There are a variety of specialties that fall under the umbrella of mediation services. Some of them are topical and address a specific field, such as healthcare; others are tools that are used by mediators in the course of their work, such as neutral evaluations. This article is meant to take a brief look at the types of mediation services available.
Mediation is defined as a process where a neutral third party helps people work through a conflict and find an appropriate solution that serves everyone’s needs. A mediator is the facilitator of the dialogue and helps both sides discuss difficult subjects and make decisions about issues of concern.
I recently wrote a brief guide to the mediation process to help prospective clients understand what does and does not occur during mediation.
One of the areas where mediation is frequently used is in the workplace. I believe this is because there are a lot of unhappy people at work. When conflict arises in an organization, it can be detrimental to employees at all levels and costs tens of thousands of dollars in lost productivity. In some cases, employees may choose to leave rather than remain in a toxic work environment, which can develop when conflicts are allowed to fester. Replacing human capital is estimated to cost 25% of an individual’s salary, adding further to the cost of workplace conflict.
In workplace mediation, a neutral third party is brought in to help the disputing parties come to a resolution. Sometimes an organizational leader or human resources is able to resolve the conflict. If not, it is best to engage a mediator early before the conflict festers and people’s viewpoints become entrenched. A lawsuit isn’t required for a mediator to be brought in; if a manager or executive feels that tensions are worsening or the environment has become hostile, a mediator may be necessary to begin the conflict resolution process.
While unionized workplaces are familiar with the use of mediation in contract negotiations, all workplaces can benefit from mediation services. In 1992, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued regulations (29 CFR 1614) mandating mediation in all federal agencies. Many companies have followed suit and regularly use mediators for workplace matters. Employment litigation is very costly and damaging to organizations. If conflicts can be worked out before a lawsuit is filed, it’s better for everyone.
Civil litigation or civil law refers to non-criminal court cases, which typically seek compensation and changes to laws or regulations. These may be workplace disputes, private or personal disputes, disputes with a government or entity, contract disputes, and family law cases like divorce or child custody. Some famous civil court cases include Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Citizens United v. FEC.
If you have been named in a lawsuit, you are no doubt worried about the costs of litigation as well as the time it is going to take you away from your job or your business. Early mediation helps reduce the financial and emotional impact of litigation and increases the likelihood of preserving good working relationships. Mediation begun prior to the filing of a lawsuit may even allow both parties to avoid the costly litigation altogether and still reach a satisfactory resolution.
Mediation is particularly well suited to estate and probate situations where family dynamics and miscommunication are often the root of the problem. In these matters it’s better to have those directly involved resolve the issues rather than a judge for whom this case is just one of many on his/her docket. A common example is siblings who mistrust one another or who feel that a parent’s finances were handled inappropriately. Often there is a lack of communication that is contributing to the conflict and making it worse for all parties involved.
Mediation can help families return to a common ground and resolve these disputes without resorting to expensive and time-consuming litigation.
A mediator and a facilitator perform some similar functions in that both help to guide a meeting or event so that the participants can contribute meaningfully without the added pressure of also keeping the meeting on schedule. Facilitation is a tool used by many mediators to guide and manage the conflict resolution process.
However, facilitation isn’t limited to conflict solutions, either. Facilitation can be used for strategic planning meetings, staff or employee retreats, team building events, public policy projects, and environmental policy decisions – just to name a few. There are professional facilitators who aren’t mediators, and vice versa; but facilitation shares a few similarities with mediation, and so is a common skill for mediators to develop.
A neutral evaluation is a tool used to provide a candid, impartial assessment of an individual, a situation, or an allegation or conflict. These kinds of evaluations are most frequently performed in a workplace to assist managers or executives gain insight into a conflict and work to resolve it. This tool can be particularly helpful if a situation is sensitive due to the issues or parties involved, and a neutral third party is able to impartially interview employees and prepare findings. For example, our firm has done evaluations for an executive’s performance evaluation and for an anonymous allegation of a toxic workplace. By working with an outside neutral, confidentiality is assured and participants can share information safely without any concerns about the consequences of their candor.
If any of the above services describes a conflict you’d like to resolve, contact a professional for more information.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. An expert in dispute resolution and mediation, Ms. Kandell is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She has been a leader in the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution. She provides mediation services, group facilitation, neutral evaluation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.