Updated: Sep 22
One of the most frequently asked questions regarding conflict resolution is about the different terminology used. As someone that has taken training to become both a mediator and negotiator, I hope to help you clarify these terms.
So, What is the Difference Between Mediation and Negotiation in Conflict Resolution? Mediators are impartial third party that has no vested interest in the outcome of the process. Mediators are there to facilitate a discussion. Negotiators differ as they are often hired, are a representative, or could be the other party involved. Negotiators have a vested interest in the outcomes achieved through the process.
By understanding the difference between each method of conflict resolution you are able to make a choice as to which will work best for the current situation. Below I break down some of the foundational differences as well as what they have in common.
The primary goal that mediators have is to assist all parties involved in gaining an understanding of one another perspectives. This will allow both parties to create solutions together that meets as many of their needs as possible, thus creating a longer-lasting resolution. By starting to bridge the communication between the parties mediators hope to develop a relationship between the parties so they can resolve issues together more effectively in the future without the requirement for a third party.
The primary goal of negotiation is to resolve an issue by use of compromise and agreement. This can take many forms based upon the methods being taken within the process. Some negotiations are aimed at both parties walking away with what they need, while others are about one party getting as much of a win as possible, potentially at the cost to the other party.
Mediators go through a very specific set of steps in order to achieve results for the parties. These steps are not always linear and a good mediator will know how to best use the process for their clients.
At the beginning of the process, a mediator will do what is known as premeditation. During this, the mediator will gather information to help determine if mediation is the best choice for the parties involved. They will gain an understanding as to the current relationship, power dynamics they need to be aware of, if the parties have the authority to make decisions on the situation they wish to resolve, if all involved feel safe within the environment of mediation and their willingness to participate in the process.
In negotiation, both parties must first agree to work together, face to face without anyone else being involved. There must be a relationship either formal or informal between the two parties for this to occur.
The goal of a negotiation is to get to the end result with as much of what their party needs as possible. Though some understanding and acknowledgment from both parties assist with the process, it is not required as the end result is what is the goal. How the specific group chooses to get to this end result is up to them. They can employ a method similar to a formalized mediation process, or they can simply have a conversation.
The financial costs of a mediator can vary greatly. The reason for this is some areas within government, the judicial system, cities or businesses cover these costs for parties involved; in others, the cost is incurred by the parties themselves. Costs when hiring privately range between $150-$350/hr for a certified or chartered mediator.
A negotiator typically represents their own organization or themselves, thus there will be no additional financial cost if done during the individual’s typical work hours.
Mediation is best used when a relationship needs to be maintained or established. This can be applied to families, coworkers, neighbors or business partners amongst others.
Negotiation is best for when an agreement needs to be reached and both parties are willing to come together to discuss. This works best when there are a limited number of people involved, the issue is simple and both parties are comfortable making a decision by themselves.
Being a people-centered approach mediation has a variety of advantages. One of the advantages is that since the results need to be beneficial to both parties for them to be agreed upon, those involved tend to be more willing to adhere to the agreement.
Having an impartial third party involved also helps to balance the dynamics of power within the room. One of the mediators’ jobs is to ensure everyone involved is able to share what they need and the two parties involved feel heard and understood.
One of the main advantages of negotiation is that a third party does not need to be involved, saving both time and money. Another benefit is that there are only two people’s schedules to coordinate as opposed to three, of course as more people are involved this becomes increasingly difficult and some people’s schedules may need to be prioritized.
As with any process mediation does have some. Once the mediation process is complete and the final agreement is sent to all required parties the mediator’s job is done. The parties are not required by the mediator to adhere to the agreement they come up with. The only way for this to happen is by bringing the agreement to another party like a workplace for performance management or courts for something like a parenting or separation agreement.
Mediation requires all parties to be honest and forthcoming with information. They must each be willing to fully engage with the other person involved and participate in the mediation process. If there is deception or an unwillingness to discuss things beyond a specific position the process will not move forward and stall out, much like can happen in a negotiation.
Negotiation also has its own set of drawbacks. As there is no impartial person in the room parties are able to use persuasion or leverage power over the other party resulting in less than desirable outcomes. The outcomes resulting from this imbalance in power can result in the breaking of the agreement as the party views it as unfair.
Being that there is no third party, if things go sideways they have the potential for becoming a much larger issue. If neither party is skilled or is unwilling to use their skills to manage another person’s emotions the negotiation has the ability to blow up. This has the potential to lead to grievances, severed relationships and potential litigating if not handled quickly and tactfully.
When Not to Use Mediation or Negotiation
There are some situations in which mediation or negotiation may not be the best option. If there is abuse, a power dynamic where one party is uncomfortable alone with the other party, or if there are mental health issues involved.
It may take some time to find a mediator that will work best for the situation that needs to be addressed. Mediators specialize in different areas and differ in their preferences and styles.
Take the time to do your research and find one that you feel will work for you.
Regarding negotiation, there are a variety of styles and processes that can be followed. By becoming educated and practiced in these methods you can become more successful at leading and managing productive negotiations. The book Getting to Yes is a fantastic resource for an alternative form of negotiation.
What is the difference between Mediation, Negotiation, and Arbitration?
Arbitration in the formalized process in which a third party is hired to gather information from both parties in order to create a binding agreement that both parties are required to uphold. The arbitrator, like a mediator, is an impartial third party with no stake in the outcome and is viewed to be able to make the best decision on behalf of both parties.