Put simply, a professional mediator creates an environment where parties can resolve their differences and find solutions to their disputes that work.
A mediation session is very informal compared to a trial or arbitration proceeding, but the process does have a general format that allows it to work most effectively. Our mediations typically have eight stages, which are described below. This is only a framework, however, and no two mediations are the same because every conflict is unique. A good mediator allows the process to remain flexible enough to meet the particular needs of the people in dispute. Parties should also remember that the mediation process belongs to them and they are encouraged to offer input as to how they want the session to proceed.
Stage 1- Mediator’s Presentation and Contracting. The mediator describes how mediation works and discusses important matters like confidentiality. The parties briefly explain what brought them to mediation and ask any questions about the process. The participants then come to a mutual understanding about how the session will proceed, clarifying their roles and responsibilities and negotiating ground rules. At this time an agreement to mediate and a confidentiality agreement will also be signed.
Stage 2 - Uninterrupted Presentations by Each Party. The parties give informal presentations (sometimes called “opening statements”) about the dispute with everyone present. This is a time for both sides to tell their story, explain their point of view and express their feelings without interruption or challenge. One party goes first, followed by the other side.
Stage 3 - Response. This is the time in which the parties respond and react to each other’s opening presentations. This is a time for each side to speak openly about what the other party discussed, to ask clarifying questions, to clear up any miscommunications (if possible), to air feelings, to explore information and to identify needs and interests on both sides.
Stage 4 - Agenda-Building. The parties define the issues to be resolved, identify negotiable topics and set priorities for resolution.
Stage 5 - Brainstorming. Once the agenda has been set, a brainstorming session follows, in which the parties identify potential ways to resolve the conflict without evaluating any of the suggestions. This is a time to “road test” ideas and everyone is encouraged to offer up creative solutions, no matter how wild, and suggestions can build on one another while the mediator keeps track of what is discussed.
Stage 6 - Caucus. Not always done during a mediation session, the caucus is a break-out time when the mediator will meet with each party separately to get a feel for how that party is feeling and see if there are individual issues that haven't come out in the group. The caucus is confidential to that individual meeting and mediator cannot bring issues mentioned in caucus into the group session unless permission is granted by the individual during caucus.
Stage 7 - Settlement Discussion and Negotiation. After the parties have suggested resolution options, a discussion follows in which each person expresses his view of the proposed solutions and the mediator facilitates the parties’ negotiation to try to reach an agreement that works for everyone.
Stage 8 - Memorializing the Agreement. If the parties are able to reach an agreement on some or all terms, the mediator will write up the terms in a document for all parties to sign.
If the parties do not reach an agreement there is an opportunity to schedule additional mediation sessions or discuss the next step for the parties.