Mediation is an informal, voluntary process in which an impartial person, trained in facilitation and negotiation techniques, helps the parties reach a mutually acceptable resolution. What distinguishes mediation from other forms of dispute resolution-principally, arbitration and litigation-is that the mediator does not impose a solution but rather works with the parties to create their own solution. Mediated solutions often include relief not available in arbitration or litigation.
Mediation is flexible and creative. The actual process varies from case to case depending largely on the parties' needs and the mediator's style. Usually, the parties meet to discuss the issues face-to-face. The mediator helps the discussions remain focused and productive. Then, the mediator may hold private caucuses with each party separately, and will carry messages-clarifications, questions, proposals, offers, and counter offers-back and forth between them. The mediator uses the private caucus and other techniques to facilitate the negotiation.
Mediation is non-binding. The emphasis is on fashioning a solution satisfactory to all. However, if the parties cannot negotiate an acceptable settlement, they may still benefit from the process by narrowing the issues to be arbitrated or litigated.