Make the Most of Mediation in Negotiations and Dispute Resolution

Mediators Help Create Value Between Disputing Parties in Negotiation

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Adapted from “Make the Most of Mediation” first published in the 2009 issue of the Negotiation newsletter.

What at first seemed like a minor misunderstanding has spiraled out of control. A Chicago-based printing company hired your Chicago-based IT consulting firm to train its staff to use its new computer system.

But throughout the training, our consultants found the company’s staff to be inattentive and unmotivated, and you weren’t surprised when the company kept summoning your team back for individualized training and troubleshooting.

Now the printing company is refusing to pay the $35,000 you’ve billed it for these follow-up services.

You point out that the contract stipulates they must pay for the additional work.

But the printing company says the work was needed only because our consultants provided poor initial training—a view you vehemently dispute. Several tense phone calls and meetings later, the two sides come to an agreement on a single point: you need help resolving your differences.

Mediation seems like the next logical step, but where should you turn, and what should you expect?

In the article “Trying to Resolve a Dispute? Choose the Right Process,” we reviewed the three major forms of dispute resolution: mediation, arbitration, and litigation.

Mediation, we explained, is often the first logical choice for parties who can’t see eye to eye.

In arbitration and litigation, a third party (an arbitrator, judge, or jury) weighs the evidence and makes binding decisions.

By contrast, in mediation, a mediator assists disputants in working together to craft a resolution that each side values.

Mediators encourage parties to share information about their positions and explore innovative means of coming together.

Here we’ll take an in-depth look at the benefits of mediation, show you how to choose a mediator, and explain how the process usually unfolds.

When to Turn to a Mediator

Mediation can help to resolve a wide range of disputes. A divorcing couple that can’t reach agreement on child custody might try mediation. So might siblings who disagree about issues related to an inheritance, or companies that are fighting over a failed venture.

Related Article: Capture the Best of Mediation and Arbitration with Med-Arb – A Hybrid Approach to Resolving Disputes – In your journey towards conflict resolution should a negotiator arbitrate her dispute or should she pursue mediation? Mediation appeals to her because it would allow for the type of value creation and integrative negotiation that she has used in all her successful previous negotiations yet she is concerned that, even with the best intentions, mediation could end in further stalemate. Arbitration would lead to dispute resolution, but would rob herself and her counterpart of any substantive stay in the resolution of the conflict. This article explores a hybrid negotiating scenario – an approach to negotiations called med-arb, a process that promises the benefits of both mediation and arbitration for dispute resolution in negotiations.


Download this FREE special report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, to discover mediation techniques for selecting the right mediator, understand the mediation process and learn how to engage the mediator to ensure a good outcome from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


For more articles about mediation and dispute resolution, please see also:

Dispute Resolution – How Mediation Unfolds

Three Questions to Ask About the Dispute Resolution Process

Originally published June 2014.

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