How much is this going to cost me? How much time is it going to take? Is it worth it? Consumers have become very careful with their money and with the level of quality they receive in return. Those seeking mediation are no different; cost is often a very important consideration, as is the investment in time and energy. The good news is that mediation is affordable, and conflicts can be settled relatively quickly – usually just a few hours.
How much depends on how long. Most mediators recommend that you set aside at least three hours. While cost varies based on the area and the particular mediator, in smaller centers the average cost is about $200 per hour. Often this cost is shared by the parties, which makes it even more affordable. Another factor that influences price is the number of people involved and the complexity of the case. It will take longer, and thus cost more, if each side needs more time to explain their point of view. So, what are you getting for your time and money? Time is typically spent:
- Actively listening. This is the challenging part! Each side has to listen to the other. The mediator has a number of skill sets that are aimed at ensuring each party is heard.
- Drawing out the entire story. Often, the story emerges piecemeal and interests become more clear. The mediator makes sure as much information as possible get on the table to increase the likelihood of a good solution to the problem.
- Rearranging the pieces into something manageable and workable. When you are in the midst of conflict, the only thing that seems completely clear is that you’re right and the other person is wrong. The mediator can help move past this and prompt both parties to be more open to alternative solutions. Looking at a situation from the outside can be invaluable in reaching a resolution. It is essential that the mediator be able to keep an open mind him/her self and make sure he/she does not fall victim to the occupational hazard of falling in love with his/her own ideas – or stuck on the idea that there is, in fact, a single answer.
The bottom line on cost is that mediation is far faster and less expensive than full blown litigation or arbitration that drags on for months or years, culminating in a Trial that last days or weeks. During Trials people must take time away from work and usually need to pay lawyers $300- $500/hr for 10- 12 hour days sitting around in a Court room. Even if you win, these costs are not likely to be fully covered and frequently are not covered at all. Remember winning at Trial or Arbitration is also no guarantee that you will get what is ordered by the Court or Arbitrator. Collecting on a Judgment or Award is a whole other story and has lots more cost and frustration in store.
If you accept that mediation offers a more effective, less expensive alternative to litigation or arbitration questions still remains:
What if a resolution is not agreed upon? What if it just doesn’t work?
At the least, you will have had the opportunity to clearly define the issue(s). While this can be cathartic, it can also reduce the time and money you need to spend on litigation. Usually a better definition of the issues, even if it does not result in an immediate solution, will speed the settlement process and reduce the chance that the matter ever goes to Trial.
Mediation is always worth serious consideration. Does it always work? No; just as arbitration, litigation, and dealing with the problem on your own do not always work. Regardless of whether or not mediation produces a complete solution in a neat and tidy package, if approached with the right frame of mind it will be an empowering process, help you gain more control over the conflict and have a better understanding of how best to proceed from a strategic perspective.