Mediation: An Effective Tool for Business Dispute Resolution

While mediation is often thought of in the context of personal or family disputes, few small businesses owners realize that mediation services are available to resolve business-related disputes as well. As an alternative to costly litigation, mediation offers businesses a less expensive and quicker way to resolve civil disputes that also aims to preserve relationships.

What Mediation Is, What It Isn’t

Simply put, mediation is an efficient, cost-effective process of problem-solving where the disputing parties work together to find a solution. That said, it’s sometimes easier to explain what mediation isn’t.

Mediation isn’t like litigation. Litigation involves a system of rules and limitations that has evolved over centuries to ensure procedural fairness amongst disputing parties. It often involves lawyers to speak for the parties and help navigate those rules, and ultimately, a judge or jury to decide the outcome. Litigation has value and is often necessary, but it’s not the only way.

Mediation isn’t a system of rules, but rather a means of communication. It does not involve document filings, discovery or court appearances, and it doesn’t require a long wait or high costs. Instead, mediation is a less formal, accessible, flexible process that usually involves the parties meeting together with a mediator in a neutral setting to work out the issue.

The Mediation Process

The mediation process begins when both parties agree to mediate, and then agree on a mediator. Typically, before the mediation begins each side prepares a summary of the issue for the mediator to review, or each party meets with the mediator individually to provide background.

Once the pre-mediation details are completed, a meeting date and a neutral location is chosen, which can be a set of boardrooms, an office, or even an online space. What happens next is entirely flexible, and can be determined according to the circumstances.

While relations may be strained at the outset of the mediation process, a good mediator can eventually get parties talking to each other, can help identify common goals, and ultimately find a resolution that works for all.

Why Mediate Instead of Litigate?

The outcomes of mediation can be powerful for a number of reasons. First, in mediation the parties themselves have input, and the resolution becomes more meaningful and effective when all sides mutually contribute to it.

Additionally, litigation can be polarizing, whereas mediation aims to preserve business relationships. Whether the dispute is with a valuable client or an important supplier, mediation focuses on resolving the matter in a way that keeps relationships intact. Mediators help shape the discussion to promote respect and common goals, and generate creative ideas to resolve the dispute. When not confined to the parameters of a potential judgment from the court, parties are free to come up with their own unique solutions.

Mediation also encourages the open flow of information in a way litigation cannot. The goal is resolution, rather than the best positioning for trial. Disclosure is important if parties are to fully understand each other – and once parties have had a chance to fully discuss issues, resolution becomes a real possibility. Even if the mediation doesn’t fully resolve the dispute, afterward parties often gain clarity, improved communication or even partial solutions. Should litigation be pursued in the future, it can be better streamlined.

Finally – and perhaps most significant for small businesses’ bottom lines – mediation is timely, immediate, and a fraction of the cost of litigation, which means less disruption to day-to-day business operations.

Where to Access Mediation Services

As a public resource, Mediate BC maintains a roster of qualified mediators for both civil and family mediation.

For more information on the mediation process, visit