By Lori Lovgren, JD, CPCU
In today’s world of politics where the issues have been around for ages but increasingly little gets done, it is easy to believe that the whole system is broken. It is also hard to imagine that the system can be fixed when people are seemingly too polarized to get beyond their differences and engage in the hard work of finding and reaching agreement on solutions.
Whether or not this is true in Washington, the good news is this does not generally appear to be the case in the world of mediation. Last year, I left the corporate world and entered the field of alternative dispute resolution. I was particularly attracted to mediation because the role of the mediator is not to serve as a decision maker or as an advocate, but to serve as a facilitator empowering all sides to identify the issues, brainstorm possible solutions, and reach an agreement. I have to admit though I had a preconceived notion that mediation is just another step utilized occasionally and often unsuccessfully in the process of long protracted bloody legal battles with each side fighting to finish off the other with little regard for cost. Even so, to me, it was still an attractive process because if successful even occasionally, it can cut considerable time, cost, and resources, and put to bed issues freeing up those involved to move on to bigger and better things.
After serving as a mediator in 40 mediations on a variety of issues (insurance, contracts, landlord/tenant, etc.), I have to say I am pleasantly surprised by how effective the process truly is. My observations are as follows:
Most people come to mediation wanting to find solutions to their issues and put it all behind them.
Rather than sticking to a hardline position, most people are willing to discuss alternatives.
When people come to the table and talk about their issues, there seems to be a higher likelihood of finding a solution than dealing with each other by phone, email, correspondence, etc.
Most people do not want a battle royale. The fact that failing to find a resolution during mediation could result in a protracted litigation process, high litigation costs, and handing over decision-making authority to a judge or jury is typically a great incentive to the parties to reach agreement.
Particularly under these circumstances (#1 - #4 above), mediation has a high success rate.
Most importantly, it is good to be able to feel as though the whole system is not totally broken - at least not this aspect. In mediation, most people can and do acknowledge their differences yet still talk to each other, find solutions, and get something accomplished. It is amazing to see and feels good to be a part of it!