Mediation – art or science?

It is very hard to capture what mediation really means in a written description. At its simplest, mediation is a process where an independent person assists you to resolve a dispute. It is a profession, a service and a form of dispute resolution.

In many ways, on paper mediation is a science. You can study and train to become certified and accredited as a mediator. There are standards and there are benchmarks for best practice. Skilled mediators spend years learning and fine-tuning their craft and adding to their toolkit, through formal education and practical learning.

But there is much more to it than theory. Mediation is an art. A mediator creates the right environment to make seemingly impossible conversations possible. They can pick up on the feelings in the room, and make sure the real issues are voiced. In this way, they both listen and make sure each party is heard. They guide the conversation, providing a platform for the parties in dispute to find their own solution.

Is mediation an art, a science or something else?

We asked several dispute resolution professionals to share their own thoughts on what mediation means to them.

Ben Vanderkolk

Ben Vanderkolk is a Dispute Resolution Practitioner with over three decades of litigation, prosecution and alternative dispute resolution experience.

"For a dispute to have arisen in the first place, there is going to have been a collapse in trust. Therefore, in many circumstances the traditional one-day mediation does not allow people to air their grievances and find the true genesis of the dispute which is vital for all parties to be satisfied with the outcome. Through preparation and tailoring, a FairWay practitioner, like myself, can create a mediation process that allows parties to have the appropriate time to reach a resolution that sees relationships endure, reconcile, or, redefine." 

Jan Riwhi

Jan Riwhi is a Dispute Resolution Practitioner working in the Family Dispute Resolution area, with over 30 years’ experience working with separated families.

"I think of mediation as an awesome opportunity for parents to have a meaningful conversation about their children. It’s a time to discuss all the things that are really hard to talk about, with someone present to help them.  It’s a time to focus on their children - the things that work well for them and the things that don’t. It’s a constructive opportunity to work out ways their family can function, now that they live in different houses.  It’s a really great opportunity and one to make the most of.  This is the kind of thing I emphasise to parents when I speak to them about preparing for mediation." 

Nicola McClenaghan

Nicola McClenaghan is a Resolution Coordinator and she has recently completed her Diploma in Dispute Resolution at Massey University.

"To me, mediation is as much about the people involved as the dispute itself. It’s a dynamic process which can accommodate the psychology of the situation by acknowledging that people bring different needs, personalities and beliefs into the situation. Giving credence to the emotions of the parties helps to validate their perspective, which in turn, can create a safe environment for them to make difficult decisions and ultimately address and resolve their dispute.”

David Polson

David Polson is a Resolution Practitioner working in the Family Dispute Resolution area, with over 45 years’ as a lawyer with particular experience in family law.

"The key to mediation is successfully facilitating the parties talking to and listening to each other. Once the conversation has begun and is successfully sustained, trust in each other and the process will follow." 


Want to know more?

You can find out more about mediation on our website -