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Mediation - a valuable option in solving disputes
Washington - Mediation can be a useful conflict-resolution tool in veterinary medicine, a management expert advises.
WASHINGTON — Mediation can be a useful conflict-resolution tool in veterinary medicine, a management expert advises.
In fact, in a busy veterinary hospital this approach to conflict resolution can save relationships, literally.
"Mediation is a clear and different approach to dispute resolution. Mediation assumes people can come up with better and more creative solutions to their own disputes than can an outsider," says Carin Smith, DVM with Smith Veterinary Consulting and Publishing. She presented the topic at the American Veterinary Medical Law Association meeting at the American Veterinary Medical Association conference in Washington, D.C. in July.
The process involves a neutral third party to help those involved in disputes to collaborate and communicate to reach solutions, rather than turning to a hired arbitrator or a court.
Most effective when both parties want or need to preserve relationships, mediation can be useful in conflicts between co-workers, business partners, in buy-sell agreements or in groups, such as multiple owners or team members.
It can be especially effective in emotionally charged cases, such as when a client is upset over the handling of a pet or the outcome of a situation, Smith says.
Mediation can help determine if "the issue is money — or is it an apology? Some people just need to be heard," she says.
To make it effective, Smith says these key principles need to be understood:
- Mediation requires self-determination, so both parties must have equal power. While the mediator can address power imbalances, such as between an employee and employer, he or she cannot personally ensure each party has made free and informed choices.
- Mediation is voluntary. The parties have control over the outcome, while the mediator ensures the process is being followed. If a settlement is reached, it is voluntary and self-determined.
- Mediators are impartial — meaning they are fair and objective — and must never impose their values on others. Mediators must advise the involved parties if they have any conflict of interest, involvement with the subject matter or parties involved. If the conflict might undermine the mediation process, the mediator has a duty to withdraw, regardless of the parties' opinion.
- Communication during mediation is confidential and privileged and any information revealed during the process cannot be used in later court proceedings. Any resolutions reached do not set a legal precedent.
There are three approaches to mediation that allow the process to work most effectively, based on the subject and parties.
Evaluative mediation typically addresses complex content, with a mediator offering direction based on his or her knowledge. The risk of this method is that the mediator has an opinion or bias, and the resolution reached may not satisfy both parties or preserve their relationship.
Transformative mediation seeks improved communication, and can be applied when emotions run high and the relationship between the parties is important, Smith says. The mediator must be careful not to play the role of therapist, especially for parties who have different levels of emotional intelligence.
In facilitative mediation, mediators focus on the process, but allow the parties to be the experts on the topic of dispute. Often the most time-consuming, this third method encourages the parties to improve communication while allowing the mediator to ensure that power is balanced and solutions are supported by both sides.
A study of Washington state Dispute Resolution Centers shows that from 1998 to 2006, 70 percent of the conflict cases placed in mediation were resolved. That accounted a savings of least $5.5 million to state courts since 2002.