Understanding ADR: What is and – isn’t

ADR - Alternative Dispute ResolutionADR and its relationship to my work can be confusing. And that confusion could get in the way of finding help for a challenging situation.

So, here we go with some bare bone basics. (I am fascinated by conflict: let me know if you want to talk about it!) I work as a mediator, conflict coach, and facilitator.

Alternative Dispute Resolution is a bit of a misnomer. Legal disputes are decided through some “alternative” process in the vast majority of cases, whether or not they begin on track to a trial. The best-known ADR processes are mediation and arbitration; both involve an impartial person (sometimes more than one), who may be called a neutral. A mediator helps the people involved reach a resolution that they find acceptable. The mediator does not decide for them and cannot force a resolution. Preserving, improving, or restoring the ongoing relationships of the people involved is an essential element of my mediation work. Families often choose mediation when they have a conflict that has not crystallized into a dispute that could lead to court or when the issues may not be legal ones at all.

Unfortunately, plenty of people who are not routinely exposed to ADR forget that mediation and arbitration are not the same. An arbitrator hears evidence presented and imposes a binding decision, in the form of an award, which is very difficult to overturn.

When families or their advisors fear that I will impose a decision, or judge them in some way, they may miss the opportunity for a positive mediation experience.

As a conflict coach, I support the efforts of individuals to get better at handling conflict. Conflict coaching is not a traditional ADR process. When I serve as a mediator, however, I do include at least some conflict coaching with the individual participants. Other times, my work as a conflict coach is separate from mediation.

A facilitator helps two or more people have a productive discussion about an important topic. They may have different perspectives, but they typically would not describe themselves as having a conflict. A professional facilitator has no stake in the outcome of the discussion. When I am asked to work as a facilitator, a family may be intending to prevent a nasty conflict from developing. My experience as a mediator and conflict coach helps me to be a better facilitator.

Not sure which of these options could be helpful to you or an individual client or client family? Let’s talk!


Posted in Newsletter, Wednesday, August 10th, 2022