What to Know Before You Mediate
Mediation is a great way to resolve conflicts, and it can work well in a wide variety of settings. Here’s just a small list:
Workplace issues amongst coworkers
Performance management issues
Conflict between co-owners of a business
Civil matters like property ownership or damage disputes
Business-to-business conflicts about work quality
Family decision-making, such as help to make decisions essential to writing a will or financial planning
While mediators generally do not want to know much about the dispute in a specific case until they know all parties have agreed to mediation, it can be helpful for parties to understand some basics about mediation.
The mediator is an impartial third party. The mediator should have no interest in how the conflict will be resolved. If you feel like a mediator may be biased, speak up and ask them about it.
This is also why a mediator may ask you to stop telling them about your case early on - in initial phone consultations, for example, mediators often want to know only the most general information about the dispute.
It is essential that all the parties are able to speak for themselves and to advocate for themselves.
Every participant in a mediation is there voluntarily. They can each end the mediation at any time, or they can do the work together to find a resolution.
Typically, each party gets to state what brought them into the meditation, and has the opportunity to ask the other party questions or share different points of view.
Generally, all parties are asked to brainstorm ideas for how to move forward or what agreement to create - before the parties even begin to discuss the merits of one idea over another.
The process may look different in different types of mediation. Ask your mediator what type of mediation they do, and what to expect in the process (though many will tell you up front!).
Mediation is often quicker than a legal process, because legal processes take place at the whim of the local court jurisdiction. In other words, you may decide to sue someone, but the court tells you what dates are available, and you may have to coordinate those dates not only with your lawyer but also with the other party! The waiting time in court cases can be months or years.
Mediation does take time: time to speak, time to listen, time to think and process internally everything that you may be hearing or thoughts and feelings that may change as you listen. The exact length of time for mediation varies, depending on how much the parties need to talk about and how complicated the issues and relationships are. Generally speaking, many issues are resolved within 2-3 sessions, and sessions may be scheduled for 2 hours or 4 hours or 8 hours.
The goal of every mediation is to create an agreement that every party is comfortable with, and that will last.
It’s also important to understand what mediation is not:
Mediation is not a top-down process - the mediator will not make decisions for you.
Mediation is not a punitive process - no one gets to punish anyone else.
Mediation is not a replacement for legal advice - if you need expert advice of any kind, you should either arrange to speak with someone before the process or invite them - with the mediator’s and the other party’s agreement - to participate in the mediation.
Most importantly, ask your mediator any questions you may have, at any point in the process. They are there to help, and you have the right to understand the process and the mediator’s role in the process.