Classically, the benefits of mediation are said to be:
- Communication: most conflict is the result of inadequate or ineffective communication. “Why didn’t we have this conversation a year ago” is a phrase we hear more than any other. Mediation enables people to have conversations, to address difficult issues and to work through differences of view in a carefully structured way guided by a skilled third party. Crucially, in many situations (neighbours, business partners, contractors, families, in the work place) this can help to restore, enhance and rebuild relationships.
- Confidentiality: the ability to discuss privately the real issues and not to be bound by anything said or done unless and until an agreement is reached.
- Control: the parties retain control over the outcome rather than handing it over to lawyers or a judge or other third party adjudicator. Lawyers are often involved in mediation as advisers, advocates and confidantes but one of its defining features is party autonomy.
- Closure: for many people, ending a dispute is as important as the outcome. Thus being able to bring a matter to a sensible conclusion without the time, stress, possible publicity, management cost, opportunity cost, reputational risk and loss of morale entailed in long, drawn out conflict is a real advantage. The vast majority of matters dealt with by mediation are resolved quickly and effectively.
- Certainty: allied to closure and control is the knowledge of an agreed outcome and avoidance of the risk and uncertainty inherent in handing over dispute resolution to third parties. Being a consensual process, mediation has a remarkably high success and implementation rate.
- Creativity: traditional problem-solving tends, because of its adversarial nature, to be binary. Courts are generally limited to money remedies and, on rare occasions to specific remedies such as interdict. There is, understandably, no scope for constructive approaches to dispute resolution. This promotes a culture where money/compensation/claims are the only way in which needs can be addressed. However, research and experience tells us that most people want other and different things: for example, the contracted-for work to be completed, a service to be improved, an apology or acknowledgement of error or mistake to be made (regardless of legal liability), a return to work, recognition of pain suffered, reassurance that steps will be taken to prevent a recurrence, an explanation of what happened/went wrong, a renewed personal or business relationship. All of these can be discussed at mediation.
- Cost-saving: while there are different formats for mediation (given its flexibility), broadly, mediation takes a day (or perhaps two) to help parties to reach a conclusion. From first inquiry through to agreement, only a few weeks is generally required. Overall, this should be much less expensive than other procedures, especially court or tribunal. From the perspective of individual cases, this enables resolution without (often hugely) disproportionate expenditure; from the overall perspective of public sector spending, this can bring significant savings in the overall justice budget.