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Mediation - A Better Way to Resolve Conflict

What did you do the last time you found yourself in conflict with a co-worker, your neighbor, your spouse or your local businessman or woman? Did you get a knot in your stomach, walk away, fight back, decide it was your fault - or theirs, consider suing, consider moving out or moving away or quitting? Or did you just hope the conflict would go away by itself? Some conflicts are easily resolved; others are more complex or protracted and need more conscious efforts to find resolution. The next time you or someone you know is in conflict, consider using mediation.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a process of dealing with conflict in which the parties are active participants in the decisions required to resolve the conflict. A mediator is a neutral facilitator who works to assist parties in engaging in discussion and reaching resolution. Mediation is a confidential and voluntary process.

The mediator wears many hats during the process. As a "communication consultant", the mediator helps the parties talk to one another in a productive way, through individual counseling, demonstrating and teaching active listening skills, and enforcing communication ground rules (such as "no interrupting"). As a "facilitator" and "scrivener", the mediator sets the agenda, tracks issues to be discussed, and records agreements reached. As "referral source", the mediator identifies areas where input from outside sources is needed and helps clients to locate factual information or personal support from such experts as lawyers, tax consultants, counselors, self-help groups and resources, appraisers, or any other source of helpful information.

What Does Mediation Look Like?

Individual mediations differ according the mediator's style, the type of conflict and the number of parties. But some basic principles are found in all mediations. First, each party will be given the opportunity to share their point of view and feelings about an issue, often in the presence of the other parties. Second, the mediator helps each party to identify their particular priorities, values and goals around the issue. Third, the parties brainstorm options for resolving the issue, bearing in mind the information shared in the first two steps.

Finally, the parties select a solution for the issue, which is reduced to writing. The process is repeated for multiple issues.

What Does This Mean to Me?

The basic principle of mediation is to enable clients to make their own informed decisions. While the mediator is in charge of the process, the parties are in charge of the content and the outcome. The mediator helps the parties to be sure that they have all the information necessary to make a decision, and then helps them craft a solution unique to their situation. Experience and studies have consistently shown that agreements reached through mediation last longer and lay a foundation for healing for all parties involved. When there is an ongoing relationship between the parties (i.e. co-workers, business associates or parents of joint children), the re-establishment of a working relationship may be even more important than the particular agreement reached.

How Does Mediation Differ From Other Services?

Mediation is not a substitute for legal services, although it usually significantly reduces the legal costs of a conflict. While the formal mediated agreement may be the basis for ending any legal action, parties still need to consult with their individual attorneys about any legal implications of their discussion. Mediation is not a substitute for therapy, although the parties are often greatly helped by their involvement in therapy or counseling prior to, during and after mediation. Mediation looks at the past in the context of forming solutions for the future rather than unraveling reasons for past behavior. Mediation is not a process for turning over a problem to a decision-making authority, rather it keeps the decision-making power with the parties.

What is an Appropriate Case for Mediation?

Mediation may be your best option for their conflict, but the power of decision-making brings with it responsibilities. Each party is responsible for speaking for themselves, usually in the presence of the other party. Significant impairment, whether it be intellectual, emotional, medical, or the result of chemical dependency, will prevent a party from properly participating in the process. If a significant power imbalance due to an abusive history or difference in sophistication of the parties cannot be equalized, mediation is inappropriate. Each party is responsible for making sure they have obtained all necessary information for themselves and have provided all necessary information to the other party before making a decision. You need to know that mediation is hard work -- it is harder than turning the situation over to someone else to solve, but it brings rewards as well.

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