Mediation Can Solve Problems Without The Mess

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When people in business face a crisis, they often ask “what’s the best practice to follow in a situation like this?”  When people are in conflict with one another it would be helpful if they would ask the same question.  Conflicts happen whenever and wherever people are in contact with one another whether in a professional or a personal context.  Sometimes people leave the conflict to be resolved by the courts or by supervisors.  These kinds of resolutions can be lengthy, the outcome uncertain except for there being winners and losers, and the solution ordered where no one is very satisfied.

One of the best practices to resolving conflict is a process called mediation. 

Mediation is a voluntary, cooperative, problem-solving process involving the parties in conflict and an impartial third party.  The mediator helps the parties understand that mediation uses collaborative, interest based techniques where they, with the assistance of the mediator, work together towards a mutually satisfying solution and reach agreement on the issues involved.  The mediator does not offer solutions and does not evaluate agreements.  The parties meet individually with the mediator, initially, to determine if they are ready and the issues to be resolved are appropriate for the mediation process.  The key is that the parties involved are interested in settling the issue(s) and they are willing to disclose all relevant information in the confidence that what is discussed in mediation is completely confidential.  Once mediation begins, all communication between the parties, with or without the mediator, is ‘without prejudice.’  Mediation continues for as long as the parties involved are willing to negotiate and it terminates once an agreement is reached or if any of the parties, including the mediator, decide that they do not wish to continue with the process.

In the workplace, supervisors play a key role in identifying conflicts and ensuring that they are resolved.  Mediation reduces the significant costs associated with unresolved conflicts.  The stress of coping with a conflict-ridden environment can bring on psychological and physical illnesses to the conflicting parties and to those who surround them thereby increasing the use of sick time.  An outside mediator has a great chance of succeeding since the conflicting employees may not want to share confidential information with an insider. 

Mediation can also be used to reach agreements between separating spouses regarding the division of assets and liabilities as well as determining custody, access, and support of the child(ren) involved.  Although through mediation a couple may explore the possibilities of staying together or separating, mediation is not marriage counselling.

Separating spouses and individuals involved in conflict often head down the path of finding fault, laying blame, and competing for support from friends and colleagues.  We know the damage that the adversarial approach wreaks among those involved.  In this approach the child(ren) are usually caught in the crossfire of their parents’ marital battles becoming the chief casualties of the divorce.  The children are often forced into a conflict of loyalties which ends up having detrimental effects on their developing personalities.  The parents may become so embroiled in the continuing struggle that they find it difficult to begin to rebuild their lives.  Howard H. Irving, professor, family mediator and author says that “if the adversary system takes a bad situation and makes it worse, mediation can take the same situation and make it ‘less bad’ – and often even better.”  And mediation is more affordable than litigation.

Family mediation treats the children involved not as assets to be divided but as innocent by-standers who need to be protected from the fallout of the marital breakup.  The focus of family mediation is ‘what’s best for the children.’

Mediation is a “best practice” when resolving conflicts between individuals at work, neighbours, estranged relatives, or between professionals and clients.  Mediation is simple, time efficient, and inexpensive, with no need for formal setting, no discovery, no testimony, and no one under oath. 

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