Mediation – the alternative dispute resolution process revealed….

Mediation can help create agreement and set aside conflict by allowing the parties equal space to be heard and listen.

Mediation can help create agreement and set aside conflict by allowing the parties equal space to be heard and listen.

We’ve all heard about mediation - but many of us have no idea how this process of alternative dispute resolution actually unfolds. The idea of sitting down with someone that we are in conflict can be intimidating and its hard to imagine how we can get anything resolved without an arbitrator dictating the terms of resolution. Mediation is actually a beautiful process in which the parties themselves come up with solutions and after discussion agree on how to resolve conflict. This agreement is then put into writing, with both parties signing.  The process if done correctly is empowering to the parties and the agreements are usually adhered to - because they are created by the parties themselves.

There are usually six steps to a formal mediation:

1) Introductory remarks

2) Statement of the problem by the parties

3) Information gathering

4) Identification of the conflict – what needs to be resolved

5) Bargaining and generating solutions

6) Reaching an agreement

Introductory Remarks

The parties and mediator meet together in a comfortable physical location. It is much more effective and empowering for both parties to be in the same room for this process - facing each other and speaking and listening to each other.  With an effective mediator the parties can trust that they will be respected and safe.  The mediator will start the session by outlining the process and rules. The mediator will define the protocol and set the time frame for the process. There will be a review of the mediation guidelines and the mediator will briefly recap what it is that the parties are in conflict about. This opening statement by the mediator will set out the ground rules for the mediation. These ground rules are what help the mediation go smoothly and both sides must affirmatively agree to adhere to the process as spelled out during this time.

Exploring the conflict

After the opening statement, the mediator will give each side the opportunity to speak without interruption on their perspective on how the conflict was created. The mediator serves as a third party witness and remains neutral – encouraging each party to speak freely and listen to the other party when its their turn. This forum for the statement of the problem is meant to allow each party uninterrupted time, where they can tell their side of the conflict. It also gives the parties an opportunity to frame the key issues that need to be resolved. By giving each party a chance to speak and listen the parties are able to define what needs to be addressed to resolve the conflict. More often then not when the parties actually hear both sides empathy is created which then decreases hostility and balances the power between the sides.

Information Gathering

The mediator will ask the parties open-ended questions to try to get the parties to understand the under currents and perhaps not obvious roots of the conflict. The mediator should repeat back key ideas to the parties, and will summarize the key issues of each party at the end of their turn. The mediator’s role is to keep the parties on track and build rapport by holding a safe space where people are able to speak and be heard without interruption.

The mediator may decide to hold a caucus (private session) with each party in order to move the negotiations along or if emotions get high in the room. This caucus session will be confidential. The caucus provides a safe environment in which to brainstorm and bring underlying fears to the surface.

Problem Identification

After each party has spoken, the mediator and the parties create a list of the key issues in conflict that need to be addressed.

Generating Solutions

Once the participants have defined the areas in dispute, the mediator will facilitate a brainstorming session to explore potential solutions. Usually, all potential solutions are explored and new solutions are often discovered as a part of this process.

The goal of the session is to find some common ground by exploring lots of options, and to bring about possible solutions for the parties to think about that might not have been explored before each party had the opportunity to speak and be heard in a neutral non-confrontational setting.  Bargaining often takes place during this time and compromise is often a key ingredient, as both parties work to come up with a tenable solution together.


By generating solutions together the parties usually come up with an agreement in real time during the mediation session. The mediator will draft this agreement and both parties will sign it – usually on the same day.

Thus, mediation provides a platform for conflict resolution by creating a safe place for both parties to speak and be heard. Its purpose is to enable people to come up with their own solution by working together – and hence most solutions are adhered to as each party has a hand in creating it. Mediation saves the parties the time and money by not having to resort to the courts and is self-empowering for the individuals involved.

Mediation techniques for the holidays.


In thinking about the holidays and how we look forward to them, I am also well aware that many times I have heard stories about how the holidays end up being fraught with hurt feelings and arguments instead.  Mediation techniques can help.  Without going into the whole mediation process and why it works – I can demystify the first and most important part of any mediation session – in the hope that you can use this technique to minimize conflict or heal hurt feelings if they creep into your holiday season.

If you and friends or family members are upset because someone is hurt or not feeling respected have a sharing.  I recommend a formal structure and that all parties agree to abide by the rules before beginning, usually by a show of hands.

Here is the structure:

  1. Have everyone sit in a comfortable quiet room where everyone can see everyone.  If there are more then two people a circle is nice.  Make sure everyone is comfortable.
  2. Select one person as the timekeeper.
  3. Agree in advance to listen to each other and not interrupt or respond to what the other is saying.  Hold the space by keeping a calm demeanor and eye contact.  If you must, take notes while the other is talking rather then interrupt, but hopefully given that this is a family sharing this won’t be necessary.
  4. Allow each person ten minutes to talk about how they are doing, how they feel about being together for the holidays, what they enjoy about it, why they feel there is conflict and how they feel about it, and whatever else surfaces that the person feels to talk about. 
  5. At the end of the ten minutes the timekeeper should ring a bell and everyone should close their eyes and sit in silence for a few minutes before the next person begins.
  6. After everyone has gone allow a few minutes of silence before taking a group hug.  Don’t try to analyze what anyone has said or try to fix anything.   Just breathe knowing that everyone has had a chance to speak and be listened to.
  7. You don’t have to agree or necessarily come to resolution– sometimes it’s enough just to feel like you are heard and seen by your loved ones and the same for them.

If feelings are still ruffled after this perhaps let time work its magic. It’s my understanding that people don’t deliberately hurt their loved ones but that most of the time hurt feelings arise because people don’t understand each other or where they are coming from.  Sharings can help create intimacy and support – not because someone is actually jumping in to fix things, but because love and support can be as simple as really listening and really being seen.  I hope this helps with your holidays and throughout the year!