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Mediation and Dispute Resolution

There are times when opinions clash and the involved parties simply cannot get past their differences. If one party is simply "wrong", a manager or leader can act as judge and proclaim the "winner". The losing party will be unhappy, and peace may reign for a while, but the dispute has been set aside.

More often, though, there is no clear-cut right or wrong answer. Further, declaring a "winner" can seriously undermine the relationship between all parties, and this in turn can damage the integrity of the team or organization they both serve.

Mediation, simply put, is the process of helping the parties themselves arrive at a solution or resolution that they both or all can live with. A mediated solution is usually much less painful —and often better quality— than a "judgment". For a mediation to be successful, the parties must:

  • Truly want to work toward a mutually acceptable resolution,
  • Communicate openly and honestly,
  • Listen for each other's meanings, not just the words,
  • Be willing to be creative and flexible about solutions, and
  • Intend to honor the solution.

Even though these traits have been recommended since our childhood, they are still difficult to apply during the heat of a dispute. A professional mediator, as an objective outsider, will apply skills to:

  • Start the conversation and keep it going,
  • Recognize and surface entrenched opinions,
  • Ensure that all parties have their say, and that they are actually heard,
  • Separate and prioritize multiple issues to aid progress,
  • Keep a tone of working toward solution, rather than of placing blame,
  • Hold separate confidential conversations ("caucus") with each party to clarify issues and positions,
  • Test solutions for practicality and acceptability, and
  • Formally state the agreed resolution as an act of closure.

Brian B. Egan, principal of Clarity, has had extensive formal training in mediation techniques. He volunteers his skills several times monthly in a truly "front-line" environment: as a mediator for the Linn and Benton County Small Claims Courts. Brian is a member of the Oregon Mediation Association.


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