What Is Mediation?

Mediation is an informal yet structured process in which the mediator helps individuals work through and resolve problems and conflicts. The mediator is not invested in any particular solution. Unlike a judge or arbitrator or grievance officer, the mediator does not decide who is right or wrong or impose a solution. Instead, the mediator is committed to managing a fair and safe process of communication between the parties with the goal of helping all the parties make their needs clearly understood and appreciated by all the other parties.  Sometimes this clarity and mutual understanding alone constitute a successful outcome for a mediation. Other times, the mediated exchanges achieve a further goal of helping all the parties collaborate in identifying and creating of a range of possible ways of meeting all their needs. At every step of the process, participation in mediation is voluntary, and the mediator will hold information shared during a mediation session in strict confidence.

One way to define mediation, especially as it occurs in the collective-bargaining environment at St. Cloud State, is to look at the kinds of questions people ask about it. We can venture some answers to these questions.

People often choose mediation when it is important to improve or preserve their relationships under difficult conditions. Another way to define mediation is to look at some reasons people might choose mediation.

Once parties are in a mediation, the conversations they take part in will be structured and safe. A mediation is not a free for all or a series of verbal attacks and counterattacks. We follow a very simple outline to help us work through the mediation process with parties.

The kind of mediation we do is called "interest-based" mediation. This theory of alternative dispute resolution assumes that in a conflict, people construct positions, they have issues they need to address, and they have interests underlying their behavior and perceptions. Often these interests are unarticulated, perhaps because they are so essential to our way to looking at things. Sometimes the best way out of an apparently impossible situation is to return to the underlying interests and address them directly.

In summary:

  • Mediation is informal, yet structured, safe, and fair discourse between parties in a conflict.
  • Mediation is voluntary: A party may decline to engage in mediation or may choose to withdraw at any time.
  • Mediation is confidential: Both mediators and the program are bound by a professional code of confidentiality.
  • Mediation is safe and fair: Mediators are committed to managing a process of fair, respectful discourse between the parties.
  • Mediation is creative: The parties themselves can create the terms of their future relationship rather than submitting to inflexible third-party solutions of litigation, arbitration, grievance, etc.
  • Mediation is not simply compromise: "Splitting the difference" is only one, and often not the best, solution that parties can create or discover.