The ABCs of Mediation

What is mediation?

Mediation is a conversation guided by a neutral person to help participants resolve disputes or make decisions.  Mediation is often called “facilitated negotiation” because the parties are ultimately responsible for devising the resolution.  As such, the third-party neutral does not impose a decision upon them (as does the judge in litigation or the arbitrator in arbitration, for example).  No one can force anyone to come to agreement in mediation; to be effective, any proposed agreement must have the consent of all parties.  Communications in mediation are confidential and protected by Oregon law.

Why mediate?  What are the benefits?            

Mediation is less formal, more local, more customizable, and more confidential than conventional formal dispute resolution processes, such as workplace grievances or investigations.  Mediators strive to provide culturally appropriate and psychologically safe environments for dialogue.  Additionally, parties in mediation are encouraged to improve or at least not further damage their relationship with one another, which in turn promotes happiness and success at work and/or at school.  In mediation, parties have the opportunity to uncover aspects of the issue they may not have known beforehand.  Taking the time to talk through issues thoroughly promotes sound decision-making and resolution, and also fosters better interpersonal skills and conflict management techniques. 

Who is the mediator? 

The mediator is a neutral third-party individual with negotiation and facilitation skills. The mediator has no stake in the outcome of the mediation. Mediators may or may not have formal training and education in conflict resolution. Sometimes a mediator has a legal background, but this is not required.  The Ombudsperson can serve as a mediator at the UO, and can also provide additional referrals for mediators both inside and outside our campus community.

How does the mediation process work?

The mediator usually begins mediation by informing parties that mediation is a voluntary process.  Either party can withdraw from the mediation at any time, and there is no requirement that the parties reach a resolution.  Self-determination, informed consent, impartial third-party assistance, and confidentiality give participants the ability to discuss their own terms and find the most suitable problem-solving approach.

There is no set process for mediation, but many mediations begin with each party having some time to talk about the issue.  The mediator may ask each person clarifying questions and summarize after both participants have had time to speak.  During the process, the mediator helps both sides identify issues and interests, acknowledge emotions, and generate options for resolution.  If the parties come to agreement, the mediator can assist in memorializing the terms of that agreement.

Some mediations take longer than others, and not all mediations come to resolution. The parties can decide whether another session is necessary or whether they want to pursue alternative avenues. Some mediations may take an hour, while others may require several sessions over the course of months.

What kinds of issues can be mediated?

In the workplace and at school, mediation may be a useful option for dealing with conflicts, disputes, and decisions.  Mediation through the Ombuds Program is an “informal” alternative in the sense that it is confidential and off the record.  Note that choosing mediation does not foreclose more formal approaches, such as grievances.  This means that a person can try mediation first and, if it does not work, then pursue other more formal avenues.  (Some grievances must be filed within a certain time period before they are no longer grievable.  This is particularly relevant if you are covered by a CBA here at the university.  If you are concerned about timeliness of your issue, contact us and we can help you figure it out.)

Some issues are not appropriate for mediation.  Disputes involving domestic violence, for example, are generally not considered good candidates for mediation.  The Ombudsperson can help you figure out whether mediation is an appropriate alternative.

- Roma Pawelek,  J.D. and M.S. in Conflict & Dispute Resolution, 2016