The Power of Choice; Self-Determination in Mediation

It’s empowering to know that we have choices.  Even when we need to choose between solutions that are not ideal, when we have the power to choose for ourselves, we are able to determine what is best for us, and what we are willing to agree to. This is a central element of mediation; each party retains self-determination.  The people involved are offered the opportunity to make free and informed choices regarding the outcome of their conflict.

In court and arbitration someone else makes the decisions, either a judge, jury, or arbitrator, and the parties must live by those decisions.  There is an opportunity to persuade and convince the third party, but ultimately they determine the outcome.  Maybe it will be reasonable and fair.  Maybe it will follow the law, as we interpret it.  Maybe we will win.  Maybe the other party will lose.  It’s a lot of maybes that are completely out of the control of the people actually involved in the dispute.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines self-determination as the “free choice of one’s own acts without external compulsion.”  In mediation this translates into the ability to freely and voluntarily enter into mutually acceptable agreements.  It means that a mediator will not force a resolution on the parties.  In California, the civil court system clarifies this to mean that the power rests with the parties, not with the mediator.  The role of the mediator is to guide the process, professionally and respectfully, ensuring that parties retain their self-determination.

Self-determination does not mean that each party will leave mediation with a resolution they like.  After consideration of all of the issues involved, possible options and solutions, and evaluation of what the results are likely to be if an agreement is not made in mediation, parties often decide that a solution they don’t really like, is still acceptable and one they are willing to live with.  It’s an “all things considered” choice.  Although it may not be all that they want (and often isn’t), the decision to enter into the agreement of their own free will is still very empowering.

If you are in a conflict mediation is an effective resolution process that allows you to retain the power of self-determination.  Through a respectful, professional process you can consider options and, if you choose, enter into an agreement that is acceptable to you.  That is the power of choice.

Esther DeWitt, M.S., CAMS, is an organizational psychology practitioner specializing in conflict, emotional management and leadership issues.  She is a Credentialed Mediator and Certified Anger Management Specialist.  As president of Conflict Navigation, her services include mediation, leadership and organizational consulting and training, anger management coaching, and curriculum and material development.

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