Mediation is a facilitated discussion with the support of a neutral, non-judgmental mediator. Because conflict can make communication difficult, the mediator works to create a more open environment, one where all voices can be heard. The goal is to allow those in conflict to engage in a more constructive conversation. The mediator seeks to understand all perspectives. Mediation helps people to engage with their conflict in a different way—through the power of understanding rather than coercion or persuasion.
When faced with conflict, we have a tendency to freeze, fight, or flee. It is our evolutionary legacy. We react to protect the ourselves. We may choose to fight: by hiring attorneys to speak on our behalf, we litigate and leave the final outcome to a judge. We may freeze or flee: by ignoring the conflict entirely, we hope it will go away. But a conflict ignored has a tendency to return. With time hearts harden, positions become more entrenched, and the situation only gets worse.
It is difficult for anyone to choose a different path of engagement and navigate the complexities of conflict when we are emotionally reactive. Everything looks right or wrong and polarized. This is why in the United States, we spend over $10 billion annually on interpersonal conflicts and consequences of violence. Not only do we spend money to fight in the court system; we pay an enormous emotional price as well. Conflict is one of life's worst stressors.
Mediation interrupts this cycle through a powerful process that encourages each party to speak, listen, be understood, and decide. Whether it’s used to help people reconcile or to part on good terms, to move through a stalemate or to create a fair contract, mediation is a method that engages the neocortex—the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and other “executive functions”—and that allows participants to bring more innovative solutions to the table.