Mediation is generally defined as the intervention in a negotiation or a conflict of an acceptable third party who has limited or no authoritative decision-making power, who assists the involved parties to voluntarily reach a mutually acceptable settlement of the issues in dispute. (1)Moore, Christopher W. 2003. The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass., p 15
A shorter definition is, “Mediation is a process through which a third party helps two or more other parties achieve their own resolution on one or more issues” (2)Slaikeu, K. A. (1996). When Push Comes to Shove: A Practical Guide to Mediating Disputes. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., P. 3
Simply speaking, mediation is the intervention of a neutral third party whose purpose is to assist the parties in dispute to find a solution that they, not the mediators, want.
Mediation can take several forms or styles. There are four basic styles recognized in the US today. They are facilitative, evaluative, transformative, and narrative.
A facilitative mediator provides the disputants with a structured progress with established ground rules, but the parties themselves are responsible for the outcome. Facilitative mediation does not require that the mediator be an expert in the subject matter, only a quick study. The mediator is there to guide the process so that the parties can make their own decision – one that best fits their needs.
In an Evaluative mediation, each party provides the mediator (who is an expert in the subject matter) with their arguments, evidence, and anything they believe will help their respective cases. As the evaluative mediator helps them discuss their goals, positions, and concerns, he or she seeks to identify common ground but also provides an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s legal case.
Transformative mediation sets out to shift the disputants’ relationship with each other by allowing them to develop the structure by which they will resolve their own dispute. The participants establish their own ground rules and take ownership of much of the process by which they discuss their conflict, thereby learning a new model of collaboration for the future. Transformative mediation can be a freewheeling yet healing endeavor, particularly for disputants who have an ongoing relationship, but it often requires substantial time and engaged participation from all sides.
Narrative is a form of mediation where each disputant tells their story, as a narrative. The mediator’s job is to take each narrative and weave them together to create a new story, one that incorporates elements of each. Through this storytelling process, the disputants open their mind to alternatives they may have been closed to before. This change in their narrative can facilitate a change in attitude and thereby help in the resolution of the conflict.
In reality, most mediators fall somewhere in the middle of these styles. They tend to form a blended method – all their own.
Perhaps one of the largest benefits of mediation, beyond a resolution, can be summed up by John Jay Chapman, “You get the satisfaction of being heard, and that is the whole possible scope of human ambition” (1910, “The Unity of Human Nature”).
Mediation works because it isn’t someone making a decision for the disputants, it is the parties in conflict devising a solution that works for them. It works because it is voluntary and no one is forced to make an agreement they are not comfortable with.
This doesn’t mean everyone gets what they want or even what they like. It simply means that the agreement is acceptable to all parties and can be lived with.
Some of the many Benefits of Mediation
- Mediation provides a safe, neutral space to have difficult conversations, even if a “resolution” isn’t the goal.
- Mediation can be done at any stage of the dispute. It doesn’t require a court action to happen.
- Mediation is a means of resolving disputes that may preserve or rebuild relationships.
- Mediation can help people learn to resolve future disputes more productively on their own.
- Mediation can be utilized to help resolve issues that a law suit may not be able to address.
- Meditation may help the parties find more creative means of resolving their dispute.
- Mediated agreements are more likely to be upheld over court ordered judgments.
- Even when an agreement isn’t reached, mediation can allow a disputant to feel heard, sometimes for the first time in the dispute.
Below is a clip of the BBC science fiction show “Doctor Who.” The situation is that there are about 20,000,000 shapeshifting aliens living in the world under a ceasefire brokered by The Doctor. Several years have passed and some of these aliens are not content with the arrangements of the peace accord. The blond on the left is the leader of a paramilitary unit charged with coping with alien threats (similar to Men in Black). The woman on the right is an alien shapeshifter in the form of The Doctor’s companion (held by two aliens) that is bent on revolution.