Former Mediator &
Business Adviser

Nine things people like about mediation

by Paul Gerrard

If you have never been involved in mediation this article is for you.

Imagine yourself in conflict with another person. A conflict that interferes with your life in some way. Something that makes you feel upset or stressed. Something that keeps you awake at night. It may be as trivial as a colleague's irritating behaviour or as significant as workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination. It could also be a marital or commercial dispute.

Often the best approach to resolving conflicts is for the two parties to sort things out for them selves, but if they can't do this mediation is an alternative dispute resolution approach that may work. People like mediation because:

  1. Mediation is voluntary.
  2. Mediation is low risk.
  3. Mediation is inexpensive.
  4. Mediation is timely.
  5. Mediation is confidential.
  6. Mediation is not adversarial.
  7. Mediation can give a legally binding outcome.
  8. Mediation allows both parties to contribute to the outcome.
  9. Mediation does not require a face to face conversation.

Before elaborating on these nine reasons let me take a moment to outline what mediation is and what it's not.

In essence, mediation is a process in which an impartial third person, the mediator, helps the conflicting parties to work things out for themselves. The key characteristics of this process are:

  1. the mediator is impartial;
  2. the discussions are confidential;
  3. the mediator is responsible for controlling the process; and
  4. the parties in conflict are responsible for determining the outcome.

The mediator brings three important ingredients to the conversation.

  1. The presence of a third person changes the way the conflicted parties interact with one another.
  2. The mediator brings a structure to the discussion. A structure that has proven to be effective in leading people to solve their own problems.
  3. The mediator brings skills to interact with the parties throughout the process by directing the flow of the conversation through the various stages and in various other ways.

Reason #1: Mediation is voluntary - People like to be free to make choices for themselves and to have power over there own situation.

Reason #2: Mediation is low risk - As mediation is voluntary both parties are free to terminate the mediation at any time. Thus, neither party need fear becoming locked into a process. Also, as the parties must both agree to any outcome there is no risk of an adverse decision by a third party.

Reason #3: Mediation is inexpensive - Mediation generally does not require lawyers and often conflicts may be resolved in a day. Thus, the costs tend to be much less than going to court.

Reason #4: Mediation is timely - The parties can agree to mediate at a time that is mutually convenient.

Reason #5: Mediation is confidential - This is important to many people.

Reason #6: Mediation is not adversarial - In contrast to the adversarial legal system, which can exacerbate relationships, the mediation process helps people to better understand the other parties position and encourages both parties to jointly find a mutually acceptable outcome. Mediation may lead to a better ongoing relationship between the parties.

Reason #7: Can give a legally binding outcome - Once the parties have reached agreement they can document their agreement in a form that is legally binding. Even if neither party subsequently wishes to take the matter to court the existence of such a written agreement may be valuable in reminding the parties of what they had agreed.

Reason #8:Mediation allows both parties to contribute to the outcome - This gives potential for a WIN-WIN outcome.

Reason #9: Mediation does not require a face to face conversation - Parties may prefer not to meet face to face for various reasons such as: one may feel intimidated by the other or it may be difficult to arrange a mutually convenient time and place. Mediation could be conducted with one party in one room, the other party in a different room and the mediator moving back and forth between the rooms. Mediation can also be conducted online in real time via Skype, etc. or may be over a period via email, etc.

Of course, mediation is not the best approach for every conflict, but it is certainly worth considering.