Mediation usually involves people meeting face to face in the presence of a neutral third person. This person listens to each party, helps them identify their real interests and needs and then the parties negotiate a settlement which will meet those needs. The mediator does not take sides, give legal advice or impose a solution. Mediators assist people by managing the negotiation process, helping people listen to each other and keeping them on track.
Mediation is used to successfully resolve many community, family, tenancy, commercial, building, workplace, industrial relations and environmental disputes. There is no limit to the types of disputes in which mediation may be attempted, although it is more suited to some disputes than others, see advantages of alternative dispute resolution and when not to use alternative dispute resolution.
In South Australia, the practice of co-mediation (that is, two mediators for each mediation session) is common in disputes between neighbours and family law matters. Co-mediation can provide gender balance and quality control, and is also seen by some as improving fairness.
Shuttle mediation is possible where people want to negotiate but are not comfortable meeting face to face. In this situation, the mediator can act as a go-between. Shuttle mediation is generally used only as a last resort as it extends the time taken for mediation and is rarely as good as direct communication between the parties.
People may often be told to seek legal advice before mediation, on the principle that it is better to negotiate from a position of knowledge rather than from ignorance. Once people are aware of their legal rights, they can then choose whether or not to enforce them.
Anyone can act as a mediator, although it is much better to use someone who has been trained in the process and is aware of what works and what doesn't.