Mediation can help you when you’re stuck in a conflict that, if left unresolved, will get in the way of your ongoing relationship or will lead to litigation. It can help you when you have a difficult decision to make and those involved are having a hard time talking about it. It can help you proactively build agreements at the beginning of a business or other relationship. Generally, mediation can help you communicate when communication is not working, resolve conflicts when you haven’t been able to get past them otherwise, and build agreements about issues that matter to you.
When to use Mediation
Major Decision-Making Assistance
Mediation needn't only be used when a conflict has arisen. Mediation can help you proactively tackle a major decision or life choice about which there is uncertainty and questions and when you are concerned that you will just get into a battle of disagreements if you try to talk about the issues on your own.
In the family or relationship context, mediation is often used to make divorce or separation agreements. But mediation can also be used to sort out conflicts or problems that are troubling or threatening a relationship in order to maintain and improve the relationship. Mediation is different than couples counseling or therapy in addressing problems, though parties can experience some overlap in the approaches. Mediation does not try to delve into the psychological and historical bases of the relational dynamics. Mediation focuses on identifying the issues, the sources of the conflict, your goals and interests, the various creative options available, and adjustments and agreements that you can make to improve the situation and resolve the disagreement or conflict.
Particularly in second marriage situations, when parties are bringing diverse assets and, perhaps, children to the relationship, it is very helpful to build agreements about the issues involved, and yet it can be difficult to talk about these matters without becoming defensive, afraid, misunderstood, threatened, or too uncomfortable to be effective in exploring the issues and building agreements. Mediation can provide a safe space in which constructive and unthreatening exploration and discussion can take place, leading to clarity and agreements that provide the desired foundation for the relationship.
Divorce and Seperation
Divorce or separation is, to say the obvious, a very difficult time emotionally. And, concurrently, it's a time when decisions that affect both parties and the children, if children are involved, must be made. Almost by definition, it is difficult to make those decisions with the very person you are separating from, to communicate effectively when often communication has broken down or is made more difficult in the presence of anger, fear, sadness, or distrust. Yet, the decisions are so important for the well-being of everyone involved. Mediation provides a safe and structured way to make those decisions and build the foundation for the new relationship configuration, especially if there are children involved in which case the parties will continue to be in relationship as co-parents. The best interests of the children and the couple will be taken care of to the degree that the couple can make good and mutually supportive agreements about the financial and parenting issues involved.
Wills and Estates
Decisions about transitions and end of life issues are often better made when those involved have a chance to talk about their goals and hopes and the practical realities involved. But the issues can sometimes be uncomfortable and it can feel unsafe to address them. Family dynamics are sometimes complicated and can present barriers to open discussion. It is not uncommon that families avoid talking about the issues or run into troubled waters when they do. Mediation can be used to proactively and constructively discuss these important matters and come to agreements about which everyone feels satisfied.
Similarly, mediation can help family members deal with difficult estate issues after the death of a family member. Sometimes the consequences of previous decisions or of decisions not made can threaten family relationships. Mediation can help family members resolve the issues and preserve their relationships.
Parent / Teen
The teen years are a special time. We watch our children, so recently young and innocent, begin to mature into independent adults. But the journey is not always a smooth one as both teenager and parents explore and grapple with the changing balance of independence and dependence and their evolving relational roles. Tensions and conflicts do arise. Sometimes the relationship can hit rocky shoals or lose its compass. This can be frightening or concerning to everyone involved. If you see that beginning, or if you're in the midst of a deteriorating situation, mediation can help to reestablish a relationship of mutual respect and accountability and more successful communication.
I have always been impressed, in mediating troubled parent/teen relationships, how the essential desires in a parent/child relationship -- to love and be loved, to respect and be respected, to appreciate and be appreciated, to be successful parents and successful young adults -- provide the foundation for mending the injured or not-well-functioning relationship when given the chance that the mediation context provides.
Business and Other Partnerships
Business partnerships are notoriously difficult. The stakes are high and the pressures of business can stress joint decision-making. Mediation can help new partners build agreements about how they will work together, can help established partnerships address disagreements that are getting in the way, and can help partners constructively dissolve a partnership should that become necessary.
Neighbors and Friends
Because our neighbor and friend relationships are informal, we expect to work things out when differences that cause conflict arise. And, for the most part, that makes sense. That's what relationship is about. But if ever there arises a conflict that threatens the relationship, mediation is a tool you can use to sort out the problem and move on.
Mediation is sometimes referred to as facilitated negotiation. My job as mediator is to help all of the parties negotiate more effectively together. A mediator must understand the principles and practices of effective and skilled negotiating. Good negotiating isn't about winning but rather about finding a way to solve the problem most effectively, taking into account the needs of everyone involved. There are ways of thinking about the conflict and one's engagement with the other(s) involved, and about how one will behave in the negotiation, that will achieve one's goals either more or less successfully. In preparing for a negotiation and over the course of the negotiation, it is very often helpful to talk through and get help with one's approach to the problem and to the other(s) involved.
When I am not involved in a negotiation as mediator, I am available to provide negotiation coaching for an individual party engaged in a negotiation. In such cases, this would preclude me subsequently acting as a mediator in the negotiation. If, at a later date, I was asked to mediate a situation that involved an individual for whom I'd provided negotiation coaching previously in another circumstance, I would disclose that fact and the parties would decide whether they still wanted me to be the mediator in this new situation.