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Mediation refers to any interchange between two groups or individuals attempting to bring their respective points of view to a compromise. The major uses of the term refer to law, diplomacy and commerce. Mediation may also be used in a scientific sense to discuss the interchange between biological organisms, or in a cultural sense to refer to the exchange of ideas and practices between cultures.
Legal mediation is similar to arbitration, but less binding than arbitration for legal purposes. In this process, both sides must agree fully to a settlement, rather than relying on a third-party arbiter to decide an outcome. Mediation is preferable to litigation in many circumstances for a number of reasons. It is seen as much less aggressive and attracts much less negative publicity than a large court case may do. The process also saves considerable amounts of money and time for most businesses and individuals who choose it over litigation. The court costs, lawyer fees and long time frames involved in preparing and completing litigation make it much bulkier than mediation.
Of the thousand largest US corporations, over 85% report using mediation as a way of settling legal disputes with other corporations and individuals. This type is rarely contractual, and allows either participant to decide the exchange is going poorly and turn to more conventional means of resolution, such as arbitration or litigation.
Diplomatic mediation is also known as peace brokering or simply as international diplomacy. In this type, mediators attempt to come to a meeting point in the views of two or more nations. Diplomatic mediation is most often used to settle violent conflicts, through agreements and resolutions collectively known as the peace process. It may also be used as a way of settling land and property disputes before they escalate into a violent situation.
Commercial mediation is a broad field covering third-party mediators who arrange everything from transport contracts, to exclusive sale rights, to agreements dictating further creative output. In its broadest sense, it can be seen as any exchange between two businesses, or a business and individual, in which both parties attempt to maximize their own profits and a compromise must be reached.
Mediation is important to a well-functioning society and has existed in different forms for thousands of years. From specialized societal roles in Classical Greece and Imperial China, to law agencies in the modern world specializing in mediation, the process has a long and rich history of helping humans interact more peacefully and productively with one another.