Frequently Asked Questions About Mediation
Q: What is mediation?
A: A mediation is a private, informal meeting between two people who want assistance resolving a conflict (“parties in a dispute.”) They meet with a mediator, who remains neutral throughout the process. It’s the mediator’s job to ask questions and help the parties to draft an agreement which they sign and date. If the parties want to ensure that their agreement has legal force, they can take the agreement to their attorneys. People who mediate find it to be a dignified and effective way to solve a dispute, one which spares them a lot of the aggravation and expense of litigation (going to court.)
Q: Is it like arbitration?
A: Not at all. People get the two confused because they are both forms of “Alternative Dispute Resolution.” (ADRs basically help keep people out of the courts.) However, an arbitration is more like a scaled-down trial. Both parties plead their case and the outcome is decided by an “expert” who hands down a decision. Like a trial, an arbitration leaves no room for a conversation between the parties and usually results in a win/lose outcome.
Q: But I really want to win! If I mediate, wouldn’t I have to compromise?
A: Parties in mediation only make compromises which seem better to both of them than the risks and costs if they don’t come to an agreement. The outcome is always voluntary. The idea of mediation is to explore whether there is a way for both parties to have a sense of winning what is most important to them – and to do this without the stress and expense of continued conflict or going to trial.
Q: Would a mediator give me advice and make suggestions about what I should do?
A: Better than that, the mediator will ask powerful questions that help you examine your position and clarify the needs and wants that underlie your position. Mediation is based on the understanding that you know better than any expert or advisor what is really important to you. The mediator encourages parties to communicate respectfully and to use their own resources to craft a solution.
Q: It’s so awkward to confront someone about a conflict. It could just blow over. Isn’t it better to just “wait and see?”
A: Letting things slide is risky. The problem could go away but it could get much worse. Whatever negative feelings you are experiencing could mount to the point that you blow up, doing or saying something that frightens or insults the other party. Obviously, at that point the conflict would be even more challenging to resolve. There is a lot to be said for nipping things in the bud.
Q: What kinds of disputes can be handled through mediation?
A: Just about any you can think of – merchant/customer, neighbors, co-workers, landlord/tenant, business associates, co-parents (separating or divorced couples who share childrearing), family difficulties, elder issues.
Q: Are mediations arranged through the courts?
A: Not necessarily. Although judges often send parties to mediation, anyone can invite another person to mediate. It’s usually easier to mediate a dispute before time and money have been spent preparing for a trial. For a list of outstanding mediators in Southern California, go to the Find A Member page here at SCMediation.org.