The importance of being informed
skills are urgently required in a bid towards efficient, fair and cost-effective
ways of reaching agreements on a medley of complex issues facing business
enterprises. Audrienne Spiteri-Gonzi, a certified mediator, shares some
in-depth information about mediation techniques with Marika Azzopardi
How did it come about that you found yourself involved in the
Until I went to live in the USA in 1998 I had never heard much of Mediation
and neither of the concept Alternative Dispute Resolution. As an undergraduate
student at the University of Malta I was particularly interested in
issues related to Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution. In fact,
after I graduated as a B.Ed [Hons] I was less inclined to work as an
educator and much more inclined to further my studies in those areas
related to the management of disputes and the skills required to communicate
effectively. This might sound funny, but as a student as well as in
a number of personal situations in life, friends and colleagues of mine
have often remarked, that while I tend to be blessed with a number of
personal attributes I certainly needed to work harder on the way I communicate
my views in order to ensure that the message delivered is reached just
as positively on the other end. Unfortunately but true, very few of
us are born Negotiators or Mediators, in most cases these are qualities
we need to learn about and master. Life is not just about being right
but equally as much about being perceived as right. The way we come
across and the way we negotiate has a lot to do with achieving results.
This must have been the fundamental reason why I came to be involved
in the Negotiations and Conflict Management field in the first place;
I sincerely believed it would make me a better person. I think I attribute
most of my determination to pursue this aspect of professional development
to a personal friend of mine, who I consider to be a true Negotiator
and who has always been a great source of inspiration in my life.
When my family and I moved to the United States, I enrolled in a post-graduate
course at the University of Baltimore and studied Negotiations and Conflict
Management. I later joined the Centre for International Development
and Conflict Management [CIDCM] where I was directly involved as project
manager in the development of a Conflict Resolution project in South
East Asia. This led me to take a closer interest in the mediation process
as a means of assisting parties negotiate their disputes effectively
and reach lasting agreements. I therefore followed the necessary training
to qualify as a mediator and am certified by the US Maryland Circuit
Court to practice as a Mediator. The United States is a place of great
opportunity and while living among such diverse cultures and opposed
views can be challenging and often painstaking, being in the hub of
such activity, not only enhances ones skills as a mediator but
also opens doors of opportunities. Such was my working experience with
Professor Johan Galtung, founder and director of TRANSCEND, a world-wide
renowned organisation in the field of Conflict Resolution and with the
ADR Commission for the advancement of dispute resolution in Maryland.
What does the concept of mediation encapsulate?
Mediation can be described as the intervention into a dispute or negotiation
by an acceptable third party who has no decision-making authority and
is impartial to the issues being discussed. The mediation process begins
as the parties actively and openly recognise the need for consensus
or joint decision-making to resolve their differences. Mediation involves
a relatively formal structure or approach. The mediator assists contending
parties to voluntarily reach a mutually acceptable settlement of the
issues in dispute. As the parties develop further trust by means of
the way the mediation process is structured e.g. The ground rules established
by the mediator that govern the interactive process, the prohibition
against interruption and so on, parties feel they will be treated fairly
and collaborate more. The mediator, the mediation process, should be
able to move parties from positional bargaining toward interest-based
negotiation, which has the potential for more integrative and mutually
beneficial solutions, and gradually lead them to an agreement.
What about Conciliation?
There is often misunderstanding about the field of Alternative Dispute
Resolution in general but particularly about the role of Conciliation
and Mediation. Conciliation is one of the most misunderstood concepts
in the field. Typically, negotiations in ADR start with a conciliation
process. Conciliation is an approach whereby an intervenor works with
parties, individually or together and attempts to correct misperceptions,
reduce unreasonable fears, and improve communication to an extent that
will permit face-to-face discussion and ultimately a voluntary settlement.
Data collection and analysis is often an essential component of the
conciliation process because it is diagnostic in nature. A conciliation
process generally occurs when a disputant perceives that  the other
partys definition of the issues completely excludes his or her
interests  parties have unreasonable perceptions about each other
 parties are unable to jointly make decisions because of negative
psychological dynamics, strong emotions, lack of trust and poor communication.
The conciliation process makes use of informal and non-direct approaches
to building trust and educating parties. The approach does not involve
the parties in direct acts of co-operation or negotiation. In the early
phases of conciliation parties often take a positional approach to issues
in dispute, often viewing issues in a win-lose terms. The intervenor
will need to move them to interest-based bargaining by re-framing and
legitimating their concerns and interests. The conciliation process,
often an integral part of the mediation process, is the initial phase
in a conflict resolution process, and offers an opportunity to parties
to think objectively about the conflict, distance themselves from hardened
positions in order to be able to associate and communicate without being
expected to negotiate.
