Occasionally, the terms mediation and negotiation are thrown around in the same context, but this is not accurate. Mediation and negotiation are two different approaches towards resolving a dispute, and knowing the difference could mean good things based on what you agree to do for dispute resolution.
In negotiation, parties agree to work with one another in order to get to a resolution. This means relying on the other individual to want to achieve a result. Sometimes, talking to one another directly is not the best solution. In mediation, parties agree to work together, but under the guidance of a trained mediator. In situations where communication has been impaired, a mediator can be really helpful for guiding conversation in a positive manner. Rather than wasting time arguing with the other party, the mediator is going to search for common ground and talk about workable solutions.
In negotiation, the disputing parties are required to meet with one another since there isn’t really anyone else involved. That’s not true in mediation. Mediation is far more flexible and allows parties to either meet directly in the same room with the mediator or to meet separately and have the mediator shuttle back and forth. What’s great about mediation is that there is a lot more flexibility to design it around your needs.
Through negotiation, parties are able to bind themselves in an agreement. A mediator, on the other hand, doesn’t have decision-making power and doesn’t hand down a ruling like an arbitrator or a judge might. Parties must agree to the voluntary aspect of mediation, which gives you more freedom to arrive at a good solution. Parties cannot be bound through the mediation process, but you do have the power to arrive at a solution that works for everyone.
In negotiation, both parties are likely to use persuasion to force the other side to agree with them and sign a document. If a party is exhausted or simply tired of fighting, he or she might feel pressured to sign the agreement and get it over with. In mediation, however, the mediator’s role is not to persuade one side or another. Even though this is true, the mediator can be a helpful dose of reality for a party who believes that he or she should get “everything” or that he or she is entitled to unreasonable terms. This can help disputing parties move through an impasse.