Benefits of Mediation
Mediation is a positive way to resolve a dispute. It is a conflict resolution process based on voluntary participation of both (or several) parties involved. The aim is to constructively work on the disputed issue/s and to gain resolution by reaching agreeable compromise. Mediation empowers the participating parties by giving everyone a voice. It offers an opportunity to hear someone else’s viewpoint in a safe and neutral environment and can lead to better understanding. It is perfect in all those situations where parties are clearly not agreeing, but wanting to avoid Court or any other expensive undertakings.
Take for example a dispute between two neighbours, Mr. Angry and Mrs. Messy over Mrs. Messy’s messy backyard. Legally there is nothing that Mr. Angry can do about this, however because he gets highly irritated by disorder and has to look at Mrs. Messy’s mess every day from his lounge he is getting desperate. He has repeatedly tried to speak to Mrs. Messy but this hasn’t led anywhere. This has been going on for a long time. One day Mr. Angry decides to seek help at the local Community Law Centre and gets referred to a free mediation service. Even though he doubts Mrs. Messy will come to mediation he writes a letter to the neighbour (with the help of the local Community Law Centre) asking for agreement to come to a free mediation. Surprisingly to Mr. Angry, Mrs. Messy writes back and agrees. A suitable date and time is set and a neutral venue determined.
On mediation day both parties arrive with a support person each. The mediator explains the process and then gives both parties a chance to explain their situation without being interrupted by the other party. Afterwards, the mediator asks a few clarifying questions and then moves on to both parties suggesting solutions to the issues at hand. Mr. Angry is very surprised to learn that Mrs. Messy has several medical conditions, resulting in her feeling anxious and unable to lift things. He also learns that Mrs. Messy’s son, who recently moved away, was hoarding all these things in the backyard. Mrs. Messy is unhappy about the mess but hasn’t been able to sort it out because of her ill health and not being able to afford to pay anyone to do it for her. Her son has gone to Europe and has no contact with her. Because Mr. Angry always swore and raised his fists when he came to speak to Mrs. Messy, Mrs. Messy got scared, withdrew and refused to communicate. Mrs. Messy learns that Mr. Angry used to work as a landscape designer and deeply cares about a tidy backyard. Because Mr. Angry is retired, he spends a lot of time at home. He just can’t understand how anyone would want to live in such a mess and this has really irritated him.
The mediation continues for some time. Eventually, with the expert guidance of the mediator, both parties find an agreeable compromise. Mrs. Messy and Mr. Angry will spend a day together to clean up her mess, he will provide his expert guidance and she will put on a BBQ with his favourite foods as a thank you. This is a very positive (and cheap!) outcome to a difficult situation that had a very negative impact for quite some time. (Another possible solution, but not as cheap, could have been erecting a high fence or planting fast growing trees to keep the messy backyard out of Mr. Angry’s views.)
Not every dispute will be successfully resolved, but mediation certainly is a potent instrument in conflict prevention and resolution and is worth a try. It increases and strengthens the capacity of individuals, families and the community to address conflicts effectively and affordably. Mediation intervenes before problems get too big and can help people stay out of the Courts. All in all, mediation contributes to communities becoming more resilient and peaceful.
Some government agencies, such as Department of Labour (for employment issues) and Department of Building and Housing (for tenancy issues) provide specific mediation services. But many issues are not covered by these agencies. Neighbourhood disputes (e.g. right of ways, trees, noise, animals, fences, etc.), family disputes (issues around parenting for example), disagreements in community organizations (e.g. governance or membership issues), between flatmates or students at schools or over private sales/consumer issues are just a few examples where affordable community mediation would be the ideal way forward. Currently, no such service is available in Marlborough and we would like to create this opportunity for our community.
The aim is to get the Community Mediation Service up and running in March or April 2011. This will see a group of experienced mediators offer a ‘no cost/low cost mediation service’ to Marlborough communities. A separate charitable trust ‘Community Mediation Marlborough’ will oversee the project, but the administration and contact will be through Community Law Marlborough.
If you have any questions or if you would like to learn more about the benefits of mediation and our Community Mediation Service, please contact Stephanie at Community Law Marlborough on 03 577 9919.