Arbitration is often mentioned in connection with the above terms,
where does the distinction between these terms lie?
Arbitration is another important dispute resolution mechanism. Arbitration
and mediation are not in conflict with each other. Neither is the process
of mediation or arbitration in conflict with the legal system. ADR mechanisms
all complement each other and work together to encourage out of court
settlement among parties in conflict or disagreement. It is however
crucial to distinguish between Mediation and Arbitration. They are both
referred to as alternative dispute resolution mechanisms as the both
employ neutrals to resolve disputes. However, the function of the neutral
in each method is quite different. In mediation the neutral attempts
to facilitate a voluntary agreement between the parties. The mediator
may improve communication, encourage parties to make counterproposals,
and offer suggestions for collaboration. However in mediation if the
parties cannot agree the dispute remains unresolved as the mediator
cannot enforce a binding decision. In arbitration on the other hand,
the parties have empowered the neutral to make a binding decision. It
is a process in which parties in a dispute present their views to a
knowledgeable person, an arbitrator, who in turn decides and grants
an award which is equivalent to a court judgement. Arbitration serves
the economic interest of each participant as it pays both parties to
have a dispute resolved without delays and in the most cost-effective
How is Mediation and ADR being applied today in todays
universal business environment?
A 1997 PriceWaterhouse survey had cited, Nearly 25 per cent of
US corporations have established in-house grievance procedures for non-union
employment disputes. A majority of corporations who use alternative
dispute resolution believe it provides more satisfactory settlements
than litigation, and it preserves good relationships.
Today, businesses, agencies, institutions and organisations face a
daunting array of challenges both internally and externally. When organisations
do not have appropriate procedures, or key employees lack skills, decision-making
is bogged down and conflict escalates. Often leading to loss of time
and energy, reduced productivity, poor morale, delays and frustration.
Conflict management skills, Improved collaborative decision-making processes,
leadership and team building, can minimise the costs of conflict.
Today, in our increasingly global economy, nearly two-thirds of Fortune
500 companies are including dispute resolution clauses in their contractual
agreements. Moreover, small and medium sized enterprises have realised
the high costs of conflict and the potential of preserving relationships.
Why? The reasons are both compelling and straightforward. In choosing
trading partners, corporations seek t operate in the context of a familiar,
reliable and enforceable contract dispute resolution system. They have
learned that when entering into agreements with their local counterparts
as well as with government or private entities, incorporating ADR clauses
translates into good risk management. In doing so, they avoid the possible
delays and costs of litigation in the courts.
Conflict Management, Negotiation and Mediation Education and Training
Responding to this growing need to effectively resolve conflict, CONCORDIA
Centre for Conciliation and Mediation Services, a not-for-profit Foundation
launched in January 2002 was set up to offer training opportunities
to assist individuals and organisations transform conflict into opportunities
for constructive dialogue, mutual gains and positive resolution. Leaders,
managers and employees need efficient, fair and cost-effective ways
to reach agreements on complex issues and to resolve organisational
and interpersonal disputes. Training to improve conflict management
and dispute resolution skills help organisations enhance systems for
making decisions and resolving disputes between employees, among organisational
units, with customers, contractors or communities. When organisations
do not have appropriate conflict management and dispute resolution procedures
or if employees lack appropriate skills, decision-making is stalled,
conflict escalates and can lead to:
Loss of time and energy
Poor morale and reduced productivity
Unnecessary legal fees
How can mediation be of benefit in community and family disputes?
In most interpersonal disputes the primary concern is to preserve relationships.
Confrontation escalates conflict and is adversarial in nature and for
this reason falls short of satisfying individual basic needs and expectations.
By addressing the underlying cause of conflict and by means of an interest
needs-based approach parties improve communication and strengthen relationships.
Mediation offers an alternative route to resolving interpersonal disputes
in any social context. In family disputes, mediation can assist parties
resolve their differences without recourse to litigation.
What range of business enterprises and social and community organisations
do you envisage as predominately interested in mediation?
Mediation is for people from all professional and work backgrounds
lawyers, therapists, counsellors, human resource managers, customer
care personnel, union leaders, government officials, middle and upper
management personnel and senior executives all stand to benefit from
Fostering a culture of mediation is one of CONCORDIAs foremost
objectives in all our activities. In doing so, we are seeking the support
of all the community, of all those who are active in the ADR field,
and of all those who believe that this approach to disputes can be of
relevance to them, to their lives and to their business relations.
Skills Training Seminar is being held on 8 April 2002 at Le Meridien
Phoenicia, Floriana. For further details contact Concordia Centre for
Conciliation & Mediation Services,
Tel: 21242713, Fax:21245397,