How Does the Process of Mediation Work?

How a Small Business Might Use Mediation

The Mediation Process Explained
The Mediation Process Explained. Gary Bates/Getty Images

You may see in the news that a conflict is being "taken to mediation." For example, in a 2016 conflict between the National Parks Service and concessionaire Delaware North over naming rights at Yosemite National Park, the parties "have agreed to a mediation session." So what does that mean?   

What is Mediation? 

Mediation is an informal dispute settlement process run by a trained third party, called a mediator.

Mediation is intended to bring two parties together to clear up misunderstandings, find out concerns, and reach a resolution. The process is voluntary, although it may be urged by an agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

During the mediation, each side presents its view of the issue, and the mediator will work with each side in a caucus to attempt to work out a settlement. At the end of the process, the mediator can present findings and present a potential solution to the issue.

How Mediation Works: A Typical Case

Here is a brief discussion of a typical mediation process:

  • The mediator begins by welcoming the parties and introducing himself/herself. The mediator then outlines the process and the roles of the mediator, the parties, and attorneys (if present). The mediator ends the introduction by explaining the ground rules for the process.
  • The mediator then asks for statements from each party. Both parties have an opportunity to tell their story about what happened, from their viewpoint. Often, these stories are emotional. The mediator may ask clarifying questions, but typically the parties do not question each other.
  • After both parties have spoken, the mediator may ask more questions, both to clarify the issues and to provide the other party with greater understanding.
  • At this point, the mediator may ask the parties to caucus (get together separately) for the purpose of discussion). The mediator talks with each party, proposing solutions, trying out scenarios, trying to get commitment to a settlement by both parties.
  • The mediator goes back and forth between the parties during this time, clearing up misunderstandings, and carrying information, proposals, and points of agreement.
  • The mediator works to find points of agreement between the parties, in an effort to reach an agreement. At some point, the mediator may pose a final agreement for the parties and urge them to accept.

Mediation vs. Arbitration

Mediation is often confused with a similar process called arbitration. Arbitration is a more formal dispute process in which an arbitrator hears both sides and makes a decision, which is often binding. 

The mediation process, unlike arbitration, is non-binding; that is, the mediator does not impose a decision on the parties, but he/she attempts to present a solution that is acceptable to both parties.

Mediation in Small Business Situations

Some examples of how mediation is used in business situations comes about with real estate issues. such as contract disputes; in labor negotiations, as a first step to sorting out differences between the two sides; or in employer-employee disputes.


Mediation is also used in personal and family disputes. For example, in divorce, child custody, and special education situations. 

How to Find a Mediator

There are several services that list trained mediators for all types of situations, including Look for a mediator who is trained in the specific area you might need for your business situation.

You can also ask an attorney for a reference to a mediator in your area. 

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