A mediator is a neutral third party who helps two or more parties resolve a dispute. Mediators facilitate discussion, encourage cooperation and compromise, and help find solutions that meet everyone’s needs. A mediator may be hired by an individual, a company or a court. Professional mediators have special training in conflict resolution, and many are former judges or lawyers. They are often used for workplace disputes and family conflicts, but can be helpful in any situation where the participants cannot agree on how to solve a problem.
The mediation process begins with an introduction from the mediator, explaining the purpose of the meeting and his or her role in it. The mediator will usually also explain the difference between mediation and arbitration, which has a similar purpose but involves a binding decision.
After the introduction, disputants are invited to make their opening statements. They describe their position on the issues, and include any financial and other consequences of their position. The mediator will then listen to the statements, and may encourage a joint discussion if the participants are receptive to the idea. If the participants are unable to agree on how to proceed, the mediator may invite each to go to a separate room and discuss their positions with the mediator privately. This meeting is called a caucus.
Mediation may last several hours, and participants often take breaks between sessions. This allows the parties to focus on other aspects of their lives and work, without taking too much time away from the mediation session. The length of the mediation may also depend on how many issues are being resolved, and some cases have multiple mediation sessions.
Once a mediator has established rapport with the participants, he or she will usually encourage them to reach agreement on smaller points that can then be used as building blocks for larger agreements. This can expedite the process of resolving the dispute, and allow the parties to leave the mediation with a concrete solution that they can implement immediately.
As the process continues, the mediator will help both sides understand the strength and weaknesses of their positions. They will also encourage them to consider creative and innovative solutions. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the mediator will help them determine whether mediation can continue.
It is important that the mediator have good listening skills. They must be able to hear the points of view of each participant and be willing to change their own opinion if necessary. The mediator should also be able to see that both parties are making progress towards reaching an agreement, and will help them understand that they have more control over the outcome than they would if they were in front of a judge or jury.
If a case cannot be resolved through mediation, the mediator will usually tell the parties that they must take their dispute to court. In some countries, courts will only hold a trial if both parties have attempted to reach a settlement through mediation. This gives the parties more control over the outcome, and may save time and money in the long run.