Blessed are the peacemakers – the case for using mediation to resolve disputes

Opinion

 

Mediation has been used as a method of dispute resolution in a variety of different cultures for more than 3,000 years.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” — this scripture inspired me to become a mediator as a child. Now a Chartered Mediator in Canada with well over one thousand mediations involving multi-party stakeholders in Canada and the US, my role began in the 1990s within the Ontario Government regarding workplace issues. This wonderful journey has given me the privilege of working with families dealing with divorce and separation or; addressing civil / healthcare disputes and, facilitating restorative justice / conflict resolution on a University campus. This is said to affirm the value of mediation in almost every conflict that cannot be resolved without a neutral third party. A study published by Legal Aid Ontario, “The astonishing success rate of mediation in resolving family law disputes,” noted that 87 percent of cases that have gone to mediation in Ontario resulted in a full or partial settlement.

The support for using alternative dispute resolution has increased because of the “COVID standstill” in the courts leading to a huge backlog in disputes awaiting judicial determination. As many have reported COVID has also had the knock-on effect of increasing the use of virtual platforms for business and social contact. Through my research I have identified platforms that provide secure multi-party access that satisfy privacy legislation in both the US and Canada. Mediation with video conferencing actually began about 20 years ago and there are now a number of secure technology platforms that can be used for confidential mediation. ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) has also been in place since the early 90s and allows for an e-negotiation tool for a single-issue conflict involving only two parties. Some say an ODR tool provides freedom, preserves anonymity and prevents intimidation because it utilizes an artificial intelligence program to facilitate with neutrality. While I have participated in brief training about this model, I believe it should not be overlooked that one of the gifts of a mediator is human sensitivity to non-verbal communication.

Mediators do not act as lawyers, judges or arbitrators — rather they are peacemakers and sometimes negotiators with expertise in a process of peacemaking and resolving issues through collaboration.  We are neutral third parties who listen to each of the individuals as they tell their story about the conflict and identify their interest – “What is the underlying want, need or desire that must be satisfied to reach a reasonable agreement?“  (Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In is a best-selling 1981 non-fiction book by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury) We then help the individuals to brainstorm options for resolution in a respectful way that requires mutual listening without criticism. Next we jointly evaluate options to establish a resolution that is time specific and measureable. Excellent mediation has the capacity to transform people by promoting understanding of their respective interests while securing creative resolutions that address the underlying concerns of the parties.

During a four-year term as a local municipal councillor I observed conflicts in the Township of Madawaska Valley, North Algona Wilberforce and other adjacent municipalities that involved community members, council members and workplace issues. All of these disputes could have benefited greatly from the efficient and cost effective process of mediation perhaps resulting in considerable saving of taxpayer monies. In the same way that companies owe duties to their shareholders not to expose them to needless expense, elected officials should not forget that they have similar obligations to their constituents.

 

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