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neutral third party

What is a Neutral Third Party?

When parties are embroiled in a dispute, a neutral third party can help them come to an agreement through alternative dispute resolution methods.

There are two basic types of alternative dispute resolution, or ADR: Mediation and arbitration (and sometimes a combination called med-arb).

In mediation, a neutral third party tries to help disputants come to a consensus on their own. Rather than imposing a solution, a professional mediator seeks to assist the conflicting sides in exploring the interests underlying their positions. Working with parties together and sometimes separately, mediators try to help them hammer out a resolution that is sustainable, voluntary, and non-binding.

In arbitration, a neutral third party serves as a judge who is responsible for resolving the dispute. The arbitrator listens as each side argues its case and presents relevant evidence, then renders a binding decision.

In either case, a neutral third party can help us look past our “rights,” and focus on interests—the needs, desires, or concerns that underlie each side’s positions. If someone asks you why a dispute is important to you, your answer will reveal your interests.


A good interest-based mediator will be a fast learner, capable of quickly picking up the technical knowledge necessary to discuss the problem. More important, an interest-based mediator doesn’t need to fully understand the technical aspects of a problem to assess why the dispute is important to each party and which solutions each party might accept.

By beginning with this knowledge and eventually exchanging settlement proposals, a neutral third party can help parties resolve the most complex problems.

To learn more, and discover the techniques you need to resolve your disputes through mediation, download this free report, Mediation Secrets for Better Business Negotiations: Top Techniques from Mediation Training Experts, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

The following items are tagged neutral third party:

Mediation Training: What Can You Expect?

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Mediation.

Organizations have long recognized the value of hiring professional mediators to help resolve disputes. More and more, managers have begun to also see value in securing mediation training for themselves and their employees. Although there are times when the services of an unbiased, professional mediator are needed, there may also be instances in which employees … Read More 

Make the Most of Online Negotiations

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Free Report.

We said goodbye to breakfast meetings, client lunches, and after-work happy hours. Goodbye to handshakes, fist bumps, and pats on the back. Goodbye to the boots-on-the-ground sales game as we knew it, and hello to Zoom calls and text messaging. To make matters even more difficult, the economy started to trend downwards—and so did the … Read More 

7 Tips for Closing the Deal in Negotiations

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Dealmaking.

“ABC: Always Be Closing.” That’s the sales strategy that actor Alec Baldwin’s character Blake shared in the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross as he tried to motivate a group of real estate salesmen. In his verbally abusive, profanity-laced speech, Blake presented a ruthless model of closing a business deal that ignores customers’ needs and cuts … Read More 

Types of Mediation: Choose the Type Best Suited to Your Conflict

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Mediation.

When parties involved in a serious conflict want to avoid a court battle, there are types of mediation can be an effective alternative. In mediation, a trained mediator tries to help the parties find common ground using principles of collaborative, mutual-gains negotiation. We tend to think mediation processes are all alike, but in fact, mediators … Read More 

Using Principled Negotiation to Resolve Disagreements

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Dispute Resolution.

Parties can often reach a better agreement through integrative negotiation—that is, by identifying interests where they have different preferences and making tradeoffs among them. If you care more about what movie you see tonight, but your friend cares more about where you have dinner, for example, you can each get your preference on the issue … Read More 

Madeleine Albright’s Ways to Avoid Conflict In Negotiation: First, Put Yourself In Their Shoes

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Conflict Resolution.

When parties can trade on their preferences across different issues, they reduce the need to haggle over price and percentages. But are there ways to avoid conflict in other types of negotiation? To find ways to avoid conflict, especially deep-seated conflicts, and reach agreement with adversaries, former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright advises close observation … Read More 

What is Med-Arb?

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Mediation.

When parties find themselves involved in a serious conflict, they often try to avoid the expense and hassle of litigation by turning to one of the two most common alternative dispute resolution processes: mediation or arbitration. Disputants who are concerned about these drawbacks might want to consider a hybrid mediation-arbitration approach called med-arb. … Read More 

Setting Standards in Negotiations

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Salary Negotiations.

