Mediate First: A Conflict Management Must for Small Businesses

Updated: Oct 15


Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com, from Unsplash

Some superpower basics of neutral, impartial, self-determined

conflict resolution


What Is Mediation?

Mediation is a form of ADR (alternative dispute resolution) in which a neutral and impartial third party (the mediator) assists disputing parties in discussing and tackling their differences, and then working out their own solutions. As it happens outside the legal system, it is far more efficient, affordable, and amicable than litigation.

Before suing (or worse, getting sued) start with mediation. Better yet, before a conflict turns ugly enough to bring in the attorneys, turn to mediation. Resolving small business disputes through mediation can provide peace of mind, improve quality of life, restore relationships, and allow you to get back to the work you love — all at a fraction of the financial, emotional, and time costs of making something an official legal matter.


The Nature of the Mediation Process

Mediations may follow different models and vary according to the nature of the conflict and the relationship, personalities, and circumstances of the parties. Mediators themselves have their own personalities, styles, and areas of expertise that can affect the experience of a mediation. Still, key elements characterize mediation:

  • It is self-determined and co-created by the parties at the table.

It is collaborative and gives greater control to disputants. The mediator may actively guide the process, but the outcomes are controlled by the parties — not an external authority like the courts — and are their responsibility.

  • It is voluntary.

Mediation only works if people come to it willingly and put in the effort to make it work. They voluntarily agree to the outcome. (And they also have the freedom to leave at any time.)

  • It is confidential.

No recordings, no mountains of discovery paperwork or electronic files, no public documents, nada.

  • It is simple and straightforward, powerful and effective.

Mediation models have a structure, which helps organize the communication and efforts, but it is also informal. Mediation is as much art as science and flows as the disputants work through their conflict, with the direction and assistance of the mediator.

  • It addresses the needs and interests of both sides.

It is less concerned with right and wrong, truth and blame, and instead focuses on the future…solutions, resolutions, restoration.

  • It is fair, balanced, and safe.

As the keeper of the process, the mediator applies equal treatment, works to maintain a balance of power, and ensures that participants feel safe and are safe.

  • It boasts high rates of effectiveness and satisfaction.

Even in cases where an agreement has not been reached, parties in mediations report high levels of satisfaction with the process.

What Does the Mediator Do?

Let’s start with what the mediator doesn’t do. The mediator doesn’t judge, advise, provide solutions, or determine outcomes. They do…

  • Encourage productive, respectful, and honest communication.

  • Provide a check for fairness and balance of power.

  • Tend to the needs and interests of both sides.

  • Help frame and define the issues at hand.

  • Create with the parties an agenda for the session and help them stick with it.

  • Address points of disagreement (hard and soft).

  • Promote dialogue, understanding, and appreciation of the other’s perspective and/or a broader perspective.

  • Open up channels for communication, and nudge disputants through or around impasses.

  • Coach participants when necessary (such as in a caucus, a private sidebar) on framing their requests and other items they may be struggling with.

  • Work with the parties on finding common ground and establishing consensus.

  • Assist in brainstorming and exploring solutions.

  • Confirm the agreement if one is made, make sure it’s as explicit and commonsense as it needs to be, and prepare it for the parties to sign.

Steps in the Mediation Process

Mediations typically cover the following steps, regardless of how structured or informal:

  • The mediation is pursued, scheduled, and convened.

  • The meditator makes an opening statement introducing themselves, the process, and the guidelines.

  • The parties each tell their side of the story.

  • The mediator assists the parties in identifying their issues (the points of disagreement) and interests (what each needs and possibly wants).

  • The mediator aids the disputants in building the session’s agenda, i.e., what needs to be addressed here?

  • Parties, guided by the mediator, discuss the agenda items and desired outcomes, brainstorm solutions, and negotiate an agreement.

  • The mediation closes with or without an agreement.

For Your Business

If you are experiencing distressing conflict in any of your critical business relationships, consider making things right before things get worse. Explore whether mediation is the right option for your situation. (We think it very well could be.) Visit our Conflict Management page for more information, and contact us for a free informational phone call.