Business mediation

Post image for Standoff on the Debt Ceiling:  Is There a Mediator in the House, Please?

 

As Congress misses its deadline once again for an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, shattering the confidence of even the most cynical of economic analysts, we have to wonder why the White House has not considered using a different strategy to settle this impasse: Mediation.  The recent debate in Washington about the debt ceiling and the budget have offered a window into the importance of mediation, says a recent article in the Pittsbugh BusinessTimes. The article makes some good points about how mediation could help move the process along quickly toward resolution.  As anyone who’s been involved in an intense family, business or neighborhood conflict knows, mediators can be highly successful in getting the parties to focus on the heart of the problem, and helping them brainstorm creatively about solutions in order to achieve a ‘win-win’ agreement.  Let’s take a quick look at how a mediator could be helpful in the White House as the clock is ticking ever closer to the August 2nd budget deadline.

Mediation Resolves Disputes Quickly

There’s no argument that, when it comes to the current budget crisis and the bill under consideration to raise the debt ceiling, time is of the essence.  And mediation is always the speediest way to help parties cut through the posturing, the politics and saber-rattling, to reach an agreement that will stick. Waiting to go to court often takes months. Mediation, on the other hand is an immediate solution that allows the parties to sit down quickly and start to find solutions before the problem becomes larger. The debt ceiling is a pressing problem, and one that needs to be resolved quickly, something mediation could handily do.

Mediation Helps Parties Problem-Solve More Creatively

The debt ceiling has proven to be a persistent point of contention and the parties continue to circle around the same topics and offer up the same solutions. In disputes like this, a mediator can often step in and help the parties think about the problems in new ways. Mediators don’t offer solutions, but they do guide the parties to look at the problem in a new way, thereby helping them develop alternative solutions. Having a non-invested, neutral third party in the room can change the tone of the conversation and make it more productive, thoughtful, and creative.

Mediation Keeps the Debate Focused

It is also important to remember that a mediator does, in fact, mediate.  That is, a mediator’s job is to keep the conversation on point and on target. In family mediation, elder care mediation, and business mediation, parties have a tendency to wander and to pull in topics, situations, and associated problems that are not helpful in resolving the issue on the table. A mediator guides the talks in a focused way, moving the parties from point to point, helping them move towards solutions and also helping them see the interrelation between the problems at hand so they can be solved in a cohesive manner.

Mediation is Private and Positive

The mediation room is a positive space, where parties are not allowed to speak harshly and posturing is discouraged. Mediators work to keep parties focused on constructive conflict resolution rather than rehashing the past. In addition, mediation is a more private process, where parties are urged to keep the issues in the room – unlike the talks in Washington, which take place very much in the public eye (or at least are reported to the public after the fact). The privacy of the process can be helpful in resolving sensitive and complex conflicts where multiple agendas are at stake.  By allowing parties to lay their cards on the table honestly and openly, they can ‘cut to the chase’ more quickly if they are not having to worry about the  public perception of each position and argument presented.

Mediation offers a multitude of benefits for settling conflicts – from marital squabbles, inter-family conflicts, business problems, to cross-border disputes.  Maybe it’s time that the lawmakers in Washington try a new approach to ending the deadlock on the debt ceiling debate and bring a neutral into the room to help them move swiftly toward resolution.

 

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Post image for Mythbusting Mediation: The Top 10 Common Misperceptions About Mediation

 

Although, more and more, mediation is becoming the preferred way for people to settle their disputes, there are still a lot of misperceptions about it.  Here are the top 10 fears and common concerns that I hear regularly from people that prevent them from taking the wise approach to conflict resolution.

1. Mediation only works if you already agree about most things. The whole point of mediation is to solve problems you don’t agree about. The process helps you find compromises and common ground when before you didn’t believe you had any. Just think of mediation as an alternative to going to court, except that the process is private, less expensive, faster, and you maintain more control over the outcome.  You don’t need to agree on the issues.  You just need to agree to mediate.  From there, each of you will work with your mediator to negotiate and problem-solve in order to develop solutions to your unique set of problems.

2. The mediator makes all the decisions. The mediator is actually there as a neutral third party to move the process along. He or she doesn’t decide anything at all and has no power to do so. Only the people sitting in mediation can make decisions about their situation.  The mediator may help by guiding you in your thinking, offering suggestions, and may point out options to assist you in brain-storming solutions.  But, ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to developing solutions that work best for each of you.

3. Mediation is too time-consuming. Mediation almost always takes far less time than a contested court proceeding, when you consider all the hours your attorney must put in to prepare for court. Also, because mediators charge less than trial attorneys, you save money.

4. Mediation is touchy-feely. Mediation is not therapy. To resolve certain difficult issues it can be helpful to talk about the emotions or reasons behind them, but the goal in mediation is not to talk through your problems as you might in therapy. Instead, the goal is to tackle problems until you find a solution that works for everyone.  From there, your mediator will help you draft an agreement that will be enforceable in court.

5. Mediation is not for people with a lot of assets or complicated businesses. Mediation works in almost every situation. As long as parties are willing to sit down together to meet and discuss their conflict, mediation is possible.  Mediators have been used to resolve conflicts in business partnership cases, employment and contract disputes, separation and divorce cases, family conflicts, eldercare matters, landlord-tenant and real estate cases, and a host of other types of cases.  The value or type of assets is unimportant. The same process is used to resolve them. Mediators are trained to work with any type of asset.

6. People who mediate don’t use lawyers. Most mediators strongly suggest that both parties hire an attorney for consultation during the process. The mediator’s role is not to provide legal advice (although legal information is given). Each person may wish to consult with an attorney to discuss strategy, rights, and what the potential outcome would be in court.

7. If there’s a power imbalance in the relationship to begin with, the weaker party won’t be protected in mediation. This concern comes up frequently and is expressed most commonly by women going through a divorce, or employees in conflict with their employers.  The belief is that, without an aggressive attorney by their sides, they won’t feel they can have a voice in mediation.  In fact, mediators are trained to insure that everyone is given an equal opportunity to speak freely and openly during mediation and that everyone is heard.  Mediators often act as ‘interpreters’ for parties to be sure that their messages are being conveyed clearly to the other side. In this way, the process can move forward and everyone’s interests are represented in the final agreement.

8. A mediated agreement is not legally enforceable. The mediation process is not only accepted by the courts, it is now highly favored and encouraged by the court system and any agreement reached by the parties is considered binding and enforceable.  When the parties create an agreement with the help of their mediator, it will be drafted in a legally acceptable form, signed and notarized.  In the case of a divorce, for example, the divorce Stipulation of Settlement Agreement, will be submitted to the court with the divorce petition and attached to the court order.  Once this happens, the agreement reached by the parties will be binding and enforceable.

9. Women are always at a disadvantage in mediation, particularly if the mediator is male. Mediation is blind to gender. The process is not skewed in any way to give either spouse better chances. A good mediator will ensure that both parties have a voice and an opportunity to speak and negotiate. The mediator’s gender is irrelevant because the mediator acts completely neutrally.

10. Mediation doesn’t work unless you have good communication with the other person. Most people are in conflict with one another because they don’t have good communication, so this is definitely not a requirement for mediation. It’s even possible to mediate without ever sitting in the same room or speaking directly to each other.  At Mediationline, for example, we have successfully mediated cases where the parties have not been in the same location and have chosen to conduct their mediation over email and through separate exchanges with a mediator. No matter what the style of communication, mediators are skilled at drawing out shy and withdrawn parties, diffusing tense situations, and bringing balance and equity between the parties so that everyone has a voice in the process.


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