Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process in which a skilled neutral third-party (the mediator) facilitates negotiation between parties in conflict to help them reach a mutually acceptable solution. The basic format calls for the parties to express how they view the case and what they would like to see happen to resolve it. . Unlike an arbitrator who can decide the outcome, a mediator has no decision-making authority, but simply helps disputants communicate, evaluate their needs and interests, generate options and craft a workable resolution.
In essence, mediation is assisted negotiation. The goal is not to decide who is right or wrong; the focus is forward looking and creative. The events leading up to the dispute are not rehashed in detail, but are discussed only insofar as they are necessary to provide a picture of the overall situation and to release any pent up emotions that may be blocking the way to resolution.
Mediation focuses primarily on mutual benefits and calls for the disputants and their counsel to shift from the traditional confrontational approach to one of cooperation. The mediation process transforms adversaries into joint problem-solvers. The focus is not on losing or winning but transforming the situation to maximize benefits to all.
Mediation should also not be confused with arbitration. In arbitration, the parties in dispute authorize a neutral third person or a 3-person panel to make a binding decision on the dispute after hearing both sides. Arbitration is similar to a private court in which the parties choose their own judge. In contrast, in mediation, the parties may choose the mediator, but they do not authorize the mediator to make any decisions for them.