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Mediation: Resolving Conflict One Discussion at a Time

Mary Clare Novak
Mary Clare Novak  |  November 1, 2019

I’ll see you in court!

Or will you?

While that might be fun to yell at someone who has wronged you, it doesn’t make up for the pain that is the trial part of litigation. If you ask anyone that has gone through the tireless stages of court proceedings, they will tell you they wish they would have reached a settlement using another method.

A popular one of these dispute resolution methods is called mediation.

Want to jump ahead to something more specific about mediation? Use these jump links to get the details you are looking for. 

What is mediation?

Mediation is a type of dispute resolution in which parties discuss their dispute with the help of a mediator, which is a trained, neutral third party. The goal of mediation is to reach a settlement instead of going to court.

While the mediator helps the parties reach a solution, this does not mean that they are obliged to abide by this solution. The only people that can resolve the situation are the parties in the dispute. The mediator is simply there to offer guidance and lead the conversation.

Uses of mediation

Sometimes, openly talking about and listening to an issue can have a big impact. Mediation is a great way to resolve a variety of problems and avoid initiating a lawsuit. In fact, it is common for courts to require the disputing parties to partake in mediation or arbitration before beginning a trial.

While a good discussion never hurt anyone, there are some more common disputes that mediation is used to resolve.

Conflict resolution

When a conflict arises between two parties, mediation can be used to understand both perspectives, come to a resolution, and avoid running into another conflict in the future.

conflict resolution

Strategic planning

Mediation doesn’t only have a place in conflicts. Mediators can help families, organizations, and businesses find the best and most strategic way to plan. While the situation is different, the process is not. In this use of mediation, the involved parties will come together, share information, and work to find the most appropriate course of action.

strategic planning

Roles in the mediation process

There are two key roles in the mediation process: the mediator and the parties having the dispute. Let’s go over who they are and their responsibilities when mediating.

Parties

In the dispute, there are typically two parties. (The mediator is technically a third-party but we will discuss them later). The key role of the two parties is to provide as much information as possible about the dispute at hand. This way, the mediator can help find the most effective way to resolve it.

Sometimes, the parties can meet with the mediator individually before the three parties come together so they can discuss things one-on-one. The purpose of this is for the parties to get some practice in negotiating to have a little more influence on the resolution of the conflict. This situation is called party-directed mediation, and it requires less interference from the mediator.

Mediator

The third-party that is not involved in the dispute is the mediator. Their main goal is to direct the conversation in a way that will result in finding a resolution that the disputing parties will find mutually satisfactory and beneficial. The mediator does not act on behalf of any party in particular and must remain neutral.

No mediation process is perfect and things can get off topic or out of hand. A part of remaining neutral is making sure neither of the parties shows aggression or intimidation. Mediators need to remind the disputing parties that the topic at hand is most important and resorting to personal attacks will not make any progress.

7 stages of mediation

While mediation is less formal than going to trial, there is still a process in place. Mediators and the disputing parties undergo seven steps to try to reach a settlement.

1. Planning

The first step in the mediation process is planning. The planning phase goes exactly as you would think. The mediator will help set up a time and place for the mediation and parties will discuss who they would like to be present.

Related: Looking for a mediator to help settle your dispute? Use this tool to find one near you!

2. Mediator’s opening statement

Once the parties and the mediator have gathered and everyone is seated, the mediator will make their opening statement. This typically includes an introduction, the rules of the mediation, the goal they wish to reach, and a little bit of encouragement towards the disputing parties to do their best to cooperate and find a way to reach a settlement.

3. Parties’ opening statements

After the mediator makes their opening statement, each of the parties will then have a chance to do the same. They will both go over the conflict, the consequences that arose from it, and how they are feeling about the situation. Neither party is allowed to interrupt when the other is speaking.

4. Joint discussion

Once that is all out on the table, the discussion will begin. This might include the mediator requesting that each party respectively respond to the other’s opening statement and ask any questions they might have that will help them better understand the situation. This way, new information about the dispute can be introduced and then discussed.

The joint discussion stage is where things can get off topic and personal. It is the job of the mediator to steer the discussion in the right direction.

5. Caucuses

After the discussion, the mediator will have a private meeting with each party individually. During this stage, the mediator will talk with the parties about their position and whether or not it is a strong one. They will also exchange offers from one party to the other. The mediator can go back and forth between each party as many times as necessary within the allotted time.

The caucus stage is typically the longest part of the mediation.

6. Negotiation

In some circumstances, the mediator will bring the parties back together for some negotiation after the private caucuses. However, this is unusual. The mediator usually won’t bring the parties back together until a settlement has been agreed upon or the allotted time for the mediation has ended.

7. Closure

If the parties agree on a settlement, the mediator will typically put it in writing and each side will sign the summary of the agreement. This way, each party is obliged to abide by the settlement. 

If an agreement is not reached, decisions on how to proceed will be made.

Note: It is possible that a settlement cannot be reached with mediation. In this case, another method of dispute resolution should be used. If that includes a lawyer, check out G2's highest rated legal service providers

Find the best Legal Services Providers, FREE →

4 benefits of mediation

There’s a reason why so many people turn to mediation before filing a lawsuit. Actually, there are four.

1. Mediation is inexpensive

Getting a summons to go to court is no way to start your day, week, month, or heck, even your year. Yes, the emotional toll is nothing to mess with and the process can be overwhelming. However, the financial impact can be a burden as well, no matter what side of a lawsuit you are on.

There are costs associated with mediation, but using it to settle a dispute is a lot less expensive than going to court.

2. Mediation is timely

Not only will you save money using mediation over other dispute resolution options, but time as well. Some court cases can take months, even years. Mediation, on the other hand, can be scheduled and held in days. Prolonging the resolution of a dispute is never a good idea, and mediation can get you there fast.

3. Mediation is private

Nobody wants their personal issues being brought to light. Mediation provides a private and safe environment for disputing parties to present issues, have discussions, and find solutions. Everything that is talked about during mediation is confidential, and the mediator remains neutral and focuses on the issue.

4. Mediation saves relationships

The solutions that come about from mediation are meant to please each party. By addressing the needs of each party, mediation preserves the relationship between the people disputing. Other methods are more win-lose, and might not leave each party feeling so keen towards the other.

Let’s mediate

Nobody likes running into conflict, and resolving it can be even worse. While there are no guarantees about the outcome, mediation can be the right choice for someone looking to settle a dispute in a quick, fair, and cordial manner.

Looking for some tips to handle a dispute in the office? Check out our resource on conflict management strategies!

Mary Clare Novak
Author

Mary Clare Novak

Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Associate at G2 in Chicago. A recent graduate, she is happy to be back working in her favorite city. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos. (she/her/hers)