Mediation is a constructive and effective way to resolve disputes between people. Mediation is confidential and voluntary. The premise of mediation is that people know their problems better than anyone else and can decide best what will work for them. The mediator acts as an impartial third person, who helps the parties overcome their communication barriers and reach an agreement that satisfies all parties.
The mediator makes sure the parties can express themselves, and get heard. The mediator makes sure the process is free of coercion, and that both sides understand the options they are exploring and their implications. The mediator cares that the decisions the parties make are informed. What the parties decide is their business; the mediator is concerned mostly with the process, and the decisions are owned by the parties.
Arbitrators are like "little judges." They conduct formal hearings, with lawyers usually representing each side. After the hearings, the arbitrator takes as long as needed (usually months) to issue a written decision. This decision is a judgment, which is mostly binding on the parties. The arbitrator decides who is right and who is wrong, and what should be the outcome.
The mediator, in contrast, does not make judgments of right or wrong and does not make decisions for the parties. The mediator helps parties find solutions that meet part or most of their needs. The goal is a fair agreement, that satisfies both sides, not a decision that leaves one side a winner and the other a loser, as is the case in arbitration and in the courts.
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