Mediation is an informal, solution-focused process where an impartial third party helps two or more people discuss a dispute and work toward a solution that is acceptable to them all. The key factor is that the people in dispute are encouraged to adopt a collaborative stance towards finding a solution rather than the more usual adversarial positioning that produced the conflict in the first place.
Participation is voluntary, and the mediator is there to facilitate dialogue, using his or her skills and experience. This means that the outcome of the dispute is decided by the participants, not the mediator. Mediated agreements tend to succeed because they result from a process that allows parties to create their own solutions.
When is mediation appropriate?
Mediation works in situations where the parties are willing to participate in discussions aimed at resolving the dispute. Obviously, when people are in dispute they may not be ‘willing to participate’ and they may initially reject the idea of mediation. However, part of the mediator’s role is to engage with the disputants and explain the approach. All most mediators ask is to have that initial discussion with each party, in private, to understand their views and see what can be done.
As the mediator’s role is to facilitate dialogue, this approach is particularly valuable when the parties need to maintain a continuing relationship. This makes it ideal for workplace mediation, and it is used in many other settings such as family, community, schools, cross-cultural and socio-political.
What is involved?
Once the disputing parties have made contact the mediator will meet with each of them separately to ensure that the case is appropriate for mediation, and to answer any questions. If both sides agree then a series of meetings will follow, separately at first and then involving both parties and the mediators together. Typically this will all be done in a day, though mediation can equally take place over several shorter sessions. Overall the process should last no more than a few hours in either case.
Mediation is entirely a voluntary and confidential process where the parties work collaboratively to find their own outcome.
Barry Winbolt is an accredited workplace mediator, Chair of Conflict Resolution at the Institute of Family Therapy, and teaches courses on Conflict Resolution and Mediation Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London,