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Mediation can be an effective form of dispute resolution

The great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the jaw."

Business contracts can be a lot like a Tyson fight - you start by believing everything is going to go your way, then you get a right to the body and a left uppercut so devastating that they feel like one punch. Now things aren't going your way real fast and all those plans have gone out the window. How do you regroup?

Luckily for you, you are not in the ring with Mike Tyson. You are in a business contract with another business that wants to make money as much as you. Unlike a heavyweight fight, there can be a win-win scenario and one of the best ways to find it is through mediation.

How mediation works

Many businesses resort to alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Many will even write an ADR clause into a contract. A good first step in ADR is for the parties to negotiate a resolution using an impartial third-party facilitator - a mediator.

Both sides must first agree on a mediator who is not only impartial but also knowledgeable about the issue at hand.

Before the mediation, the mediator may ask both sides to set forth their positions in briefs.

A mediation meeting usually lasts for one day, although they can last longer. At the start of the mediation, each side will make a presentation arguing for their side of the issue. The mediator will follow with questions to clarify the dispute.

After the Q&A, both sides often go to separate rooms and the mediator begins to shuttle. Since this isn't a legal proceeding, the only portion of the mediation that contains the force of law is the agreement signed by both parties at the end of negotiations. This frees the mediator and the parties to craft a solution that benefits their particular circumstances.

The benefits of mediation

Mediation is much less expensive and time-consuming than arbitration or pursuing the issue in the courts.

Because both sides give input into the dispute in a fair manner, it is more likely that they can find a common solution and, since the resolution is tailored to their common situation, it is more likely that both sides will stick with the decision.

It is also more likely that after going through mediation, future disputes might be settled with a talk between both sides rather than mediation, arbitration or litigation.

If you are looking for a mediator, check with state and local bar associations, chambers of commerce or the Better Business Bureau to find one that is qualified and specializes in your area of dispute.

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