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Working It Out: Mediation Brings Peace To Conflict

When we think of the term “conflict” we come to any number of ideas on what it may look and feel like. To some, conflict means an argument with a spouse, or the thought of having to give another lecture on the rules of the house to a teenager. To others it means a disagreement between employees and management, or an individual who feels that they have been wronged by a business or a government agency. Whatever form conflict takes, we can be sure to find plenty of it in our modern society. Whenever we turn on the television we can find any number of dramatized examples of conflict—what forms it takes, and how it is resolved.

Conflict is an everyday part of life. Whatever conflict we might find can either be destructive or creative, positive or negative. It can be the spur toward growth and self-realization, or it can tear us apart and drown us in poisonous emotions. Conflict can be a positive force for social change, or it can serve to further polarize people into factions. So, what makes the difference between conflict as a positive force, and conflict as a negative force? What is the secret? Well, it’s all in the approach and how we manage our own involvement in the process.


When communication breaks down between people and both sides make a heavy investment to gain a certain outcome, then that conflict has graduated to the level of a dispute. What happens when you are absolutely sure you are right and the other party is wrong? What happens when they feel the same way about their position? Where do you go from there? There are really two simple approaches to dispute resolution:  the adversarial approach, or the collaborative approach.

In the realm of conflict management, the adversarial way to dispute resolution is considered the “traditional” approach. The adversarial way is positioning yourself to “win” a disagreement, dispute or contest. One party is victorious, at the expense of the other. This is the way most of us have become familiar with how conflict is resolved, and it always tends to bring out the worst in the folks embroiled in it. Unfortunately, society seems to deal with conflict in an adversarial way, the majority of the time. 

Most people want to resolve their dispute with the ever so famous words “I am taking you to court,” this has become our war cry, so to speak. We are not gentle enough with each other; there just isn't any slack. We think we know people’s thoughts and intentions, but we don’t. We do not take the time to understand any perceptions other than our own. At some point or another, we have all felt the personal sting that conflict brings - both emotionally and financially. In the realm of a contested court process, the costs that we experience emotionally and financially can be great.


There is a trend in our society away from the adversarial approach to a more collaborative method; a trend towards conflict management that engages both parties involved in the dispute to find a mutually beneficial agreement. This collaborative approach to conflict management is characterized by both parties involved agreeing to sit down together to separate themselves from the problem or issue, set aside their ideas of what a “win” might be, and communicate what their real needs are. This way has those involved negotiate around their real needs, with the hope of walking away from the process having met those needs. This collaborative way is possible, and it works.

Mediation is a tool for the collaborative way.  It is a “CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROCESS” in which a third-party helper (the mediator) facilitates the problem-solving process between disputing parties.  This tool gives us a way to start engaging in conflict that does not have to be destructive; a way that is less costly to our emotions and bank accounts. This then becomes an alternative to the traditional adversarial way.

     “As long as a safe environment can be created for BOTH sides, mediation can happen at any point
     in time in a dispute. As people become more familiar with how mediation works, they feel it
     becomes more empowering and less destructive than fighting it out in court. It’s a process where
     they make their own agreements, instead of having someone else’s forced onto them.”

-quoted by Nancy McGahey, Utah Dispute Resolution

A growing body of research shows the effectiveness of mediation in dispute resolution. Mediation is exponentially less costly than involvement in a court process, and the agreements made between the disputants are more lasting.  Because of this, our social institutions and a growing number of businesses are mandating involvement in mediation in order to resolve disputes.  Similarly, “Our courts have implemented mediation programs that have seen a huge amount of success, and our judges are increasingly referring people to mediation as part of their dispute process.”  Nancy McGahey, Utah Dispute Resolution


First, we need to understand what mediation is not. The mediator has no power to decide disputed issues for the parties. The process of mediation is not a substitute for independent legal advice. The mediator cannot give legal advice as part of the mediation process. You can, and should, have your agreements reviewed by legal counsel to ensure that you are reaching a reasonably informed agreement. Mediation is not advocacy, and the mediator will not take sides. The mediator will not champion the interests of any party over another in the mediation nor in any court or other proceeding. Now, we can come to what mediation is and how a mediator works. Fundamentally, mediation is a voluntary process. Either party can drop out of negotiations at any time. Therefore willingness is the key to a successful process.

The mediator will ask specific questions to find out what the parties' needs are. When both parties begin to hear each other’s sides then they are able to get a better picture of what needs to happen. At that point, the mediator is able to help both sides brainstorm and create options. The agreement is for the parties to decide. The mediator is able to ask the right questions to get an agreement built that is practical and law-abiding. The sooner mediation can be brought into play to get to a settlement, the better off the couple will be.

"Mediation has proven to move conflict from the realm of destroyer into the realm of HEALER!”  Dr. Christina Durham – Licensed Clinical psychologist—Mediator
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