Mediation is a process in which a neutral third-party acts as a facilitator to assist in resolving a dispute between two or more parties. It is a non-adversarial approach to conflict resolution, where the parties generally communicate directly. The role of the mediator is to facilitate communication between the parties, assist them in focusing on the real issues of the disputes, and generating options for settlement.
The Conflict Mediation Process
1. Opening Remarks by the Mediator
• Make introductions as needed. Begin in a friendly way. Briefly describe your role as a mediator and demonstrate or reinforce your neutrality.
• Set the agenda for the meeting.
• Set the timeframe for the process.
• Get agreement on the agenda. Simply say, “How does that sound? Is there anything you would like to add?”
2. Define Ground Rules
• Use ground rules established by your organization, if they exist.
• Be prepared with ground rules prior to the meeting.
• Ask for additional ground rules.
• Get agreement from all parties to abide by the ground rules. If people do not agree on the ground rules, suspend the meeting.
3. Statement of the Problem by All Parties
• All sides will have their opportunity to tell their story uninterrupted.
• Usually, the person who requested the mediation will go first.
• In addition to the facts about the situation, this is an opportunity to frame issues from a personal perspective and to give the mediator more information on the emotional state of each party.
4. Information Gathering by Mediator
• The mediator asks open-ended questions to understand the key issues and ideas from each party. Listen for facts and feelings, and differentiate between the two. Ask questions such as:
• What actually happened?
• What do you think?
• Why do you think that?
• What is a specific example?
• The mediator frequently summarizes or repeats back to clarify understanding, i.e. “So, what I hear you saying is…”
5. Problem Identification and Agreement
• The mediator looks for common goals between the parties.
• The mediator suggest issues to settle in the order that the likelihood of settlement will occur.
I suggest that we look at the following issues….1. (Issue), 2. (Issue), 3. (Issue)
Let’s begin with Issue No. 2 (Begin with a less controversial issue.)
How does that sound to you?
6. Generating Options/Negotiations
• Methods vary in this step, based on the needs of the stakeholders. Typical options include:
• Hypothetical Scenarios – the mediator asks the participants to suggest an idea that describes the ideal scenario. The mediator then facilitates a discussion to bring the scenarios together into one picture that all can agree on.
• Caucus – A very effective method for business conflict might be referred to loosely as a “caucus.” In a caucus, an overriding issue or “nobler motive” is defined. All options and agreements move toward the overriding issue. In a family dispute, for example, the overriding issue may be what is best for the children. In a business, the overriding issue may be what is best for the client. Often the mediator will meet with the individual parties in private to brainstorm solutions to the problem. Based on the individual sessions, the mediator will then make a proposal.
• Mediator Proposal – the mediator proposes a possible scenario and invites the participants to modify it until all agree.
• Negotiation Tactics: Many people involved in mediation use classic negotiation techniques. The mediator needs to control some of these through the ground rules such as:
• You go first – the mediator determines who goes first.
• Willing to walk away – the mediator forestalls this through the ground rules. It is a tactic commonly used in labor disputes.
• Appeal to higher authority – at times, there are problems that can’t be solved through mediation and are escalated to a higher authority.
• Split the difference – this is a powerful negotiation tactic that can be used to bring sides together. The danger is that both sides feel they lost rather than both sides feeling they gained.
7. Reaching an Agreement
• The mediator listens for “buying signals” from both parties.
• When this begins to happen, the mediator proposes a brainstorming session with all parties to come to a best solution.
• As soon as there is agreement on the solution, the mediator reinforces this by saying, “So, we have agreed that the following is the best solution. (Recap solution) Is that right?”
• All parties agree and move on to implementations of the solution.
• If appropriate, discuss the potential for future disagreements and ways to work together more effectively.