What is Mediation? How Does it Work?

In mediation, the people experiencing a conflict (the “parties”) work together to find resolution to the conflict. It is a voluntary process in which the parties agree to meet with a neutral third party called a mediator who facilitates a conversation through a series of guiding questions and other techniques. My job as mediator is to help parties in conflict discover ways to meet their needs.

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Irate? Mediate!

Potential outcomes of a mediated conflict resolution process may include the following:

  • Each party better understands the conflict and their own goals in relation to it.
  • Each party learns new ways to communicate and problem-solve.
  • If the conflict involves parties in an ongoing relationship, the parties redefine their relationship to address current and future realities. (For instance, divorcing parents have an ongoing relationship as co-parents who will continue to work together.)
  • The parties, with the help of the mediator, create an agreement designed to resolve the conflict that each can live with. (Please note: The mediator cannot guarantee that an agreement results from the mediation process.)

How long does mediation take?

Mediation is a process that unfolds as the parties and the mediator work together. As such, it’s difficult to estimate how long the process will take. Sometimes, one mediation session results in a satisfactory conclusion to a conflict. Often, several mediation sessions are recommended.

Getting started

The mediation process starts when a person in conflict contacts me. If all people involved in the conflict (the “parties”) agree to address the conflict through mediation, I schedule an “in-take interview” with each party to get to know them, learn about the conflict, and discuss the outcome that each party would like to achieve regarding the conflict. The in-take interview usually takes place over the phone, or it can be done via email. I prefer a phone call because it allows me to communicate with you in real time, gives you a chance to get to know me, and provides an opportunity to discuss your questions.

Once you and the other parties confirm that you’d like to mediate, I set up a mediation session, which usually lasts about 2 hours. Shorter and longer times may be more appropriate, so I may recommend a different timeframe.

Please note: Mediation is always a voluntary process. As such, all parties must agree to mediate in order for mediation to occur. In addition, any party can decide to end the mediation process at any time for any reason. Please note that I will charge a pro-rated fee for time spent in mediation.

Involving other people

Sometimes, I suggest that a party in conflict consider consulting with other professionals to enhance the mediation process and move toward resolution. Such professionals might include attorneys, therapists, financial experts, and other people with special skills and knowledge who can help you and/or other parties gather information that is useful in creating an agreement.

In addition, you may decide that you would like to invite a support person into a mediation session. A support person is someone whose presence is reassuring to you during mediation.

The role of additional people in mediation is to offer information, advice, and/or support. Only the parties to the conflict may create an agreement during mediation. If you would like to bring another person into a mediation session, it is essential that you discuss this with me beforehand. In addition, you must get the consent of the other parties to bring in this additional person.

How do you know when you’re “done” with mediation?

Mediation can be concluded when one party decides to end the process (remember, it’s always voluntary), a mutually satisfactory agreement is reached, or I suggest that the mediation process has reached its conclusion.

There are times when I end the process before one party or the other feels that it should end. This might happen if (1) one of the parties is hostile or aggressive, which makes the process unsafe and/or unproductive, (2) the parties cannot or will not work together to find resolution, and/or (3) there is a serious power imbalance between the parties which could undermine mutual agreement.

Often, it becomes clear to the parties and me when the process should be concluded because an agreement is reached or the process comes to a logical conclusion in some other way.

A final agreement

If the parties reach an agreement, I draft a document that records the agreement. You and the other parties review it and make comments, then I revise it until all parties can abide by it. Then I write the final agreement and each party signs it, creating a mutually-accepted understanding of how you and the other parties have decided to handle the conflict. I do not enforce the agreement – this is a document for the parties only, and you all decide how you will use it.

The mediation agreement can be taken to a judge in a court-based, legal action. If the judge feels that the agreement represents the interests

of all parties, and if the agreement complies with pertinent laws, the judge often uses the agreement as the basis of a court order. Sometimes the agreement itself becomes the judge’s final order.

Please review my Agreement to Mediate Form for more information about my practice. I ask parties in mediation to sign this form during our first session together.

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