Knowing your conflict-resolution role

Will you be a mediator, arbitrator or facilitator? Explore the differences between these roles.

Have you ever been asked to help with a conflict? What does helping mean? To those involved in the conflict, they may just need someone to listen or they may need someone to stage an intervention between two groups. Those are two extremely different ways to help with a conflict. One way to be sure your role is clear when assisting is to know what types of help you can provide. Will you be a mediator, arbitrator or facilitator? Let’s take some time to explore the differences.

The American Arbitration Association explores that mediation is a way to provide leadership through a process that allows parties to gain a better understanding of each other’s underlying interests and concerns. As a mediator, you’re working with individuals who are voluntarily working through a process where outcomes are sustainable, relationships are maintained, and resolutions are generally a compromise.

Let’s take a look at arbitration. Arbitration and mediation are often seen as one in the same. However, arbitration is much more stringent. According to,arbitration is a form of dispute resolution that is an alternative option to litigation or court action. As an arbitrator, you’d likely hear evidence and testimony, and then made a decision utilizing state and federal law, that is final and binding. Remember that arbitration is the only conflict resolution role that is binding or mandatory unlike mediation, moderating, or facilitating.

So what does a conflict facilitator do? A facilitator can help to provide a safe environment, for groups rather than individuals, where disagreements and conflicts can be discussed and put to use in a positive and creative way, according to the University of Minnesota Extension (Facilitation Resources- vol. 6). A conflict may or may not have already occurred, but as a facilitator you’ll look at the situation and help to identify interests or things that individuals are passionate about, rather than taking a standpoint on a situation. Facilitation can assist groups to move productively through meetings or situations where conflict is likely to be present.

What’s important about helping with conflict is to understand the role you are being asked to play. Are you qualified? Does the group or individuals need to seek professional input? What is the desired outcome? By asking some of these questions, you can work with the group or individuals in conflict to move forward.

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