What Is Mediation?

Mediation is a process of negotiation used to attain resolution between two parties. When it comes to meditating successfully, combatting inherent bias is one of the biggest challenges.

Purpose of Mediation 

Mediation helps resolve conflicts. Often used in a legal setting, mediation can help you avoid litigation and costly court fees. It can also help you achieve a quicker resolution, while  maintaining the interpersonal relationship, all in a confidential setting. 

Some situations that may require mediation include but are not limited:

  • Contract disputes, which can occur between an employer and an employee, a landlord and a renter, or any number of parties in which a contract has been made.
  • Marital disputes, which also includes separation or divorce issues. Some couples prefer to reach a settlement, for instance, instead of going through court proceedings for divorce.
  • Child-custody, which can be stressful, but best achieved when both parties are willing to put the child’s needs before their own.
  • Tax Disputes, should you disagree with a decision made by the IRS. Mediation programs are available to make the appeals process easier.

While these are all legitimate reasons to bring in a meditator, meditation can be used for any disagreement which cannot be settled between two individual parties. Government leaders, employees, even siblings may require a mediator at some point to intervene.

How The Process Works

When meditation is agreed upon in a legal setting, the two parties must sign an agreement. While there are different styles of mediation, which may be used depending on the situation and circumstance, there is no direct guide. Mediation is simply a tool. 

There are different types of mediation that can be utilized, all of which have pros and cons.

Evaluative Mediation

This approach is often used by a mediator to make recommendations based on legal fairness. They may point out weaknesses and offer their recommendations based on what they believe a judge or jury would decide. This type of mediation style is often used in court-mandated mediation. Unlike transformative mediation, evaluative is less focused on fostering stronger communication between the two parties.

Transformative Mediation

This is a recent style, introduced in the 1990’s, which focuses on empowering the two parties to better deal with conflict rather than simply achieving a resolution. With this style, the mediator allows the two parties to take the lead and take more responsibility for the process. While this can be beneficial to the parties in the long-run, it can prevent them from reaching a fair settlement.

Narrative Mediation

This style takes a storytelling approach to mediation. Both parties get the opportunity to share their stories, allowing the mediator to present new perspectives for the parties to consider. The challenge here is to be careful to avoid labels and ensure that both parties are achieving an equally satisfactory result.

Role of the Mediator

A mediator works to guide two parties toward resolution. Unlike arbitrators, who act impartially to help make decisions on behalf of both parties, mediators don’t make binding decisions.

In the mediating process, the mediator will ask questions, make proposals, offer procedures, make interpretations, explain key issues, or offer new perspectives in an attempt to facilitate effective communication, understanding, and agreement between the two parties. A mediator must use creative problem-solving skills to resolve the conflict.

While certain styles can be used, a good mediator will recognize the individual parties' needs and the skill and adjust their style to best suit them.

One of the most challenging and critical aspects of being a mediator is recognizing and minimizing personal bias, prejudice, and favoritism. Implicit bias, the automatic association of stereotypes and attitudes (based on gender, race, identity, sexual orientation, etc.) can occur, which is why mediators must actively engage in bias reduction strategies in order to be successful meditators.

“The ability to empathize with emotional intelligence can be learned if you so desire and it is crucial to becoming a mediator,” says Mary Joye, LMH, a licensed counselor and family court mediator. 

How to Avoid Bias in Mediation

There are many different definitions of neutrality in meditation. One of them, suggests that the mediator should have no interest in the subject matter, no undisclosed relationship to the parties, and no possibility of personal gain. 

By being neutral, biases should, inevitably, be avoided. The best, most skilled mediators should know how to recognize and resolve conflict without letting their biases or prejudices intercede, but is that even possible? 

Unfortunately, we all experience implicit bias, which occurs involuntarily and produces an unconscious association, belief, or attitude toward individuals based on certain aspects, such as race, gender, socioeconomic background, or sexuality. Because our brain works to simplify the world, so we automatically make associations based on preconceived knowledge. 

The good news is that we can unlearn implicit biases and this is crucial for mediators who are expected to act as a neutral party.

While there are many different types of bias, including cognitive bias and negative bias, a mediator should show no personal preference in the mediation process, which means they should disregard all forms of bias.

A report in the Penn State Journal of Law & International Affairs suggests that biased mediators outperform neutral mediators in international mediation, but mediators, by ethical duty, are meant to be neutral.

Strategies for Avoiding Bias

“Finding the common ground and focusing on the solutions instead of the problems helps to settle disputes with dignity and integrity and it allows both parties to be heard without interruption,” says Joye. 

“Actively listen and take notes if you have to for gaining an understanding of how the person has come to think about an issue from their point of view, not yours,” she says. “Your opinions and conclusions must be set aside.”

In order to avoid bias and provide effective mediation, mediators must use creative problem-solving skills and actively practice bias reduction strategies. The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, using a 12-week study, found that implicit bias can be reduced by increasing awareness of the bias.

“A mediator is a moderator not a manipulator. They are allowing people of opposing views to speak their truth the way they see it without having an agenda,” says Joye. “The best way to avoid huge conflict is to never raise your voice, interrupt, or talk over another as this creates anger.”

A Word From Verywell

The method of mediation has been used for thousands of years, often crossing over different cultures, languages, and countries, to resolve conflicts. While mediation can be informal or formal, it is used in many ways throughout our country. 

To better understand the perspective of each party, it’s crucial for a mediator to listen carefully and thoughtfully and give each party the same opportunity to present their side of the argument. 

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Lohvinenko M, Starynskyi M, Rudenko L, Kordunian I. Models of mediation: Theoretical and legal analysis. Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2021. doi:10.1002/crq.21315

  5. De Girolamo D. The mediation process: Challenges to neutrality and the delivery of procedural justice. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. 2019;39(4):834-855. doi:10.1093/ojls/gqz011

  6. Izumi C. Implicit bias and the illusion of mediator neutrality. WASH. U. J. L. & POL’Y 71; 2010.

  7. Svensson I. Research on bias in mediation: Policy implications. The Penn State Journal of Law & International Affairs. 2013;2(17).

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By Sarah Sheppard
Sarah Sheppard is a writer, editor, ghostwriter, writing instructor, and advocate for mental health, women's issues, and more.