UK: How Skills Learned In Mediation Can Be Useful In Everyday Life

Last Updated: 16 May 2008
Article by David Miles and Peter Francis

Mediation is an increasingly popular way of resolving disputes without the need to go to court or to a tribunal. It presents an alternative to more lengthy, costly, and adversarial approaches to dispute resolution. People involved in mediation learn and develop the skills required to resolve disputes which may otherwise lead to litigation. These skills can be adapted and used to deal with the dispute and conflict which arises during the course of everyday life. In doing so, such conflict can be dealt with much more easily and effectively.

Removing emotion from the dispute

An important factor which can sometimes overshadow the legal arguments involved in mediation is the attitudes of the parties and there being strong (usually negative) feelings between them. The likelihood of an acceptable solution being achieved between two parties when there is such ill feeling between them is very remote. Those with experience of litigation and mediation know how the personal element in a dispute can be a stumbling block to, and in some cases the only obstacle to reaching agreement. A mediator is ideally placed as a detached and impartial party to reconcile the situation, acting as a go-between between the parties or sometimes merely as someone to let off steam' at. A mediator will also know how to phrase one side's reasoning for their argument to the other in a sensitive and appropriate manner, preventing escalation of the dispute and containing and ending it.

The ability to circumvent the emotional tension between two parties and look at a situation objectively and dispassionately can be useful in everyday life. A human resources manager may wish to speak separately to two employees who do not get on well or have had disagreements in the past. By listening to their reasons for the disagreement separately and as a third party between the employees, the tension between the co-workers can be avoided and a solution and a course of action might be agreed upon more easily than if the problem was discussed with both employees in the same room.

This way of thinking can also be used by oneself to solve problems and disputes. As difficult as it may be in certain situations to do so, the value of communicating one's point of view (and listening to views of others) in a calm and objective manner may have an important bearing on the outcome of an argument. Imagine a minor road accident where two drivers have crashed into each other. The drivers may shout, scream and blame each other. 'Road rage' is not uncommon. Although it may be easier said than done, being able to look at a situation from a third party's point of view - taking the emotion and personality out of the equation - and dealing with the formalities of swapping details in a relaxed manner avoids stress, maintains control of a difficult situation and may lead to a more positive outcome for everyone concerned.

A positive approach to problem solving in difficult situations

Conflict will inevitably arise in everyday life, whether it is helping to negotiate a settlement between two parties locked in a long-running and bitter dispute, or a parent breaking up an argument between two arguing children over who can play with a toy first.

A key skill required in mediation is being able to find ways to solve a problem in the best interests of everyone concerned. Alternative and often creative suggestions must be proposed as to how agreement, or at least common ground, can be found. If a settlement is reached between them following a mediation it may not necessarily be considered a 'loss' for either side, but a solution has been found that is acceptable to everyone involved and ends the conflict (and often saves a small fortune in costs). Similarly, if the parent can suggest to the arguing children a number of ways to find a solution that both children are happy with, the dispute might be contained. The parent could propose that they take turns, or flip a coin. Encouraging people to talk about a problem and actively thinking of solutions to it in the way that a mediator does is a much more painless way of reaching an outcome in a conflict. Neither party is a 'loser' - if a mediation has been successful it will be a 'win-win' situation.

Avoiding a dispute in the first place

Mediation deals with a wide range of circumstances which have lead to a dispute, in particular the failings causing it and any factors involved which might have been avoided. In addition to this, parties involved in mediation may wish to continue dealing with each other in the future, such as a supplier of goods and a customer.

Through mediation an agreement can be reached and methods can be developed to prevent the problem arising in the future. Of course, it would be impossible to prevent all disputes, but by applying this technique to everyday life arguments and conflicts can be avoided. For example, if people living in a shared house argue about who should do the cleaning they could agree on a weekly cleaning rota. Taking such a course of action not only ends the dispute it prevents the same disagreement from arising again and also allows the housemates to continue living together in a stable and amicable environment.

Dispute planning

Not only can procedures be put in place to prevent disputes but strategies can also be devised and put in place to govern the settlement of a dispute if and when it arises. Construction contracts will often stipulate that any disputes which arise must be dealt with by a method of alternative dispute resolution, rather than the argument being resolved through the slow and costly process of litigation. If such a procedure is in place it removes any uncertainty as to what should be done if the parties fall out with each other. This alone creates common ground between them, as they should at least be in agreement as to how the dispute will be dealt with. It also acts as a control mechanism, preventing the dispute spiralling out of control. By applying this concept to everyday life, disputes might not be avoided but at the very least it may reduce difficulty and tension in such situations.

Conclusion

In practice, 80 per cent of disputes which are taken to mediation result in an agreement being reached without having to go to Court. Not only is this method of solving disputes an easier way of coming to a resolution, it also saves a considerable amount of costs which would be incurred if the dispute ended up in court. Utilising the skills used in a mediation in trying to solve a dispute in the way we approach everyday life can lead to problems being resolved with less stress, embarrassment and hopefully with everyone involved being comfortable with the outcome. It is accepted that not all disputes are suitable for mediation the parties involved may be too entrenched in their views, or the dispute may be too one-sided with the party at fault unwilling to back down. However, the use of mediation skills might be of benefit to us all in gaining more positive outcomes in difficult situations.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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