Monday, April 02, 2012


This is an article that Nick Stadnyk and I wrote for a Conflict Management class at Selkirk College. You can see the same article on Nick's blog - nstadnyk. Give him a look!


Nondescript humanoids mediating
Mediation is a form of conflict resolution. In using mediation, two parties come to a mutually agreeable solution. While this process can serve to resolve conflict, the root of conflict is not eradicated in either party. Mediation is a means to resolution and not to transformation; thus, it is very effective for reaching quicker solutions when compared to counseling. We see mediation being employed in many parts of our everyday lives. It is used in the workplace to come to solutions over conflicts that inevitably arise in day-to-day operations; we also see mediation being used in more global forums, such as the UN. Whether mediation is being used on either a macro- or micro-scale, the process remains quite similar.

The Mediation Process

Mediation is employed in many situations every day. Some examples where mediation is used are:

  •         Divorce
  •         Union disputes
  •         Estates
  •         Wrongful termination
  •         Contractual arguments
  •         Custody of children
  •         Workplace Conflicts
  •         Family Conflicts

The mediation process typically involves three or more people that each sit in their own roles. There is the two that are in conflict and a mediator or facilitator. The mediator sits between the conflicting parties and maintains the civility of the mediation session by interjecting when tempers start to flare or when the discussion becomes destructive.

For any process of conflict resolution to be successful, both of the conflicting parties must have a desire to end the conflict peacefully. Without this desire, there is no point to embark on the mediation process, as forcing one party to go against their will can result in further conflict. After agreement is reached, each party should be allowed the opportunity to explain their side of the conflict. Each explanation should be free of interruptions from the other side of the conflict. One strategy employed to create a less hostile environment is only using “I” statements:


“You always come into my office with pointless questions and disturb my workflow.”


“I am distracted easily by interruptions while I am working and find it difficult to return to work.”

By using “I” statements, each party is called to analyze only their side of the argument and not cast blame. This eases the process by singling out the emotions each party is feeling internally rather than attacking the other party. “I” statements also cause each party to reframe the situation from an assault to a personal reflection that reveals new facets of the conflict. 

After each party has had an opportunity to voice their side of the conflict, the core issues must be identified. The mediator hopefully was able to identify issues within each party’s initial statements; otherwise the mediator may ask additional questions to create a clearer picture of the conflict and then attempt to identify issues. Mediation exists as more of a band-aid solution that will work more in the short-run, so the solution exists to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause.

The mediator may identify the issues present, but is not responsible for creating the solution. The conflicting parties must collaborate and create the solution themselves. In doing this each party has their ideas invested into the solution and should buy-in to the solution. While the solution is the end goal of mediation, the collaborative process is invaluable to healing the rift between the conflicting parties.

The Role of the Mediator

The role of the mediator is to facilitate the mediation session. Facilitation means that the mediator is not dictating the solution to the conflicting parties. They are essential in creating an environment that fosters cooperation, collaboration, and safety. As a facilitator, the mediator is required to maintain civility within the mediation session by: extinguishing tangential or peripheral conflicts that are unrelated to the conflict at hand, insuring the confidentiality of the session, seeking equal input from all parties, acknowledgement of parties of feelings without exploring in-depth, and remaining neutral to both parties.

Staying out of it!

Neutrality of the mediator is essential. If one party believes that the mediator is siding with the other, there will be resistance to the mediation session and no solution will gain both parties agreement. So where does one find a neutral mediator? In the workplace you may consider using a manager from HR to meditate; however, if the conflict exists between an employee and manager, the employee may carry a preconception the HR manager is already sided with the manager in conflict. The best mediator for most situations is an outside party agreed upon by both conflicting parties. With a externally-sourced mediator, there is no risk of either party preconceiving a bias in the mediator.

MICROISSUE workplace

Mediation is usable in solving issues in many environments, the workplace being one of them. As we all know, problems arise every day in the workplace, be them minor or major. Mediation can be a useful way to bring warring parties together to discuss these problems and reach solutions that please everyone, thus creating in a happier work environment for everyone. Using a mediation process can help people recognize their emotions and determine the real issue at hand. Since mediators aid the process, it is the involved parties that truly break down the issue and reach a mutual agreement at the end. Sitting down for a mediation session can help both parties feel at ease and release tension for everyone in the surrounding environment. 

A little workplace tension

While the mediation process is valuable in solving these micro issues, there are still weaknesses to the system. For example, what if one party does not agree to sit down in a mediated session? The process has already been halted. The process of mediation does not address the counseling that could be required to have a peaceful discussion. It can also be extremely challenging to find a good mediator that can remain neutral and encourage productive conversation, especially in small companies with little budget for outside consultants. To try to acquire a mediator from within the company proves to be difficult as well – regardless of their position, all employees will have certain biases, and therefore a mediation session could not be conducted in the best way.

Another downfall of mediation is that it can take up a large amount of time for employees to resolve issues – time that would be better spent accomplishing their daily work tasks.

Mediation can also alleviate the spending of money in lawsuits. Mediating a case before it hits trial can save both sides large amounts of dollars and solve the issue just as effectively. The cost of mediation compared to litigation is minimal. While mediation may not keep your case out of the courts, it can help to educate both parties on the opinions, emotions and values of one another to help reach a settlement sooner.

Ultimately, mediation in a microclimate is attainable with a facilitator that can help both parties towards a mutual agreement. If the people involved are not articulate, able to set emotions aside, and looking for a positive outcome, the session could be a failure, or even create larger issues.


While mediation can come into play in everyday situations, it can also be a valuable process for larger issues affecting the world as a whole. The United Nations (UN) recognizes the value of mediation processes. In fact, it has a whole system in place to assist and support in mediatory efforts around the world. 

Led by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), the UN has established a Mediation Support Unit (MSU) that provides financial, logistical and advisory support to peace processes. It also provides a bank of mediation knowledge, policy, guidance, and best practices. It maintains a database of peace agreements and documents on peacemaking. To keep the peace, the department relies on advance planning and readying resources to be effective in the field when crises are imminent.

However, there are some that question the effectiveness of the UN’s ability to mediate. In the 1980’s, the Soviet Union used UN mediation to maintain a decent reputation when withdrawing from a losing battle in Afghanistan.

Between 1987 and 1991, UN mediations led to the end of fighting between Iran and Iraq, the withdrawal of Soviet Troops from Afghanistan, and the end of El Salvador’s brutal civil war. However, mediation expert Saadia Touval suggests that the end of these struggles was inevitable with, or without UN mediation. He suggests that the parties involved were eager to abandon the failing ventures and used the process of UN mediation as a save-face mechanism. The success of mediation in these situations was sprung from a set of unique circumstances that don’t necessarily occur in every worldly scuffle.

Since then, UN mediators have attempted to solve issues in Haiti, Somalia, Afghanistan, and many other countries with little success, and in some cases, worsening the issues. This leads one to believe that perhaps mediation is not always as effective as we are led to believe. While it is apparent that mediation is definitely part of a means to an end, it is definitely not the only process that should be utilized. 

When looking to solve the world’s problems, or a fight between your kids, it is important to consider alternate ways of problem solving to complement the mediation process. Deciding to utilize counseling, appreciative inquiry, and other methods to combat issues will result in a solution that satisfies more people.


In conclusion, mediation is a valuable process that has use in many situations, small and large. While there are some flaws when mediation is used alone, the theories are solid and proven to work when partnered with additional problem solving methods. While the desired outcome is to reach a mutual agreement, sometimes this is not possible – after all, the world is based on winning and losing, isn’t it?

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