Taking a case to trial can be quite costly for nearly everyone involved, which is why so many companies and individuals are turning to mediation today. As a mediator, though, you may have training in a number of different areas, so understanding the process as well as the stages of mediation involved is essential to creating the potential for a settlement.
Why Clients Bother With the Mediation Process
Before you understand what’s involved with mediation, it might help to understand why so many choose this process. Mediators work with many different kinds of disputes. Often disputes between neighbors end up in mediation, but so do court cases.
Once litigation begins, often the judge will order the parties to mediation before the case is taken to trial. This is fairly common in disputes between employees and employers, personal injury cases, and family law cases.
Mediation is an advantage for everyone, as it’s an easy way to come to an agreement without having to go through the stress of a trial. It can also create win-win situations that help give the parties involved a bit more control over the outcome.
The Stages of Mediation
Now that you understand the why behind the cases clients bring to your office, it might help to know more about the stages every mediation should go through.
Stage 1: Opening Statements
Once everyone is seated around the table, you’ll want to introduce everyone, explain the goals for the session as well as the rules, and encourage everyone to work together throughout the session.
Each party can then make an opening statement. They should describe their side of the dispute and the consequences involved. The key rule during this part of the process is that no one party gets to interrupt any other part.
Stage 2: Joint Discussions
After opening statements are complete, and depending on the dynamics, everyone at the table may have the chance to discuss what was presented in opening statements. If so, focus on asking both parties open-ended questions to build a dialogue about what happened and the issues that must be dealt with to bring a resolution to the situation.
This could involve payment, a division of property, or even custody agreements in family law cases. Try to keep the situation as calm as possible at this point. Encourage everyone to take turns and respond without anger.
Stage 3: Private Discussions
Once the two parties have met together, they should then each meet privately with the mediator. Both sides should get their own space at this point, and you’ll want to move between rooms to discuss the positions of each side.
Ask the necessary questions at this point, but also summarize both the strengths and the weaknesses of each side’s position so they understand what’s at stake and how their case looks to an unbiased individual. This is also a great space to develop the ideas necessary to make a settlement work.
Stage 4: Negotiation
Once you know that each side is ready to offer, bring the two parties back into the same room so they can negotiate the right settlement with each other. The goal here is to present all of the ideas and agree on those that might work.
Don’t start this stage until both parties are actually ready to come to some kind of settlement, as if you do this too soon, it’s possible to lose everything at this stage.
Stage 5: Settlement
This is the final step in the process. If you cannot reach a settlement, you’ll simply help both sides decide whether to try again or to take the case to trial. If the parties have reached an agreement, though, you’ll want to get absolutely everything in writing.
It will need to be signed by both parties. Make certain, though, that both parties are licensed to come up with a settlement offer, as if you’re dealing with a corporation, you may have to wait for approval from the board of directors or the CEO, which can derail a process after all of your hard work.
Your Role in the Stages of Mediation
As a mediator, your role in the mediation process cannot be understated. Remember that how well you do in mediation is as important as what you’re doing. Follow the steps carefully, and think about what’s at play. Pay attention to the tone of your own voice as well as those of the parties in the room. Understand what you can make or break the entire process just by knowing where to turn and when to do so. Be open to new methods and new strategies, and remember that mediation often gets easier as time goes by.