Conflict mediation is a negotiation process in which the participants are assisted by a neutral party, who is referred to as a mediator. Mediation is meant to be less adversarial than court hearings, and the mediator is not a judge. The mediator’s role is to help the parties understand each other’s point of view and needs, and to come to a collaborative agreement. Often, mediation is referred to as assisted negotiation.
Typically, participants engage in mediation voluntarily. They are not forced into it or coerced into the process. This means each party attends mediation with the goal of solving the conflict, but either party can end the session at any time. Mediation participants do not have to give a good reason for leaving mediation. For example, a person may leave a mediation session because he doesn’t feel the negotiations are progressing or simply because he no longer wishes to negotiate.
Conflict mediation is meant to be a collaborative effort. Since the mediator doesn’t have the right to impose a decision or force either party to agree, solutions are developed because of the willingness of the parties to work together at problem-solving. Without the cooperation of both parties, mediation is likely to fail. In conflict mediation, both parties have a say in every part of the mediated agreement. Either party may request or deny additions to it.
The mediator’s role in conflict mediation is to guide the process. A person with this role attempts to help each party understand the other’s position. He helps the parties focus on the end goal rather than the distractions many people have when negotiating, such as who is to blame or what the blamed person could have done differently. As decisions are made, a mediator helps the parties to craft an agreement.
Mediation is typically a confidential process. Usually, mediators are prohibited from sharing details about things that happen during mediation in court. The signed agreement can be shared in court, however.
In most cases of conflict mediation the mediator doesn’t have the power to impose a solution or to share the details of the process with anyone else; some jurisdictions, however, have different rules for custody mediation. In some places, a mediator can give a recommendation to a judge, influencing his decision in a custody or visitation case. Both parties know of this power before mediation begins, so they aren’t surprised if this is the outcome.