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Mediators are neutral third parties who help people involved in disputes find mutually acceptable resolutions to their conflicts. Mediators do not actually make final decisions but assist disputing parties come to an agreement by helping them define the important issues and understand each other's interests. The mediator focuses on the crucial factors necessary for settlement and on the consequences of not settling. Unlike arbitrators who hold evidentiary hearings, mediators conduct informal joint and separate meetings with each party to try to understand the facts and positions of both sides. The separate meetings are called caucuses in which a mediator tries to facilitate an honest discussion about the issues and concerns of each party. Once the mediator has the information from these meetings, they can selectively use the information to reduce the hostility between the two parties and remedy areas of miscommunication by exploring alternatives and searching for solutions.

Mediators listen closely to both sides of the story and encourage direct participation and engagement from each party. They often come up with creative solutions or accommodations to special needs of the parties. Mediators attempt to solve disputes in family relationships, accidents, banking, finance and commerce, consumer contracts, insurance, leases, real estate and transportation. Mediations can occur either before a court trial or in conjunction with one, as long as a judge or jury has not made a decision.

Mediation is a private and confidential practice designed for achieving fast, practical and economical settlements out of court. Mediation is less formal than arbitration and litigation since the mediator acts as the third party; listening, assessing and suggesting possible resolutions instead of making formal, binding decisions. Nowadays, people prefer not to take their cases to court for reasons of cost, privacy and time. They often choose mediation for a less painful, more creative and insightful settlement. Since a mediator cannot legally make a binding decision, people choose this method as a way of solving their problems, knowing that if they are unhappy with the mediator's suggestions, they can move on to litigation. Mediators hold proceedings in private, unlike the public forum of a court where personal information about your business and personal affairs becomes public knowledge.

Mediators help resolve problems without the hefty expense of going to court therefore many individuals who cannot afford court proceedings must turn to a mediator. Also, the mediation process can begin immediately, with all information fresh in the mind whereas disputes settled in court take years. Mediators are highly trained in personal skills and they offer a higher chance of maintaining goodwill between the parties and finding a solution that will make both parties satisfied. Acting on principles of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), mediators are constantly looking to create win-win situations, finding compromise for both parties.
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  Interests and Skills  
Mediators must be neutral, patient, unbiased individuals with excellent communication skills, including listening and writing. Writing is important since they draw up reports based on clear, concise and logical decisions. Mediators must possess the ability to establish relationships with all different kinds of people, inspire trust in others and be culturally sensitive to their backgrounds. They are usually intellectuals that enjoy analyzing complex problems and facts and identifying the important issues involved in each case. From this, they develop innovative approaches to conflict resolution. Mediators must be organized and quick-thinking and retain a sense of humor in order to relieve the sometimes stressful pressures of emotionally charged clients and hostile situations.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Arrange and conduct hearings to obtain information and evidence
  • Prepare written opinions and decisions
  • Research laws, regulations, policies and decisions in order to prepare for hearings
  • Issue subpoenas and administer oaths to prepare for formal hearing
  • Reduce the hostility between parties and help them engage in a meaningful dialog on the issues at hand
  • Open discussions into areas not previously considered or inadequately developed
  • Help parties to better understand each other's views without violating confidences
  • Explore alternatives and search for compromising solutions
  • Consider both sides of the argument assessing their validity and the evidence presented
  • Identify what is important and what is expendable in each case
  • A typical day will revolve around the case a mediator is working on. Therefore, case proceedings will take up a majority of the mediator's time along with going over the evidence in order to make a judicial decision. Mediators may conduct discussions and hearings in a neutral location such as a boardroom, hotel conference room or anywhere else all parties agree on. Since mediators are independent contractors, many work in other professions, such as education or law because there is no guarantee for back to back cases. Mediators travel often, sometimes to other cities in order to proceed with their case. Also, they sometimes work strange, long hours as disputes can run late into the night and mediators may sometimes need to do extensive research before making suggestions.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Mediators are private practitioners who work on contract to mediate cases. Usually, mediators work in other occupations and work contractually on assignments. They often work out of their homes or at neutrally acceptable locations; anywhere that is convenient for their clients.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Mediators are already leaders in the field of alternative dispute resolution. They usually work in other occupations like law or university teaching and occasionally get contracted to work as a mediator on a case. Nevertheless, mediators who are also lawyers can eventually become judges or justices of the peace. Mediators may also become private trainers. Sometimes called contract trainers or facilitators, private trainers conduct workshops, seminars, retreats, conference sessions and/or individual instruction sessions for adults in areas such as conflict management. They may also develop and design training programs, curriculums and materials.

  Educational Paths  
Although there are no specified minimum requirements for mediators, many have some sort of professional background. All have a university degree and some form of graduate degree, in law, psychology, conflict management, alternative dispute resolution or a related field. Mediators must possess an appreciation of the principles of natural justice, a working knowledge of contracts and evidence legislation and knowledge of the principles of alternative dispute resolution.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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