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What is Mediation?

Mediation is a collaborative process where a neutral third party helps disputing individuals find common ground and resolve conflicts. It's a confidential, often cost-effective alternative to litigation. Intrigued? Discover how mediation could be the key to unlocking your dispute resolution. What might you resolve through mediation?
Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

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.

Mediation can often help divorcing partners come to an agreement during divorce cases.
Mediation can often help divorcing partners come to an agreement during divorce cases.

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.

Mediation can be used as a conflict resolution tactic.
Mediation can be used as a conflict resolution tactic.

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 may be used to help engender open communication.
Mediation may be used to help engender open communication.

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.

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Discussion Comments


@Tomislav - I am not sure about what specific type and on what level of diplomatic mediation you are discussing, but I have seen centers whose goal is peace mediation training.

If you do a search for diplomatic mediation training you might pull up some of the names of the centers. They describe their training as seminars; which start at the basics of conflict analysis, but also include international conflict resolution, and the actual design of peace.

Sounds incredibly interesting to me!


When I think of mediation, I think of diplomatic mediation where large conflicts are resolved.

How does one go about receiving mediation training for diplomatic type mediation? Or that just one part of a larger job?


Having worked with children most of my professional life, I started to wonder if there was one more way that we could ‘mediate’ their lives. Particularly, I wondered about children whose lives were not all that good.

One case that I strongly questioned was one involving incest. A child had been molested and raped by her father for over a year before the mother found out. At that time, she took the child and removed her completely out of the father’s reach.

I say, “Go mom!” However, that is not exactly what the state said.

The dad wanted to be a part of the child’s life. Mediation was provided between the three parties involved (mom, dad, daughter) to help them regain a positive relationship.

I’m sorry, folks, but in my mind that ship has sailed. These folks were actually encouraged by professionals to try to work things out as a family, so that eventually the daughter was living again with both parents in one home.

What in the world? Even if dad is truly sorry, being a pedophile is just the same as being attracted to one sex or the other.

This man is turned on by small children, and the state encouraged a small child to move back in with him after she was safely removed!

We can’t, and shouldn’t, mediate everything!


@Sara007 – I was a peer mediator, too! How about that? Unfortunately, we never really did anything.

The concept was exactly as you said; the students having a conflict would meet with a peer to help them sort the mess out. It was great in theory, but we received absolutely no support from administration or staff.

I suppose something like this could work if all parties were respectful and supported. Unfortunately, in an environment that is far more totalitarian it does not work at all. Mediation cases were really kind of a joke.

I found it to be more of a farce to receive extra funding than something that actually made a difference in our school. However, I think it could have if handled properly.


@Sara007 - Having students work in mediation to help others sounds like a fantastic idea. I am surprised that this was allowed though. You would think there would be more regulations regarding this kind of thing.

I suppose if the issues discussed weren't too serious peer mediation would make sense. When I was a teenager I always felt talking to people my own age was the easiest.

What does everyone think, is having mediation performed by students a good idea, or should it be left up to the professionals? How about mediation between co-workers?

I think there would have to be very strict rules about what you could discuss if it wasn't a true professional doing the mediation.


When I was in high school I was one of the students recruited to be trained in peer mediation. Our school was working hard to find a way to deal with students problems in a way that was more effective.

Peer mediators were trained in basic conflict resolution and were basically volunteer student counselors.

Our program was actually a huge success as many students felt much more comfortable working out their issues with fellow students. Basically, if two kids were having problems with each other, a peer mediator would meet with them to talk things out. It was surprisingly well received at our school.


@SkyWhisperer - I remember the talks with Clinton and Israel/Palestine from years ago. It did look like they were getting pretty close to a resolution there, only to have it fall apart.

The thing is, we can't really have any idea what went on behind the scenes. There was obviously the sticking point that was mentioned on TV, but there could have been an entirely different set of arguments going on behind the scenes, as is usually the case with these things.

Clinton was a powerful negotiator (and a Yale lawyer himself), but he, as the head of the United States, was hardly a disinterested party in the negotiations.

That is why a truly uninvolved third party is the best choice for a mediator. Neutrality gives them the advantage of being able to simply moderate the exchange.

Of course, with something so global and all-encompassing as the problems in the Middle East, finding a neutral party could be tricky.


I am in law school and I have a real interest in family law mediation. The whole process of divorce and custody can be so nasty and confrontational, that it sometimes makes sense to bring in a person who can try to guide the warring parties through the process.

In some states, this can be required as part of the process for dividing assets and determining custody, especially if the parties cannot decide among themselves. It won't work in every situation, but it can help speed things along for some people and take some pressure off the court system.


@miriam98 - That's assuming they actually wanted to reach a fair, mutually-beneficial resolution in the first place. They may have already decided among themselves that the woman was a "troublemaker" and wanted to start her on her way out the door.

I agree with you that a neutral third party is essential if the goal is a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The problem in so many of these things is that somebody has an agenda. That's why a completely disinterested mediator is so important.


@nony - I've seen those shows too. I've also seen real life conflicts in the workplace as well. Personally, I think we need more independent third parties in workplace mediation conflicts.

I worked for a company where a female coworker was in constant conflict with her manager. Call it personality conflicts or whatever, they had many heated exchanges.

Anyway, it got so bad that the manager arranged for a private meeting between the worker, herself, and the manager’s boss, who happened to be the director of the department.

The director began the meeting by asking the coworker if she “liked her job.” That wasn’t meant as a conflict mediation technique; it was a veiled threat. The worker broke down and eventually quit later on.

In general, before you enter any so called conflict mediation at work, you better be sure you have a neutral third party.


I like to watch television shows which show conflict mediation in families. These are cases of intervention where one family member, like a teenager, is engaged in self destructive behavior like drugs or prostitution and the family wants to get them to stop.

It is conflict, because often the teenager doesn’t want to stop and doesn’t see what’s so bad about what they’re doing. Usually the mediator will step in and ask both sides to write down their feelings about the other party on a piece of paper, and read their thoughts aloud in a family meeting.

It’s heart rending to watch the outpouring of love and affection for the teenager that takes place as family members tell them how their behavior is affecting the family.

These shows usually end up on a positive note, with the child giving up the destructive behavior; I only hope that it lasts.


Can anybody tell me what the different types of legal mediation are? I am going through a rough patch with my ex-husband over our child support agreement, and I think that some legal mediation could really help. Can anybody give me some advice?


I would like to see conflict mediation actually work in some high profile international dilemmas, like the Palestinian/Israeli crisis.

The last such meeting that comes to mind that almost worked was between President Clinton and PLO leader Yasser Arafat, at the Peace Talks in Camp David some years ago.

That meeting brought both sides to as close a resolution as I’ve ever thought would be possible; I actually thought that peace was just around the corner. However, Arafat had some conditions that Israel could not agree to, like the right of return for millions of displaced Palestinian refugees.

Israel made a number of concessions in the agreement, but they could not agree to this one point, and Arafat would take no less than having Israel meet all of his demands.

What would have been a powerful, defining moment in history fell right through their hands.

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    • Mediation can often help divorcing partners come to an agreement during divorce cases.
      By: Africa Studio
      Mediation can often help divorcing partners come to an agreement during divorce cases.
    • Mediation can be used as a conflict resolution tactic.
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      Mediation can be used as a conflict resolution tactic.
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      Mediation may be used to help engender open communication.
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      Mediation is a more cost-effective way of resolving business disputes than litigation.