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In our social reality, there is a tendency to turn a personal dispute into a legal conflict. People are quick to run to court and confront each other through adversarial means as a way to create a favourable outcome for themselves. This is evident in the pile of cases you find in the courts especially the civil division.

Most of these are cases involving social partners in business, work relations and now predominantly family and marriage disputes. In the end, they receive a solution imposed on them where one person is the winner, and the other person is the loser.

For the parties involved in the conflict, the desire to be vindicated in a legal battle often means positions become increasingly polarised and emotional tension rises. These factors aggravate an already difficult situation. Unnecessary lawsuits clog an unwieldy legal system causing additional delays, and one can pay a high price when relying only on the legal system to resolve their problem. One gives up the opportunity to express themselves in their own words, at their own pace, and from their point-of-view as litigation follows a formal procedure.

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In the end, parties embroiled in the legal system often risk financial and emotional damage. The legal processes can exacerbate an existing weak relationship between the parties and can impair relationships with those close to them such as family, children, friends, workplace, and colleagues.

To this end, it is better to adopt the use of mediation, or perhaps a voluntary arbitration or worse of all compulsory arbitration in disputes that involve parties in a social relationship. What these parties must avoid is the use of litigation since it denies them some rights and control over the process and its outcome.

Mediation, however, gives disputing parties the ability to manage their conflicts while opening channels of communication and renewing dialogue. Some of the numerous benefits of mediation include:

  • Creating renewed trust between parties through a focus on future relationships, and on the needs and interests of the parties.
  • Focusing on the future and continuing relationships with particular attention to renewing trust between parties and learning how to maintain and protect that trust.
  • Encouraging the parties to share in mutual decision-making where they can reach appropriate solutions autonomously.
  • Acting efficiently by saving time, emotional energy and finances.

In a mediation process, the individual (parties) are central to the mediation process. They are empowered by the knowledge that the result is in their hands. A core principle of mediation is that every conflict situation has two sides. Naturally, each person has his/her reality and own ideas about a just outcome.

Therefore, in any dispute apart from those of criminal nature, it is preferable to solve it through non-adversarial means. Dialogue, in a calm atmosphere, leads to the possibilities of creating shared and fitting solutions, which satisfy the needs and interests of both parties.

Also, optimism is central to the mediation process. Mediation is future focused and helps participants come up with practical solutions while restoring relationships and finding new ways of relating to each other. Mediation is particularly useful for those who are in an ongoing relationship such as divorcees with children, business partners bound by legal association or neighbours bound by boundaries. People in these relationships will need to not only resolve their disputes but also be able to get along with the resolution, and this is what mediation does.

The purpose of mediation is to enable parties to negotiate directly with each other. An impartial third party, the mediator, can assist individuals in spite of differences of opinion and high levels of emotion. During the negotiation process, the mediator encourages and enables participants to think creatively and concretely. This process leads to an agreement that is acceptable to all parties.

It is important to note that Mediation is not compromised. The hope of the mediation process, characterised by direct dialogue between participants, is to bring forth a new reality where everyone leaves satisfied without feeling that they are giving anything up. The identification of underlying motivations and feelings expressed by each party allows for the possibility of finding solutions that address the individual and collective interests of the parties. Mediation doesn’t focus on the search for legal solutions or same solutions but encourages flexibility and creativity; potential outcomes of mediation are limitless. For when there is open communication and a commitment to work on the problem, the outcomes tend to be better.

To this end, the way forward to resolving a social dispute is this, choose mediation if negotiation fails, avoid litigation and maintain good neighbourliness and relationships, both at the community level and the workplace for growth and progress.