The Real Deal with mediation, Part 1: What is it? Who Goes?

Litigation & Dispute Resolution

You deal with varying levels of conflict in your daily life. Whether it’s a work, at home, at school or in the supermarket, not a day goes by when you are not negotiating conflict in some form or other. Even when you spend the day home alone, you may find yourself conflicted within yourself over some major life decision or event.

Mostly you have the skills, tools and patience to respond and deal with conflict yourself, or with help from friends and family. But not this time; this time there is something BIG going on in your world, and the drama it causes is rapidly spiralling out of control.

You've decided you need the help of a mediator to bring everyone together to calmly and constructively discuss the problem, before relationships are ruined beyond repair. You've Googled "mediation" and learned that:

Mediation is a structured dispute resolution process, which aids and supports parties to identify issues, develop options, consider alternatives and outcomes, and make decisions about future actions and behaviours. The Australian National Practice Standards describes the purpose of mediation is to maximise the participants' decision making.

But what is it actually? Who attends? Where and when does mediation happen? How can mediation help?

Let me guide you through what mediation REALLY is.

What happens in mediation?

Mediation helps you create your own solutions to the dramas in your life. It gives you the opportunity to explain how the issue impacts on you, and say how you would like things to change in the future. Everyone else gets to do the same thing too, and together you will explore how to reshape your futures.


Because mediation is collaborative, any agreements reached are by consent. Negotiated solutions tend to be more flexible than solutions imposed by third parties - with mediation you can and tailor solutions to meet your individual needs and circumstances.

Who will be at mediation?

Mediation is run by an independent, unbiased mediator (me) who guides and supports you through the process; they do not give advice or make decisions about the dispute. The mediator manages the process, not the outcome. They facilitate communication between the disputing parties, and assist you to evaluate options.

In addition to your mediator, the person or people authorised to enter into a binding agreement to end the dispute must attend mediation. This may be the owner of a property, the CEO of a company, the head of a particular department, the executor and/or beneficiary of an estate, or the owner of an animal. If you are discussing a family dispute, you may want the whole family to attend.


Mediation is built on consent. If you wish to bring a support person - including legal representation - in to the mediation room, you can only do so with the consent of all other participants. If the other people involved do not consent, then your support team must wait for you outside the mediation room in another part of the venue.


What can I expect at mediation?

The dispute resolution process is adjusted to suit the needs of each unique dispute; however, there are some essential steps taken in most mediation.

Generally the session will begin with everyone sitting together at a table. Everyone is introduced, and each person involved in the conflict is invited to make a short opening statement outlining why they are there. These opening statements help to identify the issues in dispute and the order in which they will be addressed. Often there are matters that can be agreed upon during this opening discussion, such as the value of items in dispute, or who is responsible for certain tasks and activities. The mediator will make a note of these points, and help you to make an agenda for the ongoing discussion.

Ideally this joint session will continue with a discussion of each issue in turn. Each person will have the chance to express their view and experiences, and to respond to the others' views and experiences. The mediator will help keep the conversation moving in a constructive direction, adjusting and adding to the agenda is required, and ensuring that all issues are thoroughly aired and explored.

Once all of the issues have been discussed in joint session, the mediator will often meet with each party in private. The private sessions give you the opportunity to reflect on the mediation so far; to think about options or proposals for resolving the dispute; to think about what may happen if the dispute is not resolved; to share any confidential information with the mediator; and to prepare for negotiating with the other parties.

After meeting with each of you in private, the mediator will bring you back together to discuss options to resolve the dispute. This is your opportunity to put proposals to the other people involved, hear their proposals and work together to find a middle ground. If you do reach a workable solution, the agreement will be written up and singed by each of you on the day. If you are unable to resolve the dispute, the mediator will help you to agree on how the matter will proceed, whether that means obtaining more information or an expert's opinion on the issues, proceeding to court, or some other alternative.

So there you have it, the What and Who of mediation. 

In Part 2 I will tell you about the Where and When.

Until next time,

Bec, The Everyday Mediator

Rebecca Carroll-Bell


Rebecca Carroll-Bell is The Everyday Mediator – passionate about managing, resolving and preventing conflict in everyday life Rebecca Carroll-Bell is an experienced conflict manger, conflict resolution expert and mediator. In addition to helping you manage, resolve and prevent conflict in your everyday life, Rebecca provides coaching, mentoring and support to other mediators and lawyers wishing to market and promote their practice on a shoe-string budget.