Our societies have come to an era of utmost individualistic ambitions. Each and every one of us aspire at developing our individual needs and personal desires as far as possible. Often enough, in this process, we touch the territories or spheres of interest of our fellow strivers in individualism. It is at this point that conflicts arise. Conflicts that, more often than not, start seething for a long time. Conflicts have become part of our everyday lives. Yet – nobody really wants to be involved in a conflict. We realize that a conflict has arisen, and instantly switch to our well worn mechanisms of indifference. We avoid facing our conflicts, and we repress them.
In the few cases where we came to see that some conflict really had to be resolved in order for us to be able to continue a successful ongoing of our lives, we have developed various methods of dispute resolution such as arbitration and other proceedings of intervention.
Mediation, by contrast, is a completely different approach to settling disputes. Mediation is a process guided by a third party, i.e. the mediator, during which the parties involved in a conflictive situation agree to handle their conflict on their own. During this process, the parties are given the opportunity to take over responsibility for their conflictive situation, and they are guided in a way that enables them to develop solutions on their own. In mediation, the expertise for handling the mediative process relies with the mediator, whereas the competence for handling the dispute situation itself remains with the parties of the conflict. A solution is never dictated by the mediator. Instead, the mediator equally supports all the parties involved to examine their needs and interests with respect to the dispute. This is the core feature that distinguishes mediation from all other means of resolving conflicts: The third party, the mediator, is an unconditional supporter of all the parties involved in the conflict. Open-minded and absolutely free of any judgmental attitude, the mediator stands by the side of every party who is taking part during the whole mediative process. In this way, factual or legal positions that usually are vigorously held and kept up in many disputes, can make room for the wants and needs that are buzzing like a will-o’-the-wisp over the battlefield of factual or legal positions.
The purpose of mediation is to not only develop a solution that seems to be “acceptable” under the given circumstances, but to draw up a workable solution based on an agreement of sustainable content. This is in stark contrast to an agreement based on a mere compromise between the divergent factual or legal positions. It is the nature of the principle of compromise that at least one party involved in the dispute – often even several parties, or all parties involved – cannot realize their full desires or needs or interests with respect to the conflictive situation. It is therefore very likely that such a conflict will, in some way, break out again in the future, when it has been settled by an agreement based on compromise, only.
In addition to providing a solution for the current conflict, mediation provides the parties involved with a blueprint of tools for the future, when similar conflictive situations may occur, thereby enabling them to cope with these future disputes on their own.
Even in view of all of these qualities that mediation certainly holds, there is no guarantee in mediation for a positive outcome to any given dispute situation, i.e. a guarantee for the achievement of an overall solution to a dispute, as desired by the participants of the mediation process. However, professional mediation in any case provides one thing that is of great importance when dealing with our fellow human beings – Clarity. Mediation always brings about clarification of the divergent points of view or an elucidation of the background motives of the parties involved in the dispute – even if this is only to the point of understanding that the adverse party will not comply with anything. Especially in a muddled state of affairs, when the process of communication has come to a halt, mediation can be a way of bringing people in contact again. Even if the desired overall solution to the given dispute is not achieved during the current mediation process it is this re-connection of people that may be the source of a future evolution to the better of the relationship of the adverse parties. Mediation can bring about changes within the intrinsic psychological mechanisms of a relationship even if “the” solution to the given conflict is not found at this point.
And mediation holds further, ground-breaking assets: Mediation shows that humans do have the skills to develop solutions to their disputes by their own, and in doing so, we may become aware that conflicts carry with them the intrinsic forces of change and growth. Anyone having been part of such a process may confirm the experience of mediation as something completely new and liberating, a reassuring experience that brings confidence in oneself and in life as a whole.