English Author G.K. Chesterton once said, “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem.” As an Alternative Dispute Resolution Specialist people often ask me why should I choose mediation to deal with conflict and other issues? That resonates with me and leaves me thinking how to best encapsulate the process and share it in a way that is easy to understand. This is also a great time to mention Conflict Resolution Day is rapidly approaching. In 2005, the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) began celebrating Conflict Resolution Day held annually during the third Thursday in October with the intent to promote awareness of the concept of peaceful conflict resolution methods such as mediation, facilitation, conciliation, and other creative peaceful means of resolving conflict. As a result it has become a global event celebrated annually aimed at obtaining national synergy by encouraging celebrations across the globe on the same day.
I have come to the realization over the years that conflict is and always will be no stranger amongst our friends, family, and increasingly within our professional lives and that it is not always a bad thing and often leads to positive outcomes if dealt with productively. I also realize if left unchecked it can cause anger, frustration, discomfort, fear, sadness, etc. It can also be an excellent opportunity for building a connection and mutual understanding amongst those in conflict. It is important to envision successful resolution of conflict typically hinges on one another’s ability to engage in crucial challenging conversations in a safe, productive, and encouraging environment.
Serving as impartial mediators/facilitators helps set the stage so to speak of assisting to cultivate a safe accommodating place where those in conflict can genuinely express their concerns and needs, collaboratively identify common ground, and jointly work toward resolving problems and conflict affording obtainability of constructive agreements. Additionally, I share that mediators typically follow a process along with an ability to utilize a wide range of tools and techniques to help people navigate through conflict to find common ground while making each dispute important and productive for everyone. Mediators strive to keep the communication moving forward in a positive direction while attempting to help participants leave the past-in-the-past, so they can focus on the future. They also make sure that both sides adhere to ground rules and remain respectful, so they may hear what each other has to say.
I always emphasize the goal of mediation is to empower parties to collaboratively work together to attain a mutually acceptable agreement in which they had significant input in creating. I also like for them to understand that in contrast; court cases or formalized arbitration differs greatly because a judge or arbitrator determines the outcome without significant party input and often that decision is not amenable to anyone. The role of a mediator is to facilitate a dialogue that allows both parties to safely express their interests, needs, values, and help them reach a mutually acceptable resolution.
So, when people ask what is mediation? Well, simply stated mediation is a guided discussion that helps people talk and listen to each other when they are not getting along. Two or more people sit down with mediators and come up with their own solutions for the problem(s) they identify. Mediators do not tell anyone what to do; they help everyone work together to facilitate open dialogue and agreements. Another purpose in mediation is not necessarily to turn adversarial frustrated individuals into best of friends but rather attempt to find ways to reduce or eliminate tension so people can work and communicate more effectively.
Mediation can be empowering because the process affords people and organizations an opportunity to develop mutual solutions as well as protecting their rights because each person is an active participant in formulating the terms of an agreement which tends to lead to more satisfying outcomes. Another important consideration is the informality of the mediation process since it can be a much less intimidating process than going to court or some other formal rigid process. The process doesn’t have mandated strict rules of procedure and this flexibility affords the participants involved opportunities to find the best path to seek clarification and agreement.
Alternative dispute resolution methods should really be considered as a resolution option early in the process, especially for times when a continuing on-going relationship needs to occur whether it is between supervisors and their employees, neighbors, business partners, or family members who must continue to interact with each other in a productive and cooperative manner. Allowing conflict to continue can divide people and increase tension and barriers. Mediation attempts to help people look to the future and end the issues rather than the relationship.
Typically, during mediation one of the goals is to help the parties work together to brainstorm ideas and evaluate options. The mediators will remind all parties to mediate in good faith, be willing to listen, to keep an open mind, share important information, and work together to come up with solutions they can all live with. Mediators attempt to create a calming atmosphere that’s conducive to productive discussions. The goal is for all participants to be heard and feel comfortable throughout the process.
I also like to remind people to view mediation as a window of opportunity to turn obstacles into opportunities for progress as well as allowing the interaction to cultivate opportunities to break barriers and build bridges.
The next time you encounter any type of conflict don’t avoid it, employ positive conflict communication and resolution strategies or consider reaching out to an alternative dispute resolution specialist. Seek to say yes I want to be a conflict resolutionary and proactively navigate through conflict to turn that conflict into a brighter tomorrow!
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