What is the Difference Between Mediation and Conflict Resolution?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Mediation and conflict resolution are types of dispute resolution often used to solve legal issues outside of the courtroom. While "conflict resolution" is a broad term that may describe a variety of different alternative dispute resolution methods, mediation refers to a specific process in which a neutral third party helps two warring sides come to a resolution on their own. Engaging in mediation and conflict resolution can help prevent a long and expensive legal battle by allowing both sides to approach the court with an equitable solution in place.

Divorcing partners may choose mediation as a method of conflict resolution.
Divorcing partners may choose mediation as a method of conflict resolution.

Conflict resolution can refer to any type of alternative bargaining done between two sides outside of the courtroom. In addition to mediation, conflict resolution can also be obtained through arbitration, which is a binding form of judgment that is often faster and less expensive than a traditional trial. Conflict resolution is also sometimes done between the defendant and plaintiff without the interference from lawyers, such as in cases where divorce agreements are worked out by the couple. It can also be managed with the assistance of a counselor with training in conflict management.

Many divorcing couples need the help of a professional mediator to settle conflicts about assets and custody.
Many divorcing couples need the help of a professional mediator to settle conflicts about assets and custody.

Mediation involves a professional mediator, who may be available privately or through court services. Mediators are distinct from arbiters in that the agreements worked out in mediation are not determined by the mediator but instead are negotiated agreements made between the two parties. Mediation allows a more private, closed-doors atmosphere than traditional litigation and has the advantage of leaving the major decisions in the hands of the disputing parties, rather than allowing a judge or arbiter to make a binding decision.

Conflict resolution involves bringing parties together, exploring the issues behind their conflict, and then finding a resolution to those issues that is satisfactory for all parties.
Conflict resolution involves bringing parties together, exploring the issues behind their conflict, and then finding a resolution to those issues that is satisfactory for all parties.

Mediation and conflict resolution are often distinguished from one another by the presence of a neutral, professional third party. Many forms of conflict resolution focus on the two main parties communicating effectively with one another to determine a solution. While mediation and conflict resolution have the same goals, mediation can be preferable in situations where emotions are running high enough to cloud judgment, where one party feels threatened or intimidated by the other, or where trust levels between the two parties are low. A mediator can serve as a voice of reason and compromise in a potentially explosive situation, in addition to bringing legal knowledge that neither party may possess.

In civil trials where damages are sought or divisions of assets and responsibilities are required, mediation and conflict resolution can help cut down on the amount of court interference necessary. This can help cut down on court costs and the emotional stress caused by a long, contentious legal battle. Mediated cases, or those that have undergone some form of conflict resolution, tend to pass through the courts more quickly and feature settlements that are readily acceptable to a judge.

The process of effective conflict resolution may involve many different strategies to find a resolution to conflict.
The process of effective conflict resolution may involve many different strategies to find a resolution to conflict.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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