Solutions through mediation Featured

9:49am EDT July 22, 2002

He verbally abused you and you want money.

She broke your contract and you want her to pay.

He sexually harassed you and you aren’t willing to let it go.

These — and other conflicts — drive businesses into court with million-dollar attorneys, resulting in money lost, relationships broken and energy spent in a detrimental way. This may explain why more and more companies are turning toward mediation to resolve conflicts, and why a study done by Jeanne Brett, a professor at Northwestern University’s Graduate School of Management, concluded that people should consider mediation first when trying to resolve a dispute.

Mediation aims to preserve the relationship, whereas litigation splits people up,” explains Geri Nelson, director of Akron’s Answers in Mediation, or AIM, a subsidiary of Medalegal Inc., a company she established in 1988 that settles insurance claims. “It teaches people how to work through problems and come up with a solution that is satisfactory to all.”

But its benefits are greater than that.

“It’s cost effective. It has better outcomes. It preserves the relationship. It’s future-focused. It’s communicative. It’s educational. It’s time-saving,” Nelson says.

It also makes a lot of sense.

“The Old Testament is based on mediation principles of justice, equity, restitution,” Nelson says. “These are values that have been around for thousands of years.”

The mediation process is fairly simple. Once Nelson identifies the major players in a dispute and gets them together, she does what she calls “history gathering” — which enables each person to tell his or her side of the story. While the parties have probably shared — or shouted — their feelings at each other many times before, the mediator acts as a sieve through which emotion is filtered so that the problem exposes itself.

“The emotions involved in a dispute keep people from seeing clearly,” Nelson explains. “People don’t always know what their issues are, particularly if they’ve been embroiled in a confrontation for a long time. ... A mediator helps diffuse their emotions to get the real facts on the table so that they can be dealt with.”

Once Nelson gets the problem — which usually result from a “lack of communication, miscommunication or poor communication,” she says — on the table, the parties negotiate from an interest-based, not a position-based, stance.

“If a woman has been sexually harassed, she might walk into a mediation and say, ‘I want him fired.’ That’s a position,” Nelson says. “The mediator may say, ‘Why do you want him fired?’ She says, ‘Well, I feel uncomfortable when I go to work. I feel like my input is not valued. I feel as if I am physically in harm.’ Those are interests. So if you can meet those interests, you can solve the dispute.”

The key difference between mediation and arbitration lies in the next step, which enables the parties to work together to find a solution that pleases all. “The parties come up with their own answers, rather than having something imposed by a court,” Nelson says. “Then there needs to be an evaluation process in place. Otherwise, a year from now, they may end up with the same problem.”

The entire process takes between four hours and four days — depending on the complexity of the case — and costs between $75 to $125 per hour, which Nelson says is a fraction of what arbitration can cost.

“The focus of the service is to produce successful outcomes, but it’s also a learning process,” Nelson says. “People come away with tools that they can use to solve problems in the future.”

And that way, even mediation can be a part of their past.