By John Ford www.johnford.com
Simply stated, mediation is a conciliatory process in which a third party supports the participants in reaching an agreement on their own.
The mediator provides guidance about the mediation process, but when it comes to the resolution of the substantive issues at hand, leaves that to the participants. This means the participants, not the mediator, are the decision makers.
Whether or not an agreement is reached is always voluntary, but participation in mediation is not always voluntary, and sometimes, especially in the workplace, it is mandated.
Ideally the mediator is both neutral (in that there are no compromising relationships) and impartial (in that there is no bias toward or against a particular solution). Most importantly, the mediator must be acceptable to the parties and possess the skills to be helpful.
Typically, the mediator starts with a short opening statement to orient parties to the process and role of the mediator. Ground rules, such as confidentiality of the discussions and the importance of equal air time for the participants, are established at this time.
Next, taking turns, participants have an opportunity to express and share their perspectives. The mediator is likely to summarize what s/he has heard. When the mediator reflects back what has been heard s/he is not agreeing with one party or another but simply demonstrating an understanding of your perspective.
The mediator will encourage you to focus on what you are feeling and needing rather than on your judgments of one another. You will also be encouraged to focus on the future you want to create, together, rather than on whom to blame for the past.
The mediator will encourage you to collaborate and find a solution that is mutually beneficial. S/he should not take sides or tell you what to do.
Mediation is a time honored and proven vehicle for resolving conflict. The majority of the time, participants who engage in good faith find solutions. When you do, your mediator will help you to clarify and record any new understandings and test them for durability.
Although mediation has regained popularity in recent times given its effectiveness in resolving issues, healing or strengthening relationships, speed relative to other avenues for dispute resolution and cost effectiveness, there is ample historical evidence of its use for millennia.
John Ford is an experienced workplace mediator and trainer. www.johnford.com