Mediation is a process in which a third-party neutral assists in resolving a dispute between two or more other parties. It is a non-adversarial approach to conflict resolution.
The role of the mediator is to facilitate communication between the parties, assist them in focusing on the real issues of the dispute, and generate options that meet the interests or needs of all relevant parties in an effort to resolve the conflict.
Unlike arbitration, where the intermediary listens to the arguments of both sides and makes a decision for the disputants, a mediator assists the parties to develop a solution themselves. Although mediators sometimes provide ideas, suggestions, or even formal proposals for settlement, the mediator is primarily a “process person”, helping the parties define the agenda, identify and reframe the issues, communicate more effectively, find areas of common ground, negotiate fairly, and hopefully, reach an agreement. A successful mediation effort has an outcome that is accepted and owned by the parties themselves.
Mediation is widely used in all sorts of disputes, ranging from divorces to civil lawsuits to very complex public policy problems to international conflicts. Many disputes that have not responded to an initial attempt at negotiation can still be settled through mediation. Even when conflicts are seemingly intractable, they sometimes yield to mediation. Mediation is of particular importance in long-running, deep-rooted conflicts, as this type of conflict is rarely resolved without such outside assistance. Even if the full range of grievances cannot be resolved, mediation is often useful for dealing with particular limited aspects of the wider conflict.