can help relieve them of the burden they are carrying [related to conflict that may occur in the workplace] through my mediation, this will help them being better cops in the street. My career assists me now, in helping other police officers and members of law enforcement. I understand the culture and I have gone through conflict myself along with my career, so I somehow know what officers experiencing conflict are feeling”. A deeper, genuine understanding of what parties are going through by personal experience is incredibly beneficial for the overall outcome of the mediation process.
In 2016, Tom founded his personal business, Blue Mediation, to give enhanced strength to his action as a mediator. Not solely workplace conflict mediation and resolution, Tom’s business thrives in a broad range of activities. Equipped with a keen experience in on-the-job harassment, another line of action of Blue Mediation has to do with workplace and harassment investigation. Aside, Tom is practising and gaining expertise in two quite innovative areas, namely workplace assessment and workplace restoration. “While mediation and investigation are much more reactive processes, workplace assessment promotes a pro-active approach to seek out for hot issues and problems in the workplace before they can lead to a conflict”, Tom explains. Workplace assessment aims at ‘taking the temperature’ of a workspace, spotting potential gaps, and ultimately building an environment where employees are happy and feel good about going to work. This appears a rather simple goal, but it is all but obvious to achieve.
Last but not least, Tom places a great deal of importance on the restoration of the workplace. This consists of an inclusive process usually taking place after mediation or investigation. As a matter of fact, conflict arising in the workplace has disruptive effects on the whole working environment, not only on the parties directly involved. The plan of restoration aims at bringing together all the individuals who have been directly or indirectly impacted by the conflict to try to reinstate a peaceful and enjoyable workplace for all the employees. “It is all about asking people very simple questions like “how do you feel? The objective is to get a workplace up and running again after a conflict situation; there should be nothing that is left unresolved”. Blue Mediation specializes in an all-encompassing approach to conflict in the workplace, seeking to prevent conflict before it can erupt, resolve it once it arises and restore a peaceable working environment in the aftermath.
Tom Girling has been a member of MBBI for several years. When asked what pushed him to join the organization, he responded: “To learn more, and help more”. In the end, this represents the true essence of MBBI. The desire both to bring peacebuilding and mediation skills within the reach of everyone and to strengthen bonds among peacebuilders worldwide, joint to the ground-breaking vision to build a more peace “able” world, piece by piece.
Written by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer