Conflict resolution and mediation

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the October 14, 2008 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Show.

Not all situations require hiring an attorney and filing a lawsuit in the traditional sense, and not everyone can afford the traditional legal process at its usual rates.

When handling any dispute, there are some helpful tips to keep in mind before you get to the point where you would consider hiring an attorney.

  • Listen to the other person and let the other person know that you have heard him/her. Conflict often occurs because someone does not feel heard. The other person may be more open to hearing your point of view if he/she feels like he/she has been heard by you.
  • Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Try to envision what the situation looks like from his/her perspective
  • Be respectful. It is not only what you say that is important, it also is important how you say it. Pay attention to your body language.
  • Understand the difference between positions and needs. Positions are what you want. Needs are why you want what you want. Collaborate on how you can each get what you need.

If you still have an unresolved dispute, but both parties can agree that you do not want to hire attorneys, consider mediation.

More and more people are turning to mediation as a less cumbersome and more affordable alternative.

Common questions:
What is mediation?

Mediation is an informal, non-adversarial process in which a mediator, who is an impartial third party, assists people who have a dispute to resolve some or all of their differences. A mediator is not a judge and has no authority to make any decisions. The power to make decisions rests solely with the people who are involved in the dispute.

How does mediation differ from arbitration or a jury trial?

In arbitration, a third party, who is not a judge, but who acts as a judge, makes a decision about the dispute. In a jury trial, a jury makes a decision about the dispute. With mediation, the people who have a dispute decide how they want to resolve their dispute, with the help of the mediator.

What types of disputes can be mediated?

Most disputes can be mediated. Neighbor disputes, disputes in the workplace, landlord/tenant disputes, disputes among family members, and divorce/child custody matters, are some examples of disputes that are good candidates for mediation. Many disputes that ultimately end up as lawsuits in the court system also may be mediated.

What are the benefits of mediation?

Mediation permits people who have a dispute to resolve their dispute quickly and in a cost-efficient manner. The mediation process is also very flexible. With mediation, people can resolve their dispute confidentially. Additionally, people have the ability to be creative and address issues that matter to them, but that would not be addressed by the court. In some kinds of disputes, mediation allows a way for people to be accountable and apologize when appropriate. Research has shown that mediated agreements tend to hold up better over time. Mediation results in greater satisfaction to the disputants.

Are mediators required to have a certain type of training?

In Pennsylvania, there are no formal requirements that a person needs to meet before he/she can call him/herself a mediator. However, most mediators have undergone at least a 40-hour training program or its equivalent, and have observed or co-mediated cases before mediating matters on their own. Most mediators also regularly attend continuing professional education programs. A reputable mediator will be glad to answer questions about his/her background, training, and experience as well as what code of ethics he/she follows.

Is there a cost for mediation?

Mediators charge for their services. The cost varies from mediator to mediator. For example, some mediators charge by the hour while other mediators charge by the day or session. A reputable mediator will review fee matters with you before the mediation.

How can I find a mediator?

The Allegheny County Bar Association has a Committee on Alternate Dispute Resolution and many of its Committee members are mediators. If you are represented by an attorney in relation to a dispute, your attorney also may be able to recommend a mediator to you.