A mediator is an impartial person or group of people who help parties in a dispute reach a mutually satisfying agreement. Mediators come from a variety of backgrounds and professions, but most have experience in helping people in conflict. They are specially trained to listen to and support disputants. They also have the skills to guide parties in finding their own satisfactory resolutions. Mediation has the potential to reduce the time and cost of resolving disputes. Mediation can settle issues that might otherwise require weeks or months of trial testimony, legal research and litigation.
The role of a mediator is to identify the issues in dispute and the parties’ needs, interests and priorities. This may be accomplished through discussion at the mediation session, through the use of written questions and forms or through a combination of these methods. The mediator may help the parties prioritize and evaluate issues and explore possible solutions, including alternatives.
During the first mediation session, a mediator will usually introduce themselves and explain their role in the process. The mediator will then allow each party to express their concerns. Depending on the type of case, the mediator will then typically meet with each party privately (sometimes called caucus meetings).
After meeting individually with the parties, the mediator will bring the parties together to discuss the issues in dispute and their mutually acceptable resolution. The mediator will also often schedule additional sessions with the parties to assist them in reaching a settlement. The mediator’s goal in each of these sessions is to help the parties resolve their issues in a way that satisfies their needs and priorities.
An important element in the mediation process is that it does not involve a court judge or jury deciding the case for you. Litigation can be costly, emotionally draining and time consuming for both sides. Even a small dispute can take hours of your day and weeks or months out of your life to work through in court. A mediation session, on the other hand, can be scheduled quickly and settled in days, if not hours.
Mediation can provide a more amicable and mutually satisfactory solution to the issues involved than a litigated case. In a divorce, for example, the typical adversarial approach of “us vs. them” can easily turn into a war of words and who can shout the loudest. In mediation, however, the focus remains on respectful dialog and cooperative problem-solving.
Transformative mediation views a dispute as a crisis in communication, and seeks to support parties’ shifts toward empowerment and recognition, enabling deliberation, responsive interaction and new understandings. This approach is reflected in the United States mediator codes of conduct, which emphasize self-determination and party autonomy in the resolution of conflicts.