Mediation in the right circumstances can resolve conflicts effectively. The facilitating role played by referrers is crucial. The art of referral deserves to be on the skills palette of professionals who deal with other people's conflicts in their everyday work, whether they are managers, lawyers, judges, or HR staff. They should all be able to identify opportunities for an effective mediation proposal.
Referrers are indispensable because conflicting parties, if they have heard of mediation at all, may have inaccurate, preconceived ideas about how and when it can be used. Another obstacle is that mediation cannot be initiated unilaterally, unlike other methods for ending a conflict. However, once a conflict has escalated, it can be hard for the parties to agree on mediation and jointly select a mediator, unless they have outside help. The parties will sometimes even deny that there is a conflict until they are confronted with the urgency of finding a solution, and a neutral third party may be the right person to help.
Referral to mediation is an important professional skill. Part of this skill is differentiating between situations that may be eligible for mediation and those where it would actually be inadvisable. Research has shown that a decision to proceed to mediation is best taken in consultation with the parties to the conflict. The consultation should be preceded by a thorough diagnosis of the conflict, an investigation of the parties' interests in finding a solution by mutual agreement, and a review of the available options.