Webster’s defines mediation as “intervention between conflicting parties to promote reconciliation, settlement or compromise.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines mediation as “a fair and efficient process to help you resolve your …disputes and reach an agreement. A neutral mediator assists you in reaching a voluntary, negotiated agreement.” The emphasis, which the EEOC includes in their definition, is on fairness and efficiency. If you are interested in labor meditations, please read more about the EEOC and negotiation here.
By understanding those definitions, it seems that every business and diplomatic negotiation could use mediation. After all, what is negotiation if not the act of reaching an agreement?
However, not every negotiation requires a mediator. Many times, the parties are able to reach an agreement on their own. On the other hand, certain situations such as deadlock or when communications have been compromised by heightened emotion, benefit greatly from mediation and even require mediation to be able to conclude negotiations.
A mediator helps to diffuse conflict and to reach accord. He or she acts as a communications go-between.
Dr. Chester Karrass tell us that mediators bring the following to a negotiation:
- They suggest realistic expectations
- They listen to both sides without bias
- They help stimulate alternative thinking or different approaches to a resolution
- The may suggest a compromise that neither party considered
- They may give both parties an “out” or a way to save face
Choosing a mediator is probably just as hard as the situation that brought you to mediation. A good mediator must be impartial and must command respect. A good mediator also has the social skills to manage conflict, knowledge of business practices, and experience. Be wary of any mediators with conflicts of interest or who are overly biased.