Although it’s tempting to feel like conflict is a sign that something has gone wrong, it’s really a natural product of living and working in social communities. In many cases, conflict may be a sign you’re doing things right! Think about the movie Pleasantville if you want to imagine a “utopia” where differences and conflict and all but snuffed out. While conflict is one of the most basic of human experiences, we are often ill equipped at resolving it. For day-to-day issues, most of us talk things out and can find resolution but in other cases, the conflicts are just too big to solve on your own. In these cases, strong emotions, complex problems, power imbalances, and our own discomfort with confrontation make effectively solving problems incredibly challenging.
Mediation is a tool to help in conflicts such as these. In mediation, a neutral person (the mediator) helps people in conflict discuss the conflict in a safe and productive way. Mediators help people think about individual needs and interests, get clear on their differences, and find common ground. When possible, (and it usually is!) mediators help the parties reach an agreement that everyone can live with.
The list below comes from Carrie’s friends and colleagues at the Oregon Mediation Association.
- Facilitate open, honest, and safe communication
- Help people discuss and clarify issues
- Help people understand each other’s points-of-view and what’s really important
- Discuss options that work for everyone involved— this can include options that hadn’t been thought of yet.
- Reach and write up a mutually-acceptable agreement determined by all parties
- Maintain high standards of confidentiality.
Mediators do NOT:
- Take anyone’s side
- Offer opinions on the case
- Decide the outcome for participants
- Give legal or other professional advice. The mediator may help you think of options to consider, possibly with the help and advice of another professional.
- You are the decision-maker; the mediator has no authority to make decisions.
- You determine the issues that need to be addressed; the mediator guides the process and maintains a safe environment.
- Communication is usually private. If not, the reason why is explained before beginning mediation.
- You have a right to quit mediation at any time.
- Agreements are reached only when you agree.