I am no fan of dog fights, but it’s hard to beat this old expression to capture the idea of neutrality in dispute resolution. A business or family conflict involving siblings and multiple generations (perhaps even a generation that is no longer living, but the elephant in the room of the current conflict) can be an amorphous and evolving problem. In this fog, someone who is involved in the dispute, directly or tangentially, may attempt to resolve it through diplomacy between or among the most influential, vocal, or, perhaps, the most silent of the participants. These efforts may be very valuable and quite successful.
When these efforts fail, it may be simply because others involved cannot overlook that person’s interest in how the conflict is resolved: will she gain some benefit, now or later, depending on how things are worked out? Will her spouse, her child, her favorite sibling reap some advantage? If one of my business partners is proposing to resolve a dispute I am having with a third partner, what is his real motivation?
A mediator has no stake in the outcome of the dispute. A mediator will neither gain nor lose from the resolution that she helps the parties to the conflict create. The mediator’s only motivation is to assist the parties in reaching a resolution that best addresses their unique situation. Adding that aspect of neutrality to the effort to prevent or end the conflict may be essential to creating a solution that fits the needs of the parties.