As the starting point from which all commercial transactions occur, from purchasing equipment to setting salaries, negotiatiosn in business is an essential skill no matter what field a negotiator finds herself. Using an objective standard can strengthen your proposal and eliminate emotional bias. … Read More 

Top Ten Posts About Conflict Resolution

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Conflict Resolution.

Conflict resolution is the process of resolving a dispute or a conflict by meeting at least some of each side’s needs and addressing their interests. Conflict resolution sometimes requires both a power-based and an interest-based approach, such as the simultaneous pursuit of litigation (the use of legal power) and negotiation (attempts to reconcile each party’s … Read More 

How Does Mediation Work in a Lawsuit?

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Dealmaking.

No one likes to go to court. Not only is it expensive and time-consuming, but it often leads to frustrating results and damaged relationships. So, how does mediation work in a lawsuit and is legal mediation a better route? … Read More 

Culture in Negotiation: Preparing for International Negotiation

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under International Negotiation.

In his book How to Negotiate Anything with Anyone Anywhere Around the World, Frank L. Acuff advises readers to expect Germans to be reserved, hard bargainers who may be offended by personal questions and tardiness. Those negotiating with Chinese counterparts are cautioned to avoid direct questions and to prepare to make numerous concessions. And negotiators … Read More 

Mandated Mediation: What to Expect

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Mediation.

More and more companies are inserting alternative dispute resolution (ADR) clauses in their contracts with customers and vendors—and even, in some cases, in agreements with their own employees. ADR clauses can be beneficial for all concerned if it means avoiding the cost, delay, and uncertainty of going to court. Mandated mediation, in particular, may offer … Read More 

Negotiation in the news: In a skirmish over scallops, it’s the French versus the British

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Dispute Resolution.

When parties are fighting for scarce resources, disputes can become intense. Negotiation is often the answer, but agreements may need to be continually revisited to keep the peace. That’s the main takeaway from the dispute that erupted in the English Channel between French and British fishermen this August. Stormy waters In Europe, the European Union sets fishing … Read More 

How to Manage Conflict at Work

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Conflict Resolution.

A 62-year-old salesman believes he has convincing evidence that his boss passed him over for a promotion because of his age. What options does he have? He could let the matter drop and perhaps look for another job. He could file an employment-discrimination lawsuit. Or, if his company offers mediation services, he could have the … Read More 

Manage Family Conflict When Business Negotiations Go Bad

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Conflict Resolution.

Conventional wisdom warns us against doing business with family members. Negotiations between people linked by close ties can result in hurt feelings, damaged relationships, or simply the nagging feeling that a better deal was within reach. Yet circumstances sometimes require us to negotiate financial matters with a relative. In other situations, someone close to you may … Read More 

When Dealmaking Breaks Down, Take the High Road

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Dealmaking.

When a negotiation reaches an impasse, it can be tempting to use threats and punishment to try to coerce the other side into conceding. That happened in a dispute between Amazon and Hachette, one of the largest New York publishers, as reported in the New York Times. … Read More 

Capture the Best of Mediation and Arbitration

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Mediation.

The problem: You’re not sure which of the two most common dispute-resolution processes, mediation or arbitration, to use to resolve your conflict. Mediation is appealing because it would allow you to reach a collaborative settlement, but you’re worried it could end in impasse. You know that arbitration would wrap up your dispute conclusively, but it … Read More 

Detroit Moves Forward, Thanks to Mediation

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Mediation.

About 15 months after becoming the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy, Detroit is on track to begin rebuilding and growing stronger. On November 7, a federal judge approved a plan aimed at ridding the city of its $7 billion in debt and investing about $1.7 billion in city services, the New York Times … Read More 

Why We Focus on Culture in Negotiations

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Negotiation Skills.

Adapted from “Coping with Culture at the Bargaining Table,” first published in the May 2009 issue of Negotiation. Why we focus on culture Why does concentrating on the other side’s culture lead to problems in negotiation? Consider that negotiators often focus too narrowly on the most obvious information about the task at hand. Such focusing failures lead negotiators to … Read More 

Conflict within Companies

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Conflict Resolution.

Conflict within companies can be very costly, both in time and resources. Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR, may be helpful as you consider ways in which you can transition from conflict to productivity within your own organization. The three most common ADR techniques are: mediation, arbitration, and med-arb. During mediation a neutral third party facilitates a … Read More