I am faced with this question on a daily basis when working at the Community Mediation Center. Whether introducing myself to distressed individuals at the county courthouse, preparing disputants for their mediation session, or sitting in on a mediation session, mediation continues to be a widely recognized term with little known about its process.
My name is Eric Dirth, and I began my work this September at the local mediation center in an effort to gain a better understanding of dispute resolution processes. I have spent my time observing or participating in several roles, and this fall’s blog entries will offer “food for thought” on the key topics in community mediation. This week I am focusing on the meaning of mediation.
One of the Fairfield Center’s missions is to provide mediation as a constructive process to resolve misunderstandings and miscommunication in a variety of circumstances. Mediations may be court referred or client-paid, and frequently the first question from the disputant is not “why mediation,” but “what is mediation?” Generally they include some qualifier such as “I’ve heard about it but…” or “Just remind me…” When faced with these questions, the volunteer or mediator’s first task is to reduce some of the uncertainty surrounding what will be taking place. I find three simple sentences help reduce this uncertainty and express why mediation is a productive tool for resolving conflict.
Mediation is confidential and voluntary.
What is said in mediation stays in mediation. Confidentiality is critical to the disputants’ comfort in voicing their concerns and thoughts, and mediation supplies this type of safe space. The safe space also necessitates voluntary attendance. If the disputant does not want mediation, there is no requirement to attend the mediation session. In fact, if the disputant displays a destructive attitude, the mediator has the right to end the mediation at any time. This does not mean the disputants must agree with each other or give in on the most prevalent issues. Instead, it means the disputants must be prepared to gain a better understanding of the other disputant’s perspective.
Mediators are facilitators, nothing more.
Mediators are not deciding what should be done to resolve the issue and are not the decision-makers. The mediator acts as a facilitator to give the disputants a chance to talk, listen, and understand each other better. Frequently the mediator will identify a range of options and question flawed reasoning, but ultimately it is up to the disputants to resolve the issue themselves.
Mediation saves time and money by bringing people together to develop acceptable solutions.
Mediation is cheaper than court, quicker, and allows for the disputants’ voices to be adequately heard. The courtroom does not have the time or resources to adequately listen to the complex, seemingly intractable conflict that has developed between persons. The judge has no choice but to pass a decision, often to the detriment of one or both parties. Mediation creates space for voice and allows the disputants to make their own decisions.